Difference Between Cordless Drills and Electric Screwdrivers

There are a lot of tools out there. Some are essentials for any toolbox; others are specific to certain jobs or careers. Some seem to do the same thing, like electric screwdrivers and drills. As one starts to build up their tool repertoire, you may start to ask yourself what tools do I need?

The major difference between a cordless drill and an electric screwdriver is the size of their motor and the battery voltage. Cordless drills have larger and more powerful motors, are used for heavy tasks (like drilling holes and mixing paint), and need more battery voltage to function (usually in the range of 12v to 24V). Electric screwdrivers have smaller motors, are used for lighter tasks, and use smaller batteries (4V to 10V).

cordless drill vs electric screwdriver

 Other differences include:

  1. Versatility
  2. Size and Portability
  3. Torque and Power
  4. Maneuverability
  5. The Jobs
  6. The Cost

Which one is best for you is based on the jobs that you are going to need it for and the amount of money you are looking to spend.

So, let’s take a closer look at drills and power screwdrivers to help you decide which one you need for your toolbox.

The answer begins with the knowledge of what a tool is capable of, what you need it to do, and what the cost will be.

7 Major Differences Between an Electric Screwdriver and a Drill

1. Drill Bits and Chucks vs. Socket

One big difference between a drill and an electric screwdriver is the chuck and the bit. A drill has a chuck that opens and closes around a bit, which is used for various tasks, most notably to drill holes.

Electric screwdrivers have no chuck; they have a socket that can only fit driver bits.

Read more here on what does a chuck size represents on a drill.

There are various types of bits that you can use with your drill to make it complete many varying tasks. There are:

  • Drill Bits: These have different sizes put holes of varying diameters in materials.
  • Driver Bits: These allow the drill to drive screws and other fasteners.
  • Sandpaper Drill Bit: This bit turns your drill into a sander.
  • Installer Bits: These are designed for installing wiring.
  • Scaling Chisel Bits: Allow you to chisel masonry.

An electrical screwdriver socket allows you to have driver bits of various sizes for all types of screw heads. Some of the common screw heads are:

  • Flat Head
  • Phillips
  • Pozi
  • Hex
  • Square Recess
  • Torx Head

2. Versatility

One of the major factors when comparing drills to electric screwdrivers is how versatile the tool is. Based on my lists above, you can see how much more versatile the drill is: it can be a screwdriver and so much more.

An electrical screwdriver is – a screwdriver. In many ways, it is an improvement from a manual screwdriver, of course. But it is very much a one-faceted tool.

3. Size and Portability

The versatility of the tool is sometimes further enhanced by size. A drill press is big and immobile, so it is extremely limited in the type of jobs you can use it for.

Drill presses are also called pillar drills, bench drills or pedestal drills.

Both the cordless drill and the hammer drill are able to be carried in your hands and don’t have to be plugged in, so you can take them almost anywhere. But they tend to be bulky, which makes them hard to get into tight areas. You are going to struggle using them to get that screw into a corner.

Electric screwdrivers are the size of a medium screwdriver. They are lightweight, so they can be carried easily and can be used with one hand. The best electric screwdrivers have different head positions, so they can easily reach into tight spaces to drive your fasteners.

4. Torque and Power

Torque is a measurement of twisting force. The more torque a drill or driver has, the bigger jobs that it can do.

  • Drill Press: These drills have a large motor, usually anywhere from ⅓ horsepower (hp) to 1 hp, so it is capable of a lot of torque. This makes it a great drill for any type of surface. The obvious problem is that you have to get the surface to the drill because it would most likely be too much of a pain to bring the drill to the surface.
  • Electric and cordless drills: Both of these do not have as much power as a drill press, but they have more than enough to create enough torque to get through most materials effectively. Most of them have either an 18 or 20-volt battery, which is powerful enough to get most home jobs done.
  • Hammer Drill: This drill has the same voltage as the standard cordless drill and tends to have the same torque. What makes it better for drilling concrete is the hammer action on the drill bit.
  • Electric Screwdriver: This tool has anywhere from 4 to 8-volt battery. This makes it significantly less powerful than the cordless drill. It has enough power to drive a screw through softwood without a hole, but that is about all. It is best at quickly driving fasteners through predrilled holes.

5. Maneuverability

There is a huge difference between the type of tool and its ability to move into certain areas to get certain jobs done. This may be a factor when deciding which one is best for you.

  • Drill Press: The things that you can do with a drill press are innumerable, but only if you can get the material to the drill. The drill press will get you the most precise holes, allowing for the most accurate depths and angles for any surface, but its size makes it hard to move around. Even if it is on wheels, you are most likely not going to move it any further than around your shop, and it has to be in cord length of an outlet.
  • Electric Drills: They are small enough to be held in one or two hands but tend to weigh in excess of 6 lbs. This means you can easily take them to pretty much wherever you need them, but their maneuverability can be limited. You will have no problem drill holes and driving screws for most projects around the house or the shop, but you will not be able to get into tight corners, and it may get tiring to hold after a while. They are also limited by their need for a power supply. To use one, you are going to need an electrical outlet.
  • Cordless Drills and Hammer Drills: These guys have most of the same benefits as an electric as well as the same drawbacks. The one thing both of them have over the electric is that they run on ion-lithium batteries and do not need to be plugged in, so you can literally use them anywhere.
  • Electric Screwdrivers: They are lightweight and small. There is no issue using them in almost any space. Most of them even have adjustable heads, so you can reach into tricky corners. Like the handheld drills, they run on ion-lithium batteries and do not need an outlet until you need to charge the battery.

6. The Jobs

The choice between a drill and an electric screwdriver really comes down to the job that you will need it for.

There are some things a power screwdriver can’t do that a drill can. There are also a few things an electric screwdriver can do that a drill can’t.

Knowing when you should use one over the other will ensure that your project comes out the way you want it without a hitch. Here are some common jobs and the right tool for them.

  • Building furniture: When building prefab furniture, you are mainly driving screws, so an electric screwdriver would be the best tool. You could potentially use a cordless drill, but that would be overkill for the job. However, if you are building something from scratch, you’ll need to be drilling holes, as well. That’s when you’ll need a drill.
  • Hang a picture frame: There is a possibility that you will need to drill a hole to hang the picture properly in a stud, but an electrical screwdriver probably has enough power to drive the screw without a hole. There is no doubt that a cordless drill will get the job done. It’s your choice.
  • Put In a screen door: The frame of the door is metal, and you are likely to have to drill multiple holes as well as drive screws in, so a cordless drill is the best tool for this type of job.
  • Sink a concrete anchor: You are going to need a hammer drill for this job. It is the only drill that is mobile enough and will drill into the concrete.
  • Sanding down a piece of wood: Cordless drills have a number of attachments. One attachment turns your drill into a sander as good as any belt sander on the market. Electric screwdrivers don’t have strong enough motors to make attachments practical.
  • Drilling multiple holes of the same depth and angle: As long as you can move the material, you are putting the holes in into your shop, this is a job for a drill press. When you need a series of holes to be uniform, handheld drills are not as reliable.

7. The Cost

If you are on a budget and can only get one tool, then a cordless drill is probably the choice for you.

Quality drill presses are expensive and are really only for people who work with wood or build with other materials on a regular basis. They are not practical for the average Joe.

Electric screwdrivers are cheap for the most part, but they are only useful for specific jobs. If you only plan on needing something to put the occasional bookcase or entertainment center together, then maybe this is the right tool for you.

And if you need something that can fit into small spaces, this is the only tool for you. But, if you are ever going to need something with a little more power, the electric screwdriver might not get the job done.

Cordless drills are cheaper than many drill presses but more expensive than power screwdrivers. They are more versatile than a drill press and can do everything an electric screwdriver can.

Electric Screwdriver vs Other Types of Drills

The technical definition of a drill is a tool that makes holes using a drill bit. A driver is what fastens screws, bolts, and other fasteners using a driver bit.

Most handheld drills are used for both purposes and are what most people think of when they think of a drill.

Here are some common types of drills and a little bit of history:

1. Drill Press

Also known as a bench drill, a drill press is a large drill that is stationary. The drill bit is connected to an arm that is attached to a spindle. As you turn the spindle, the arm lowers to the desired depth drilling a hole in your material.

The first electric drill presses were developed in the 1920s. They were built to be used by factory workers and smithies because they allowed them to make repeatable cuts and holes of the exact same size and angle.

A drill press gives you better control of drill speed, depth, and angle. It also can be used with almost any material, but it only drills. You do not drive with it. This limited use makes it a handy tool only for those who work in specific fields.

2. Electric Hand Drill (aka Corded Drill)

First manufactured by Black and Decker in 1916, the electric hand drill was developed to be small enough to fit in your hand. Duncan Black and Alanzo Decker’s design for a drill that could be held and controlled by hand was inspired by their client, the gun manufacturer, Colt. The drill is shaped like a pistol with a trigger that allows you to modulate the drill or driver speed.

The versatile tool was supposed to be for industrial use, but when factory owners noticed workers taking the drills home for use there, they began to market them for nonprofessionals.

The first electric hand drills for the general public began to be sold in 1923. It wasn’t until after World War II, though, that the drills became common in almost every household.

Hand drills both drill and drive depending on the bit you load. You need to plug-in electric hand drills, but they can drill through most materials depending on the motor strength.

3. Hammer Drill

Cordless hammer drills were first introduced by Bosch in 1984. Just like the regular cordless, it wasn’t until the development of the ion-lithium battery that they become common in the market.

This drill looks like a normal cordless hand drill, but it has a hammer mechanism added on. The mechanism pushes the drill bit in and out while drilling so you can chip away at hard materials. These drills can pretty much drill through anything.

If you do a lot of home projects and need precision with your drilling, a drill press is a must-have, but most people will not need one. The most common drill these days and the one most comparable with the electric screwdriver is the cordless hand drill.

4. Cordless Hand Drill

The cordless hand drill, which looks and functions just like the electric but without needing to be plugged in, was first developed by Black and Decker in 1961.

It was powered by a nickel-cadmium battery. Bosch followed with its version in 1978. But neither of these drills were practical at the time. They weren’t able to produce the torque and power of their plugged-in siblings.

It wasn’t until the early ‘00s when Milwaukee introduced Lithium-Ion batteries that the cordless drill became practical.

Significant advances in drill and battery technology came together to create a tool that was just as effective as the corded variety. Now, these drills are industry standard with all the power and benefits of the electric.

5. Electric Screwdriver

An electric screwdriver is exactly what the names suggest, a screwdriver with an electric motor.

They were first built by Black and Decker in 1923 and needed to be plugged in. They were developed to work alongside the electric drills. The drills bore the holes, while the screwdrivers drove the fasteners into the holes.

Nowadays, they are usually slightly bigger than medium-sized screwdrivers. They come with interchangeable heads so you can drive both flat head and Phillips head screws with the same driver.

They run off an ion-lithium battery, so they are cordless. Although it is possible to drill small holes into softwood, the electric screwdriver is not meant to be a drill.

A small cordless power screwdriver
A small cordless power screwdriver

They are a little bulky for some jobs, but you could always use a normal screwdriver for those. If you are looking for the most bang for your buck, a cordless drill is a right choice.

While these two tools can help you accomplish a few similar tasks, they are not always interchangeable.

A drill can do all an electric screwdriver can do and more, but its powerful motor may be overkill for some jobs. And an electric screwdriver is handy, but it doesn’t have nearly the versatility a drill has.

In the end, as with most tools, the job or project dictates the instrument that will best help you accomplish the task at hand. Hopefully, this list will help you determine which one is right for you.

Cordless Drill vs Electric Screwdriver

If you’re thinking about buying a drill to drive screws, it might be a sound choice. But there’s a chance you may also just need a cordless screwdriver. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and the choice comes down to how you plan to use the power tool.

Cordless Drill Pros and Cons

There’s no doubt that the drill is a more versatile purchase. But there’s one thing you should know before you run out and buy a drill to drive a few screws.

This tool is actually designed to drive holes into wood and other materials. It can also drive screws, as we’ve explored. Drills are also high-powered tools, so they can drive screws or holes into virtually any material (depending on the drill’s specs).

And in the negative column comes the cost. Because the drill is a more powerful and more versatile tool, it’s also more expensive than a cordless screwdriver.


  • Versatile
  • Powerful enough for most materials
  • Heavier


  • More expensive

Cordless Screwdriver Pros and Cons

If all you really need is to drive screws into drywall, a cordless screwdriver is probably your best bet. Not only is it lightweight, but it’s also extremely affordable. And why pay for more than you need?


  • Lightweight
  • More affordable overall
  • More affordable battery replacement


  • Less versatile
  • Cannot drill holes
  • Low power

How to Choose Between a Cordless Drill and a Cordless Screwdriver

When you’re trying to decide between these two tools, think about how you plan to use them.

If you think you’re ever going to need a drill for other purposes, the drill is the more affordable choice in the long run. That is, it’s cheaper to buy a drill now than to buy a cordless screwdriver now and a drill later.

You’ll need a drill if you need more power than a cordless screwdriver provides or if you want to drill holes into anything. A cordless screwdriver won’t do that.

Another thing to consider is the hardness of the wood you’re going to be working with. And this is difficult to predict your future needs.

But if you’re going to be working with very hardwoods, particleboard or other hard materials, a cordless screwdriver isn’t going to cut it. And since you can’t predict what you’ll need in the future, it’s usually best to go for the drill if you have the budget.

Another consideration could be if you want a quick fix. There are a lot of variables in choosing the right drill for your needs. And this isn’t a decision you want to rush. You could use the cordless screwdriver as an affordable stop-gap solution while you decide which drill you want.

Or, if you’re ready to make that drill purchase, check out my post on the best cordless drills. I’ve included some of my best tips on how to choose the right drill for your needs there too. So, you can choose any from the list or use the tips to find one that’s perfect for you.

Ultimately, if you’re a homeowner, a drill is a safe choice. You may not have a need for it now, but the chances are good that you will soon.

Next, let’s go into details and see if a cordless drill can be used instead of a screwdriver.

Can A Cordless Drill Be Used As A Screwdriver?

A cordless drill used to drive a screw
A cordless drill used to drive a screw

You told your partner you’d finally hang that mirror in the entryway. It’s T minus zero and all you’ve got is a cordless drill. Will it work?

A cordless drill can be used as a power screwdriver. But there are a few things you may want to know about the drill first, including what bits to use for this purpose and how to get the most out of your drill.

And just in case you haven’t purchased the drill yet, we’re going to cover whether you might really want a cordless screwdriver instead. It does make sense in some cases.

So, let’s dive in…

How to Choose a Screwdriver Bit for Your Drill

Your cordless drill probably came in a case with metal screwdriver bits. You’ll need to use screwdriver bits in a drill to transform your cordless drill in a screwdriver, but which one?

Picking out a screwdriver bit is a lot like picking out the right screwdriver. There are bits that have Flat blade heads, Phillips heads, and even Nutdriver-shaped heads. You’ll need to match the type of bit to the type of screw. And you can do this even if you have no idea what those bit types are.

Simply look at the screw and match it with the appropriate bit for type and size.

This is a simple step, but it’s extremely important. If you choose a bit that’s too small, it’ll slip and you might damage the wood or drywall. If the bit is too large, it’s not going to grip the screw and you may run into some of the same issues.

How to Use Your Cordless Drill as a Screwdriver

Don’t worry. It’s easy. You really don’t need any prior knowledge to be able to operate one.

  1. Make sure your drill is charged — Although this one is self-explanatory, you don’t want to run out of power before the job is done, so if you can, charge your tool fully before you begin.
  2. Locate the chuck — The chuck is the part of the drill that holds the bit. Insert the bit that matches your screw. And if your drill has a chuck key, use the key to tighten the bit into place, so it doesn’t slip while you’re driving the screws. Just don’t overtighten or you’ll have trouble getting it out.
  3. Connect the bit with the screw — This is easy, but you want to be sure it connects or you could end up ruining the bit and/or stripping the screw.
  4. Pull the trigger lightly — You want to apply a small amount of pressure, especially to start, because you want to maintain control over the screw. You can increase pressure slowly if you’re driving the screw into a hardwood. Otherwise, keep the power low.

Note: All cordless drills have a forward and reverse function. Forward turns the bit and screw clockwise (to drive the screw in), and reverse turns the screw counterclockwise (to remove the screw). You can adjust the direction of the bit with a small switch you’ll find on your drill.

If your screw seems to be turning in the wrong direction, simply flip the switch to get it to turn clockwise again.

How to Remove a Screw with a Cordless Drill

It’s as easy to remove a screw with a drill as it is to drive it in. And the process is the same. All you have to do is reverse the motion of the drill, so it turns clockwise, and keep the drill steady as the screw unthreads.

But there is one exception to this rule…

If you happen to be removing a screw with a left-handed thread, you’re going to need to reverse the normal order of the drill. So, instead of turning clockwise to unscrew a screw, you’ll turn your drill setting to counter-clockwise.

If you’re unsure what type of screw you’re working with, start with the clockwise motion. Left-threaded screws are used for very specific applications, so they are much rarer than right-threaded screws.

Related: How To Get Screws Out Of Concrete

Bottom Line

It’s perfectly acceptable to use your cordless drill as a screwdriver. And, in fact, most people do.

It’s extremely easy and convenient, and it’s much faster than a manual screwdriver. And many people even find it easier than rummaging around in a junk drawer for the right screwdriver (small, large, Phillips, flathead… oh my!). With the drill, you’ve got all the bits you need at your fingertips.

So, the drill is a clear winner on so many levels.

But if you happen to have a cordless screwdriver on hand, or want a less expensive alternative to a drill, you can also use a cordless or battery-operated screwdriver to remove those screws.


Hi there! My name is Jack and I write for ToolsOwner. I have a passion for everything related to tools and DIY projects around the house. You often find me in my workshop working on new projects.