Which is the best cordless drill you can buy in 2021?
I have been putting off answering this question for the same reason as with prior updates – there’s really no right answer. If you take ten different people, there could be ten different cordless drills that best suit each user’s individual needs and preferences.
The following recommendations reflect my current opinions and preferences based on all of the different models I have tested and used.
Do you agree with the following cordless drill recommendations? Disagree? Please let me know in a comment!
Best Cordless Drill for Most Users: Dewalt 20V Max 3-Speed Hammer Drill
I have tested a lot of cordless drills this year, and there are an astounding number of highly recommendable options.
If you need a heavy duty cordless drill to power through all kinds of tasks, the Dewalt 20V Max 3-speed premium brushless drills remain my top pick.
(For readers that have their own strong preferences – what would be your top pick?)
These are heavier than compact cordless drills, but also much more capable while still being comfortable and manageable to use. I say these are my top pick because there are several models, and you cannot go wrong with any of them.
My go-to for tougher drilling tasks has been the Dewalt DCD996, and I have also had great experiences with some of the higher powered versions that are based on it.
Dewalt 20V Max Brushless 3-Speed Drill Options
Here’s where things get confusing. Dewalt has 5 different 20V Max 3-speed drills, all of which are quite good and close enough to each other performance-wise when paired with batteries up to 5Ah.
- DCD991 Drill/Driver
- DCD996 Hammer Drill
- DCD997 Hammer Drill with Tool Connect
- DCD998 Hammer Drill with Power Detect
- DCD999 Hammer Drill with FlexVolt Advantage
The DCD991, DCD996, and DCD997 drills all have similar specs – up to 2000 RPM, 820 UWO max power, and 3 speed settings. DCD996 has a hammer mode for drilling into masonry materials, and the DCD997 adds wireless Tool Connect app connectivity on top of that.
The DCD998 Power Detect and DCD999 FlexVolt Advantage models give you a power boost when paired with certain batteries. The Power Detect delivers up to 29 more power when paired with an 8Ah battery, and the FlexVolt Advantage model delivers up to 42% more power when paired with a FlexVolt battery.
Even if you don’t really need the hammer drilling functionality, the DCD996 often has better promo pricing compared to DCD991 purchase options.
The DCD996 is getting a bit older now, but it’s no slouch.
I wish that Dewalt simplified their offerings a bit. I would say that the DCD996 is my default recommendation, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about any of these models.
Runner Up: Milwaukee M18 Fuel (2804)
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel remains a very popular model. It’s compact for a high-powered drill and also comfortable to use.
Dewalt vs. Milwaukee is a lot like Coke vs. Pepsi. Either brand will serve you well.
If you’re not in a rush, wait for a compelling promo – both Milwaukee and Dewalt’s flagship models, as well as other brands’ are often featured in money-saving kits or bundles.
A Lighter Alternative: Dewalt 20V Max Compact Brushless DCD791
If you don’t quite need a top of the line model, the Dewalt DCD791 is still a fantastic compact brushless drill. It lacks the power of heavier duty models, but is a comfortable size and quite capable for its size. It’s getting a little long in the tooth, but remains a competitive option.
Special Mention for Power Users: FLEX 24V Max Brushless
FLEX has recently brought a brand new line of innovative 24V Max brushless power tools to the market. I’ve still been working with some of their initial offerings, but thus far the tools have performed phenomenally well.
Flex is a site sponsor, and my time with their tools have been a lot shorter than with all of the other drills I’ve tested in recent years, and so I cannot rank them just yet. Thus far, however, I’d say that the Flex power tools are living up to their hype.
Their premium cordless drill is definitely worth looking at. It features anti-kickback tech, huge power – 1400 in-lbs max torque – and also a turbo speed boost mode.
Best Compact Cordless Drill: Dewalt Xtreme 12V Max
The Dewalt Xtreme 12V Max cordless drill/driver is my favorite lightweight cordless drill right now. It’s compact but not puny and powerful for its size but controllable.
I would say that this is the best cordless drill for most people, if not for 3 reasons. 1) This Dewalt packs a punch but it’s still a 12V-class brushless drill, 2) a lot of users prefer 18V/20V Max battery systems for their selection of full-size core tools (at the least), and 3) the 3/8″ chuck might not hold larger drill bit sizes or hole saw arbors.
Dewalt’s Xtreme 12V Max lineup has been steadily expanding and is far more compelling than ever before in the 12V Max system’s 11 year history.
At the time of this post, the Xtreme 12V Max drill is between promo pricing, but there’s a drill plus one-handed reciprocating saw kit that’s very aggressively priced. I would purchase that for just $10 more than the full-price drill kit. There’s also a drill plus Tstak tool box bundle.
Best Value Cordless Drill: Metabo HPT SubCompact
Metabo HPT’s 18V brushless subcompact cordless drill is a strong performer and a very good value, especially if you catch a seasonal promo.
While this drill lacks premium features, such as a more elaborate LED worklight, but this is reflected in its price.
This is also my next-best compact cordless drill pick after the Dewalt Xtreme Subcompact 12V Max model.
As an alternative, also consider the Metabo HPT DS18DBFL2EM kit, which is more powerful and a little more premium-featured (such as with a belt clip). It’s also a bit heavier – but certainly on-par with other compact brushless drills – but that’s the price to pay for greater performance.
This model is a $99 promo right now, making it a better value.
I have a soft spot for Metabo HPT, with my first experience with the brand being a Hitachi 18V cordless drill that offered a fantastic 3-way balance between size, performance, and value.
Runner Up: Milwaukee M12 Fuel, M12 Combo, M18 Compact Brushless
Milwaukee’s M12 Fuel hammer drill is a great tool, and on rare occasions there’s a single-battery promo kit priced at $99.
What’s special about the M12 Fuel hammer drill is that it packs a strong punch in a compact package and can rival the power of compact 18V drills, and it features a 1/2″ chuck.
Another value alternative is Milwaukee’s M12 cordless drill and impact driver combo kit, which are among the only brushed motor tools I can still recommend.
This combo kit is a seasonal “special buy at $99.” You lose power and application speed compared to the other drills featured here, but gain a compact impact driver that can more speedily drive in fasteners.
Milwaukee’s M18 compact brushless drill kit, 2801-21P also deserves a strong recommendation once or twice a year when it’s promotionally discounted to $99.
Unfortunately, like a lot of aggressively-priced cordless drill promos, there are much better buys the rest of the year.
Best Cordless Drill for DIYers: Ryobi 18V One+ HP
Ryobi’s 18V One+ HP brushless drill is quite a bit different than the brand’s other models. For one, it’s surprisingly compact for a tool with a stem-style battery pack. And, unlike some of the brand’s other cordless power tools, there are no apparent tradeoffs.
This is Ryobi’s attempt at an uncompromised compact brushless drill/driver, and I’ve been impressed with it.
Ryobi’s 18V cordless power tool system has a very broad selection of DIYer and value-minded tools and accessories. They have quite a few entry-level drill kits and combo kits at lower pricing, but if I were looking to enter a DIYer-friendly platform, this is the drill I’d want to open the door.
If you want the hammer drill version of the Ryobi 18V One+ HP compact brushless drill, there’s a 1-battery kit that’s promo priced at $99.
What to Look for in a Cordless Drill
Whether you’re taking a closer look at these models or at other brands, here are the basic questions to ask:
Do you have any cordless power tool system or brand preferences? If so, start there.
If you need help, consider these buying guides:
12V Max vs. 18V/20V Max vs. 24V Max
Voltage is important, as this typically determines a drill’s physical size and weight. Power and performance can also be tied to a drill’s operating voltage, but this is not always true.
One brand’s 24V Max cordless drill is far weaker than other brands’ 18V and 20V Max offerings and even higher powered 12V Max drills.
Don’t always assume that more is better.
If I had to simplify things, I would break things down as follows:
- Light Duty: ~200 to 400 in-lbs
- Medium Duty: ~500 in-lbs
- Heavy Duty: ~600+ in-lbs
- Extreme Duty: 1000+ in-lbs
We now have cordless drills that rival the max torque of impact drivers, and has shifted classifications by quite a bit. Maximum torque specs are now double what they used to be just a few years ago.
Dewalt uses different power measurements – UWO – but you can sometimes also find torque specs for their cordless drills. There are no UWO to inch-pound conversion factors, and anyone that suggests otherwise is simply guessing.
Read More: Dewalt UWO and Torque – What it Really Means
A lot of users pay closest attention to max torque specs, but a drill’s speed ranges are also important. Let’s say you have one drill with a max speed of 1400 RPM and max torque of 500 in-lbs, and another that’s rated at 2000 RPM and 400 in-lbs. Which one will deliver the faster application speeds when drilling smaller holes?
2000 RPM is the average max motor speed for premium models. You’ll see far lower speeds in value-priced models where the rated torque specs wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Key Features and Design Considerations
Most cordless drills have adjustable torque clutch dials, which are mainly used to achieve repeatable fastener driving depths. Some clutch dials are easier to turn than others.
Keyless chucks are standard, with more premium models featuring metal sleeves. More compact drills tend to have 3/8″ drill chucks, with 1/2″ being standard for most 18V class and higher-voltage models.
More premium models might offer different LED worklight controls, such as on Dewalt’s DCD791 compact brushless model.
Some drills don’t come with belt clips, and you can sometimes pick one up as a replacement part or accessory. If it’s important to you, check before you buy.
Compact drills usually don’t require an auxiliary handle while heavier duty models almost always come with one. Here is why powerful drills must come with secondary handles.
Battery, Charger, and Kit Configurations
Some cordless drill kits come with (1) battery, others come with (2). Battery charge capacities typically range from 1.3Ah to 5.0Ah and up.
I prefer compact 2.0Ah batteries for smaller drills, and either compact 3.0Ah or larger 5.0Ah batteries for heavier duty drills. You can use 6.0Ah and higher capacity batteries, but I’m generally not too keen on adding weight to a drill if I don’t have to, especially those that weren’t designed for today’s larger Li-ion battery sizes.
Pushing into higher power territory generally requires a beefier battery.
Charging times aren’t always published, but it’s something to consider, especially for kits that only come with a single battery. Value-priced cordless drill kits or promos tend to come with slower chargers or ones that clip onto a battery instead of the normal charging station.
What Makes a Well-Rounded Cordless Drill
The recommendations I make above are largely subjective. Application speeds are important to me, and I also like drills that are lighter and more comfortable to work with.
I have been testing and reviewing cordless drills for more than a decade, and these are the models that I would choose today.
Ergonomics are also important, but things like user comfort largely come down to preferences. One of the reasons I prefer Dewalt’s Xtreme 12V Max series is because they have slim handle grips due to system’s slide-style battery design. Because of this, Dewalt’s 12V Max tools better fit my smaller hands than models with post-style batteries. The downside is that their drill feels larger than competing models since the battery is at the end of the tool rather than inserted within the handle.
Cordless drills aren’t one-size-fits-all. I limited this post to 4 main categories, but this could easily balloon to 10 different categories, even 20.
Brushed vs. Brushless
If you’re buying a new cordless drill, go brushless.
The only reasons to go with a brushed motor cordless drill is if you are constrained to a very tight budget and are shopping for either an entry-level drill or budget-minded cordless power tool combo kit.
Questions and Reader Recommendations
Do you agree with my cordless drill picks, or would recommend something different?
Do you have any questions or requests?