Drill Features – Do the Extras Really Add Functionality?

I love getting more bang for my buck, especially when it comes to tools. Actually, I think just about everyone can say they appreciate getting more for less, whether they’re tool lovers adding to their collections or anyone else getting anything. It’s just one of the very basics of commerce and money management which is drilled into all of us from day one. Manufacturers know this and they know that offering more to their customers can build brand loyalty and increase their customer base, so they have research and development departments that come up with all sorts of “extras” they can build into their products.

Manufacturers of just about everything do this, but I’ve noticed that the makers of power tools can really take this to the extreme, adding some things you’ve never even thought of and which sound like million dollar ideas. But then you get them home and try to use them and you find out they aren’t even worth the ink used to print the feature on the box the tool came in. But you don’t know that until you try it, so sometimes you even pay more for these kinds of features and they end up being pretty worthless, which just really ticks me off.

I’m pretty sure most people have the same reaction, but when it happens, it’s too late to do anything about it except stomp around the workshop, grumble about it, and maybe spout off a few choice words into the empty room. So I’m hoping to save you some of that aggravation by discussing both common features and extras, some of which you really don’t want to do without, and others that the R&D guys should be slapped for, for trying to pawn off on you. So let’s get started!

Light Up Your Life

worklight shadows

Worklight casts shadows

An LED work light is standard equipment on most drills, and it’s a feature you definitely want to have. All work lights are not created equal though. A great majority of work lights consist of one light located above or under the chuck, and those are better than nothing, but a lot of times they’ll cast shadows which still make it difficult to see what you’re doing.

What’s better is to have three lights surrounding the chuck, and there are several drills that have this configuration. Because the multiple lights surround the chuck, they clearly light up the work area without any shadows so you have a nice bright area to work in.

To Key Or Not To Key? That Is The Question

Speaking of chucks, there is the question of which is better – a keyed chuck or a keyless chuck? This is a pretty easy one to answer. Keyless chucks are much more common today than they used to be and they are much easier to use, especially seeing as how you don’t have to worry about possibly losing the key, so this one is kind of a given for most people. As long as the drill has a good quality keyless chuck, it will hold bits just as tightly as a keyed chuck will, and just about anyone you ask will say they prefer a keyless chuck due to the ease of use.

Variable Speed Transmission

gear selector

Keyless chuck with gear selector on top

Unless you’re going to be doing only the most basic of home repairs or do it yourself projects, you really will want a drill to have a multiple speed (or “dual gear”) transmission. The different speeds, or gears, are usually labeled “High” and “Low”, but some are numbers as “1” and “2”. It doesn’t matter how they’re labeled, just as long as they exist.

The high gear is good for most drilling jobs, but the lower gear will decrease the speed of the drill without decreasing the power or the torque, which allows for more controlled drilling or driving into denser materials such as hardwoods. This helps to keep the wood, or whatever dense material you’re working on, from splitting or cracking. It also gives you more control for driving screws into more delicate materials, which helps you to work more efficiently and make you a happier person than one who is damaging materials or screws. And we all want to be happier, right?

Does Chuck Size Matter?

Back to the subject of chucks, what about size? Does chuck size matter? Well, that depends on what you’re using your drill for. For most people, a 3/8 inch chuck will do the job just fine. A 3/8 inch chuck can actually take up to a 3/4 inch drill bit as long as it has a 3/8 inch shank. Larger bits do create higher levels of torque which can cause a 3/8 inch shank to snap, but if you are using it on softer woods and materials it should not be an issue.

If you are a construction professional and your drills are subject to heavy duty use on a regular basis, you’ll probably want a 1/2 inch chuck because it will stand up to the heavier workload. If you’re doing a large project like building a deck, a 1/2 inch chuck can also come in handy. Just remember that drills with larger chucks will be more heavy duty and heavier in terms of weight, so unless you really need a larger chuck, a 3/8 inch good quality chuck should suit your needs.

The Perfect Amount Of Power

Cordless drills can start with as few as 6 volts and go as high as 36 volts, and if you’re buying your first drill you may not be sure how much power you need, so let’s take a quick look. First of all, unless you’re a professional contractor, we can safely assume you aren’t going to need anything really high powered and if you are, you already have a good idea of what you need. So for the average Joe or Jill, we can go ahead and cross the expensive (and heavy) 36 volt drills off the list. So let’s start at the low end of the power scale instead.

A 6 volt drill will handle the very lightest of jobs like hanging pictures on sheetrocked walls, replacing cabinet or drawer pulls/handles or door hinges, or doing woodworking projects involving rather thin pieces of softer woods. They’re very basic and won’t do a whole lot, but they do have their uses. Most do it yourselfers, home repair enthusiasts, hobbyists and woodworkers will want to go with a moderately powered drill of 12 volts to 18 volts which should handle just about anything an average user can throw at it. Basically, more volts means more power.

Being cordless, these all work on batteries, so we’ll take a look at those next.

Battery Basics

I have another article here on the site about the different types of batteries available and the differences between them, so I’m not going to go into all that again. But I will say that it’s almost always a good idea to make sure you get at least one battery and a charger with your new power drill, and two batteries is even better.

I would say the only exception to that is if you already have tools from the same manufacturer as your new drill which take the same batteries. In that case, you can sometimes get what is called a “bare tool”, which means all you get is the tool – no battery, no charger, no bits, no extra anything, and that can save you a ton of money. But if you aren’t in that situation, the more batteries you can get with a new tool, the better off you’re going to be.

When it comes to batteries being included, you also want to consider the charger that comes along with them. Fast chargers are awesome and, depending on the manufacturer and the battery voltage, they will be able to recharge a battery in usually either 30 or 60 minutes. Some of them even charge batteries of two different voltages and if you can get one of those, you’re really getting a worthwhile bonus. Many manufacturers also now have built-in safety features in their battery chargers which will keep batteries from overcharging. These can be worth their weight in gold, or at least in power, so be on the lookout for tools and chargers that have this type of safety built right in. It can save you a ton of money in replacement batteries in the long run.

One other feature that you will want to have on your new drill (if at all possible ), is a built-in charge indicator or battery gauge. This will tell you how much charge you have left on the battery you are using, which can be a great help for making sure you have a back-up battery already charged and ready to go when the one you’re using dies. Some batteries don’t provide lowered amounts of power when they are getting close to the end of their charge, they just stop, and you don’t want to have your drill simply stop because of a dead battery without having another ready to pop in so you can keep going.
Still, I don’t think this is a must-have because there are workarounds, but it’s a really nice feature to have.

Bits and Baubles

bit sets

There’s no such thing as too many bits

Ok, so you won’t get any baubles, per se, but many times drills will come with some basic drill bit and screwdriver bits to get you started. There are usually a couple different size drill bits and at least one standard and one philips head screwdriver bits included when you find this kind of package. If you are just starting your tool collection, this can be a great way to get started, and if you’re an old hand at collecting tools you know that you can never have too many bits. The more, the merrier.

Bit/Bauble Holders


DeWalt’s bit holder

Now this is where baubles can come into play to a certain extent, but let’s first talk about bit holders. Bit holders are typically mounted near the battery or on top of the drill head, and they usually hold two or three extra bits. These are almost always a great extra to have. Most of them work really well, and having extra bits at the ready can save you a lot of digging in your pockets or remembering which pocket even has your extra bits when you are working on a project where you need several different sizes or types of bits.

Along the same vein, there are some drills that come with “in-tool” bit storage, which is a small compartment usually built into the side of the drill, which will store extra bits. It will only hold a few, but just like the top mounted bit holder, it can be extremely convenient and helpful to have.

There are some other drills which come with a metal plate mounted to the front of the drill head which can supposedly hold washers, screws, or other “baubles”. These magnetic holders may hold a washer or two, but I’ve never come across one that has a powerful enough magnet to hold more than that. They won’t hold extra bits and even the lightweight things they can initially handle end up falling off due to the vibration of the tool when it is being used, which can end up turning those lightweight metal items into mini metal missiles which can be really dangerous.

So, to review: Just say “no!” to front mounted magnetic bit/bauble holders, but “yes!” to real honest to goodness bit holders or in-tool bit storage.

Spindle Lock and Electric Brake – For Safety’s Sake

Speaking of mini metal missiles in the last section put me in mind of safety features, which reminded me that I have to mention “Spindle Lock”. For the sake of safety, I personally wouldn’t own a drill without the automatic spindle lock feature. What this feature does is automatically keep the chuck and drill/driver bit from moving when the control trigger (the part you squeeze with your fingers to make the drill work) is released. This ensures the chuck stays put when you are removing and inserting bits into the chuck.

Most drills today also have an automatic brake, even if they don’t have a spindle lock. The automatic brake is what makes the chuck stop when the control trigger is released; the spindle lock makes sure the chuck stays stopped and doesn’t move except for when the trigger is in use. Drills that do not have an automatic brake allow the bit to keep rotating when the trigger is released, and that can be dangerous. There are drills that have a manual spindle lock which you have to engage manually, usually by moving the forward/reverse switch to the center position to lock the chuck into place, but an automatic lock is your best bet when it comes to safety.

Love The Level


Built-in level for accurate horizontal drilling

Now here’s a feature you don’t see all that often, but it’s one of my favorites – a built-in level. Levels come in all shapes and sizes, but I’m telling you, whoever thought of building one into a power drill was a genius.

What I’m referring to is a bubble level, or a spirit level as it’s sometimes called, not a laser level. I don’t know that you can get a drill with a built-in laser level, but it would be pretty cool if you could. Anyway, the bubble level is usually built into the top of the drill and with it, you can make sure the hole you are drilling or the screw you are driving is going in straight. We usually just eyeball that kind of thing, but sometimes it is absolutely imperative that you have an exact 90 degree angle, and a built-in level makes sure that you do. It’s awesome, and I highly recommend it.

Clip It or Slip It

Ok, so that may not be the greatest tagline there, but I’m moving on to the ever popular belt clip that you find on so many drills and I couldn’t think of anything else that really rhymed with “Clip”, so we’ll have to live with what we’ve got. But enough about me and my momentary lack of imagination, let’s talk about the belt clip. I would venture to say that almost every drill on the market comes with either a built-in belt clip or one that you can attach to the drill, sometimes on either side of the drill so you can use it whether you are right-handed or a southpaw.

Personally, I don’t like the belt clip and I never use them and most other drill owners I know don’t care for them either. I have, on occasion, used a leather holster attached to my belt that my drill can be slipped into, but I think the belt clips that come with drills are one of the most worthless “extras” that manufacturers have come up with and they insist on including them. I’m sure there are some folks who like them and use them, but I’m not one of them. That is just my opinion and I’m not judging anyone who does like the things, so there’s no reason to get bent out of shape if you do.

Case Closed

The last “extra” I’m going to mention is a storage/carrying case that comes with some drills. There are different types of cases that drills may come with, and I think everyone has their preference as to the type of case they like the best, but the bottom line is I think most people do like having some kind of case included if they can get it. Some drills come with a hard case made of plastic or even aluminum, and some come with sturdy canvas toolbag style cases which can also have several pockets for extra bits and all sorts of other accessories. I know there are some construction professionals for whom tool-specific cases are not of much use, but I think for most do it yourselfers, hobbyists, etc., if we can get a free case, we’ll take it and say “thanks a bunch!”

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

So there you have my rundown on some of the most popular “extras” you can get with a drill, including both features and accessories. Some are probably familiar while others you might not have even thought about. I guess I’d have to say the main thing to remember is that not all extras are going to be of value to you, so when you see them, stop and give them some thought before getting really excited about them or writing them off, and if you can do a little research on features you’ve never heard of, go for it!