Brushless vs. Brushed Drills: Which is Better for You?

Brushless vs Brushed Drill

If choosing between a brushed and a brushless drill makes you scratch your head, then read on, because there are lots of differences between the two and a few things you should know.

Both drills may look alike and offer similar performances and ratings, but the source of their powers, which is their electric motors, are very different.

Ordinarily, this difference in design wouldn't matter much. But since power tools went cordless and battery life and maximization became a serious concern in the power tool world, brushed and brushless motors have come to matter.

This side by side review will show you what matters and what you need to look out for, to make the right choice between the two.

What Are They?

A little behind the scenes look at both drill types is important in order for you to truly understand their differences and what the fuss is all about.

Brushed Drill

Brushed Drill

A brushed drill is the standard type of tool that power tool companies have sold for decades. It's called a brushed drill because it uses a brushed electric motor to generate its power.

This is the original electric motor design and the brushes talked about here are two contact points made from carbon and suspended on springs.

These two brushes and a ring of magnets are stationary around the edges of the electric motor, while the commutator and armature form the rotating part of the motor, which is in the middle of the magnets.

The magnets get positioned opposite each other. One side is usually N-poled, while the other is S-poled. The armature is usually made of copper windings, which become an electromagnet when current gets passed through it.

Once this charge gets passed, the positively charged part of the armature gets attracted to the N-pole magnet, while the negatively charged part gets attracted to the S-poled magnet.

This causes the armature to revolve, and as it does, the commutator changes the armature's polarity. This causes the armature to revolve again in its attraction, creating further movement and the commutator to changes poles again. As this happens many times over, you get a continuous circular motion.

As you can see, this is a great invention, and it kick-started the era of the electric drive. The only problem with it is that the brushes wear out with time, creating maintenance issues.

Friction between the brushes and the armature also create heat and slows down the motor.

Brushless Drill

Brushless Drill

Brushless drills are power tools powered by a brushless electric motor. Referencing the brushed electric motor above, a brushless motor does not have carbon brushes.

The commutator is also lacking in brushless motors, with the location of the other components switched. The magnets are on the shaft and the copper windings surrounding it.

Brushless motors have been around for decades until Makita started to use them in power tools.

They offer better performance and durability than brushed drills, but it was the later development of cordless drills, which created this present brushless drill explosion. This is because of its added advantage of power savings, an important consideration for cordless tools.

Brushless drills have their copper coils fixed around the shaft and they do not move. The amount of current going through each coil gets regulated by a circuit, which also monitors many aspects of the motor.

It's this circuit and its control mechanisms, which make brushless drills more expensive than their brushed counterparts.

A brushless drill senses when little power is needed, and it will drive the shaft with little power. It also senses when lots of power is needed and boosts power to the shaft.

Some manufacturers refer to this technology as 'smart' because the drill will use less power on plywood than on a hardwood like Mahogany or Chestnut, thus saving its precious battery juice.

Brushless vs. Brushed Drill - Comparison

Following is a side by side comparison of brushed and brushless drills, focused on the important features that differentiate them from one another.

#1. Performance

A brushless drill's motor only delivers enough power to get the job done, while a brushed drill delivers a steady level of power, irrespective of needs. This little detail might seem insignificant when it comes to large or corded power tools, but with cordless power tools now very popular, this detail becomes very important in maximizing battery life.

If a brushless drill's control system notices that it's working in a soft environment, it'll cut the level of power being used. This saves battery charge and enables the operator to work for longer periods on a single charge, than with a brushed drill.

#2. Cost

Cost is a major concern for most people. Between the two tools, the brushless drill is the more expensive, but it has its reasons. The microprocessor and its circuit, which control the motor's power raise the manufacturing cost of brushless drills by around 30%. Brushless drills, therefore, cost more than brushed drills, although they offer certain long-term benefits, which outweigh their higher costs. 

For example, carbon brushes are the most commonly replaced parts of a power tool. A brushless drill has no brushes that'll get replaced anytime. This saves the cost of the brushes, the cost of the service people, and other costs that may arise as a result of servicing the drill.

#3. Power 

One beauty of brushless drills lies in their power delivery. Brushless drills deliver more power than their brushed cousins, and there are two reasons for this. Carbon brushes are fixed components in brushed drills, but they have steady contacts with the commutators, which are constantly rotating. This is a case of friction, and it slows down the shaft.

Commutators have a gap between one another and you'll always get a small drop of power when carbon brushes change from one pole of the commutator to the next. Such a condition is not available in brushless motors. This makes them able to deliver more power than brushed motors.

#4. Maintenance

Brushless drills need very little in terms of maintenance, while brushed drills will need at least one change of brushes in its lifetime. In addition to brushes, other components may develop issues with time, for instance, the commutators, parts of the shaft, or the armature.

The reason is that brushless drills create no friction and therefore run cool, while brushed drills heat up after working for a while. This is because of the heat generated by the friction between its brushes with the commutator. This heat certainly has long-term effects on the components, and sometimes leads to a breakdown.

#5. Weight

Both drills weigh nearly the same, with the brushless variety weighing slightly less than the brushed types. This is because they lack brushes and commutators, which makes them able to get designed in a more compact and lightweight form. Although the difference in weight is minimal, it still accounts for much in professional settings where an operator has to use the tool for a full working day.

#6. Battery Life 

Brushless drills use their batteries more efficiently, and this results in longer run times per charge and less charging of the battery in general. This is one major advantage of brushless drills, which makes it very popular in professional circles where an operator has to use the tool all day long.

Many brushless drills use an optical trigger switch to communicate with the microprocessor and feed it information on what's going on with the shaft and power consumption. The microprocessor then determines when to save energy and when to deliver full power. This prolongs the battery life by up to 50% compared to brushed drills.

Making the Right Choice

The brushless drill offers many advantages over its brushed cousin, but it does come at a price. In order to help you make the right decision, the following is a side by side listing of their important features once more.

Criteria

Brushed Drill

Brushless Drill

Power

Good power output

Better power

Cost

Cheaper, but includes maintenance costs

More expensive

Performance

Okay

Excellent

Battery life

Good

Better

Weight

Average

Slightly more lightweight

Durability

Okay

More durable

With all the benefits of brushless motors, one would think that manufacturers would have stopped producing brushed drills and other brushed power tools by now, and then only focus on the brushless types.

This is not happening though, for the simple reason that brushless drills cost more to produce and because there are buyers who prefer cheaper brushed tools.

The same goes for you. Is a cheaper drill more important to you? Or is a more powerful, longer-lasting, and lightweight drill, with longer run times of more value to you?

Your choice.

Read More: 7 Best Cordless Drill Combo Kits