Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Superb drill from Sears had unexpected surprises

I have LOTS of electric drills. My oldest have cords and some of them are over 30 years old and still work, but seldom get used.

My most recent ones from Panasonic and DeWalt use NiCad batteries and get used a lot. I'm certainly aware of the recent trend to use Lithium-Ion batteries, but I felt no urgency to get a Li-Ion tool, since my others worked fine.

Over the weekend I needed to hang some shelves on the wall. My trusty Panasonic electric screwdriver just didn't have the torque to screw into the wall studs, and my newest and mucho-macho 18-volt DeWalt cordless felt too damn heavy, and its big size made it awkward to hold at the right angle in some tight spots.

I have a lightweight 12-volt Black & Decker, that I got at super-low-price last Black Friday with a huge assortment of bits. Unfortunately, like many inexpensive cordless tools, it requires a wall-wart transformer to charge it up -- and it had vanished into the abyss. It's much harder to lose a charging "cradle."

It was time for a shopping trip.

I had to go to Lowe's to get some hardware items, so I checked out their tool department. They had lots of choices from Black & Decker and other brands, but they all seemed either too weak or too bulky for my needs. So I went to the Sears store here in Milford, CT and super-knowledgeable salesman Gary Elkies found me the perfect solution.

The Craftsman #11812 12-volt Lithium-Ion compact drill/driver is a part of the new compact line of Craftsman tools called NEXTEC. These tools are powered by a surprisingly small battery designed to provide extra "oomph" and longer shelf life.

Although the drill weighs only 2.2 pounds with the battery, its powerful motor puts out 195 inch-pounds of maximum torque. That's probably not enough to break your arm like some bigger drills, but it could certainly peel the skin off a finger if you do something stupid. And it had no trouble drilling through shelves and into studs. Its 3/8-inch keyless chuck handles most of the bits I use most often -- both drills and drivers.

The tool is perfectly balanced, and comfortable to hold and use. I particularly liked the rubbery grip surfaces. The directional switch has a "neutral" position that locks the drill -- a nice safety feature that could keep a kid from doing damage.

Although it's probably drill #14 for me, I think it will be the one I use most often. Unless you need to go through steel girders or put holes in bricks, it's a perfect all-around drill for do-it-yourselfers; and lots of pros will find it useful, too.

The drill features a variable speed switch for high speeds of 0-1300 RPM (no load) and low speeds of 0-400 RPM. It has a two-speed gear box for high torque and an 18-position adjustable torque clutch. The 3/8 single sleeve keyless chuck grips the bit quickly and securely.

I bought the drill based on size, power and price ($90), but found a few pleasant surprises when I got it home and opened the box.

* A built-in LED work light illuminates the bit and what you're drilling into.

* It comes with TWO Lithium-ion batteries, not just one, so one can be charging while the other is being used. I figured I'd have to pay $30 for another battery. Charging time is just 30 minutes and the charger has an LED indicator that shows the charging status.

* And it comes with a nice Cordura-like carrying/storage case.

You can get it at Sears, Sears.com, and probably Kmart and other places that sell Craftsman tools.

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