Not all cordless drill batteries are created equal. You might have deduced this from the variety of different prices, performance claims and power levels offered by the various cordless tools you’ve encountered. It can be confusing to try to figure out which battery type is best for your project or needs, so here’s a quick guide to get you started down the path to picking the right tool for you.
There are three main “chemistries” or types available when looking at cordless drill batteries. Nickel cadmium batteries are the oldest on the market, followed by nickel-metal hydride, with lithium-ion being the newest of the trio. There was once a time when opting for a nickel-based solution was the cheapest way to break into the cordless tools game, but these battery designs are getting harder to find. It’s worth paying the small premium to step up to lithium-ion batteries, as they don’t suffer from the same “memory effect” that can gradually reduce the power reserve of a nickel battery over many charging cycles. Lithium-ion is also much lighter for the same amount of energy storage, which makes the drill easier to work with.
Choose Your Voltage
You might think that the cordless drill batteries that offer the highest voltage are the ones you should aim for, but in reality it doesn’t make sense to buy more power than you actually need for the jobs you plan to do. The majority of occasional jobs — driving screws, drilling through wood — can be handled by an entry-level 12-volt battery.
If you plan on working all day long on a larger project, you might want to step up to an 18-volt tool, as it will last much longer. Tools over 18-volts also deliver more punch, which can be a big plus on tough jobs. Keep in mind, however, the 18-volt cordless drill batteries may be larger and potentially take more time to charge than a 12-volt option.
Don’t Mix and Match
If you already own a battery-powered tool at home, try to stick with the same brand when purchasing a new product. Cordless drill batteries from the same manufacturer can often be swapped in and out of other tools, which will help prevent your basement from getting cluttered with many different chargers. If you can manage to purchase a family of tools that all use the same battery system, you will make your life and projects that much easier.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.