A Proper Screw: The Basics Of Using A Drill

So, of course, I have used a drill plenty of times – taking outlet cover plates off the walls before painting, hanging curtain rods or heavy framed artwork…  Pssshhh, c’mon – it’s not rocket science! However, you’d be surprised – there’s a lot more to using a drill that you probably didn’t know.  In this article we’ll cover it all!  We’ll talk about the basic features of cordless drills, using torque, pre-drilling and choosing the right bits.  This is your everything-guide to learning the basics about using and buying cordless drills.

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Considerations when shopping for a drill


If you do not own a drill and are currently shopping around, you probably notice the price range is huge!  Does more expensive mean higher quality?  Cordless drills can range from $99 to nearly $200 or more.  And for just basic homeowner tasks: you can get a decent lightweight drill for less than $60.  However, you’re going to sacrifice power and potentially durability in the lowest cost options.  It’s important to consider what you plan to use your drill to do and then look for the features that will support your tasks.  One other comment about price: Ladies (or guys – I don’t want to discriminate), please do not buy a drill based on color.  Especially a pink drill kit.  You are paying more for no reason other than color.  ….Unless pink just makes you extremely happy.  Then, by all means!


One important consideration, especially for women (or your kids, if they are good helpers), is the weight of the drill. The average weight of compact drills: 3 to nearly 5lbs with battery.  And some drills (for contractors) can weigh as much as 10lbs! If this is something that concerns you, definitely go to your home improvement or hardware store and physically lift the drills on display with the battery in it, as the battery can significantly add to the overall weight of the drill.  Factors that impact the drill’s weight:  size of battery, the drill’s material (metal versus plastic), and size of the drill.  Sometimes it just comes down to what feels right in your hand.

Brushes, Power, and speed

Does your drill have brushes? Wait, what?! When I first heard the term “brushless drill” I assumed this had something to do with sawdust and mess.  Like a brushless drill meant you didn’t have to brush away the dust after you drill a hole into wood or drywall.  Boy was I wrong!  I looked at countless articles about Brushed versus Brushless and it has to do with the the make up of the motor – how it’s built.  Without going into the mechanics of what a brushed motor versus a brushless motor is, I’ll skip to the good stuff: A brushed motor is less expensive, less efficient, subject to breaking or wearing out.  Brushless = longer life span (does not overheat or break down). Brushless is more efficient which means that most of the power from the motor is converted into force.  Brushless are typically higher in cost, more compact, and lighter weight.

Another important consideration is power.  We’re talking voltage.  A low voltage, such as a 10 volt drill is fine for hanging pictures… But if you’re serious about DIY and tackling bigger projects, the drill really should be 18V minimum. However, higher voltage can also mean less longevity – you could have a 20V drill and the battery dies after a half hour of use.  And a lower voltage battery could last for days before running out of juice.  It’s important to read reviews and perhaps buy an extra battery or two to have as back-up.

Speed settings: some drills have a speed selector.  Generally, you’d go for a high speed, low torque for smaller diameter drilling. And use low speed, high torque for larger diameter drilling.  Most would say your default should be a low speed and adjust the torque depending on the task and force needed (keep reading to learn more about torque).

Designed Outdoors top pick:

DeWalt is one of the top names when it comes to drills.  This one is perfect for those who are serious about diving into DIY.  It has two speeds. It’s compact and lightweight (and comes with an LED light for better visibility. It’s a good brushless tool for drilling and driving screws.  The battery charge indicator is a really nice feature. And the battery is long-lasting and quick re-charge.

Okay, you've got a drill. So, let's talk torque

Pick up almost any drill and you’ll see a collar with numbers (usually going to 30) that rotates like a dial.  This sets the torque or amount of force the drill will apply.  Why is this important?  If you’re torque is set too high, you might push the screw through too far and too easily.  And if set too low, the drill quits on you before the screw head is flush.  It’s a bit of trial and error, but you’ll quickly figure it out.  Most experts would advise you to start with the middle number (typically 15) and adjust up or down from there.  Just be aware of what you are drilling into.  Softer woods like cedar would require a much lower torque than oak or walnut.

akkuschrauber, screwdrivers, craft

The deal with pre-drilling

Admittedly, before building my own patio furniture, I’d never heard of a clearance hole, or bore clearance hole or how those were different from a pilot hole.  Here’s the deal: a clearance hole is basically the same diameter as your screw and only should go through the first board.  A pilot hole is a small-diameter and bored through the bottom board.  The first one, the clearance hole, allows the screw to grab the bottom board and pull it tight to the top board. It also prevents the top board from splitting.  This is super important when the top board is a thinner board and you’re screwing into the end or near the edge.  The second one, the pilot hole, again just keeps your boards from splitting and helps guide the path of the screw.  I highly recommend pre-drilling at least a pilot hole through both boards, especially if you are attaching thin boards or drilling into the end of a board or near the edge of a board.

So now you know the importance of pre-drilling… but what bits should you have? Choosing the right drill bit size and material can be tricky if you’re new to DIY.  There’s so many to choose from!  I would say, if you’re drilling into wood or other similarly dense materials, a steel or coated bit will do.  If it’s metal you’re drilling holes through, then you’re going to need cobalt drill bits.  I like the titanium-coated and you can get a decent set of them for under $20.

Other ways to achieve a proper screw.

for driving straight screws:

Have you ever had a screw go in crooked and the tip bust through the other side?  So frustrating!  I’ve done it many times!  It makes a mess of your projects!  I recently discovered a tool that will help prevent this mishap: it’s called a drill guide kit.  Use it and bore perfectly straight pilot holes.  Here’s one we recommend: 

for more concealed connections:

Another cool accessory is called a Pocket Hole Jig. But first, what is a pocket hole? No, we’re not talking about clothing. A pocket hole, according to Wikipedia, “involves drilling a hole at an angle – usually 15 degrees – into one work piece, and then joining it to a second work piece with a self-tapping screw”. Wait, what? It sounds next-level, but it’s super easy to use and is great because it allows you to predrill holes at a precise angle so you can conceal your screws when connecting two pieces of wood. Let’s say you plan to connect two pieces of wood to form an ‘L’ connection. How would you do that? Well, you could drill into the end of one down into the length of the other. But then your screw heads are exposed for the whole world to see. See the blurry screw heads in the picture at the top of this post? Yeah, totally could have been avoided with a Pocket Hole Jig. Ah well, next time.

Material Matters.

This story comes from a member of Facebook group that I recently joined: 

“I’ve been working on an old chicken coop. I don’t know when it was originally built but, the entire thing is held together with nails (no screws anywhere) so I assume they didn’t use any power tools. I was trying to mount some roosting bars and I was having a heck of a time with both my drill and my impact driver. The drill bits were getting stuck, screws weren’t going in nicely. There were a lot of swear words. Finally, I said one more swear word and grabbed my hammer and nails. Those nails went in straight and true like a hot knife through butter. No idea what the issue was. Don’t bring a drill when a hammer will do, I guess.”  


Sometimes wood is just.... too hard.

I’m not talking about anatomy!  Really people, get your mind out of the gutter! There is a standard test that measures and rates the hardness of wood.  It’s called the Janka test.  It assigns various wood species a number that translates to how easy the wood species is to saw, mill, nail, or screw.  It’s not exact but it would give you a general understanding of what’s harder when you’re comparing a couple of species of wood.  You might also be concerned with how easily the wood you want to use is likely to dent – if that’s the case, do a little research and see what Janka says!

But also, time can take a toll on wood making it harder.  I think that’s the case in the story above.  Her chicken coop walls were just aged wood that became hard as rock.  In her case, simply nailing the brackets to the wall did the trick.  But there are times (say nailing something to the ceiling) when you really do want to use screws, or bolts.  So, what do you do?

tips to try.

So a while back, when I was first building my own patio furniture, my father showed me a trick to use in a situation like this (especially if you encounter a knot in the wood – man, those are really hard to put a screw in!).  Lube the screw!  Ugh, mind out of the gutter, people!  You take a bar of soap and rub the screw with it. The soap that collects in the grooves can help lubricate the screw and prevent it from getting stuck.

Even despite this tricky tip, you may still need to drill a pilot hole (Reread the section above about pilot holes and clearance holes if you skimmed over it). And with especially tough wood, drill a larger than typical pilot hole. And if all else fails, perhaps it’s time to replace your drill bits or use a different screw with a more “grippy” head.


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1 thought on “A Proper Screw: The Basics Of Using A Drill”

  1. This is exactly the post I needed to read. I’m not sure why drills and saws are intimidating but I need to challenge myself to learn how to use them! I’m thinking of all the projects I could do on my own! Thanks for this post

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