What Voltage Drill Do I Need? (Is Bigger Really Better?)

You’re looking to buy a cordless drill driver, but you’re confused by all the different voltage sizes on offer. We’re going to take an in-depth look at all drill voltages ranging from 3.6v to 24v.

For professionals and serious DIYers, the preferred sizes are 12 volts for light-duty work and 18 volts for heavy-duty work. 9 to 11-volt drills are suitable for drilling and are perfect for occasional work around the home. Drill voltages between 6 to 8 volts are mainly for use as screwdrivers.

So bigger is better, right? Not so fast. There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting the right voltage. You can actually do more harm than good by not choosing the right drill voltage.

The three most important factors when deciding between drill voltage are:

  • Its purpose
  • Its versatility
  • Its weight

24 volts

Probably not for you but worth a mention if drill voltage gets you salivating: this one is for the professionals. It’s what you want if you’re going to be drilling concrete, iron plate, or boring a lot of holes through studs or joists.

Unless you’re working on a building site, you’re probably not going to have a need for such a high-voltage drill.

18 to 20 volts

These are a must if you’re a tradesman or an avid DIYer. They have all the versatility and power that you need. You’ll be able to do pretty much any task both inside and outside the home. These drill drivers are even capable of drilling into brick and concrete without a dedicated hammer drill function.

Great for:

  • Drilling wood, metal, masonry, plastic, PVC, tile, and ceramic.
  • Boring large holes.
  • Hole saws.
  • Large auger bits.
  • Versatile: accepts a wider range of bits and accessories.

The biggest problem with 18v drills is their weight. These things can weigh as much as 8.8lbs (4kg). If you’re working in tight spaces or overhead, you’re going to get tired very quickly.

Think of holding a newborn baby with your arm outstretched. You’re not going to be able to keep that up for long unless you hit the gym hard.

Having said that, with the advent of lithium-ion batteries, and focus on producing user-friendly cordless power tools, drills just got a whole lot lighter. One of the lightest 18v drill drivers on offer at the moment weighs just 2.2lbs (1kg) with a 2.0Ah battery.

In summary, this is for the serious DIY enthusiast and the professional. You’ll be able to do everything you want with no compromise in power. Check out my top-pick 18-volt drill with batteryOpens in a new tab. on Amazon.

12 to 15 volts

Ah, the trusty 12v. These are a gem for DIY enthusiasts. Perfect for home improvements, or for the person that enjoys small construction projects.

Great for:

  • Drilling small holes into soft- and hardwoods.
  • Boring small holes with spade bits.
  • Driving small and long screws into wood.
  • Portability: powerful but lightweight and compact.

A 12v drill with a battery weighs in at around 2.9lbs (1.3kg). These are the go-to for many a DIYer. They weigh a little more than a 10.8-volt, but they’re more practical because of their versatility.

They’re so handy that you’ll even see them used by professionals alongside their 18v drills. Compared to an 18v, you can work a lot longer because of the 12v’s compact size and its light weight.

If you are a pro, you won’t get by with just a 12v drill. Think of them as a handy sidekick for those times when your arms need a break or you need to squeeze into that crawlspace.

Also worth noting if you think bigger is always better: the amount of torque an 18v drill has can sometimes be too powerful and may cause damage from the excess of power.

Note: 12v drills have fewer bells and whistles. Their simplicity is mostly a benefit to DIYers; however, the lack of versatility may be restrictive to a professional tradesman.

In summary, if you regularly use a drill for standard DIY jobs and small construction projects, you’ll definitely want a 12v. Check out my top-pick 12-volt drill with batteryOpens in a new tab. on Amazon.

9 to 11 volts

Next up are drills around the 10-volt mark. A common size you’ll see is 10.8v, so that’s what we’ll use as a guide. Again, these are for light-duty work but with a lot more muscle. You’ll be able to drill holes with greater ease and the drill won’t tire out so easily when working for extended periods.

10.8v drills weigh in at around 2.2lbs (1kg) including the battery. Although 50% heavier than a 7v drill, it’s not heavy by any means.

This is a perfect choice if you’re not an avid DIYer, but need a drill for the odd job around the home. It’s highly portable and great for getting into tight spaces and working overhead.

You’ll be able to drill into woods, plastics, and metal; however, if you put it under a lot of stress, it isn’t going to last long for very long because of how hard it has to work compared to a 12v.

Buy this if you’re definitely sure you’re never going to need anything bigger in the future. You’re going to be limited in power, and it’s better to invest in a drill with a little too much power now than face too little in the future.

In summary, buy a 10.8v if you’re not into DIY, and you only need it for occasional jobs around the house. Check out this 10.8v-volt drillOpens in a new tab. on Amazon.

6 to 8 volts

These are the entry-level drills. They are only suitable for very light-duty work. They weigh in at around 1.5lbs (0.7kg) including the battery and so don’t put any strain on your wrists. They’re mainly used as electric screwdrivers but can also be used for light repairs.

You’ll be able to drill into softwoods such as chipboard (particle board) and some soft metals such as aluminum. However, the drill quickly labors due to the amount of stress on the motor. You’ll also encounter slippage where the drill hasn’t got sufficient biting power.

The fact that you would even be considering such a small drill suggests that it’s for short-period, light-duty work, and so its weight isn’t going to be an issue.

In summary, I would avoid something as small as 7v because of its limited uses. The advantages of a 10.8v pretty much make this redundant. But if you think this size is for you, then check out this 8-volt drill with batteryOpens in a new tab. on Amazon.

3.6 volts

These are not actually a drill at all but a screwdriver. Well worth a mention though as it’s a brilliant little tool to have around the house for quickly assembling flat-pack furniture and the like.

12v or 18v: do you need both?

Although we’ve gone over in detail all the available voltages, I want to write a little more on this debate. If you search this query online, you’ll see a real of lot discussion in online forums. And so, here’s your answer to this burning question:

If you’re a professional you will need an 18v drill. However, if you’re using the drill for hours at a time day in, day out, the lesser weight and compact size of a 12v will make all the difference. It’s well worth having a 12v as a supplement to your 18v but not as a replacement.

If you’re a real home DIY enthusiast and you don’t want to mess about, only go for an 18v. Nowadays, they’re so much lighter that, unless you’re regularly working overhead or up a ladder, the weight shouldn’t be an issue.

If it’s for standard DIY, only go for a 12v drill. It’ll breeze through everything you want it for and it’ll last you a long time.

Other factors to consider besides voltage

Wattage: This is almost as important as voltage so make sure to check the wattage. Generally, the higher the better. Higher wattage means the drill has to work less hard and so doesn’t tire out so quickly.

Battery interchangeability: If you already own a particular brand of power tool, then the battery should be compatible with a drill of the same brand and voltage.

This can save you money as you can just buy the drill body only. Do make sure to double-check for compatibility with the manufacturer first, however.

Battery capacity: Watch out for this as it can greatly affect the overall weight.

Battery charge time: Check how quickly the battery takes to charge and whether it has fast-charge capability. If it’s not stated anywhere, then check the amp-hour charger output and compare it to the size of the battery. Battery size divided by charger output equals (approximate) charging hours.

Lithium-ion: Make sure you only buy a drill with a lithium-ion battery. They’re lighter and last longer.

Two-speed gearbox: Essential for adjusting torque when switching between drilling and driving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I just buy a corded drill?

I knew you’d ask. Not only are corded drills more powerful, but they usually have more versatility by accepting a wider range of bits and accessories. The life of a corded drill is usually longer too, which is something to consider if you’re a heavy user.

Also, because the motor in a corded drill is positioned behind the drill head, the drill bit receives more power. If you’re a real heavy user, this could make the difference.

What is voltage?

More voltage in an electrical system makes more electrical current flow. Let’s use an analogy with water and plumbing.

Voltage is equivalent to water pressure. It’s how fast it moves the water in a pipe from point A to point B. Increasing voltage means more current will flow.

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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