A few weeks ago, we received a Porter Cable 18V Li-ion cordless combo set to review. Since then, we have been putting the tools through a rigorous review process, starting with the cordless drill.
Seeing as how the drill will be many users’ most frequently used tool, we spent quite a bit of time evaluating its performance. Our conclusion is very, very surprising – I would even go on to call it shocking!
At the beginning I was not optimistic about this drill at all. As I discussed in my analysis of the new lineup a few months ago, these tools appear to be mid-level tools meant to compete against Craftsman’s C3 and Ryobi’s One+ cordless tool lineups. I had automatically assumed that Porter Cable made some sacrificed in the tools’ features, performance, or quality to be able to price them so competitively.
Porter Cable offers two 18V drills – this one (PCL180D), often bundled in Li-ion sets, and another (PC1800D) that’s bundled with their NiCad sets. Both tools accept batteries of either chemistry, but are designed a bit differently with the Li-ion version being a bit more compact and lighter, and with about 25% less torque.
The drill features 24 clutch settings (23+drill), 2-position gearbox (0-350 & 0-1200 RPM), 325 in-lb torque, variable speed trigger, 1/2″ metal single sleeve chuck, LED worklight, 30-minute Li-ion charger, and weighs 3.8 lbs with a length of 8.5 inches.
Porter Cable’s NiCad version of this drill has an additional 8 clutch settings, which I didn’t really miss on the Li-ion version at all.
Operation & Handling
There is a LOT about the drill’s operation to talk about. First, it is really well balanced. Almost as compact as other 18V Li-ion drills (e.g. Dewalt), the drill was still fairly lightweight when matched with its compact battery. I immediately really liked the single sleeve chuck as it makes inserting and removing bits quicker and easier. The sleeve is made of metal, not plastic, and has a very comfortable knurling.
The adjustable clutch was easy to adjust, and was fairly accurate – no complaints here. I also had no problem toggling the gearbox speed selector or the forward/reverse direction push-switch.
You can pretend that the LED worklight isn’t there. It doesn’t get in the way, but because it’s so far away from the end of the tool, much of its light only serves to shadows the clutch and chuck. It may come in handy every now and then, but if you need workpiece lighting, wear a headlamp.
This is where the drill really impressed me. As mentioned, I was initially very skeptical about the drill’s performance. So, before the formal testing began, I tried drilling a few holes in 6061 aluminum bar. The key word is “tried”. After a few failed attempts. I junked the brand new Irwin drill bits I had been using, and switched to my trusty Pilot Point Bits. The drill plowed through the aluminum with relative ease with a 1/4″ bit.
I then moved to oak, pine, plywood, PVC, ABS, and sheet steel. I had expected for the drill to bog down a little due its slightly lower than expected 325 in-lbs torque rating, but it handled the tasks with ease.
It was difficult to gauge battery life for the drill, but the 1.3Ah compact battery provided enough power for dozens of holes/driven fasteners. The combo set inclues one compact battery, and one extended-capacity battery, so there will be power to spare while the compact battery recharges. Users expecting to use the drill for extended periods of time, especially overhead, will definitely want to purchase an extra compact battery.
One more note about the battery – there are a few online reviews reporting that they don’t run well or charge when very cold. This may be something to consider, but if this is a widespread problem, I have not been able to replicate it. If anyone can suggest a controllable test method aside from putting the batteries in the freezer, I would be willing to consider it.
For the sake of thoroughness, I used this drill for every driving and boring task over the course of a few weeks. While this does not constitute professional construction work, the drill was used for almost every DIY task you can imagine. The only instances where the drill bogged down a bit and just couldn’t finish the job, was when I tried to drill large or deep holes in steel. Then again, this is an 18V cordless drill – it’s just not built for that, but I of course had to try anyways.
This drill is exceptionally well built. I’ve used other brands’ mid-level drills before, and have never been really impressed with their loose keyless chucks and out-of-round holes caused by low tolerances and runout. For what it’s worth, those were all NiCad versions with 2-sleeve chucks, but that really shouldn’t make a difference.
After quite some time testing the drill, I cleaned it up, inserted a dowel rod into the chuck, and tried to show in a 2 second photograph how little runout there was. Maybe it’s because I am so used to the over-hyped haphazardly built imprecise “value priced” drills being thrown at consumers, but Porter Cable really impressed me with this drill.
I don’t know about you, but I was one of those people who refused to acknowledge the new Porter Cable portable hand tool lineup. The brand underwent a redesign around the fall of 2008, and Porter Cable’s professional cordless tools gradually disappeared from store shelves. All of a sudden, these new 18V tools started popping up at Lowes, with the widespread opinion that they were rebadged Black & Decker Firestorm tools.
We plan on finishing up our evaluation of the Porter Cable combo kit’s other tools this month, and will continue using this drill to see if its great performance holds up.
I almost cannot believe how impressed I am with this drill. It is well built, and performs very well – much more so that anticipated. Between my original assumptions of this “value” consumer-targeted drill, and past handling of abused and broken display units at my local Lowes, I was expecting to find this drill to be a decent drill for casual DIYers or homeowners. Instead, I find myself strongly recommending this drill for serious users.
Is this a pro-level drill meant for all-day contractor use? Not really, but it comes close and proved to be one heck of a great drill!
Porter Cable’s PCL180D Lithium-ion drill can be purchased separately, bundled with an impact driver, or the 4-piece combo set we’re currently reviewing.
Porter Cable provided this combo set to us for review. Review samples are typically given away, donated to a local charity, or in some cases retained for future review/benchmarking/comparison.