Just right

Sorry Tim Allen, more power isn’t always what you need. But something too weak doesn’t work either, so you need a tool in the middle. Goldilocks apparently knew what she was talking about.

I have two heavy 18-volt drill/drivers you could use to drill rivet holes in a battleship, but in spite of the name they’re more than a little overkill for driving screws for woodworking (unless you want to drive them right out the other side). They’re also good for building your biceps, because they’re not light, but sometimes I need that power so I’ll never get rid of them.

I also have some extremely light-duty cordless tools. Don’t even know what voltage they are because the batteries are permanently sealed inside. These are the ones you keep in the kitchen tool drawer for quick driving jobs when you don’t want to walk out to the shop for a real drill/driver. These featherweights do the trick for light driving, but even though most come with a couple drill bits tossed in the package they’re really worthless for drilling. Still, they have their place.

Enter the compact drill/driver, a new category of tools I’m in love with. These tools are rated at 12 volts (they’re really 10.8 volts under use, but marketing guys discovered they’re 12 volts when sitting around not doing anything, and since marketing runs the world the 12-volt moniker stuck). You can’t build a battleship with one, nor would you toss one haphazardly in a kitchen drawer, but they’re the perfect compromise in a woodshop where drilling holes and driving screws are often the two most common daily tasks. Pair this advantage with the new Lithium-Ion battery technology and you get an excellent, long-lasting, mid-duty tool that won’t have your arm aching at the end of the day. As I noted, I have bigger drill/drivers and some itty-bitty ones, but it’s a 12-volt compact that always shows up in my shop photography, because that’s what I use 90% of the time.

This category started only a few years ago when I think maybe Bosch came out with the first 10.8-volter (which has now been redubbed a 12-volter), and others quickly followed. The last of the major companies to come out with tools in this class is DeWalt, who rolled theirs out just yesterday at a press event I attended in Baltimore. Waiting as long as they did, DeWalt had the chance to refine the tools in the category. As a result, they’re excellent and certain to give existing tools in the class stiff competition.

But the important fact is that everyone has these tools now, so no matter which flavor you prefer there’s one out there for you. Haven’t tried one yet? That’s not surprising, as the first impression some woodworkers have for these compacts is that they can’t hold their own in the shop. But they can, and they hold their own very well. I’m betting that if you tried one, your 18-volters will remain on the shelf for big jobs; like me, you’ll be using one of these compacts every day because they’re perfectly sized for woodworking: They’re not too big, and not too small.

As Goldilocks said, just right.

Till next time,



  • Nancy Kroes says:

    So true. I have several 18v lithium ion drills and the one I find in my hand most often is indeed my 12v (Ryobi no less). It was actually part of a set of 4 tools – a small circular saw, a reciprocating saw, the drill, and a very useful light. I like and use all four of them – before I use the heavier 18v versions of the same.

  • Andy Barss says:

    I agree very much. I have a corded, very powerful drill I use for heavy jobs (Milwaukee holeshooter), and like it a lot, but what really opened my eyes were two of the Bosch 10.8/12 volt drill-drivers. I have one, my wife the other, and they’re incredibly useful. I put up a whole dust-collection system with riveted metal ducts with one, for example, and working overhead was easy.

    The new Lithium-Ion batteries are amazing, too. Charge fast, and hold a charge (both under use and in storage) for a long time.

    I’m now looking into a circular saw that’s smaller and lighter than my PC 7 1/4″ saw. That one is fine, but a lighter one with less cutting capacity would be great — anyone have recommendations?

  • Along with the over power, I burned out a 3/4 h.p., 3450 rpm motor on my 6 x 48 stationary belt sander a few years ago. The replacement motor on hand was a 1/2 h.p., 1750 rpm and I was in a pinch to get the job done. I quickly found out that the change was for the totally best. The faster motor would quickly burn and wear out the belt. The 9 inch disc would burn almost at a touch. The smaller motor elimated all these problems. My discs last 100% longer and the belts last that long or longer. Incredable differance in the costs over a years time. I believe the manifacturing company puts the faster motor on to sell more sandpaper…..

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