Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill Review

We don’t normally romance our tools, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Bosch’s new DDS181 Compact Tough Drill/Driver. It’s sleek, ergonomic, and will literally run all day long on one battery. The design is new from Bosch and the tool presents itself as a super-compact drill/driver that will run seemingly forever when set to work on fasteners or drilling pilot holes in dimensional lumber or furniture. This compactness and power come at a price to be sure, but with the benefits, it’s actually still a pretty good value for professionals looking to get the most dependability, features, and power-to-weight ratio out of their tools.

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill/Driver Review

We don’t normally romance our tools, but it’s hard not to fall in love with the Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill. It’s sleek, ergonomic, and will literally run all day long on one battery. The design is new from Bosch and the tool presents itself as a super-compact drill/driver that will run seemingly forever when set to work on fasteners or drilling pilot holes in dimensional lumber or furniture. This compactness and power come at a price to be sure, but with the benefits, it’s actually still a pretty good value for professionals looking to get the most dependability, features, and power-to-weight ratio out of their tools.


Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill Build Quality

As we alluded to in our introduction, the Bosch DDS181 is a compact tool that might just be the smallest 18V product on the market with this kind of power to match its reduced size. Bosch has done a few things right in their new redesign of the 18V line. First, they changed the angle of the drivetrain-to-handle, making the tool take a less aggressive, but also more compact, stance. In our opinion it also helped balance the tool better and the result is a comfortable tool that is easy to use – even if your are carrying it around all day or using it overhead.

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill kitThe Compact Tough line of Drill/Drivers fits nicely into the company’s extensive 18V lineup. Bosch has a rather, well, elongated drill/driver line. The reason for this is because they carry three versions of their drills, and both come in Tough and Regular versions. That works out to include both a Brute Tough and Compact Tough Hammer Drill, a Brute Tough and Compact Tough Drill/Driver, and a Hammer Drill and Compact Drill/Driver. The last two are Bosch’s value-priced models and have limited distribution to meet the requirements of particular retailers and price points. The Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill fits almost perfectly in the upper-middle portion of the grouping and seems like it would be the most popular drill/driver model. It comes with a nice blow mold case that holds the drill, two slim HC batteries and the charger. There is also a belt clip that can mount to either side of the tool, and also a two-sided starter bit.


The drill measures just  7″ from tip to the back of the tool, and weighs just  3.4 lbs. with an HC battery loaded. That’s very compact for a drill/driver with a standard 1/2” keyless chuck. With the growing abundance of 1/4-inch hex bits available on the market, it might be cool to see this model in a 1/4″ hex chuck version, which would trim about 2″ from the front of the tool (as they did with the Bosch 12V PS21-2A Pocket Driver). The grip is rubberized, as you’d expect from Bosch, and it’s comfortable in the hand, even when you’re working outside in the Florida heat for 8 hours at a shot… in the summer… for 6 days straight. We liked that Bosch also put rubber on the back of the tool. Quite frequently this is where we’ll tend to apply steadying pressure during drilling or even driving applications.

When you hold the tool, the forward/reverse/lock switch is within easy access of your thumb or forefinger. The clutch is also simple to set via the rotating dial and the two-speed switch on top could be activated quite easily with bare or gloved hands. All of the controls on this tool make sense and are placed precisely where you’d expect. It was clear that a bunch of ergonomic testing went into the development of this product prior to its launch.

Bosch DDS181 Drilling

Bosch integrated an LED work light onto the bottom of the handle just above the 18V slide-pack battery and it does a good job of lighting up the work area. The LED turns on when you touch the trigger and it stays on for 10 seconds. The DDS181 doesn’t require you to start the motor for the light to activate, so you can locate a bit in a low-light situation before you place the bit to the head.

The battery is the new sled-style lithium-ion technology from Bosch and it’s easy to install and remove with the centrally-located red eject button. There is no spring assist on the eject mechanism, but the batteries we tested seemed to come off easily enough.

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill Testing

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drilling
We did over a box of these tough 2-1/4″ cement board screws into lathe and heart pine lumber on a single battery.

Before we got one in for review, we got to use this tool at Bosch’s 2011 Global Leadership Media Event. At that event we were able to participate in a test to see how long the drill would last. Driving 3-inch screws into pressure treated 8x8s, the Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill put in a full 519 screws before the HC battery quit, beating DeWalt, Makita, and even Milwaukee’s RedLithium. While we had no desire to repeat this test on our own (it’s boring, to be honest), we did take it to task on a bathroom remodel. In this remodel we were taking subway tile available at Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores and transforming a 1920’s bathroom into a more appropriate style. That meant we had to replace all of the plaster and lathe surrounding the tub, with Durock cement board. Oh how I love and hate that stuff. Fortunately, the new versions are lighter, but they are still a challenge for cordless drill/drivers. In fact, we typically use impact drivers, but, hey, why not take the Bosch Compact Tough Driver for a test ride on something really difficult?

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill

Once we started using the Bosch, we were reassured that this wasn’t going to be a nightmare experience – in fact, the Bosch seemed to take to it like the proverbial fish in water. We were actually sinking 2-1/4″ cement board screws because we were putting them through the cement board as well as the lathe below and then into the almost-petrified heart pine lumber beneath. It was definitely one of the most difficult jobs we could have thought up and it really let the Bosch Compact Tough show how, well, tough it was.

Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill batteryThe included BC660 Lithium-ion Battery Charger is a fast charger. It is a bit unusual in that it has a fan that quickly cools down the battery by drawing air through the battery’s own onboard vents. You can hear it kick on and off as needed, but typically it’s used to cool down the battery when its hot from being recently depleted. The charger consistently brought a completely drained battery back to full charge in around 30 minutes. Given how long the batteries last on this drill, two batteries will give you the ability to use the tool indefinitely (not that we would recommend a 100% duty cycle). The LEDs are clear in letting you know when the tool is charging (blinking green) and when it is done (solid green). Also, since this is Lithium-ion, you can grab a battery off the pack after just a few minutes in order to finish up that last screw or two – there’s no memory affect and the charger seems to put a considerable charge on the battery in the first several minutes.

Conclusion

This was an easy drill/driver to review. Bosch has really come a long way, and their newest line of tools is making waves. Ergonomic, powerful and small are words I’d use to describe the Bosch DDS181 Compact Tough Drill. It’s got both the power and stamina to get some of the toughest jobs done – and if it’s not enough, Bosch has a Brute Tough model waiting in the wings. For Performance, given its intended target, we gave the Compact Tough a rare, but well-deserved rating of 10/10. For Value, the tool scores an easy 7/10, making itself an easy sell amongst a sea of competition that quite often emphasizes one thing or another, but rarely hits so solidly on all areas of importance. It’s not inexpensive, but professionals will love this tool, and homeowners and do-it-yourselfers will be spoiled rotten.

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