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The Beginner's Guide to Using a Power Drill

Your DIYs are about to get so much easier.

A power drill might seem like one of those tools that only a serious DIY-er needs, but we're here to tell you it's something that literally every homeowner (or renter!) should have on hand. Even the most basic power drill can make a huge difference in everyday home tasks, from hanging a mirror (an anchor is your most secure option every time) to assembling furniture (so much faster). We asked contractor Meredith Still, the owner and founder of NYC-based design-build firm The Meredith Project, to walk us through the what's what of a power drill and how to safely use one.

Buying a Drill

First-time power drill user? Still recommends buying a cordless model, not a corded one. "There's really no reason to use a plug-in drill," she tells us. "Technically, it gives you little more power, but a good rechargeable cordless drill will perform just as well." And you're free to use it anywhere, without lugging around an extension cord. If you're planning to use your drill for long stretches at a time, you can easily keep an extra battery pack on hand to switch out.

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Still's favorite drills are made by DeWalt (which also happens to be the brand we use in the HB workroom). "They're easy to use a last a long time," she says.

The Basics

Tool, Technology, Impact driver,
Brad Holland

Your drill should come with a rechargeable battery, a plug-in charger, and, of course, the drill itself. A kit with a handful of basic drill bits (for making holes) and driver bits (for screwing and unscrewing screws) should be fine for household tasks.

The Bits

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Brad Holland

Drill bit: Drills holes in wood, drywall, plaster, etc.

Driver bit: Drives (aka screwing) screws into hard materials.

Drive guide: A tube-shaped attachment that holds long screws in place and keeps them straight while driving.

Insert bit: For attaching driver bits.

Dewalt 68-piece Combination Impact Screwdriver Bit and Drill Set
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Drill Controls

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Brad Holland

Chuck: This is where you insert the drill bit. To open or close the chuck, hold the hand grip and press the trigger switch.

Trigger switch: Hold down to start the drill.

Torque control: Adjust to change the torque, aka drilling power. There's generally also a drill setting specifically for drilling holes—don't use this for driving screws though, as you might end up stripping the head!

Gear switch: Changes drill speed. Typically, a lower gear is used for driving light screws, and a higher gear for drilling holes or driving bigger screws.

Reverse switch: Changes the direction of drilling. (Regular = clockwise, reverse = counter-clockwise.) When the switch is in the middle position, or safety, the drill will not turn at all.

Battery: Powers the drill.

Tips & Tricks

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Brad Holland
  • Not sure what size drill bit to use for an anchor? Check the anchor's package, says Still. It usually recommends a corresponding drill bit size.
  • If you're driving a screw into an anchor, go slowly and use a low to middle setting to ensure that the anchor doesn't split.
  • When screwing something into wood, drilling a smaller hole first will make it easier to drive in the screw.
  • When hanging a hook or other item, hold it against the wall and use the drill to lightly mark where the screws will go before drilling a guide hole or anchor.

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