Drill, baby, drill

By Tom Seymour | Mar 06, 2014
Photo by: Tom Seymour

I distinctly remember how I disliked using my old electric drill. This was a cord-type, with slots on the body to allow for cooling. When the drill was running, you could look through the slots and see little blue sparks coming off the armature.

Those drills all eventually produced an “electrical” odor, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Also, the cord, being short, was always coming unplugged and the only way around that was to hook up a heavy-duty extension cord. But that was a real nuisance.

And finally, it was necessary to tighten the bit, or whatever else you were using in the drill, by means of a chuck key. These, if not securely attached to the little rubber holder on the cord, were always getting lost. And even then, it was a job to get the thing really tight. Often, the teeth on the chuck key would slip and every once in a while if you were really pushing and turning hard, it would bark your knuckles when it slipped. All in all, the old drills were a nightmare to use.

Modern drills

Were it possible to include an audio section with breakers such as above, I would certainly select a bit of Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus.” Modern drills represent such a dramatic departure from the old cord-types that “halleluiah” seems not too off-base an exclamation.

Today’s drills have done away with cords and replaced them with lightweight, durable and long-lasting rechargeable batteries. Early cordless drills used large, heavy batteries that didn’t hold a charge for very long. And it took, well it seemed like it took, forever to recharge. New, lightweight models take about 20 minutes to fully charge (that is, after the initial charge, which takes a little bit longer).

As per the old-fashioned chuck key, newer drills allow the user to insert a bit or other accessory, turn the knob and the drill is firmly secured. Easy as pie.

Also, while modern drills are far lighter than the old types, they have way more power. Also, the degree of torque the drill would deliver was pre-set on cord-style drills. But today’s drills have adjustable torques, something quite handy when, for instance, using the drill as a screwdriver.

Which brings up an important item. Our newer model electric drills aren’t just drills anymore. Instead, they come marketed as “driver/drills.” Which means that instead of just being used to drill holes, these handy tools are equipped to handle any number of attachments. Let’s go over some examples.

Drill uses

I use my drill as a screwdriver and except for small, delicate jobs, my drill has supplanted hand-held screwdrivers. When equipped with a magnetic bit to keep screws from falling and possibly getting lost, an electric drill makes the perfect screwdriver. While older models were difficult to use for this function because they were so heavy, modern electric drills are feather-light, meaning no arm or wrist fatigue from holding a heavy tool.

One of my perennial jobs, installing (and removing) banking around my house for the winter, used to be a day-long task when using hand-held screwdrivers. I like to use tarred felt paper instead of clear plastic for banking…it’s more durable and also, looks better. The felt paper is attached to the house by means of wooden lathes. Screwing these lathes in by hand was a tiring and tedious job. And using an old-style drill caused arm fatigue, not to mention aggravation when the drill cord came undone from the extension cord. But no longer. It takes only a few minutes to drive three or four sheetrock screws into each lath using a modern, lightweight electric drill.

I once made two handmade trellises from saplings that I had trimmed from a nearby field. It was easy to lay out the saplings in the desired design and then first, pre-drill holes with a drill and then to fasten the sections together using a lightweight electric drill and sheetrock screws. In fact, such “twig” artistry knows no bounds and when armed with a half-pound of sheetrock screws and an electric drill, a person can easily manufacture any number of whimsical, yet practical home and garden products.

Here’s another one. Each fall, I winterize my boat by installing a prefabricated frame, over which is fastened a heavy-duty, pre-cut tarp. This frame has umpteen different pieces, all numbered and all designed to be fastened together by means of screws. One year, my old drill died and I decided to finish the job with a regular screwdriver. It was definitely nothing that would excite me to have to do again. The following year, I had a brand-new drill and used it to dismantle the frame. It was a breeze.

And then we always have the task of assembling things we buy that are not pre-assembled. Most everything I buy falls into this category, unfortunately. In years past, putting, say, a new charcoal grill together took a long time, plus lots of cussing, most of it directed toward the directions. Today, it’s still difficult to decipher directions, since it seems that the people who write them are familiar with English as a second language only, and then, not an oft-used language. But once you figure out how part A2 fits into part B3, it’s easy to screw the things together with a modern, electric drill.

Here are several novel, but certainly valid uses for a modern drill/driver. First, when fitted with a special stirrer, an electric drill can be used to stir a gallon of fresh paint or other liquid material used in home building or maintenance. And second, some companies offer a drill attachment designed to dig small holes in the ground. Anyone who has ever planted 100 or more spring-blooming bulbs knows that such a mechanical bulb-planting device is a Godsend. It sure beats digging all those holes by hand, with a trowel.

Finally, a modern, cordless drill works well for burnishing metal. Just insert a wire brush attachment and have at it.

Drill types

The list of good-quality, modern electric drills is long. But suffice it to say, the old saying about getting what you pay for holds true here. Don’t expect to find a long-lasting, heavy-duty drill for $29. In fact, you should plan on spending at least $100 and then some. But what you get will last and last and last. A few names to look for are DeWalt, Makita, Craftsman and Ryobi. But this is naming just a few.

Also, any hardware store should offer at least two, if not more, brands of drills. Be wary of buying a drill with a name you had never heard of from some bargain-basement store. If it goes bad, you’ll have no recourse.

One of the most important considerations in shopping for a new drill is the battery, or batteries. Modern drills use rechargeable, lithium ion batteries. Insist on these, because they are the best. Lithium ion batteries are pricey and the price of the battery alone accounts for a large portion of the cost of the drill. But again, these new batteries are worth every penny.

My drill came with only one battery, but I paid a few more bucks for an extra. That way, if, during the course of an extensive job a battery runs low, it’s a simple matter to remove it and slap in a fresh battery.

Years ago, the late Bud Leavitt spoke of breaking down in a rural area and having a local mechanic come to try and fix his car. The mechanic carried only a hammer and a screwdriver. Bud asked him about this and the mechanic replied that those were all the tools he ever needed and furthermore, of the two, he used his hammer the most. Along those lines, of all the tools that I use, I’d narrow the two most important ones down to a hammer and an electric drill. And of these, I use the drill the most.

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