The DeWalt DCF815 is one of those tools you'll regularly see being advertised as a special offer. It's a two year old design that has been left behind by recent advances in technology. Nevertheless the DCF815 is still a best seller. Let's take a look how an aging driver compares to the champs of today.
The DeWalt DCF815 Driver
The DCF815 is a small impact driver in DeWalt's 12V lineup. It was engineered to be smaller and more agile than full-size impact drivers while still providing a professional level of performance. A medium duty tool by nature, the DCF815 works best for electricians, installers, and trades people, who demand performance, but only drive a few fasteners at a time.
Like most DeWalt drivers the DCF815's exposed edges are covered with rubber bumpers. No matter how you put the DCF815 down, both the tool and the surface it is resting on are protected from damage. The only metal parts of the driver are the gear box, chuck, and motor. The grip is covered in black rubber following DeWalt's common design pattern.
The fit between the battery and the driver is uncharacteristically lose for a cordless power tool. There is 1/8" of play in multiple directions. The battery is never in any danger of falling out, but this dynamic is still worth mentioning here. The issue has no impact on the performance of the driver.
Due to the light battery the DCF815 is noticeably top heavy. This actually works in the driver's favor, due to the compact nature of the tool. Having a good amount of weight near the impact point of the bit increases control when driving a fastener. Control during operation is universally excellent in all orientations. The driver's agility is its best purchase argument.
A metal belt hook can be installed on both sides of the driver. The hook is durable and secures the driver well on a toolbelt. Thanks to its low weight, the DCF815 is very comfortable to carry around hanging from a tool belt. This is an important consideration for a general utility driver.
The trigger of the DCF815 has a lot of dead space in its control range. Only the light comes on during the first 1/3 of the range, the second 1/3 actually controls the motor speed, and the last 1/3 has not effect on the motor speed. In the middle third control over the motor speed is excellent. Small changes in trigger pressure result in clear and measured changes in motor rpm. Holding a selected speed level is easy and comfortable.
On the job the trigger takes some getting used to, but it'll fade from your mind soon enough. While other drivers offer a better experience, the DCF815's trigger is still good enough to be considered professional grade.
The Work Light
The three blub LED work light installed on this driver is one of DeWalt's best designs. The light illuminates the entire area in front of the tool. There is no barrel shadow above the tool. Only when the bit touches the work surface a small pattern of shadows develops. When the driver is further away there are few distortions in the light cone.
The work light is directly linked to the trigger. It comes on with slight pressure on the trigger, and turns off when the trigger is released. Due to the sloppy trigger it is very easy to turn the work lights on without engaging the motor. The light output of the three LEDs is so high the DCF815 can be used as a flashlight. If you routinely work in confined places without any light, the DCF815 can eliminate the flashlight from your toolbox and take its place.
The keyless hex chuck mounted on the DCF815 is very durable and easy to use. Made of metal it can be operated with a gloved hand. The chuck's best trick is the way it is mounted. DeWalt has flattened the nose of the driver to create a very compact tool. Sight lines are excellent matching the tool's focus on agility and ease of use.
The DCF815 is a hard tool to evaluate. It produces very few clues as to how hard it is actually working at any given moment. The driver always sounds the same. Presumably due to lacking motor power, the hammer gear engages after only a few a threads of a fastener disappear below the surface. Form there the motor drives the fastener all the way into the material without changing the way it sounds. Installing a one inch screw sounds the same as driving a large bolt.
Due to the constantly operating hammer gear the DCF815 is a very loud tool. The volume never reaches an ear splitting level, but it is impossible to operate the DCF815 quietly. If you work in finished spaces with clients close by, there are better tools for you to consider.
Top end torque is impressive for such a small tool. The DCF815 has no trouble driving 3 inch screws into construction grade lumber. The user retains control throughout the process, and there is very little arm fatigue. The DCF815 offers full-size driver performance on a per fastener basis.
On larger jobs the limited torque and speed of the motor become apparent. While the DCF815 will get the job done, it'll take a lot longer than a full size driver. Compared to the leaders in the category, the DCF815 takes more than twice as long to install a single 3 inch screw.
The most useful property of the DCF815 is its small size. Cabinet installers in particular will quickly notice how maneuverable this driver is in tight spaces. In these situations the DCF815 will get to the screw head much faster than a full-size driver. The time it takes to complete the entire kitchen install shrinks.
Endurance on a full battery charge is well matched with the driver's intended usage range. You'll see the end of a kitchen install on single charge, but the driver will quit a few sheets into a subfloor installation. There is no battery gauge to check how close you are to draining the battery. Thanks to the small size of the battery, the charger restores a dead battery to a full charge in under 20 minutes.
The gear box and handle of the DCF815 heat up noticeably under heavy load. In our endurance test the DCF815 withstood two batteries worth of continuous use, but it became very clear that the driver was not made for this sort of work. The slow going nature of the work combined with an uncomfortably warm grip strongly suggest that the DCF815 is not a tool for continuous use.
The DeWalt 12V Battery System
The selection of tools that are compatible with DeWalt's 12V battery is very limited. The few tools there are, however, are of uniformly high quality. All of them share the design principle of being agile while still providing a professional level of performance.
The DeWalt DCF815 is a great utility driver. It offers good performance on a per fastener level. The driver's compact design and low weight make it exceedingly agile around the job site. Cabinet installers in particular should take note of the DCF815's ability to drive fasteners in tight places with control and poise. The excellent work light even lets you see what you are doing.
The DCF815 depends on its hammer gear to create the power necessary to drive fasteners. The gears engage almost immediately when driving a fastener slowing down the process and creating a racket. This is not a driver for large projects, or one you want to use in finished spaces around clients.
The new generation of brushless tools have left the DCF815 behind with regards to performance. There are other tool that beat it in all aspects except price. That being said, the DeWalt DCF815 is still a very good driver that can perform well in the right circumstances.
- 3 LED work light with few shadows and little distortion
- rugged metal chuck
- light, well balanced with the small battery
- good belt hook
- plenty of power to driver 3 inch screws
- can do tough work in moderation, but is much slower than a full size driver
- good for an installer, who does not have to drive 500 fasteners to build a deck
- top heavy due to the light battery
- a lot of dead space in the trigger
- battery fits loosely, a lot of wiggle room, several degrees side to side and forward and back
- gets outperformed by newer, more expensive tools
- trigger is smooth and progressive, but uses very little physical range
- slow driving performance
- hammer gear engages on the first few threads of the screw, this driver will always use the hammer gear
- somewhat loud