One of the most valuable (but mostly ignored) features in a cordless drill is the torque adjustment ring. Now I know it’s tempting to overlook all the techie-looking controls spattered around the handle of a modern drill. I certainly did when I bought my first Makita cordless drill. After all, how complicated can it be to drive a #8 woodscrew into plywood? Not too complicated, really. But that doesn’t mean features like a torque adjustment ring have no use. You might be surprised just how much this little control can change the way you work with wood.
Staying in Control
The best way to understand what a torque adjustment ring does is to think of how we use hand-held screwdrivers. We let the of the screwdriver tell us what to do – when to bear down on the screw to prevent stripping the head – and when to back off to avoid driving the screw too deep. However, put an 18-volt power drill in our hands, and we no longer have that kind of subtle control over what’s happening. In a second we can completely strip out the head of a woodscrew, or drive a woodscrew so far into a board that comes out the other side.Enter the adjustable torque clutch! This is a great feature that lets you decide just how much power to unleash on a woodscrew. On most cordless drills, the torque clutch is located just behind the chuck. It’s a twistable ring that starts at 0 and goes up to something like 20 or 25. Zero means full brakes are on – providing a super gentle twist of the bit. At 25 your drill is totally unleashed – giving all the muscle it has to offer. So what does that mean for you?
Using the torque clutch to avoid stripping heads We’ve all had this problem. A stubborn woodscrew won’t go flush to the board. So we bear down and force the screw in. Sometimes that works. Sometimes not. More often we end up stripping the head. Of course the problem has nothing to do with the drill itself. It usually means the pilot hole is too small for the screw. The nice thing about a torque clutch is that it gives us advance warning of this kind of trouble. A noticeable clacking sound tells us the clutch is engaged, and that the drill is holding back it’s muscle to prevent stripping the head.
Using the torque clutch to avoid buried wood screws
Just as much a problem as screws not going in far enough are screws that go too far. Be assured that when you see the head of a screw start to disappear into the face of a board, you’re asking for problems. The adjustable torque clutch can help prevent this. If you can get your pilot holes and screw sizes matched up the way they should be matched, the adjustable torque clutch will do a nice job of knowing exactly when to stop driving the screw.
It’s a trial-and-error process more or less, so the numbers themselves on the ring (0-25) don’t really mean anything. For example, if your project calls for brass woodscrews that can easily get stripped out, start out at zero just to see how far in the drill will take them. Then gradually move up in numbers till you have just right amount of torque to set the screw flush to the face of the board – without going too far in. Once there, you might want to keep a note of where the clutch is set for doing similar projects in the future.