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 parts of a power drill diagram


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.

Three Best Power Drills

Read the next part of A Modern Man's Guide to Tools, where we tackle the wrench!

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.


  • Reply January 30, 2012


    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.

  • Reply April 21, 2012


    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.

  • Reply July 29, 2012


    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.

  • Reply November 13, 2012

    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.

  • Reply June 25, 2013


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

  • Reply May 29, 2014


    im sexy

    • Reply January 26, 2016


      I am sexier

  • Reply April 3, 2015


    I sometimes have trouble with self screwing screws. They might go in a liitle bit then just seem to get stuck…..then either round off the head, or snap. This doesn’t always happen, but happens enough to turn me into a curse machine. It also still happens even when I pre-drill a hole before the screw. What am I doing wrong?
    Could it be the type of screwdriver attachment being the problem? or the drill itself? (its not cordless).
    The timber I also drill into is pine, so quite soft. I just wished I knew what the problem was.

    • Reply October 8, 2015


      You have to use screws for wood, they are softer and they have a different profile.

  • Reply June 14, 2016


    Well, I believe owning a cordless drill is actually better than owning a corded drill. The reasons are numerous. Ranging from Portability to Accessibility to Storage to Operations. Cordless drills are one of the most used tools in the construction industry.
    Using a cordless drill, in my opinion, is not quite a hard task. You only need to know the basic functionalities of your drill brand and your are safe. Just know what each button or knob does, that’s all. The accident tendency for cordless drill are very minimal.

    But Corded Drills, though they are also largely used tools in the construction industry, without the proper safety training they can quickly become very DANGEROUS.

    According to a study released by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 2,500 people a year receive hospital treatment for Corded Drill injuries.

    The electrical energy that runs a Corded drill is accessed from a wall socket. When a Corded drill is handled roughly, dropped, hit against things or comes into contact with moisture, the insulation becomes weak.

    This weakened insulation can cause a Corded drill to become “live”. A live drill if exposed to the slightest moisture can cause a severe electric shock.

    Cordless drills transmit an amount of shock too, but this shock is too light, it can’t kill a person. An electrocution from a Corded drill will send a man straight to his grave in 3 seconds.

    In my humble opinion, the Cordless drill is the best choice anybody can make, especially if you need it for a home kids are part of.

  • Reply June 9, 2018

    Not Retarded

    “They will have less power than similarly priced corded tools”

    Completely untrue, the best drills on the market are cordless currently, and have been for about 5+ years.

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