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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review of 3 Drills: Ridgid Fuego, DeWalt DC720, and Festool 15+3

My fav: The Festool 15+3
I have three drills in my shop: a Ridgid Fuego mini drill, a larger DeWalt DC720, and a Festool 15+3.  This post is a "light" anecdotal review of each of these drills, all of which I have used extensively in my shop.  In case you don't want to read this whole review, here are the highlights:

Ridgid Fuego: Small drill claims 250 inch-pounds of max torque.  Chuck has fairly significant run-out, which is only an issue where precise drilling is necessary.  But a slew of broken bits may have something to do with the run-out.  List price: $100.  Used: $50

DeWalt DC 720: larger drill claims over 1,000 inch-pounds of torque, but feels and acts as powerful as the Festool 15+3, which claims 350 inch-pounds of torque.  One of the two batteries stopped working only a month after purchase.  No battery guarantee.  Never got it replaced.  List Price: $200.  Used: $50

Festool 15+3: larger drill has three chucks, allowing it to act as a right-angle driver.  Also comes with depth-stop chuck for precise drilling.  No run-out at all, for perfectly sized holes and no broken bits.  My experience with Festool's impeccable service gives me confidence I won't be left with a hunk of junk should something break.  My experience with Festool tells me breakage is unlikely.   List price: $460.  Used Price: $360.

Verdict: The Festool 15+3 goes anywhere the Fuego can, but is more powerful and more accurate.  At a price of $360-$460 it's far more expensive than the others.  But throw in the price of a right angle driver to augment the DeWalt and Ridgid's capabilities, and the price doesn't look so bad.  Throw in the price of poorly-made holes and broken bits, and the Festool starts to look pretty competitive.  Add in the fact that Festool won't let you go more than a few days without a working tool, and Festool distributors are local stores with great service, and I think the 15+3 is the best overall value.

My favorite of my three drills? The Festool.  Obviously, right?  Anybody who has read my blog probably knows I am a Festool devotee.  I have been one almost since my first day making furniture.  But back then, I favored Festool products because I generally tend to favor the "best" tools I can lay my hands upon.  Today, I still favor Festool tools, but it's because I have a good deal of experience with Festools AND their less expensive counterparts from other manufacturers. 

But I digress.  Back to the drills:

First, let me say that this comparison review isn't entirely fair.  Each of these three drills is different in purpose and character...and in price.  The Ridgid Fuego is a small drill, meant for light work where you don't want to lug around more drill than necessary.  The DeWalt DC 720, on the other hand, is a head-to-head competitor to the Festool 15+3.  That said, the DeWalt DC 720 costs around $180-$200 new, whereas the Festool 15+3 is $380 no matter where you get it.

Ridgid Fuego
I bought Ridgid's small Fuego drill at Home Depot at the behest of my contractor friend Kris.  He recommended it for small jobs where I wouldn't want to carry a larger drill.  I have used it in tight spaces where a larger drill can't go.  And for some jobs, I perceived better accuracy and easier handling due to the Fuego's small size.  Ridgid claims a max torque of 250 inch-pounds.  I a suspicious of this figure, since the Festool 15+3 claims only 350 inch-pounds of max torque, and it's clearly a much more powerful drill.  Still, power isn't the point of the Fuego.  And for the jobs the Fuego can handle, it's was go-to drill.

Festool 15+3
But that may change.  The other day, I was drilling shelf pin holes in the inside of a cherry aquarium stand I was making.  I was using a Rockler shelf pin hole drilling jig, and one of Rockler's spring-loaded bits, which centers the drill bit in the holes in the jig.  But something was going wrong: the pics were swimming in the holes, almost as if I was using the wrong bit.  I took the bit, the jig, and my workpiece to Rockler to diagnose the problem.  With a different drill and the same bit, I was able to make holes of the perfect size.  That meant that my little Fuego drill has a good amount of run-out in it! Now, I hadn't noticed this before, because the exact size of a hole isn't often so important.  But in this application the low tolerances of the Fuego were painfully apparent.  You can't drill accurately-sized holes with my Fuego.

Our test drill was the Festool 12+3.  The Festool 15+3 I use in my shop is a similar drill, but slightly more powerful.  I love the 15+3.  It feels good in my hands, has no run-out, and comes with three different chucks that allow it to get into those same spaces otherwise reserved for the Fuego or a right-angle driver.  But the 15+3 and 12+3 are even more agile than a right angle driver, because the right-angle chuck can be positioned anywhere around the 360 degrees of the lateral axis of the drill.

Speed and torque settings on the 15+3 are useful and intuitive.  It also comes with a depth-stop chuck extension, allowing me to set the depth of a screw or drill bit, without putting a flag of tape around the drill, or using one of Rockler's overpriced drill/countersink combo bits.  The 15+3 beeps when the power is low, and beeps a different way if the battery or motor are getting hot.  The low battery beep is a great feature if you're working far from your battery charger; better than a battery indicator, even, because you don't have to remember to check the indicator.

DeWalt DC 720
This yellow drill - also purchased at Home Depot - was the second drill I bought.  At the time, the Fuego was coming up against its limits and I needed more drill.  The DeWalt is powerful, but not as powerful (I suspect) as what DeWalt claims: over 1,000 inch-pounds of torque.  It feels and acts about as powerful as the Festool 15+3.  I can't complain about the work, though: the DC 720 has taken on almost anything I have thrown at it over the past year, including drilling hinge cup holes with a Forstner bit and drill guide.  I also used it to drill 3/4" dog holes in my bench, again with the drill guide.  There have been many times I chose to use the DC 720 and drill guide instead of taking my work to the drill press.  The results have been mostly satisfactory.

But I have to complain about the battery: the DC 720 came with two batteries, and one of them died only a month after I bought it.  I haven't tried to get a new one from DeWalt, because their website is such an unfriendly mess I don't even want to deal with getting on the phone with them.  I don't think I'd get a free replacement, but that's just a hunch. 

Verdict: See my verdict at the beginning of this post.  The winner is the Festool, hands down, even with the higher price factored in. 


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