At Seach Engine Strategies Chicago in 2004, we had someone stop Matt and myself as we were leaving the ballroom after lunch because she noticed the Makita logo on the sleeve of our shirts. It was Shari Thurow (pictured to the right), well known author, successful busnesswoman and speaker at those conferences. She just had to tell us how much she loved her Makita drill – not because of the power, not because of the longevity, not because of any of the reasons we normally hear. She loved it because of the weight and the fit. It seems Makita makes a drill that fits smaller hands better, and this got me thinking.
Makita has long been a leader in addressing ergonomics in making tools. I knew I couldn’t pick out the best tools for women, but now that the number of employees here has grown substantially and we have quite a few female employees, I’ve been able to have them address what’s comfortable to them and what isn’t. In compiling this data, I now have enough information to put together a cordless drill buying guide specifically for women based upon the unique ergonomic needs of our female employees.
Our Panel of Judges
Our panel of judges consisted of our purchasing agent, our Human Resources director and our customer support team leader. Three ladies in very different jobs and age groups, so this seemed like a nice mixture of opinions to compile for this exercise. I didn’t feel it necessary to drag all of our female employees out for this, especially when the first 3 opinions were nearly identical.
Tools to Avoid
The general feeling was that 18V and higher tools, especially the Ni-Cad models, were too heavy. Most of these also didn’t fit smaller hands well, specifically the trigger. The handles were a bit too deep, making fully outstretched index fingers fall short of pulling the trigger easily. Weights range here, but some are as much as 6 lbs. in an 18V, making for a heavy drill.
As a general rule, buttons on either side of the battery are tougher to use. Some brands. such as DeWALT and Panasonic, have the spacing far enough apart that our panel couldn’t easily remove the batteries. Others, like the Makita BDF451, have a single button to make it much easier to remove. The Porter Cable 9824 was a single button on the side, which made for fairly easy removal.
The Hitachi DS14DVF3 wasn’t overly tough like some of the drills tested were, but the 2 buttons were still more difficult than the Makita and Porter Cable. We also noticed that the higher Amp Hour rated Hitachi batteries were difficult to remove. In fact, when I went back to the call center they had just finished removing the battery from a Hitachi Impact, and it took two people. That’s not exactly practical.
If you’re wanting something easier to start a screw / hole with, then the smoothness of the variable speed trigger is important. The Hitachi had a sudden jolt of power when it started up, as did the Milwaukee models we tried. Makita and Porter Cable seemed to have the smoothest triggers. It may not be a huge issue for you, but the less you are able to put your weight behind it the more important the slow startup speed becomes.
There were two that were considered by our panel to be decent choices – mostly as a backup if one of the two ideal choices below weren’t available. The first was the Porter Cable 9824. The balance wasn’t too bad, but the weight was a little too much towards the top of the drill. The other decent choice was the Makita 6337DWDLE, which was 4.6 lbs. with battery. The weight seemed to be a bit more towards the front, making it top-front heavy. Again, the grip was a lot better fit than most of the drills we carry. With a little better balance, the 4.6 lbs. wouldn’t have been an issue at all.
Two drills emerged as the best choices for women looking for a cordless drill. The first is the Hitachi DS14DVF3, which is a 14.4V Ni-Cad model. This was the best overall feel, is 3/4″ shorter from the chuck to the back of the drill than the next model they liked, and has a reasonable amount of power for most jobs around the house. Best of all, it weighs in at just 4 lbs. with battery. The only real concern is that the battery is only 1.4 Ah, so runtime will be less than many of the heavier models.
The second is the Makita BDF451, which is an 18V Lithium-Ion drill. It weighs 4.6 lbs. like the 14.4V model mentioned above in the “Decent” section, but the balance is much better. It is ideal for jobs where power is essential. The Hitachi has 300 in. lbs. of torque, but this model has 560 in. lbs. without a lot more weight. With 3.0 Ah batteries that last twice that of Ni-Cad and Ni-MH models, the runtime will also be a consideration point – it should be nearly 4 times that of the Hitachi on the conservative side.
This model also includes some nice features in the dual LED lights just above the trigger, easy battery removal, very smooth trigger, 3 speed transmission and a removable side handle for added stability when putting your weight behind it. The belt clip was also a nice touch, even if it probably doesn’t get used all that often.
Price is always a consideration when buying tools. Clearly the best value is the Hitachi, which is priced around $100 with 2 batteries, charger and a flashlight. The Makita is over 3 times as much, making it only an option when the power or runtime are essential. If you have need of more cordless tools to go along with this one, the Makita LXT400 kit has a more attractive price when considered on a cost per tool basis, and each has similar ergonomics and weight to the BDF451.
We’ll Take Requests
Got a specific tool that you’d like to get our judges to review? Leave a comment and I’ll have them take a look at it. If they warrant individual reviews (such as completely different tools), I’ll post them that way. If you’re asking about a specific drill, I’ll add that to this article. Either way, we will address any requests to assist you in selecting a power tool.