At first, a brushless motor may seem like a marketing ploy to drive up a tool’s price, without adding anything extra of substance. The uninformed user might wonder if they’re paying a premium for something that won’t help them much while they work, and since the underlying principle that allows both motors to work is the same, some may think that there’s no difference.
Both brushless and brush motors rely on permanent magnets and electric coils to produce motion in tools. While we won’t dig too deep into the technical specifications, we’ll give you enough information to understand why one motor is generally far better than the other in most applications. After you read this guide, you’ll know when to pick each motor, and why.
Brushless drills are the newer type of machine. They use a different technique to turn electric power into mechanical motion, which doesn’t require physical contact with between the stationary and rotating parts. The first big advantage to this is that there is far less friction within the motor. As anyone who has worked with moving parts can tell you, less friction means less waste heat, which leads to less required maintenance.
Since it’s not creating as much heat, it’s a more efficient tool. That means that you can get a longer run time out of a battery of the same size or get the same runtime out of a smaller and lighter battery.
There are fewer physical parts in a brushless drill’s motor, so it will be a bit lighter and smaller than a model of the same power that uses brushed motors.
One big advantage to brushless drills is that they can “sense” how hard they’re working and reduce their power consumption if they’re able to maintain their speed at lower power. That means you’ll get an even longer battery life out of the drill. And don’t worry, it knows to up the power when it needs it, and it’s responsive enough that you won’t notice the change.
Given all of those positives, you may be thinking that there’s no reason to get a brushed drill over a brushless one. We’re generally in agreement with that positions, but it doesn’t mean that the brushless motor is without flaw.
The biggest problem with brushless drills is that they cost a lot of money. Some of that has to do with the complexity of the tech inside, but much of the increase in price is related to the fact that these are the newest drills on the market, and manufacturers can charge more for the newest stuff.
On the tech side, the higher price is due to the extra parts required. The sensor that knows to turn the power up or down based on the difficulty of the current tasks adds to the price. You can’t skip on that part because the motor must precisely turn the electric coils on and off in synch with the magnets and the spinning part of the tools. These should grow cheaper over time, though they’re still on the expensive side right now.
The good news is that despite the higher prices, brushless drills are generally worth the increase in price over a brushed drill due to their superior performance.
Our Favorite Brushless Drill:
The best thing about brushed drills is that despite their higher maintenance needs, they are generally easier to maintain when they need it. Most problems you’ll have with a brushed drill can be fixed by replacing the brushes since the majority of problems you’ll have will be related to brushes that have worn down past their expiration date.
Since this technology has been on the market for a long time, you can find plenty of guides to walk you through the brush replacement process. If you don’t want to do it yourself, it’s a technology that your friendly neighborhood tool repairman should know how to fix. If a brushless motor breaks, you’re probably better off replacing the entire drill than trying to get the motor fixed. With brushed motors, you can often repair them for a fraction of the price of replacement.
The other big plus is that they cost less than brushless drills. If you need a new drill and can’t pay top-dollar for a brushless model, then you’re not losing too much value by investing in a cheap brushed drill. While you won’t have the same efficiency, especially in a battery-powered model, you should be able to get the same maximum power out of it.
Unfortunately, brushed drills aren’t very efficient. They always try to run as fast as they can while you have the trigger depressed, so you won’t get the same efficiency out of one of these tools as you’ll get out of a brushless drill.
However, the far bigger problem is that brushed drills rely on their brushes extensively. The brushes make physical contact with the current carrying wires, and they spin with the drill. That friction is the source of a lot of heat, which contributes to those brushes wearing down quickly over time. The problem is so severe that some manufacturers have taken to including extra brushes with new tools so that you can replace them at home.
They also wear down much more quickly if grit or dust gets into the motor compartment. If the drill doesn’t have good filters, small particles can settle on the brushes, which leads to them wearing down more quickly. That’s a problem if you’re going to be drilling into dusty materials or working in a shop with a lot of wood shavings.
As they speed up, they also lose torque, which sounds really bad, but will only affect a small number of users who are consistently using their drill near its upper limit, which is a sign they should have invested in a more powerful drill.
We hope that this guide has helped you understand the differenced between drills that use a brushless motor and those that use a brushed motor. As you can see, there are significant differences between the two. If you’re still not sure which kind is the right kind for you, it’s important to think about the experience you want to have.
If you’re going to be working with a portable, battery-powered drill, then it’s a good idea to invest in a brushless drill. The motor in those drills is lighter and more efficient, which makes a huge difference in battery-powered tools. The difference is less noticeable when you’re using a wired electric tool.
If your budget is your primary concern, then you may be better off in the short term with a brushed drill. Of course, you’ll have to spend more over time to replace the brushes, but those tend to be cheap. However, if you want to save yourself the pain of frequent maintenance, then you’ll want to get a brushless motor.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!