What Do the Numbers on a Drill Mean?

Modern drills have quite a few settings that need to be changed depending on the job you’re doing, so it’s important to understand what the numbers mean before proceeding.

The numbers on a drill represent the amount of torque the clutch will deliver when drilling. The higher the number, the greater the amount of torque. More torque allows you to apply greater force before the clutch slips. Adjusting the torque is important to prevent accidents such as stripping screws.

In this article, I’m going to show you:

  • The amount of torque needed for your job
  • How to change the torque setting
  • How settings differ between drill models

How Does the Torque Numbering Sequence on a Drill Work?

The torque numbering sequence is a simple way of letting you choose the strain you want to put on a nut or bolt before the drill lets the clutch slip. This prevents accidental shearing of the bolt or the bolt pulling the nut through the material.

The higher the number, the higher the torque setting. It is unusual to find a task that would demand you use the first setting unless you are using a powerful drill. Setting 1′ does prevent overtightening, and you still have the choice of selecting a higher torque after.

Number 1 is the lowest setting and uses the least power, which can be important when using a cordless drill. The first setting is fine if you are screwing into soft materials such as chipboard or if you want a loose-fitting with a self-locking nut.

Some modern drills have bypass buttons that forgo their torque selectors and give you whatever power is available. This is fine unless you are using a powerful drill that may have so much torque that it destroys the bolt or screw.

How Do You Change the Torque Setting on a Drill?

Changing the torque setting on most drills is a straightforward process. But you still need to know the torque limits of the screw or bolt you are tightening.

Use these steps to work out the torque setting you need:

  1. Find the torque setting ring – it should be behind the chuck. This ring will have numbers running around it, starting from ‘1’.
  2. Some drills may also have a speed setting to change it from a screwdriver to a drill. Whether it is for speed or torque will be on the ring’s sticker.
  3. Behind the ring, towards the handle, there will be an arrow pointing at the current torque setting.
  4. You can twist the torque ring clockwise or anti-clockwise to change the setting.
  5. Number 1 will be the lowest setting; this puts the least amount of twisting pressure on the bolt or screw. The higher the number, the higher the torque.

What Are the Important Factors That Contribute to the Torque Setting?

As you increase the torque setting, the drill will respond by making it more difficult to control. You will also want to use a lower setting on small screws and bolts. Each drill is different, so it is a good idea to practice before committing to a setting.

Familiarize Yourself to the Torque

The higher the torque setting, the more pressure you will need to put on the back of the drill. Try testing each setting with a screw or a bolt into scrap wood, so you will know the amount of force you will need to use.


You will notice that you will need a far lower setting for compressed woods like OSB and chipboard than hardwoods like maple, oak, and cherry.


Self-tapping metal-work screws will need higher torque settings. You will need to apply more force by pushing the drill onto the head of the screw. If you do not use enough pressure on the screw-bit, you will strip the head of the screw.


Try to keep the drill straight. Some situations may mean trying to screw or drill at a 90-degree angle. If you need to use the drill at an angle, keep the torque low at the beginning to avoid snapping the drill or screw bit.

Can You Leave Your Drill on One Torque Setting?

You can leave your drill on one setting, and many people have a preferred torque. Large bolts on thick screws on dense woods and metals will all need a higher torque. The middle torque setting should cover most situations, but if in doubt, test it out.

What Other Factors Contribute to the Torque Setting?

The torque setting on a drill is an indication of when the clutch will cut out. These divisions are not a representation of torque as they are a percentage of what the drill can do. Drills big or small will have the same numbers, yet no one drill is the same.

Setting 5′ on a cordless drill may cut the clutch with far less torque than setting 5′ on a cordless drill running on a lower voltage. A higher speed setting may also decrease the torque on a drill, meaning that you will need to recalibrate.

Are All Drills the Same?

Electric drills are as diverse as the situations that you need them for. Some drills need higher speeds to get through a tough material without ripping it up. Others have hammer modes for getting through thick concrete.

Cordless and mains drills are also quite different in what level of torque they can provide. A mains drill will have access to more power and torque for the same weight as a cordless drill. Again, it is better to test it on scrap material before using it for real.

You can make a rough calculation on how the torque ring numbers on your drill correspond to Inch-pounds. The drill will have a small sticker on the side that will have the top speed and highest torque of your drill.

You can divide this torque limit by the highest number on the torque ring to give you the increase in torque per step. For example, a drill with 700 inch-pounds of torque, and ten settings, means 70 inch-pounds per progression.

What Would You Use the Clutch Setting For?

You will want to use the lowest setting on thin plastics, woods, and metal to avoid pull-through. It is better to start with a lower torque setting than what you need.

You can always increase the setting to get to the tightness you need. A lower setting will allow you to countersink screws into the wood without them ripping through.

It is advisable to start with lower torque settings when:

  • Assembling furniture
  • Installing decking
  • Securing canvas shades
  • Installing nylon tiedowns

What Is a Decent Torque for a Cordless Drill?

600 inch-pounds of torque and above is a good figure for a cordless drill. With over 700 inch-pounds, you will be able to drill through most materials with little trouble. The high-end torque drills have 700 to 100 inch-pounds of torque and the larger 5Ah batteries to match.

300 inch-pounds is low for a torque drill. Some of these drills look that part but lack the performance. Though 300-inch-pounds is enough if you are drilling into softwoods at high speed – do not expect to be able to use it on concrete.

Are the Numbers on a Drill in Foot-Pounds?

Drills tend to use inch-pounds. The numbers on a torque drill are often arbitrary, meaning that they do not correspond to real-world inch-pound figures.

Though some manufactures will give you a definition of each number on the torque ring and the increments that they move in.

You can find digital torque adaptersOpens in a new tab. that fit any drill, which give you a precise reading of the inch-pounds, or foot-pounds, you are exerting.

You may need this adapter if you were working on critical components of a vehicle engine, but it is not needed for wood screws or drilling holes in walls.

Joshua Milton

I want to share everything I know about home improvement in order to help you. Whether you're a home enthusiast or an industry professional, I have the information that you need.

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