How to Use a Drill: A Beginner’s Guide

Do you know all the features and settings on your power drill? Here is everything you need to know to use a power drill driver for the best results efficiently.

woman adding a fastener into wood

A drill-driver is one of the most basic and essential tools in your toolbox. Whether you are building furniture, hanging a shelf on the wall, assembling store-bought furniture, or just about any other DIY home improvement project, it makes adding fasteners so much easier.

A drill-driver serves two purposes:

  • It can drill holes into wood, metal, tile, etc. when using the appropriate drill bit.
  • It can drive fasteners like screws and bolts using the appropriate driving bits.

It may seem simple and straightforward to use the power drill, and it is, but many users don’t understand or realize that there are settings and functions on the power drill that make it a lot easier and more efficient to use.

As beginners, we don’t always pay attention to the settings of a drill. We just know it’s supposed to drive when we put it in forward and drive out when we put it in reverse. Trust me, using your drill driver will be much easier when you understand all the settings.

Let’s get to know your drill better and dive into all of the drill features and settings.

How to Use a Power Drill Video

I have a detailed video tutorial showing you all the features and how to use a power drill.

Parts of a Drill Driver

Let’s get to know the power drill. Here is a quick rundown of the parts of the drill.

Dewalt drill on workbench with all parts labeled
  • Chuck – opens and closes the drill bit holder
  • Drill Bit Holder – holds the drill bit
  • Torque settings – determine the rotational force (more on this below)
  • Speed Settings – top switch on the drill (more on this below)
  • Trigger – powers the drill
  • Directional Switch or Reverse Switch- controls the direction the drill bit rotates.
  • LED Light – helpful when used in tight spaces
  • Battery – on cordless models.

Remember always to have an extra battery pack charged and available if you use a cordless power drill. It is no fun when you run out of battery during a project.

Power Drill Safety

  • Always hold the drill firmly. The drill can produce a lot of torque (twisting forces) that can twist and hurt the wrist if the drill isn’t held firmly in place.
  • Always check for electric wiring or plumbing in the wall before drilling holes.
  • Wear safety glasses.
  • Never wear gloves when using a drill. It can get caught in the fastener and cause injury.
  • If using a corded drill, be careful about the cord or extension cord as they can be a trip hazard.

How to Use a Drill

Using a drill is a simple three-step process:

  1. Load the appropriate dit into the drill.
  2. Set the torque and speed settings according to the bit or material you are using.
  3. Hold the drill such that it is perpendicular to the surface, squeeze the trigger and apply gentle forward pressure.

The ease with which you can drill or drive a fastener will depend on the torque and speed settings of the drill. Let’s break down each step into more detail.

Loading a Bit in the Drill

loading a drill bit into the dril

You can load a drill or driver bit into your drill driver in two ways.

  1. Manually turn the chuck clockwise to open it, then insert your drill bit. Turn the chuck counterclockwise to close it around the bit until it locks.
  2. Use the drill action: Toggle the direction switch to reverse, hold the chuck, and press the trigger to open. Insert your bit, toggle the switch to forward, hold the chuck, and pull the trigger to close.

Make sure the drill bit locks into place before using your drill-driver.

Once the bit is loaded, it is time to pick the settings.

Picking the Speed Settings

The top switch on your drill is the speed setting. It will have two speeds, 1 and 2. The speeds are used for two different actions.

  • 1 is low-speed, high torque, and is used for driving fasteners like screws.
  • 2 is high-speed, medium-torque and is used for drilling into material like wood or drywall.

If you try to drill with the speed switch on 1, you will feel like it takes a lot more power to achieve the task.

When you start using the drill driver, pick the speed and torque settings for your application.

Picking the Torque Settings

Most drill drivers have numbers from 1 to 15 located behind the chuck. These numbers indicate the torque level the drill will exert and are only used when the drill driver is being used to drive fasteners.

Power drill speed switch on 1 and the torque setting on 11.

WHAT IS TORQUE? Torque is the rotational force the drill uses to drive a fastener into material like wood or drywall.

The drill motor disengages when it hits the set torque level and stops driving. If your fastener hasn’t been driven in, you must raise the torque level before driving it into your material.

If you do not increase the torque level, you will have a stripped head on the fastener.

The torque setting depends on the material you are driving into.

For softer materials, you may only need to use settings 2-6, whereas for harder materials, you may need to go all the way to 13 or 15.

For wood, I usually start at a torque level of 7-9 when driving fasteners and increase as needed until the screw head rests just under the surface of the material.

You will find the drill symbol past the last number on the torque settings. This is the setting you want to use when drilling into material. When the drill driver is set to this, the motor does not disengage and continues to apply the torque.

Please do not use this setting for fasteners as it will not stop, and the fastener will go in farther than needed because the motor will never disengage.

How to Hold the Drill-Driver

woman using a power drill to drive a screw into wood

One of the most critical aspects of using a drill-driver is holding it correctly.

Always hold the drill perpendicular to the surface you are drilling or driving into. This will make sure:

  • The hole is drilled straight through
  • The fastener goes into the material straight.
  • If you are trying to remove a fastener and the drill isn’t perpendicular, it can cause the screw head to strip.

You want to keep the other hand on the back of the drill when possible. This will not only allow you to apply even firm pressure on the drill driver, but it will also help keep the drill perpendicular.

How to Drill a Hole Using a Drill

Woman drilling holes in a 2x4

To drill a hole into the material using a drill bit:

  1. Pick the correct drill bit for the application. Most general-purpose bits work for wood and drywall. You may need special bits for concrete, glass, etc.
  2. Pick the correct size for the project, depending on the project. If you are making a pilot hole, go with one size smaller than the fastener.
  3. Load the bit into the bit holder.
  4. Set the speed to 2 and the torque to the drill symbol.
  5. Place the drill bit tip on the location where you need to make a hole. Make sure that the drill bit is held perpendicularly with light pressure.
  6. Engage the directional switch to the clockwise direction.
  7. Slowly start the drill with light pressure applied perpendicularly to keep the drill from “walking.”
  8. Once the hole starts, you can increase the drilling speed by further squeezing the trigger and completing the hole.

How to Drive a Screw With a Drill

Using an electric drill to drive a screw or fastener beats using a screwdriver. However, you have to be very careful with the torque settings to ensure that you do not over-drive the screw or strip the screw head.

close up of woman driving screw into a 2x4

Here is how you can drive a fastener:

  1. Pick the correct driver bit by matching it to the screw head. You want to ensure that the driver bit sits nicely into the screw head.
  2. Load the bit into the bit holder.
  3. Set the speed switch to 1 and the torque to the lowest needed. The torque setting will depend on the material you are using. For wood, I start around 7. But if you are driving a screw into manufactured timber, you may want to start at 2 or 3.
  4. Place the bit into the fastener head. The drill should sit snugly in the fastener.
  5. Engage the directional switch to the clockwise direction.
  6. Slowly start the drill with firm pressure applied perpendicularly. Let the drill do its job. You should not need a lot of pressure.
  7. If the drill motor disengages and hits the torque limit, it will start clicking without driving the screw further. This is an indication to increase the torque and try again.
  8. Keep increasing the torque step-by-step until the fastener goes into the material as needed.

Important: Once again, DO NOT continue to try to drive the screw once it hits the torque limit. This will strip the screw head.

RELATED: Wood Screws: A Simple Guide for Beginners

Impact Driver

As the name suggests, an impact driver is a driver for fasteners. It operates entirely differently than a power drill.

A drill-driver exerts rotational force, whereas an impact driver exerts rotational force and linear (or straight) Force. As you are screwing a fastener with an impact driver, if it experiences resistance, it will stop and apply linear force to push the fastener in. Hence, the name impact.

An drill and an impact driver on the workbench

When Do You Use an Impact Driver?

They are handy when adding fasteners into tough materials or when removing a stripped screw. However, you never want to use them when adding screws or fasteners that require low torque or are sensitive to overdriving, like assembling Ikea furniture or even pocket hole joinery.

Can You Drill Holes With an Impact Driver?

Yes, it is possible, but due to the way the impact driver operates, it is highly inefficient.

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My Cordless Drill Recommendations

I get asked all the time about my favorite drills. Here are the ones I have used or currently own and my recommendations:

Current favorite: Dewalt Xtreme 12V Atomic Drill

It is smaller, lightweight, compact, and powerful.

My back up: Dewalt Atomic 20V max Drill Driver

Powerful drill. Works great. A little heavier than the Xtreme but still easy to use.

Budget-friendly: Ryobi One+ Drill Driver

Beginner-friendly and budget-friendly. A little heavier and bulkier than others.

Quick Flip Drill Driver: WORX Switchdriver

It has two heads that can be quickly rotated. It’s like having two drills in one hand. A great budget-friendly option for occasional home improvement projects.

More Beginner Woodworking Tutorials:

See more articles in Beginner Woodworking

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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