12V vs 20V Drill Head-to-Head: We Test If Higher Voltage Equals More Power

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Choosing between a 12v or 20v drill used to be simple. Now, not so much.

The dizzying choices between compact 12v models and powerhouse 20v tools can make your head spin.

Do lightweight 12v drills really have enough juice for serious jobs? And are bulky 20v beasts necessary for hanging pictures?

The truth lies somewhere in between. Picking the right drill for you is all about understanding power, portability and features.

This quick guide cuts through the numbers and myths. We’ll highlight where each drill type excels so you can find the ideal match for your needs. Let’s dispel the confusion and zero in on the perfect drill!

12v vs 20v Drill

Table of Contents

How to Choose Between 12V vs 20V Drill

When it comes to drills, one of the most common questions that comes up is whether you should choose a 12v or 20v model. On the surface, the voltage seems to be the key difference between these two drill types, but there are other important factors to consider as well. We’ll break down the key similarities and differences between 12v vs 20v drills to help you decide which is better suited for your needs.

Understanding Voltage and Power Output

The voltage rating on a drill refers to the amount of power it can output. Higher voltage drills can deliver more torque, enabling them to handle tougher jobs involving thicker or denser materials.

12v drills operate off lower voltage batteries and deliver sufficient power for lighter duty tasks like installing screws in wood or drilling small holes.

20v models utilize higher voltage lithium ion battery packs and can generate considerably more turning force for boring large holes or driving screws into tough materials like concrete or steel.

While the voltage plays a big role, it’s not the only factor determining the power and capabilities of these tools. You also have to look at the amp hour (Ah) rating on the batteries, which indicates how long they can run before needing a recharge.

Additionally, advanced motors, gearing and torque settings can vastly expand the functionality of 12v and 20v drills. Many 12v drills now use efficient brushless motors and optimized gearing to produce power approaching that of early 20v models.

So while 20v drills have the edge in power output, there is considerable overlap in capabilities between advanced 12v and basic 20v products. You have to look beyond just the voltage to assess factors like battery life, motor performance and chuck size to determine how well a drill will perform for a given task.

Key Differences Between 12v vs 20v Drills

Now that we’ve covered the basic voltage and power distinctions, let’s take a more detailed look at how these two drill types compare:

Torque Output

The higher voltage of 20v drills translates into considerably more turning force and torque. A typical 12v drill produces around 300 in-lbs of torque, while 20v models generate 400-600 in-lbs. This allows 20v drills to power through denser materials using larger bits.

Drilling Capabilities

Higher torque enables 20v drills to drill bigger holes, especially in metal and masonry. Most 12v max out at 3/8” to 1/2″ in steel, while 20v drills can bore holes up to 3/4” or larger. 12v models are suitable for drilling curtain rod holes or driving screws, while 20v drills are better for heavy duty tasks like installing lag bolts.

Run Time

The lower voltage requirements of 12v drills mean their batteries tend to last significantly longer per charge. A 12v 2Ah battery may operate a drill for up to 8 hours, while a 20v 2Ah battery powered drill will only run for around 2 hours. However, 20v batteries charge faster.

Weight and Size

12v drills weigh 25-30% less than comparable 20v models. Their smaller batteries and motors make them more compact and easier to handle in tight spaces. 20v drills weigh up to 4-5 lbs and can feel bulky during overhead use.


Higher end 20v drills generally offer more power settings, sturdier construction and brighter work lights. However, advanced brushless 12v models now match 20v drills in precision and features. Basic 12v and 20v drills tend to lack power settings, metal gearing and clutch control.


The smaller 12v batteries cost substantially less than 20v lithium ion packs. However, the drill itself may cost more for advanced 12v brushless models. Basic brushed 12v drills are the cheapest options.

As you can see, the voltage rating doesn’t tell the whole performance story. While 20v models have a power advantage, especially for heavy duty tasks, 12v drills are quite capable for common DIY applications and feature impressive battery runtime.

Similarities Between 12V and 20V Drill

Here are 3 key similarities between 12v and 20v drills:

  1. Both 12v and 20v drills use lithium-ion batteries for long lasting power and rapid recharging.
  2. Variable speed triggers give users precise control over RPMs for different materials and applications.
  3. Keyless chucks allow for quick and easy bit changes by hand without needing tools.

In summary, the core technologies of lithium-ion batteries, variable speed triggers, and keyless chucks are common to both 12v and 20v drills. This allows them to provide convenient cordless use, speed control, and versatility regardless of voltage power level.

When to Choose A 12v Drill

Dewalt 12v Drill

Now that we’ve compared the key pros and cons, here are the best uses for a 12-volt drill:

Light Duty DIY Tasks

12v drills work extremely well for common jobs like hanging pictures and curtains, assembling furniture, installing cabinet hardware or screwing plywood subflooring. They have plenty of power for drilling and driving into softwoods and sheet goods.

Precision Drilling and Driving

The smaller size, lower torque and increased run time of 12v drills makes them ideal for detail work. Jobs like drilling small pilot holes or sinking delicate screws benefit from the enhanced control and accuracy of 12v drivers.

Overhead Use

Working overhead on a ladder trying to support a 4 lb 20v drill can quickly become fatiguing and unsafe. The lighter 2-3 lb weight of 12v models reduces arm strain for extended overhead installation or construction tasks.

Tight Space Access

The smaller grip and battery pack of 12v drills allows for handier use in confined areas where maneuvering a full size drill is difficult. Jobs like installing shelving in closets and cabinetry are easier with compact 12v drivers.

Portable and Multi-Tool Use

Contractors, electricians and maintenance workers who need to carry tools from place to place prefer the lighter 12v drills for daylong portable use. The variety of 12v powered rotary and oscillating tools also enables efficient one-battery multi-tool use.

Budget Conscious Buyers

While prices vary widely, 12v brushed drill and battery kits can often be purchased for under $50. This makes them appealing for cost conscious DIYers who only tackle light duty drilling/driving tasks from time to time.

For most homeowners, 12v drill/drivers offer the ideal balance of power, portability and value for general around-the-house use.

Best Uses for A 20v Drill

Dewalt 20V Drill

20v cordless drills really shine in these applications:

Heavy Duty Drilling

Lag bolts, spade bits and hole saws require tremendous torque, especially in dense materials. 20v power easily bores 3/4” plus holes through solid wood, steel and masonry. 12v models bog down and lack the sustained torque for big bits.

Driving Long Screws

Deck construction, framing and other jobs requiring driving long screws benefit from the brute force of a 20v impact driver. Their extra power drives fasteners cleanly without stripping or breaking screw heads.

Extended High Power Use

Big projects like building a deck involve drilling and driving all day long. 20v lithium ion packs sustain high power output for several hours without fading or dying mid-job like lower voltage batteries can.

Frequent Recharge Cycling

Contractors and tradesmen work drill/drivers hard every day. 20v batteries hold up better to the frequent discharge-recharge cycles demanded by heavy professional use. Heat and wear take a greater toll on 12v packs.

Outdoor Job Site Use

The generator-like power of 20v tools makes them favored by builders and contractors for outdoor job site use. Rain, dirt and rough conditions are no match for the sturdy 20v drill design.

Specialty Bits

Hammer drills, right angle drivers, hole saws and other accessories call for maximum drill power. Specialty carpentry, plumbing and electrical bits work best with higher torque 20v models.

Future Expansion

Investing in a 20v drill means you can add higher draw tools like circular saws, grinders and grease guns while using the same battery system. 20v tools prevent unexpected power limitations as your capabilities expand.

While their upfront cost exceeds 12v drills, 20v models offer long term value for professional contractors or avid DIYers needing serious drilling and driving power.

Key Considerations When Buying a Drill

Whichever voltage you choose, keep these factors in mind when selecting a drill:

  • Power source – Nicad, NiMH and Li-ion battery types differ in performance, lifespan and cost
  • Torque rating – Look for lbs/in torque ratings to gauge drilling and driving power
  • Gearing – Metal planetary gears are more durable than plastic gears
  • Clutch settings – Multiple clutch stops help prevent screw stripping and damage
  • Chuck size – 1/2″ chucks allow larger bit sizes than 3/8” models
  • Brushed vs. brushless – Brushless motors run cooler and more efficiently
  • Battery Ah rating – Higher amp hour batteries last longer per charge
  • Special features – Built-in bubble levels, belt clips, work lights and other features add functionality
  • Brand reputation – Stick with proven brands like DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee for best quality
  • Warranty – Longer warranty periods indicate greater expected durability
  • Cost – Prices range from under $50 for basic models to over $200 for high performance brushless kits

Taking stock of how you plan to use your new drill and which features are essential will help narrow the selection process and ensure you choose the best drill for your needs.

Top 12v Drill Recommendations

Here are some of the top performing and best value 12v cordless drills suitable for most general DIY use:

DeWalt 12v Max Cordless Drill/Driver Kit

DeWalt’s DCD771C2 kit includes a compact, ergonomic drill/driver along with two 12v Max Li-ion battery packs. It delivers 300 unit watts out (UWO) for driving up to 1″ screws. A high speed transmission delivers 2-speed variations allowing optimized power/speed for each application. LED lighting illuminates the work area.

PORTER-CABLE 12V Max Cordless Drill/Driver

Porter-Cable’s PCCK607LB brushless 12v drill/driver produces 285 in-lbs torque in a compact 5.5 inch length weighing only 2.3 lbs. The 20+1 clutch setting prevents screw cam-out for precision applications. Onboard bit storage provides easy access.

BLACK+DECKER 12V MAX Drill & Home Tool Kit

Black & Decker’s LD120VA kit contains a 12v drill, jigsaw, sander, oscillating tool, over 100 accessories, and 20V lithium battery. The slim drill provides easy maneuverability and efficient performance for home tasks. Great value for the versatile tool assortment.

Ryobi 12V Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill/Driver Kit

Ryobi’s R86011K2 kit includes a variable speed 12v drill/driver, lithium ion battery, 18 piece driving set, and carrying bag. The magnetic bit holder and belt clip offer user convenience. Lightweight and affordable.

Craftsman 12V Lithium Ion Drill Driver

This Craftsman CMCF912D1 model has a slim soft grip handle with trigger speed control. On-board bit storage and LED light are handy features. Produces 330 in-lbs max torque. Durable and reliable performance.

Milwaukee 12V Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill Driver

Milwaukee’s 2604-20 M12 stick drill is compact and lightweight at only 1.5 lbs with a single 12v battery installed. The 250 in-lb torque makes it suitable for assembly, installation and light drilling applications. All metal single sleeve ratcheting chuck provides superior bit grip and retention.

Best 20v Drill Options

Here are some top rated and trusted 20v drill models to consider for heavy duty drilling/driving tasks:

DeWalt 20V Max Cordless Drill/Driver Kit

DeWalt’s DCD771C2 20v Li-ion drill/driver kit comes with 2 batteries to deliver 340 unit watts out for superior drilling in wood or metal. A high efficiency transmission optimizes speed and power. Weighs only 3.6 lbs for comfortable handling.

Makita 20V Max Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless Drill

Makita’s brushless XFD061 motor eliminates carbon brushes for longer running time per charge. Two speed settings deliver 0-400 & 0-1,900 RPM. The drill produces 500 in-lbs of max torque in a compact design. Star protection communication technology prevents overheating and overloading.

PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Brushless Drill/Driver

This PCCK607L2 model has a brushed motor delivering 330 unit watts out. The 2-speed transmission enables selection between 0-350 or 0-1,500 RPM. Weighs 3.5 lbs and has a 1/2″ ratcheting nitro-carburized metal chuck for superior bit grip. Exceptional value cordless driver.

BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Drill

Black & Decker’s BDCDD12C offers affordability and reliability. This compact drill provides torque up to 650 inch pounds thanks to its 20v lithium ion battery. Easy to control variable speed trigger and 11 position clutch dial for optimized fastening control.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel Brushless Drill/Driver Kit

Milwaukee’s advanced POWERSTATE brushless motor provides corded power and run time without overheating. REDLINK PLUS intelligence prevents damage through overload protection. Delivers 500 in-lbs of nut busting torque and 0-2,000 RPM speed. Kit includes batteries, charger and carrying bag.

Craftsman 20V Max Cordless Drill/Driver Kit

This Craftsman CMCF820D2 combo kit comes with batteries, charger and carrying case. The lightweight drill is only 3.7 lbs and can produce speeds up to 1,500 RPM thanks to the Craftsman high performance brushless motor. Durable, reliable and smooth performance at a reasonable price point.

Here are some additional frequently asked questions about 12v vs 20v drills

What’s the difference between 12v Max and 20v Max branding?

The “Max” labeling refers to the maximum voltage in the tool’s battery system. 12v Max tools use 12v lithium ion battery packs, while 20v Max drills use 20v lithium ion batteries. The max labeling helps differentiate the new lithium ion power from older 12v and 18v battery technologies.

Read Also: Can I Use a 20V Battery On 12V Drill?

How much does a 12v drill weigh compared to a 20v?

On average, a 12v drill weighs about 2-3 pounds, while a comparable 20v drill weighs around 3.5-4.5 lbs. The lighter 12v models are preferred for extended overhead use or all day portable use.

Can a 12v drill drive 3-inch screws?

Most standard 12v drill/drivers can drive screws up to 2 inches without issue. More powerful 12v models with advanced motors can typically drive up to 3-inch length screws, especially into softwoods. Use an appropriate pilot hole for smoothest driving.

Do I need a hammer drill for concrete drilling?

For heavy duty concrete drilling, hammer drills which produce a hammering and rotating action are required. However, regular 12v and 20v drills can drill shallow holes in concrete using special masonry bits. A rotary hammer drill is best for repetitive concrete boring.

How many amp hours do I need in a battery?

Look for 1.5Ah to 2Ah batteries for general DIY use. Batteries with higher amp hour ratings typically deliver longer runtimes, but are more expensive. Contractor grade packs go up to 6Ah and higher for all day power. Buy more cells than you need so you always have a fresh pack charging.

Should I buy brushed or brushless?

Brushless motors are more efficient, run cooler, and last longer. However, brushed motors are cheaper. Brushless tools cost more but deliver performance closer to corded models. Either type works for most homeowners, while pros prefer brushless for daily heavy use.

Is an impact driver better than a drill for driving screws?

Yes, the sharp hammering action of an impact driver allows it to drive screws with considerably more turning force than a standard drill. This prevents screw cam-out, stripping and damage. Use a drill for drilling holes, drivers for heavy duty fastening.

Final Thoughts

When comparing 12v vs 20v drills, it’s all about matching power and capabilities to your drilling and driving needs. As you can see, both 12v and 20v drills can deliver the power, features and performance for tackling a wide range of light and heavy drilling applications.

The key is choosing a drill with proven durability, battery life and clutch/speed control features suited for how you plan to use it. Pay close attention to power output ratings, tool weight, clutch settings and battery performance to select the ideal drill for your home DIY or professional job site needs.

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