Unpacking L-Boxx cases is a special pleasure for me. As a tool reviewer I get so many into my shop, I forget what's inside of them. This makes opening an L-Boxx a special surprise. This week the treasure contained within turned out to be the DDS181 drill/driver, a particularly well reviewed tool from Bosch. Let's take a look, if the DDS181 can prove itself in the Hingmy workshop, or if I should burry it in the pretty box it came in.
The Bosch DDS181 Cordless Drill
The DDS181 is a general duty drill/driver intended for job site use. At 50 ft-lbs of torque and 1,700 rpm there are few tasks it cannot complete with ease. Although it will ultimately lose in a direct comparison with a dedicated impact driver, the DDS181 is still a very capable driver. Ideal for carpenters, woodworkers, and the trades the plastic chuck makes me hesitate to recommend this drill for general construction work.
Like all Bosch tools the DDS181 has a professional feel to it. Every seams is tight, and there are no rattles. The black rubber around the grip is surprisingly hard. Its main purpose seems to be to increase friction rather than giving the grip a soft feel. The grip is still pleasant to use, but it compares poorly to the rubberized grips of some 12V tools. The bumpers protecting the barrel of the drill when the tool is resting on its side are smaller than they ought to be. If you put the drill down in a hurry the chuck is likely to hit the ground.
The DDS181 is a very good drill with a poor chuck. Drilling holes is easy. Installing a large bit in the chuck is hard.
The trigger of the DDS181 is very precise. Choosing and holding a specific speed takes little effort. The large amount of dead space at the start and end of the trigger's range could have been used more productively, but it does not detract from the overall good feel of the trigger.
The speed selector switch at the top of the tool takes quite a bit for force to move. It takes at least two fingers to actuate, but snaps into place with a very satisfying click that leads me to believe that the switch and the gearbox are going to last on the job site.
The rotation direction selector switch is equally well built. Although not the best example of a through-the-body design, the switch moves from side-to-side without binding. The way it snaps into position could be a bit more pronounced, but there is little doubt when the switch has reached its terminal position.
The engineering work that went into the clutch of the DDS181 is better than most. All 18 individual clutch settings are different from each other and are, what feels like, evenly spaces across the torque band of the clutch. Setting 12 limits the driver to just enough torque to sink a 3 inch screw into construction grade lumber. That leaves an additional 6 steps for even tougher work. Carpenters and woodworkers could not ask for more.
On the flip side the generous spacing between settings makes the lower range of the clutch less useful when doing fine work. For example, there are too few options for assembling electronics without having to worry about a screw coming lose or one cracking a circuit board. The DDS181 is not a good option for tasks that require a precise, but low amount of torque.
The Work Light
The DDS181 is equipped with a handle-mounted work light. A single LED mounted in the battery cover shines light upward onto the area right in front of the chuck. The light comes on when the trigger is pressed and turns off immediately when it is released. A generous amount of dead space in the trigger makes it easy to turn the light on without engaging the motor.
As you would expect the chuck cast a shadow when the tip of the tool gets close to the work piece. What's not immediately obvious is that the cone of light also moves up and down while drilling due to the light shining across the path of the drill bit rather than being inline with its motion. The result is a complex pattern of light and dark areas that changes with the position of the drill.
In practice all these things add up a usable, but not great work light. The light will illuminate the impact point without too much trouble, but you'll be treated to an unwanted shadow theater performance every time you use the DDS181.
The Battery and Charger
The kit comes with two batteries and rapid charger that restores a dead battery in under 30 minutes. A single LED indicates what the charger is doing. Simply wait for the blinking light to turn solid and your battery is ready to go.
Bosch moved the battery gauge from the tool to the back of the battery in this new generation of 18V tools. A button activates the otherwise dormant gauge. Three green LEDs show the charge status of the battery in a somewhat ambiguous way. The gauge is going to keep you from taking a dead battery up the ladder on a roofing job, but it won't tell you how many holes you'll be able to drill with a partially charged battery. I like this gauge, because it is so easy to ignore.
The chuck of the DDS181 does not match the excellent quality of the other parts of the drill. On the review model the plastic cap covering the jaws of the chuck has a slight wobble to it. Fortunately for Bosch the issue is only cosmetic. The chuck itself and any bit locked in its jaws spin perfectly on a single axis. In practice the chuck is not going to cause you any problems, but it is clear that the plastic cap will not last as long as a metal chuck would.
The chuck's best trick is being able to hold 1/2 inch diameter shanks. This allows the drill to mount just about any drill bit you'd conceivably would want to run on a pistol grip drill. As impressive as this stat may be, the DDS181 still performs best with small diameter drill bits. Closing the chuck tightly enough for large bits not to slip is very difficult.
In the shop the DDS181 is a pleasure to use. The designers at Bosch struck a balance that is just right most of the time. The motor produces enough power to sink a 1/2 inch bit into construction grade lumber at full speed. Hole saws and Forstner bits need to be run slower, but the drill still gets the job done. Thanks to the great top speed of 1,700 rpm holes appear in under a second. Only when using very large bits will the DDS181 make you wait for it to finish.
As a driver the DDS181 performs equally well. Sinking a 3 inch screw into a stud in top gear is not a problem. You can use this drill for just about any task you would use your dedicated impact driver for on the job site, as long as the task is done after only a few fasteners are installed. That way the missing torque and lower reliability of the DDS181 won't slow you down.
The excellent clutch elevates what is good fastener driving performance to something a tool reviewer can swoon over. Being able to sink a large screw just below the surface of a stud repeatedly is something not a lot of drill/drivers can do. Even better, the generous range of the clutch makes it useful for a wide range of work on the job site.
Unfortunately the chuck prevents the DDS181 from achieving true greatness. It is simply too hard to close the chuck tight enough to prevent bit slippage in high torque scenarios. When running Forstner bits it is very common for the chuck to come lose long before the motor runs out of power. Tightening down the chuck with an iron grip helps, but doing so is not pleasant and depends on the finger strength of the user. Realistically the DDS181 is best used with bits smaller than 1/2 inch wide at the cutting surface.
In drill mode the DDS181 can work all day long. You can use it on a construction site to do as much work as you like. Trying to drive hundreds of fasteners, however, is a bad idea. Without a hammer gear the DDS181 simply cannot match the durability an impact driver offers.
Overall the DDS181 puts in a stellar performance. If you understand and accept the limitations of the friction chuck, this tool makes no compromises. It'll drill holes faster than you can accurately position it, and drive just about any small diameter fastener.
This particular kit comes with a L-Boxx case and an insert tailored to hold the charger, a spare battery, and the drill itself. This system is one of the best tool case systems on the market today. An L-Boxx protects the tool from damage and helps you get setup faster.
Molded plastic inserts secure the drill and charger without any movement during transportation. There is room for drill bits in a separate compartment, but the bits are free to move around. Besides the obvious issue of bits bumping into each other, the sharp point of some bits can puncture the molded plastic walls of the case. Your best option is to store the bits in a bit holder and put the holder in the L-Boxx.
The Bosch 18V System
One of the most compelling arguments for purchasing the DDS181 is the excellent selection of Bosch 18V tools. There is a good tool in every category, and some are amongst the best the industry has to offer.
Almost every tool comes in several different kits making it easier and more economical to build a collection that includes the right number of batteries and L-Boxx cases. Bosch's dedication to the battery interface makes future upgrades to new and improved tools a viable option.
The Bosch DDS181 is a great drill/driver that offers excellent performance with bits smaller than 1/2 inch at the cutting surface. Both powerful and fast the drill chews through wood with authority. In most cases it will allow you to work at your maximum speed. Equipped with a great clutch the DDS181 performs well as a driver.
The friction chuck is the reason I cannot give the DDS181 full marks. Made out of plastic the chuck feels somewhat cheap. It is very hard to close tightly enough to prevent bit slippage in high torque situations without using excessive amounts of arm strength.
Overall the DDS181 is an excellent choice for carpenters, woodworkers, and trade professionals, who demand a high level of performance. It's a great tool for a lot of things, and a good one for a lot of the rest.
- great drill, good driver
- relatively powerful
- two speed
- precise and useful clutch
- understated battery charge gauge on the battery
- kit includes an L-Boxx
- well balanced when using the slim battery
- precise trigger
- uses the Bosch 18V battery system
- good direction selector switch
- plastic clutch
- clutch is hard to tighten when using large bits
- work light produces some shadows
- a bit too much dead space in the trigger