types of drills

9 Types of Drills and Drivers You Should Know (and when best to use them)

Last Updated on 9 April 2021

I remember my dad using a hand brace to drill holes in a piece of wood and thinking, ‘there’s got to be an easier way’. Sure enough, there was, and when I was old enough to buy power tools myself, I wanted all types of drills going.

These days, there are more types of drills and drivers than I can count, so picking my top 9 hasn’t been easy. Furthermore, some drills & drivers are handy for various tasks, while others only specialise in one job.

Before we dig into my top 9, let’s explore the key characteristics of drills and drivers.


What’s the Difference Between Drills and Drivers?

drill brace with bits in leather tool roll on a wooden workbench

Drills and drivers often perform the same tasks, which is especially true with combi drills, which combine drilling and driving functions. 

In general, drills are more powerful and focus on drilling holes, whereas drivers are easier to handle and focus on driving screws.

Dills and drivers share some common factors that we’ll explore in the following sections.


Corded or Cordless?

As with most power tools, you have a choice between corded and cordless. Which one you go for depends on the job you want it to do.

There’s no doubt that cordless tools are much more convenient to use – you don’t have leads all over the place for one thing – but they can lack power for some projects, especially when the battery starts to die. 

Pro Tip: When using cordless drills/drivers, always have a spare battery on charge because fully charging can take anything from 1 hour to 12 hours!

Corded tools run off 240v – or 110v on a building site – so this gives them a lot more power for more challenging jobs such as drilling into concrete. 


Speed

Variable speed is essential if you’re going to be drilling or screwing into different materials. We measure speed in revolutions per minute (RPM), but the top speed of a drill or driver is not that critical – a maximum speed of 1,800RPM is good enough for most projects. What matters more is the ability to control that speed.


Torque

Related to speed is torque. Measured in Newton-metres (Nm), this is the force the drill exerts to turn an object – a drill bit or a screwdriver bit in this case. 

If you’ve ever tried to drill or screw into a challenging piece of hardwood with a cordless drill, you will have felt that kickback as the drill struggles to turn and tries to turn you instead!

In general, 15-35Nm will suffice for drilling holes in softwood, but for anything more challenging, you need 35-50Nm. For driving small screws, you need 4-15Nm. 

My dad had the upper hand with his old brace drill – he could generate greater torque than any of today’s cordless drills. An average person can generate 100Nm of torque, and with the cranked handle of a hand brace, you can easily double this.

Pro Tip: set the torque on the drill or driver no higher than you need it for the job in hand. Too much force can strip the screw head or damage your workpiece.


Power

We measure power output in volts (v) or watts (W). A watt is a unit of power, and it’s the product of amps (current) and volts (force). The more powerful corded tools are rated in watts, whereas most cordless tools use volts.

For light work such as driving screws, 4-8v should be sufficient. Most other jobs around the home require 12-18v. Anything higher than this requires a bigger, heavier battery, so choose a tool that suits your needs.


Brushed or Brushless Motor?

Another consideration when looking at a drill’s power is the type of motor – brushed or brushless. Brushes are small electrical components inside a DC motor that conduct electricity to the individual segments, causing the shaft to rotate.

Brushless motors use a different wiring system to generate rotation, making them more efficient and powerful than a motor with brushes. Also, brushless motors are generally lighter and easier to work handle.

So why isn’t every drill brushless? As you probably guessed, it comes down to cost. I.e. a brushless drill can cost twice as much as one with brushes. However, brushless drills can last twice as long, so they roughly cost the same over the long run.


Batteries

We measure the amount of energy stored in batteries in amp-hours (Ah). E.g. a 1Ah battery has enough stored energy to produce a current of 1 amp for 1 hour, or 2 amps for 30 minutes, and so on.

The time a battery lasts between charges depends on two factors:

  1. How much current (amps) each activity draws
  2. The duration of the activity 

I.e. drilling into more rigid materials over more extended periods will drain the battery much faster than drilling into softer materials over shorter periods. 

When shopping for batteries, use amp-hours (Ah) to compare their runtimes between charges. E.g. a 5Ah battery will last five times longer than a 1Ah battery when doing the same task.

Remember, more amp-hours means longer runtime, and higher voltage means more power.

Older tools typically use NiCad (nickel-cadmium) batteries, while most modern tools use lighter, longer-lasting Li-ion (Lithium Ion) batteries. As you’d expect, Li-ion batteries are more expensive.


Bits and Chucks

drilling into wood

Last but not least are bits and chucks. Bits come in many different types, so it’s essential to pick the right bit for the job. Conversely, there are only two types of chucks – keyed and keyless.

Bits

High-speed steel (HSS) bits are the most versatile, suitable for many materials such as hardwood and soft metal. If you want to drill into masonry or stainless steel, then you need something more substantial. Tungsten steel-tipped (TST) bits are ideal for this purpose.

Drill bits can be round in section or hexagonal at the end that goes onto the chuck. Thinner drill bits tend to have a hexagonal end to improve the grip within the chuck. All drivers have a fixed size hexagonal chuck to match the screw bit shape.

Chucks

Older drills, plus some of the more powerful/heavy-duty models, tighten the chuck using a separate key. The key is inserted into a hole at the chuck’s side and turned as it engages with the gear teeth.

Keyed chucks have greater torque, which is why they’re on heavy-duty drills where you don’t want any slippage when drilling into solid concrete, for example.

Keyless chucks are loosened and tightened much quicker, making it easier to switch bits.

Chucks have a maximum capacity of either 10mm – good for most DIY jobs – or 13mm for heavy-duty work. This measurement refers to the diameter of the drill bit shaft.

Pro Tip: To change the bit quickly, set your drill to the lowest torque setting, hold the chuck and switch the drill to reverse mode. Lightly press the trigger, and the jaws will open up fully in 2 seconds. Insert the drill bit and reverse the process to close the jaws on the bit. Apply a firm grip on the chuck and make the final turn by hand. You should feel it click when the jaws fully bite.

So now, let’s take a look at the nine types of drills and drivers you should know about and when best to use them.


Drills

First, let’s take a look at six of the most popular drills.

#1. Combi Drills

a man in gloves drills a wooden board

A combi drill is probably the most popular and versatile power tool around. Combi drills drill into softwood, hardwood, plastic laminate, concrete and steel, then at the turn of a dial drive screws into the same material.

By turning the collar through each of the three modes, you’re adjusting torque and introducing a hammer action for more demanding jobs. Below are the three modes available on combi drills:

  • Mode 1 (low-end torque) is the screwdriver mode 
  • Mode 2 (mid-level torque) is the drilling mode
  • Mode 3 is the hammer drill mode. This percussive action helps break through bricks & blocks and shatter the stone aggregate in concrete.

You will also find on most models a second collar that controls the speed, although applying varying pressure to the trigger can go from 0 to 2,800RPM. The other measure to look for in hammer mode is the BPM – the number of blows per minute. Although models vary greatly, you’ll find that 2,000BPM tends to be the maximum rate on many popular models.

If you want to know what combi drill we recommend, check out our guide to the best cordless combi-drill in the UK.

ProsCons
Extremely versatile, with three modes – screw, drill and hammer drillNot suitable for long-duration drilling into masonry
Lightweight in comparison to the hammer drill 
Variable speed and torque to cover most situations 

#2. Hammer Drills

construction worker using hammer drill to a concrete wall

As the name suggests, this drill uses a hammer action to help drive the bit into hard material such as masonry and concrete. Two serrated discs inside the drill head, one fixed and one free to rotate, create the hammer effect by pushing the chuck back & forth as the free disc turns. When no force is applied, a clutch separates the two discs to avoid excess wear.

As these drills focus on heavy-duty applications, they require an element of force from the user. That’s why most hammer drills come with an auxiliary handle screwed into the left or right-hand side of the casing, enabling you to use both hands. This extra handle is essential, as these drills can weigh as much as 6kg. For complete flexibility, handles that rotate through 360° are preferred. These rotating handles usually come with a depth gauge which prevents over or under-drilling.

Concrete is such a hard material to drill into – more so than brick or blockwork – because it contains aggregate or large stones that can be a barrier to the drill bit. The hammer action helps by shattering the stone, allowing you to drill through with relative ease.

Most hammer drills come with a key-operated chuck, which provides more leverage to tighten the jaws around the bit. Not as convenient as the keyless type, but it stops the bit from working loose whilst drilling.

Being heavy-duty, we measure these types of drills in watts ranging from 550-800W. For most DIY jobs, drills at the lower end will do the job. However, if you plan on drilling through concrete regularly, you may want to look at the upper end of the scale.

Percussion rate is usually much higher than the combi-drill, getting up to 50,000BPM in some cases, which is why professionals prefer the hammer drill. 

We recently reviewed the best corded hammer drills in the UK if you’re looking for more information.

ProsCons
Ideal tool for drilling into concrete and removing wall tilesA heavy piece of equipment
Can switch off hammer action for use as a standard drill.To avoid trip hazards, you need a mains socket nearby

#3. Pillar Drills

carpenter makes a hole in a wood using pillar drill

The pillar drill – sometimes referred to as a drill press – is a specialist drill and surprisingly versatile.

These machines drill through practically anything if you can place it on the built-in table. The drill’s power varies, but most are at the top end – around 700W – with variable speeds and modes.

The drill supports any standard drill bits and drills holes by pulling down on a lever, drawing the drill onto your workpiece. This action means that the hole will be drilled perpendicular to the table every time, although some tables can be titled to drill up to 45° angles.

Some models are fitted with a laser to ensure precision, but they are pretty accurate even without that. The table also has clamps to secure the piece in place while you drill.

To operate, follow the steps below:

  1. On your material, mark the centre point of the hole you want to drill
  2. Check you have the right drill bit fitted 
  3. Pull the lever down towards your material and line up your mark with the drill bit’s centre.
  4. Clamp your material to the table so that it doesn’t move 
  5. Once everything is lined up and securely clamped, switch on the drill. 
  6. Slowly pull the lever down and drill through your material

The pillar drill demonstration in this video shows how these drills operate, and although the one shown is an industrial type, the principle is the same for all.

One disadvantage is that pillar drills are not very portable and are corded only. If you take one to your worksite, you’ll need a mains socket nearby or extension leads.

Pro Tip: If you need to use several corded tools, it’s worthwhile setting up a mini work station, with extension leads protected or hung up high and out of the way.

If you’re interested in buying a pillar drill, we recently reviewed the 3 Best Pillar Drills in the UK. Pillar drills range from very basic but portable to high-end workshop-based machines.

ProsCons
Suitable for drilling holes into a variety of materials, including wood, metal and ceramic tilesRequires a workbench set up with a socket outlet nearby
Drill holes repeatedly, accurately and neatly.They only drill holes.
Powerful motor and lever-action apply more pressure at varying speeds. 

#4. SDS Plus Rotary Hammer Drills

a male looking hand holding a drill

SDS rotary hammer drills are at the top end when it comes to power and versatility. 

These drills are much more potent than hammer drills because they use a pneumatic action to drive the drill bit, which sits within a slotted shaft. 

A crankshaft-driven piston creates high air pressure when driven forward within its cylinder. This high air pressure pushes the hammer mechanism far more efficiently than standard hammer drills.

SDS originally stood for ‘Stecken Drehen Sichern’, meaning insert–twist–secure, which describes how drill bits are inserted and secured. Bosch, who invented it, now refers to the acronym as ‘Special Direct System’, although others use the term ‘Slotted Drive System’.

There are three types of rotary hammer drill: the basic SDS, the SDS Plus and the SDS Max. Both the SDS and the SDS Plus have a 10mm shank size, which makes them interchangeable, but the SDS Max uses an 18mm shank.

Some SDS drills can take standard drill bits but others, such as those made by Bosch, need a special adapter. Bear this in mind when looking to buy.

We rate SDS drills in Joules (J) and blows per minute (BPM). You can use SDS drills in one of three modes:

  • Drill only – rotation without hammer action. Use this mode when drilling into softer materials.
  • Hammer only – no rotation, just percussion. Use this mode when chiselling off tiles.
  • Drill and Hammer – rotation and percussion together. Best of both worlds and the only reason to buy an SDS drill over a standard hammer drill.

The hammer action is so effective on an SDS drill that very little pressure is required – just allow the special drill bits to do their work.

Before making your choice, check out our reviews of the best corded SDS rotary hammer drills.

ProsCons
Versatile drill – can be used in a variety of modes with specialist accessoriesSome models need an adapter for non-SDS bits
Delivers a powerful punchExpensive tool if all you need is a hammer drill

#5. Angle Drills

makita brand angle drill
Makita DDA351 LXT Cordless Angle Drill

Often referred to as right-angle drills, these drills are fantastic for drilling/driving in tight areas that other drills can’t reach.

Having a long handle, they fit nicely in your hand and are easy to control. There’s also room for another hand if you want to apply a bit more pressure. For more control, some even have a removable handle in the head section.

Mostly cordless, they come in a variety of power ratings from 12v to 60v. Angle drills’ high torque rating makes them suitable for most jobs around the home or workshop.

Many tradespeople have an angle drill in their collection. Electricians use them to drill 25mm ø holes for wiring between floor joists. 

When fitted with the proper attachment, plumbers use angle drills for cutting hole sizes up to 150mm ø. For the kitchen fitter, driving screws inside a cupboard is made super easy with this tool.

If you rarely work in tight corners, the right-angle driver attachment below may be all you need.

right-angle driver attachment
Vakki 105 Degree Right Angle
ProsCons
Great for working in tight corners regularlyExpensive compared to combi drills
Gathers dust if not regularly working in tight spots

#6. Concrete Breakers and Demolition Drills

construction worker using jackhammer to the floor

Some may know this power tool as a jackhammer, and it’s more of a power hammer than a demolition drill. The thing is, it doesn’t have a drill function, and it certainly can’t drive. It’s purely hammering only.

So why is it on this list? Well, there are some jobs even the SDS rotary hammer drill can’t handle effectively. For example, if you’re breaking up concrete hardstandings or knocking down walls, this is the tool for you.

These monsters make light work of cutting through concrete and masonry – like a knife through butter. Unlike their heavy-duty counterpart, the pneumatic drill, these tools receive their power from mains electricity and not air compressors.

Although lumped into one category, the concrete breaker and demolition drill are two different power tools but with the same functionality. Let’s take a look.

Concrete Breakers

makita brand concrete breakers

Concrete breakers focus on breaking up floors and hardstandings. They come with a powerful motor – around 1,700W – generating 870BPM.

Breakers take a lot of handling as they weigh around 30kg! If you’re serious about buying one of these tools, I recommend hiring one first to see how it performs and to make sure you can handle it.

Below are the key features to look for when in the market for a concrete breaker:

  • Vibration absorbing housing and handles
  • Slow start-up for better control
  • Soft no-load function to reduce the speed when idling

Illustrated above is the Makita HM1812, which has all of these features and more.

ProsCons
Makes light work of breaking up concrete and masonryA specialist tool with hammer action only
The most powerful and potent handheld tool on the DIY marketVery expensive compared to hammer drills
Durable and hard-wearing – it will outlast any other hammer drill when used over a long period.Some models produce a lot of vibration, and most are noisy. Bear this in mind when choosing PPE for the job

Demolition Drill

makita brand demolition drill
Makita HM1317C/1

These are much lighter and designed to be held two-handed. The motor is typically less potent than concrete breakers. However, at around 1,500W, they still pack a hefty punch, generating up to 1,450BPM.

In addition to the concrete breaker features, you should also look for variable speed control, and the ability to take hex shanked bits. These features make them much more versatile and take on some of the lighter-weight jobs that the SDS rotary hammer drill would do.

ProsCons
Smaller and lighter than a concrete beaker and can be held 2-handed for working on vertical surfacesIt only has hammer action and is expensive compared to other hammer drills.
More versatile than a concrete breakerThe SDS rotary hammer drill is more suitable for lighter work.

Drivers

Although some of the drills above also drive screws, these drivers focus on screw driving only.

#7. Electric Screwdrivers

electric screwdriver attaching screw

Electric screwdrivers are the simplest and cheapest of all drivers, designed to do one job – drive in screws. You can use them to drill pilot holes if you use a tiny hex shaft drill bit.

There are two basic styles: one looks like a manual screwdriver with a fatter body that houses the motor, and the other resembles a small combi-drill. There are even some models that switch between the two styles.

Most electric screwdrivers are cordless and have built-in batteries. Some of the earlier models came with a docking station that would charge the battery, but most now use USB chargers.

When shopping for an electric screwdriver, look for the top speed (preferably variable) and adjustable torque. Typically, a good model will have a variable no-load rate of around 200RPM and 4Nm of torque. To save you some time, we’ve reviewed the best electric screwdrivers in the UK

Battery life is another consideration, with 2Ah being the best I’ve found. Charge time is also essential, especially if you’re tackling a lengthy project such as assembling flat-pack furniture.

Pro Tip: attach the screw to the magnetic bit holder so you can drive single-handed. This tip is handy for jobs in tight places where it’s challenging to use both hands.

ProsCons
Lightweight and easy to handleLimited to max screw size of 5mm ø
Controllable speedsNeed to pre-drill any dense material
Built-in batteries make it less bulky than a drill driver 

#8. Drill Drivers

close-up of male hands assembling furniture with a screwdriver

As the name suggests, a drill driver is a drill with screwdriver capability, just like a combi-drill. However, it differs from the combi in that it doesn’t have a hammer mode, which makes it much lighter and easier to handle.

Most drill drivers are cordless, powered by a rechargeable 1.5-2Ah battery. This battery capacity will suffice for most jobs around the house. However, you will soon run out of juice with anything less than a 4Ah battery for driving into thick pieces of hardwood.

If all you need is an electric screwdriver with the capability of drilling holes, then this is the tool for you. With variable speed and torque settings, a drill driver tackles most jobs around the home and with the keyless easy-change chuck, you can switch from one mode to the other very quickly.

Many professionals use a drill driver and hammer drill combination as opposed to a single combi drill. Pros do this because, unlike hammer drills, combi drills struggle with masonry and concrete. Furthermore, drill drivers are better at driving screws and light drilling.

ProsCons
Lightweight and easy to useNo hammer mode
Drills into wood, plastic and soft metalNot suitable for drilling into masonry
Quickly drives small to medium size screws into softwood and some hardwoods. 
Quickly switches between driving and drilling modes. Easy to vary the speed and torque in both modes 

#9. Impact Drivers

impact driver driving screws into wood

As discussed above, the drill driver is an excellent all-arounder for drilling holes and driving screws. However, if you’re working on a project that requires lots of repetitive driving into hardwood and other challenging materials, you will certainly feel the benefit of an impact driver.

A typical impact driver is 2-3 times more potent than a drill driver or a combi drill, generating 150 to 220Nm of torque for maximum driving power and an impact rate of around 3,000BPM.

To get the best out of an impact driver, you need a high-capacity battery. I recommend a 4Ah or 5Ah battery for heavy-duty work, but a 2Ah battery will suffice for most jobs. I think it’s always better to have more power and battery capacity than required. 

Instead of a chuck, an impact driver has a hexagonal collet that you pull out to insert the drill bit. Impact drivers use bit rotation and percussive blows to apply extra force onto the screw. This additional force makes screws easier to drive, requiring much less downward pressure on the screw head.

Impact drivers don’t rely on a slip clutch to control the speed of rotation. Instead, simply varying the trigger’s pressure does the trick, making it more controllable – vital if you don’t want to strip the screw head. However, some models have two or three percussion settings to vary the amount of ‘hammer force’.

Pro Tip: For the dedicated DIYer, having a power drill AND a driver means you don’t have to keep changing the bit, thus speeding up the job.

We recently reviewed the best impact drivers in the UK and compiled a guide to make it easier for you to make a choice. All of the impact drivers in our shortlist are lightweight, nicely balanced and have enough power to drive almost any screw into the toughest of hardwoods.

If you’re unsure what type of driver you should use, Charlie DIYte explains the difference between drill drivers and impact drivers in this YouTube video

ProsCons
The most powerful tool for the jobOnly suitable for driving screws
Percussive action puts all the force into the screw. 
Excellent for fatigue-free repetitive driving 

Final Thoughts

Well, there we are, nine drills and drivers and when to use them. You will have noticed that some drills work as drivers and some drivers work as drills – so what’s best for you? The choice between the two might come down to the weight as much as the budget.

Remember, the more versatile the drill or driver, the bigger and bulkier it becomes. This extra weight makes repetitive drilling/driving much more tiring over long periods. To avoid this fatigue, look for the specialist tools covered in this article.

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