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The Power Drill: A Modern Man’s Guide to Tools

The go-to for many around-the-house projects, the power drill can also do the most damage. We’ll make sure you get it right.

 

The power drill is a screwdriver that’s been bitten by a radioactive spider. You can attach “bits” to it, to match whatever screw you’re working on, and you can also attach “drill bits”, allowing you to drill holes in things.

You are likely to need a power drill for:

  • Tedious screwing jobs, such as in construction or assembly
  • Drilling holes into a wall or other surface
  • Dentistry, but that’s a special kind of drill

How to Use a Power Drill

The main thing you need to know about a power drill is that you can swap out the bits (head ends). Most modern power drills tighten by leverage. Here’s how it works:

  1. Loosen (remember righty-tighty, lefty-loosy),
  2. Put your bit into the chuck (the three-pronged holder thingy)
  3. Tighten. Make sure it’s plenty tight. You can tighten it a bit more by holding the big round part just behind the bit, then squeezing the trigger for a quick sec, but don’t come crying to us if you chafe your soft widdle hands. Many household drills use keyless chucks, meaning you can hand-tighten them, however some drills require the use of a “key” to tighten the chuck. The key is usually stored on the drill top, or in the handle.

The power drill has two other important components. There’s a button, near the trigger, that tells the drill whether to go forward (clockwise) or backward. There’s also (in most drills) a torque setting. When torque is set to its lowest (loosest) setting, it will tighten the screw until it feels a little tension, then start clicking rapidly. When torque is on its highest setting, it will keep tightening the screw until it cams out (see the screwdriver article, if you forgot what this means) or until something bad happens (strips the screw, pokes your eye out, etc.). Usually, you should start with a low to medium torque setting. Then, if you need more, adjust accordingly.

→ Pi:The most disturbing use of a power drill was in Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller Pi. Yes, he’s the guy who did Black Swan. Anyway, if you haven’t seen Pi, I won’t spoil it, but it’s a very disturbing use of a power drill.

There are different types of drill bits for different types of material. The most common are general-purpose, with a simple head, and can be used for most around-the-house projects. Others include spade or flat bits (for construction framing bolt-holes in wood), masonry (for concrete), brad point bits (for word or dowel work), and bits with a diamond carbide tip (for drilling into porcelain or other tough surfaces).

When drilling a hole for a screw, make sure you are using the right size bit. To do this, hold up your screw with a drill bit in front of it. You should be able to see all of the screw’s threads behind the drill bit. In other words, the drill bit should be the same size as the screw’s body, but smaller than its threads.

If drilling a large hole — especially in metal, or with a precise center point — you may first need to make a smaller “pilot hole” to help guide the drill and protect the material from cracking. Some bits do this for you, but these are specialized tools, and you could probably live a full and happy life without ever seeing one.

Power Drill Pitfalls

In addition to all the pitfalls of using a screwdriver, power tools have more power than hand tools. Being more power-full, they can quickly do more damage to your screws, walls, hands, eyes, etc. Be careful when using them, move slowly, use eye protection. Also, never pretend to fight or shoot your friends with power tools. While such shenanigans are indeed hilarious, the saying “it’s all fun & games until …” applies.

When used as a drill, remember that you can always make the hole bigger, but you can’t ever make it smaller. If you’re not sure which size drill bit to use, better to err on the side of too small.

Also, if making holes in drywall, be sure to use drywall anchors (those little plastic things) . The tiny sharp threads of a screw are just too fine for the rough chalky composition of drywall. The plastic threaders are big and stretchy, and will stay in the drywall much better than a bare screw.

Stay tuned for the next part of A Modern Man’s Guide to Tools, when we tackle the wrench!

About

Before birth, Jesse's mother decided that Jesse Stern was a great name for a writer or musician. He now lives as a touring and studio musician in Los Angeles California. He also has an 80's tribute band, The Young Guns. He plans to wait until 40 to write his first novel.

 
  • Ken

    I’d add that for occasional household tasks, buying a corded unit is probably a better idea than a battery powered one. Battery powered tools seem really nice until you consider two important things:
    -They will have less power than similarly priced corded tools
    -The batteries often cost the better part of the original purchase price of the entire system to replace, which if you have long periods between use, inconsistent cycling, etc. is going to be sooner rather than later

    1/4″ and 3/8″ corded drills are readily had at thrift stores for $10-20 and will be up to most any common household task.

  • Ky

    These days li.ion cordless drills are pretty affordable which have considerably more power than there counterparts of yesteryear and don’t suffer battery charge issues. More more convent to hold and use a cordless in household scenarios.

  • Emil

    I agree with Ken – don’t go cordless for occasional tool: you want the tool right away, but it is very disappointing when your battery gets discharged in prolonged storage and you have to wait before it charges up. Tool on the cord does the power when you want, but yes, it is less convenient because you are more tied up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mustnotsleep Steve Gordon

    Just my opinion, but I would much prefer cordless for occasional home use.

    Li.Ion batteries will hold a decent charge for many, many months – I rarely find mine flat when I need it. If you really care about your batteries you’ll keep them almost fully charged before storage, but most people can at least remember to charge a battery an hour before they foresee needing to do some drilling.

    Secondly, a casual user with a mains drill will not often use an isolating transformer or RCD and inexperienced people may easily cut through a cable. Or at very least trip over it…

    But most importantly, a cordless drill is infinitely more manoeuvrable to get into the tight places usually needed by casual users (assembling flat-pack furniture, drilling small holes, disassembling furniture). A cordless drill has more than enough power for these small jobs.

    Lastly, acceptable cordless drills can be bought for not much more than $20 as well.

  • http://www.toolhq.com.au/c-11-drills.aspx kevipauls

    First of all thanks for sharing such a great information with us.

  • fuyfu

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