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What’s a Brushless Drill, and Do You Need One?

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Cordless drills with brushless motors came on the scene just within the last decade and quickly gained ground on traditional brushed models. Now they make up 30 to 50 percent of the cordless drill market. “They’re also the fastest-growing segment,” says Courtney Pennicooke, Consumer Report’s market analyst for cordless drills.

So should you go for brushless over brushed? Read on to learn about the differences between the two types of drills and the factors to consider before choosing one. 

Brushed vs. Brushless

All cordless drills convert electricity into power by using the attracting and repelling actions of magnets to get the shaft spinning. Brushed motors require small metal brushes to work with the magnets to keep the shaft spinning. Brushless models have an electronic circuit board and a sensor to do the same thing. That has several advantages when it comes to performance, reliability, and durability. Brushless motors are:

1. More energy-efficient.
Because there are no brushes rubbing against anything, no energy is lost due to friction. That means brushless motors are more energy-efficient than brushed drills and can run on batteries for up to 50 percent longer. “That energy efficiency translates into more powerful drills because there’s no mechanical limitations posed by brushes,” says John Banta, a senior test project leader at CR.

2. More responsive.
A drill with a brushless motor adjusts its speed, torque, and power supply to match the task at hand. It’ll sense if you’re driving screws into a light material like drywall or a dense material like mahogany, and use only enough power to accomplish the job. (This battery power conservation also contributes to the brushless motor’s efficiency.) A brushed motor will use the same amount of power no matter what resistance it’s up against. 

3. Capable of packing more power, torque, and speed.
Without brushes to cause friction and slow things down, brushless drills pack more power and torque. They can reach higher speeds, too. “You can expect a 15 to 35 percent increase in performance compared with a brushed motor drill,” says Banta.

4. Easier to maintain.
A brushed drill requires new brushes after every 50 to 60 hours of use, but brushless models don’t have any brushes that need replacement. 

5. Smaller and lighter.
Brushless motors are also smaller than brushed motors, which brings down the overall size of the tool. Lauren Chell, a product manager at Dewalt, cites an example of a brushless model that’s 25 percent more compact than the brushed version the company makes. “For a compact drill, you could see a reduction of 1 pound and over 1 inch in length,” Chell says.

What does that mean when using a drill? Banta says you can get into tighter spaces with the same or better power.

6. Longer-lasting.
No friction in a brushless drill means less wear and tear, and less heat. “Excessive heat is the enemy of both the motor and the battery,” says Wayne Hart, communications manager at Makita. “And a brushless motor runs up to 50 percent cooler than a brushed motor.”

With a brushless drill, any heat that does develop dissipates faster because the winding mechanism that creates heat is on the casing of the drill rather than in the interior. Because of this, brushless drills don’t need air vents on its casing for cooling, so they’re better protected from dirt and debris than brushed versions.

Okay, but What About Price?

In general, brushless models cost more than brushed. For instance, when we checked, a brushed 12V cordless drill-driver from Makita costs $68 and its brushless one costs $122. But the price differences are beginning to level out as more brushless models replace brushed ones. And while you pay more up front, you don’t have to pay for replacement brushes (typically $5 each), and you’re getting a drill that will last longer.

So, Should You Get a Brushless Drill?

For now, brushless drills mainly come in the heavy-duty and general-use categories, not the light-duty category. So if you’re someone who does a fair amount of serious projects that require a drill, going with a brushless could make a lot of sense. It’ll give you higher speeds and power, and require less maintenance. But if you’re a DIYer tackling lighter projects, you may not notice much of a difference. 

“Homeowners who use a brushless drill infrequently probably won’t notice the longer life or runtime benefits,” says Banta. “But they’ll immediately notice that they’re lighter and smaller than the old brushed variety.”

All of the heavy-duty drills in our ratings are brushless while three out of the 12 models in the general-use category are brushless, all of which earn top ratings. See our picks for those two categories below, listed alphabetically. CR members can see ratings and reviews of them.

And if you want to dig even deeper, here’s a closer look at our cordless drill buying guide.

Published on Consumer Reports


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