How to use a drill for DIY projects

April 02, 2010

Well, I thought it was high time I had a “Tool School” session – especially since I said I would do at least one a month, starting in January. 

I’m starting with the drill because it is hands down the one tool I could not live without. I use my drill numerous times a week for something or another. I even stopped keeping it in the basement because I was going down there all. the. time. to get it for a project.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you are going to purchase a drill, and a few to remember when using a drill as well. We’ll start with what you want to look for when buying:

Cordless vs. corded

I only use a cordless drill that you charge for power. Depending on the power of the drill, a cordless drill is usually lightweight, you can use it anywhere (no worries about extension cords) and I just find them easier to use:

9.6 volt

Usually the corded versions have more power, and they take a little more skill to operate. (Like, it will jump out of your hands if you’re not careful, “skill.”)

As you can see, mine is a 9.6 volt and it’s perfectly adequate for most things you’ll need to do. I’m a DIYer and I don’t need more power.

The only downside to the cordless version is inevitably there will be a day when you’ll go to use it and it will turn like molasses = dead. I hear there is a fast charger that will charge that baby in less than 15 minutes, so I see that doodad in my future. Otherwise, I just charge mine every couple weeks or so. The 9. 6 version holds a charge surprisingly well.

Hand turned chuck vs. keyed chuck

Huh? What the what? Chuck the who? OK, the chuck is the part of the drill that holds the bits. (We’ll go into the bits later.) You want a chuck you can turn and tighten with your hand – not one that is tightened with a key:

drill chuck

The "key” is just a little device you insert into the chuck to tighten it. It works fine – but you will lose it. Like, a lot. (Even though there is usually a handy dandy holder on the drill.) You will yell and cry get frustrated when you can’t find it. So save yourself the drama and a trip to the hardware store for another and just get the hand-turned chuck version. (Huh?)

Drill accessories

One day only six short years ago, I sat down in our old apartment, drill in hand, ready to install new, beautiful hardware on a dresser. I was so excited to finally use a drill. I took the old hardware off, then went to put on the new ones, and was perplexed…

The two holes for the new hardware did not match up to the old holes. I had no idea what to do. I had the drill! I had the screwdriver bit! What the heck?

There are two functions of a drill – one is to screw things. One is to drill holes. I did not realize the screwdriver bit didn’t make holes. (I know. But I am quite sure I’m not the only one, hence the story time.) You need a drill bit to do that. My first DIY project was over fast because of this little oversight.

See how far I’ve come? ;)

These are the bits you’ll want to have for most projects:


The bit on the left is what you use to make holes in the wall, wood, metal, etc. You want the right bit for the right medium. Don’t try to drill through masonry with a wood bit. Not good. And a masonry bit usually doesn’t drill well through wood.

The next bit is usually in a set of different sizes – 1/2 inch and higher. I love these for drilling through things to hide cords – mostly the top and bottom of our kitchen cabinets.

The next is  your standard screwdriver bit that is the most basic – it also comes in variety of sizes, and most have two ends – the Phillips end and the flat head end.

The last tool is my favorite and what I think is a must have – the bit extender:

bit extenderI cannot live without this guy -- it’s a lifesaver! It extends the bit away from the drill so you can get in tight spots easier. I could not hang drapery hardware without this thing. They come in various sizes – they get pretty long! And the best part – some are magnetic:

bit extenderI cannot stress how awesome this is! It will save you many a “Where did that bleepity screw go?” experience as you go to drill one in – it holds them pretty well.

Now that you have your drill, how do you use it? It’s pretty easy. Here is an overview of my lovely:

drill parts

I’ve talked about most of it, but the directional switch is important as well. It goes left to right to change the direction of the drilling – basically in or out:


My drill also has a variety of power, or torque settings. Those are the numbers above the chuck. I usually keep it mid-range. It’s not a big deal – I find it doesn’t really matter where you have it set, as long as it’s in the middle somewhere.

When you drill a screw into a fresh surface, one that has no hole – you’ll want to hold the screw and start out with short “bursts” on the drill, so it gets it into the surface slowly, a little bit at a time. Once you get it in enough, you can let go of the screw and put your body weight behind it to get it the rest of the way in.

I use the weight of my body often – if you don’t you’ll get this sound more often than not (I apologize for the earthquake filming technique):


That’s not a good sound. Often, if you get level with the screw, put both hands on the drill, and then put your weight behind it -- it will help the bit hold onto the screw and get it in there.

If this happens to you and doing the above doesn’t help, then your bit is probably worn down, like mine:

stripped bit

Or the screw is starting to strip. (Wow, interesting set of words in this post!) Sometimes all you need to get it in is a good old fashioned, hand held screwdriver. Or you will need to take it out and start fresh with a new bit or screw.

You do want to hear the chuck grinding – or catching. That usually means the screw is in and secure.

The other sound you want to hear – squeaking. Hearing the squeak of a screw is like birds singing to a DIYer – it’s a very good thing. So if you are drilling into a stud in the wall, the squeak is good. Not bad. Don’t be afraid of the squeak!

Finally, the long drill bit I pictured above is what you use to put holes in the wall. I mentioned there are different bits for wood, concrete, etc. But there are a variety of sizes too.

You’ll want do use a bit for hanging anything substantial on the wall – in order to put in an anchor. Although I have been hooked on these for years:

drywall anchorThey don’t require a bit or a predrilled hole – just use your screwdriver bit to screw them right into the wall. Then your screw goes inside. SO easy – no finding the right sized bit for the right sized anchor. Lurve.

Sometimes, especially when you are trying to screw something into drywall or wood, you’ll want to create a starter hole for the screw – otherwise the drill tends to skip and you may or may not end up with little dents all around the intended hole. Ask me how I know. (The method of short bursts I mentioned helps this as well.)

So starting the hole with a drill bit will save you a lot of time. And hole fixing.

Well, I think I covered most if it. Anything I forgot? You now know why “chuck” and “squeak” are so important when using a drill, so I will consider you schooled. Huurahhh!

Get to the hardware store this weekend and pick up a shiny new drill – it will be the beginning of your DIY days! 

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  1. Love the post!!!!
    This was totally needed!
    I also find carpentry terminology fraught with innuendo (drilling, screwing, nailing, reaming, stud, stripping, nipple). Must be because it's been a man's field for far too long!

    Hope you don't mind if I link to this post as a "primer" for my novice DIY readers anytime I bring up using a drill!!!

    THANKS!! And looking forward to the next installment!

    - Christin

  2. You are the man (woman)! I've checked out so many do-it-yourself books from the library- some for the general audience, some geared toward women, and the most frustrating thing is they explain all the easy stuff. Like how to plug something in. Then the stuff I really don't know how to do, they breeze right through without explaining the terminology and harder aspects of a project. I love the way you make no apologies and explain every- little- thing so all of us, experienced or not can benefit from the post. THANKS!

  3. Thanks for the lesson. I so need it! I want to rehang some curtains and I don't want to ask hubby because he will NOT want to rehang something that he just hung! I am going to use the electric screwdriver tomorrow! Have a great Easter.

  4. Wow, I'm impressed that you use a drill! I have a small, portable Skil screwdriver that I carry with me in my trunk since I am a kitchen designer & I sometimes install hardware. It is cordless, lightweight & has a round carrying case. You can see it here I think Black & decker makes a similar one.

  5. Thanks for a great and informative post!
    smiles, alice

  6. I can never get the chuck to loosen up with my hand! Drives me crazy and it stinkin rubs my hand raw! What am I doing wrong. Hubby usually just grabs it from me, tries to show me and then just does it. For some reason it hates me. Help!

  7. I "lurve" being able to take care of business and not having to wait on someone else to get stuff done!
    A few years ago, I tackled remodeling my husband's closet - new organizers, shelves, the works. My neighbor came over to help me when I needed an extra set of arms to hold items up while I was attaching them to the wall. In some spots, there was no stud to screw into and I had to use the plastic anchor that came with the shelves. He showed me that the diameter of the anchor matches a standard Phillips head screw driver. He lined the tip of the screwdriver up with my mark, tapped the back end of the screwdriver (the handle) with a hammer and it went right into the drywall. He pulled out the screwdriver and remained was a clean, round hole that the anchor fit in snugly.
    What a great time saver?! I had to share.

  8. I love tools...and the smell of frest cut wood, mmmm...

  9. I keep my chuck key tied onto a string tied to my drill cord. My Dad did it all growing up and we have NEVER lost it in 20 years. This way it is always acessable and never lost.

  10. Awesome. I love tool school!

  11. Wow. If my husband could have said ANY of that just like you did, I could have been using the drill years ago. Man, it's like someone opened a door for me - now I can start trying to hang those heavy pictures, mirrors and plate racks by myself, instead of waiting for hubby to get off the couch, lol. *Whatever you do - do NOT stop the Tool School. I need a woman teaching me this stuff! :) Thankyou so much, so very much!

  12. I'm with Anita, who said, "I can never get the chuck to loosen up with my hand! Drives me crazy and it stinkin rubs my hand raw! What am I doing wrong. Hubby usually just grabs it from me, tries to show me and then just does it. For some reason it hates me. Help!" --- Except my difference is that I'm recently divorced and now there's no one around to help me, so I've got to learn how to do this on my own!!! I need to know HOW to get the bits out of the chuck...and then again how to get a new/different one back into the chuck and tightened. Help!

  13. What great info! We have a cordless drill, and you're really stinks to find it not charged when you're dying to use it for a project! And more often than not we forget to charge it too. Think we'd learn after a while -- LOL!! I may have to get that fast charger.
    Have a wonderfully Happy Easter!

  14. Hey, I have that SAME drill! I thought I loved it, til it kept dying in the middle of the tiniest projects! Now I'm thinking maybe I got a dud battery, it seriously holds a charge for like 20 minutes...I'll be off to Home Depot to get a new one soon! Thanks for the Tool School!

  15. I think we have 3 or 4 power drills. Both corded and battery.
    Hubby is a bit rough with tools, so I have to have my own tools.
    Check out my blog to see what he did to his hammer this weekend. LOL.

  16. Thanks for this!! I might try to use my power drill or something soon if I am brave enough.

  17. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Good post! I had to get my own drill and hide it from the man, otherwise I can never find the darn thing or he killed the battery. It was awesome to be able to install all the towel bars, etc in the bathroom on my own. And I have a B&D drill too. :).

    PS. I <3 laser levels. Everybody should have one.

  19. I LOVE Tool School. Thanks for the drill primer!

  20. Tool School! I knew much of this but I didn't know about the bit extender...great info!

  21. How cool are you to do a "Tool School"! I have a cordless 18v drill but I was ready to throw it against the wall last weekend as I tried to drill a hole in the front of a cabinet drawer for new hardware. It was basically scooping out one piece of sawdust at a time.'s things like this that constantly TRY to teach me patience :).

    Happy Easter!!!!!

  22. Great post, I really need a cordless drill.

  23. Sarah - can I give you the biggest high five? Thanks fo much for this! I'm constantly needing my hubby to drill things for me - and sometimes the project ends up taking forever (like months forever) bc I'm waiting for him. We actually have a little project that requires a drill so I'm hoping that with the knowledge you shared, and him "supervising" I can do some hands on work with the drill. I'm really looking forward to learning more about tools. I love your blog so much because I always feel so empowered whenever I'm done reading it. Happy Easter girl!

  24. You are like the Buddha of tools! I bow down to your wealth of knowledge.

    I have a teensy little confession...I am afraid of power tools. There I said it, I feel much better...and much worse! Thanks for making me feel like I can actually do this and not kill myself.


  25. You are so timely. I need to install bathroom towel rods and other things. My son is truly busy ,with work and his own family. So I'm ready to buy my first drill, but I don't know enough to even ask questions. Thanks to you, I feel more knowledgeable.

  26. Great post, thank you for all the tips! Any thoughts on your next power tool school post? if not, I request the miter saw. I could so get into molding, but I don't know how.


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