Top 3 Mistakes Using a Drill & Driver

drill driver mistakesMy new cordless drill seemed like such a simple tool.
I pulled it out of the box, slipped in a bit, and suddenly felt like I could build anything in the world. In hindsight, it’s amazing that little drill was able to withstand the punishment I put it through over the next few years (not sure if most drills sold today would do as well).

Maybe it was impatience, or just my excitement of having a new tool that made me ignore most of the special settings and controls. I’m sure I saw the speed switch, and even played with the torque adjustment ring just to see it turn. Unfortunately, that’s all I really learned about operating my new drill. I didn’t want to read the manual, I wanted to start building!

Since then I’ve learned a few things, mostly through painful trial and error. What I’ve come to realize is that a power drill is one of the most misunderstood (and misused) tools that people own. It’s a deceivingly simple tool — that because most of its best features are usually hidden deep in the owners manual (which nobody ever reads). Although it’s not necessary to understand every small detail about your drill, there are a couple of items that are well worth your time to consider. These will help you avoid the most common mistakes people make using a power drill.

1. Wrong Speed
It’s funny that most of what I do with a drill has nothing to do with drilling. More often I’m driving screws, not making holes. These are two very different kinds of tasks, which put very different demands on your drill. The good news is that most of the inexpensive drills sold today are designed to handle both jobs (drill & drive). The best way for a drill to accommodate these two tasks is to include a speed control, something you’ll definitely want to pay attention to when switching from drilling holes to driving screws.

Low Speed
Use low-speed (“1” on most drills) for driving screws and bolts. The lower speed offers gives you more control of the tool, and more torque for driving stubborn woodscrews.

High Speed
Use high speed (“2” on most drills) for drilling holes. The higher speed works to remove and clear out sticky wood debris from the pilot hole while you drill.

2. Overworked Drill
I love my small, cordless drill — it’s super lightweight, yet surprisingly powerful. It works great for drilling pilot holes and driving conventional woodscrews in boxes, bookcases and tables. However, it’s not the best choice for building larger projects. Why? Driving screws in a deck or shed can quickly overheat smaller cordless drills — and shorten the life of the battery, as well as shorten the life of the motor itself.

For the big jobs, you’re better off using a special impact driver — which is better designed to fasten hardware like lag screws and carriage bolts. If you like to build outdoor projects, an impact driver is a must-have tool.

3. Using Dull Bits
We’re all guilty of this — using the same bit over and over until it does nothing but stir up a lot of heat. Dull bits not only waste time — they wear out the motor. Sometimes you can avoid the problem by simply buying better quality bits, which tend to keep a sharp edge longer than the cheap bits. Sometimes it also make sense to have the more expensive bits sharpened, rather than replaced.

My approach is to keep two types of drill bits on hand in the shop: (1) a cheap set of “disposable” twist bits for down-and-dirty jobs (like drilling holes in drywall and outdoor plywood), and (2) a better quality set of bits for making more precise joinery in furniture (pilot-point bits).

Torque Adjustment Ring
Probably the most misunderstood feature in a drill/driver is the torque adjustment ring. The best way to understand what this feature does is to think of how you use a conventional screwdriver. With a hand tool like this, you decide how much (or how little) force to unleash on the screw –to avoid stripping the head or driving it too deep into the board. You control what’s happening simply by the feel of the tool in your hand.

When an 18-volt motor is running the show, you no longer have that kind of subtle control. The driver can easily strip the head of a woodscrew in a matter of seconds, or drive a woodscrew so far into a board that comes out the other side (yikes).

Enter the adjustable torque clutch! This is a great feature that lets you control just how much power to unleash on a woodscrew. Look for an adjustment ring located just behind the chuck — which usually starts at 0 and goes up to something like 20 or 25. Zero is the softest setting…and 25 is your drill completely unleashed.

The best way to adjust the torque is to start out at zero — then slowly move up in numbers until you can drive the screw just below the surface of the board—but no farther. Once you find this ideal setting, you’re set for quickly driving screws throughout the rest of your project, without worry of damaging the joints.

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