They can be handy, a lifesaver, and a downright must-have around the shop, home, or office, but with electric screwdrivers/drill drivers popping up around every corner, how do you know which one is best? Step one would be to read this shootout story, and step two would simply be listening to our results—our data doesn't lie.
To keep the playing field level, we started with simple qualifications: First off, each electric screwdriver had to be Lithium-ion powered, each had to be readily available across the country, and they had to cost less than $50. Why $50? It's a realistic cost for something that could just as easily be used around the house and garage, without the high costs associated with the drill-specific tools out there at home improvement stores. Every screwdriver was put through the same bevy of tests, including: typical wood screws driven into two types of wood (forward and reverse), a Unibit drilled into 16-gauge sheetmetal, 5 lb-ft reverse torque test, driving a lag bolt into wood to test motor heat sync, and as always, ergonomics, features, and value. Up until the final points were tallied, we didn't have a standout winner, but we're sure the results will surprise you.
1. Skil 7.2V Lithium Compact Two-Speed Drill/Driver
Proving to be well rounded, well engineered, and powerful, the Skil 7.2V Lithium won our tightly contested shootout. Finishing in the top two positions in every test we administered, there isn't anything this compact drill/driver couldn't do. Thanks to its two-speed gearbox and 7+1 clutch settings, it easily powered through our wood screw test, busted the 17mm bolt torqued to 5 lb-ft free with one pull of the trigger, and screwed the lag bolt the furthest in the torture test. Whereas it was the second most expensive tester in the shootout, it did include a carrying case and Phillips/standard bit, and it felt best in the staff's hands. Trick items like the "Battery Fuel Gauge" light and driver direction indicators helped the Skil earn top marks. Available at Wal-Mart, the Skil offers features of more expensive drills, while still retaining its compact size.
2. Black and Decker 7.2V Lithium Drill/Driver
As the value leader, this drill/driver packs quite a punch. Wood screws, light torque situations, and drilling through metal proved no problem for the Black and Decker. It was also the only drill/driver that could stand up on its own, mimicking its larger-voltage big brothers, and making it easy to set down. The grip has a small rubber patch on the backside, but could have used more cushioning on the front side, and the single bit storage at the back on the handle base often scratched users when testing. Unlike others in the test, the motor was single speed, though the keyless chuck did feature 11 positions. Purchased at Lowe's, it's a solid drill/driver for the price, but it wasn't quite enough to overtake the Skil.
3. Chicago Electric Cordless 12V 3/8-inch Drill/Driver
Before we receive any mail about letting a 12V drill/driver into the test, the Chicago Electric unit did meet the requirements to compete. It was indeed the largest, highest voltage, biggest chuck diameter, and heaviest. As expected, it was incredibly strong for this price point and handled each performance test with impressive results. However, we did find one fault in the drill/driver. It has a built-in thermal limiter, which will obviously save the electric motor from overheating, but it caused it to shutdown during the torture tests. After a brief moment to cool down, the unit would start again, but it was unsettling to have it abruptly stop working. Also, this was the second Chicago Electric drill/driver we tested because the first one we purchased didn't work at all once the battery was charged the first time. We deducted points for that mishap, though Harbor Freight did warranty exchange it for us with no hassle. Features of the drill/driver include its interchangeable lithium-ion battery with other Chicago Electric tools, 145 in-lb forward max torque, and 11-position clutch. Despite the point deduction from the faulty unit, it still came in Third Place due to its impressive performance.
4. Black and Decker 3.6V Lithium SmartDriver
The mighty mouse in the bunch was the B&D SmartDriver. With only 3.6 V, it was the smallest in the test, but after our thorough evaluation, if all you need is an ultracompact screwdriver, this would be the best choice. So why did it come in Fourth Place? It's a matter of juice, and the other drill/drivers at the price point have considerably more juice. It may be small, but the SmartDriver is packed with features, such as the magnetic and retractable screw guide, a blue LED light, and 11-piece bit/accessories kit. Feeling natural in your hand, the SmartDriver worked well in the light-duty tests, but the forward/reverse selector is a little cumbersome. Unique to this unit, the screwdriver rests/charges in a cradle and can be wall-mounted. Looking at both the Black and Decker models, we couldn't justify spending $10 more on this unit compared to its larger 7.2V cousin.
5. Craftsman 4.0V Lithium-Ion Screwdriver
Craftsman has several different cordless screwdrivers in its lineup, however, this is the only Lithium-ion–powered unit that fell in the under-$50 category. With a ¼-inch quick-release hex coupler, it accepts all ¼-inch size shank bits, which are very common, but it also limits you to using bits with that shank. Features included a two-speed gearbox, 24-position clutch, and forward/reverse toggle switch instead of a selector switch. The light and compact screwdriver worked well in light-duty use, but as soon as we asked more of it, there wasn't a positive response from the screwdriver. After each torture test, we also noticed an odd smell coming from the electric motor as if it was ready to tap out. For around the house use, this unit may just fill the bill, but for the garage or shop, we'd look elsewhere.
6. Ryobi 4.0V Lithium-Ion Screwdriver
Heading to Home Depot to see what options they had, we were pleasantly surprised to see Ryobi's new TEK4 line of 4.0V tools with interchangeable batteries. Once we tested the unit, we weren't impressed. Anything above “light-duty” drilling stopped the TEK4 dead in its tracks, and much like the Craftsman, the ¼-inch chuck is nice for those size bits, but it does limit things. The 24-position clutch is easily adjustable, and it has a convenient forward/reverse switch, along with a two-speed motor, but those features can't take away from the testing results. It finished last in each test. We've had great experiences with Ryobi tools in the past, but this compact screwdriver wasn't one of them.