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Drill Showdown: Ni-Cad vs. Lithium Ion Cordless Drills

Drill Showdown: Ni-Cad vs. Lithium Ion Cordless Drills

When you're working on carpentry, auto work or a new home DIY project, you're going to put your drill through its paces. When you can't be tied to an outlet and need the freedom to drill where the job is, you'll need the power of a cordless drill. Cordless models typically come with either a lithium ion or a nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cad) battery. Both of these batteries will give you the power to finish your next project, but let's take a closer look to see which will suit your tool box better.

Ni-Cad Battery Cordless Drills

Lithium Ion Battery Cordless Drills

Full Recharge Required


Memory Effect


Fade-Free Performance


Periodic Discharge

RequiredNot required

Cold Weather Performance




Disposal Centers

Ni-Cad recycling centers only Battery recycling centers

Ni-Cad Cordless Drills

Advantages of Ni-Cad Cordless Drills

  • Inexpensive - Compared to their Lithium ion counterparts, cordless drills with Ni-Cad batteries tend to be more affordable.
  • Long Shelf Life - Ni-Cad battery drills can typically be set aside for long periods of time and still operate efficiently once they've been recharged.
  • Cold Weather Performance - Ni-Cad batteries are constructed to work well in freezing temperatures, allowing you to use these types of cordless drills during wintertime projects.


nicad drill battery

Limitations of Ni-Cad Cordless Drills

  • Requires periodic discharge - The Ni-Cad batteries in these drills must be completely discharged periodically. A complete discharge occurs when the user allows a battery to die before fully recharging it. This process is used to help maintain optimal performance.
  • Memory effect - This common phenomenon causes Ni-Cad batteries to hold their charges less effectively over time.
  • Difficult disposal - Since Ni-Cad batteries contain nickel, cadmium and other metals deemed toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency, they can't be discarded in landfills or standard battery recycling centers. Drills containing these batteries must be carefully disposed of at special hazardous waste sites.
  • Fade over charge - Ni-Cad battery drills aren't constructed to be fade-free. This causes performance to slowly decrease as the charge begins to dwindle.

Lithium Iion Cordless Drills

Advantages of Lithium Ion Cordless Drills

  • Fast-charging - Lithium ion battery drills can be charged at almost any time and power up quickly so you can get back to projects in no time.
  • Fade-free performance - These models run strongly for the duration of the battery's charge, rather than fading out toward the end.
  • Small and compact - Lithium ion battery drills are typically smaller than NiCad models, which can make lithium ion drills much lighter and easier to control.
  • Long-lasting - These cordless drills tend to have long lives since their batteries can be recharged over and over again.
lithium ion battery

Limitations of Lithium Ion Cordless Drills

  • High price - Lithium ion drills typically cost more than their NiCad counterparts.
  • Declining performance - Lithium ion batteries tend to lose their charges quickly after many uses, meaning these cordless drills typically have reduced performance after two or three years of regular use. Storing them in a cool place can help impede this process.
  • Must be recycled - These models can't be disposed in landfills and must be taken to a battery recycling center.
  • Poor performance in cold weather - These models aren't ideal for outdoor projects in the wintertime. Lithium ion batteries perform best when in temperatures above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.