How to Use a Power Drill

A Comprehensive Overview and Guide

power drill

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Power drills are indispensable tools for home improvement and for all types of jobs around the home, small or large. You can equip them with needle-thin bits for drilling tiny holes for craft projects or chuck in large hole saws for cutting up to 5-inch diameter holes in drywall and other soft materials. Or, with a driver bit, you can drive screws directly into wood for a myriad of home projects.

While a power drill is a valuable tool for fast work, its very power can also result in poorly bored holes, snapped or dulled bits, and even severe user injury. But used properly, a power drill can aid you with your tasks, taking you to completion in far less time than you can imagine.

What Is a Power Drill?

A power drill is a tool with an electrical motor that rotates a replaceable drill bit at your choice of speeds to create a hole in a variety of materials. The drill can also take screwdriver bits, to allow easier driving of screws through different materials.

Corded Drills vs Cordless Drills

Power drills come in either corded or cordless versions. Corded power drills offer reliability and strength at the expense of being tied to an electric cord at all times. Cordless drills, powered by onboard, rechargeable lithium-ion battery packs, help free the user from the power cord. However, battery packs are expensive and are prone to failure.

Choose a power drill based on your needs and your abilities. If you need a power drill only for light work, such as hanging the occasional shelf or mounting a bathroom mirror, an inexpensive, lightweight 8- to 10-volt cordless drill should be sufficient. For mid-range power drill work, such as hanging sheets of drywall as a do-it-yourselfer, an 18-volt cordless model will do the job. Heavy work with hole saws and auger bits, or for any type of constant all-day use, purchase a 20-volt cordless drill or a corded power drill.

Corded Drill
  • Good for larger jobs

  • Tethered to an outlet

Cordless Drill
  • Ideal for light work

  • Free to move as you please

Safety Considerations

Power drills can be dangerous if used improperly. Always wear eye protection when using a power drill in any capacity, whether drilling holes or driving bits. Use hearing protection, as well. While drills do not reach the 100+ decibels sound emitted by noisier tools such as circular saws, their average of 65 decibels can harm a user's hearing over time.

Power drills, too, potentially can strain or break your wrist or hand when they rotate out of control. This happens when the torque force of the drill exceeds the opposite force that you are manually applying. Drills with an additional handle for bracing the tool are especially helpful. If the drill has no auxiliary handle, hold the bottom of the drill's pistol handle with your free hand to counteract the rotation.

How to Use a Power Drill

  1. Select the Driver or Drill Bit

    For driving screws, use a small driver bit in the shape of the end of a screwdriver. Drills commonly are sold with a starter driver bit for Phillips and flat-head screws. You can purchase additional driver bits with different shapes for screw brands such as Torx and Spax.

    For drill bits, the numbers on the storage box will indicate the diameter of the drill bit. Drill bit sets usually range from 1/16-inch to 1/2-inch bit sizes. Larger and smaller bits are available separately. Flat, shield-shaped spade bits are used for augering large holes up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.


    Always use sharp drill bits both for cleaner, more precise drilling and for safety: Dull bits require you to exert more pressure on the drill.

  2. Chuck in the Driver or Drill Bit

    Most power drills have a keyless chuck function. This means that you can loosen the drill's collar by turning it counter-clockwise (if the drill is facing you) until the chuck opens just large enough to permit the driver or drill bit. Then, you tighten by turning the collar in the opposite direction. The rotation of the drill will keep the driver or bit securely in place.

    Some drills have a key-chuck system. A T-shaped tool, included with the drill, is inserted into a hole in the side of the chuck, with the tool's teeth meshing with the teeth of the chuck. Turning counter-clockwise opens the chuck, and turning it clockwise tightens it.

  3. Drill a Pilot Hole (Optional)

    For driving screws into woods prone to cracking, it is advisable to begin with a pilot hole. Chuck in a drill bit slightly less than the diameter of the screw that you will be driving. Drill the hole, then follow by driving the screw.

  4. Place the Driver or Drill Bit

    With your finger off the drill's trigger, place the drill bit on the spot where you intend to drill. If you are driving a screw, place the driver bit in the head of the screw.

  5. Begin to Drill or Drive

    Most power drills have a variable speed option: the speed of the drill's rotation increases or decreases in response to the pressure of your finger on the trigger. With either drilling or driving, begin slowly. This aids you in maintaining better control over the drill and the work material. First, brace the drill with your free hand, then gently pull on the trigger.

    When drilling metal it is advisable to use an awl or punch and a hammer to tap in a small depression for the drill bit to start in.


    For driving screws, it is helpful to turn down the power drill's torque setting to its lowest setting. This allows you to operate the drill at a slower speed but with increased power.

  6. Press on the Power Drill

    In some cases, when drilling downward, the weight of the drill will exert enough pressure to carry the drill through the work material. In most instances, though, you should gently press the drill toward the work material.

    Complete the action. For drilling, the drill bit will continue through the work material. To remove the bit, pull outward while the drill is not rotating. If the drill bit is stuck, turn the drill to its reverse mode and slowly rotate the drill bit while pulling out.