If you’re a plumber, electrician or HVAC tech who does a lot of rough-in work, you are all too familiar with the mantra “Drill, baby, drill!” And most of the time you’re not drilling itty-bitty little holes through thin material. You need big honking holes through bottom plates, studs and joists for waste pipes, or holes through multiple adjacent studs to run wiring. Traditionally, the Big Honking Hole Maker has been the Milwaukee Hole Hawg or Super Hawg. The folks who make the yellow tools are looking to bore into that market with the new 60V DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill. They recently sent one along for us to evaluate, so let’s get boring!
We got a sneak peek at the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill, along with several other FlexVolt products, back in June. That’s when DeWalt introduced their new FlexVolt product line to the world. For the uninitiated, the FlexVolt line of tools operate at either 60 or 120 volts. The system operates using 60V batteries, which are backward compatible with DeWalt’s 20V tool lineup. We recently took an in-depth look at the DeWalt FlexVolt table Saw, and there are plenty of other new products in the yellow pipeline.
The goal of the major tool manufacturers is to offer a lineup of tools powerful enough to enable most job sites to function using cordless tools exclusively. The brushless motor in the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill, combined with the FlexVolt 60V battery, provides the same drilling capability as its corded brother, the DeWalt DWD460. The FlexVolt version lets you ditch the cord, while retaining the power and torque needed to handle the boring requirements of pretty much any job site. And that’s boring as in making holes, not as in being tedious and uninteresting. NO one wants an uninteresting job site.
Right off the bat, it’s clear this is a serious tool. Everything about the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill is robust, and looks like it’s ready to take its licks on the job site. The adjustable bail handle provides good control, as well as a convenient way to schlep the drill around, and there’s a reversible side handle for the bigger jobs. The chuck key tucks securely into the base of the handle near the battery, and the handle itself has a rubber overmold, and is pretty comfortable.
Here is the full list of features and specs from DeWalt:
• 60V Brushless Motor for increased power and runtime
• Power of a cord with cordless freedom
• Adjustable bail handle and 2-position side handle for leverage and control
• Two variable speed ranges (0-300 / 0-1,250 rpm) to match appropriate speed to the application
• E-Clutch is a Perform and Protect™ feature that detects reactionary torque caused by a bind-up or stall and reduces speed to a manageable level until control is regained.
• Metal-gear housing for jobsite durability and increased reliability
• The DeWalt Perform and Protect™ line of power tools is designed to provide a high level of one or more of the following: control, dust containment, or low vibration, without sacrificing performance.
• Capacity in Steel (Hole Saw) 5 in.
• Capacity in Steel (Twist Bit) 1/2 in.
• Capacity in Wood (Auger Bit) 1-1/2 in.
• Capacity in Wood (Hole Saw) 6-1/4 in.
• Capacity in Wood (Self-Feed) 4-5/8 in.
• Capacity in Wood (Spade Bit) 1-1/2 in.
• Chuck Size 1/2″
• Chuck Type: Keyed
• Clutch: Yes
• Clutch Type: Bind Up Control
• No Load Speed 0-300/0-1250 rpm
• Number of Speed Settings 2
• Power Tool Type Cordless
• System: 60V
• Tool Height 6.83”
• Tool Length 16”
The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill – In Over My Head
To try out the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill, I took it for a little ride in the boondocks. When we bought our small farm a while back, it came with a two-car garage. The garage had a gravel floor and no door; I guess they liked the open concept. Also, despite the fact that there was a 50-amp subpanel, there was only one electrical outlet, on the rear wall. Because, hey, who needs more than one outlet!
I had added another outlet shortly after we got the place, but wanted to add more, including a couple on the opposite side of the garage. Getting the Romex across the garage and down to the first box wouldn’t be bad. Getting from that box to the next, however, required going through four adjacent 2X10s, plus another 2X10 a few inches away. Seemed like an excellent opportunity to put the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill to work!
I chucked up a 1”x17” ship auger bit and climbed the ladder. I set the tip of the bit against the first joist and pulled the trigger. The bit pulled itself quickly through the first joist, and I pushed it across the gap to the four-joist cluster. The bit dug in, and the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill powered through steadily. I backed it out once, to clear the shavings, then forged on until it popped out the other side. The drill didn’t bog down at all, and never seemed to be straining.
I also had several single joists to drill through. Since the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill is fairly heavy, I decided to switch over to a regular ½” cordless drill. While drilling through one of the joists (with the same auger bit), I hit a knot or a nail, and the drill torqued around and smashed my hand into the plywood floor above. After muttering some appropriate adjectives, I backed the bit out and tried again. Yep, I’m a slow learner.
After hitting the same obstruction again, twisting my wrist and smashing my hand, and muttering more colorful adjectives, I conceded defeat. I chucked the bit back up in the DeWalt, braced myself, and went back into the same hole. Whatever the obstruction was, the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill powered right through it; no more twisting and shouting. I moved on to the remaining joists, and in a few minutes the DeWalt had powered easily through all of them.
The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill Makes Some BIG holes
The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill didn’t break a sweat with the big auger bit, but I wanted to see how it would perform when it was time to make some bigger holes. I grabbed 2-½” and 6” DeWalt FlexVolt hole saws, and a 3-5/8” Selfeed bit. I found a leftover piece of 2X8 to serve as perforation central, and chucked up the 2-½” hole saw first.
The 2-½” hole saw is a new design, with only four carbide teeth, and relief slots all the way up the side. DeWalt makes a whole line of blades and bits designed to optimize performance when using battery-powered tools. I drilled the first hole using the lower speed range, then switched to the faster range for the second. The hole saw ripped easily through the 2X8 both times, and the full-length slots made ejecting the cutout fast and easy.
Next I chucked up the big daddy 6” hole saw. This is a huge hole saw, and pretty much at the top limit of what the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill is designed to handle. Don’t even think about trying it using only the bail handle; drilling a hole this big is definitely a side handle job. That’s a LOT of teeth trying to dig in!
I made sure the drill was as level as possible, and started it spinning. When the teeth contacted the wood, the drill torqued around to the side. I stopped, switched the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill into reverse, and got a good grip. I started up again, and let the teeth make a little starting groove. I also realized that the drill was still set to the high speed range, so I switched to the low range. Then it was back to forward, and off we went.
With any hole saw, and especially one this big, you need to back it out periodically to clear sawdust from the teeth and the cut. I did that, and resumed cutting, and although the drill slowed a bit at times, it powered through. Again, this is a huge hole to make in dimensional lumber; normally when making holes this big, you’re only going through a plywood subfloor, which would be a ‘hole’ lot easier.
As my final test, I grabbed a large, 3-5/8” Selfeed bit. These bits are beasts, and the type of bit most frequently used by plumbers and HVAC installers. They’re fast, and there’s no plug to be removed, like with a hole saw – just a massive pile of wood chips.
I chucked up the Selfeed bit, and bored a hole through the 2X8. It tore right through it, no bogging, no hesitation. I still wanted to test the E-Clutch feature, which is supposed to detect binding and slow the drill, so I started another hole. About 2/3 of the way through, I tilted the drill sharply. The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill immediately slowed way down, and the red “Engaged” indicator lit up, indicating the E-clutch was, well, engaged. I released the trigger, straightened the drill up, and ripped through the rest of the hole with no issues.
This is how the E-Clutch is supposed to perform. It’s designed to detect reactionary torque from a bind-up or stall, and drastically reduce the drill’s speed so you can regain control. I’m not sure why it didn’t kick in with the 6” hole saw; maybe I’m just weak…Nah. The feature worked fine with the Selfeed bit, and when we tried out the drill during the DeWalt FlexVolt product launch. The problem may be at least partly due to my starting out with the drill in the higher speed range, when it was definitely a low-range situation.
A Concrete Example
Another recent project highlighted how handy it is to have a cordless option. While making a concrete fire pit, I built forms out of 2X10s. I needed to drill four 2-1/8” holes near the bottom of the forms, so I could insert PVC pipe to form holes to allow for combustion air and drainage. The project site was a good 100’ or more from the closest power source. The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill saved me the time and aggravation of locating and schlepping out extension cords for a five-minute task. I was able to get the holes drilled quickly, and forge ahead with my project.
Some Final Boring Comments
The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill is heavy. This is especially noticeable when you’re doing overhead work. The weight comes with the territory, though; ANY drill powerful enough to push big bits and hole saws through thick material all day is going to have some heft to it. The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill weighs in at a fraction under 13 lbs. with the battery in place, which is when it’s most useful. By comparison, the Milwaukee M18 Super Hawg comes in at 14 lbs. In the immortal words of Yoda, “Big holes you would drill? Strong you must be.”
DeWalt developed the DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill to serve as a cordless replacement for plumbers and electricians who routinely drill lots of large holes. I think they nailed it. The drill has loads of torque and power, and the 6.0 Ah battery provides enough run time to make lots of chips fly. A 9.0 Ah battery, due out in early 2017, will likely prompt users to proclaim “Holy smoke!” as they drill a whole lot of holes in a wholly cordless fashion.
For contractors invested in the DeWalt 20V MAX line of tools, there’s an additional benefit. The 60V FlexVolt batteries are backward compatible with almost the entire lineup of DeWalt 20V MAX tools and chargers. They’ll provide up to 4X the run time when slapped into your 20V MAX sliding miter saw, blower or impact driver. With several FlexVolt products already available, and more due out in coming months, DeWalt’s vision of a cordless job site (which seems to be tinted yellow) may be that much closer to becoming the norm.
The DeWalt FlexVolt Stud & Joist Drill comes with a three year limited warranty, a year of free service, and a 90-day money-back guarantee. It’s available as a bare tool, or in a kit with a FlexVolt battery, a quick charger, and a canvas tool bag.
Bare tool from Home Depot for around $279:
Kit with battery, charger and canvas bag from Home Depot for around $399: