Buy This Instead of a Harbor Freight Drill

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The Hercules Harbor Freight drill is awfully tempting for $90. And it performed pretty well in our shootout… up until the chuck broke. Once we tallied all the results, we got to thinking, “what would we buy instead of a Harbor Freight drill?” Obviously, most anyone would love to have a cordless drill from Bosch, Makita, or Milwaukee, but we’re looking at this from a budget perspective. After all, that’s what makes the Harbor Freight Hercules so attractive in the first place.

After breaking it all down, here’s why we’d buy the Skil 20V brushless compact drill instead of the Harbor Freight Hercules drill.


  • Price: Harbor Freight Hercules
  • Warranty: Skil
  • Speed Under Load: Hercules
  • Drilling Efficiency: Hercules
  • Torque: Skil
  • Weight: Skil
  • Footprint: Skil
  • Feature Set: Skil
  • Compatible Tools: Skil


For starters, let’s look at the price. Harbor Freight comes in at $89.99 with a charger a 2.5Ah battery. You can also upgrade to a hammer drill for another $20.


Skil’s compact 20V brushless drill comes with a 2.0Ah battery and standard charger for $99.99. You can upgrade that kit with a PWRJump charger (faster charging and a USB port) for $129.99. If the better charger sounds good, the hammer drill kit with PWRJump charger is an even better value at $127.50.

While there’s only $10 separating the two drills, Harbor Freight has the edge.

Verdict: Harbor Freight Hercules Drill


Harbor Freight warranties their Hercules 20V drill for 90 days. You can buy a 1 or 2-year extended warranty if you like. Considering our chuck failure, we’d recommend that you do.

Skil jumps in with a 5-year warranty that exceeds what even some of the Pro brands offer.

This one is in favor of Skil by a wide margin.

Verdict: Skil 20V Compact Drill

Speed Under Load

Both of these drills are in our compact class. To test their respective speeds, we measured them drill in OSB subfloor layers with a 3/4″ Bosch Daredevil High-Speed Auger bit and a 1-1/2″ Milwaukee SwitchBlade Self-Feed bit.

With the auger bit in high speed, Hercules kept its speed up to 1409 RPM on average. Skil’s average was nearly 200 RPM lower at 1212 RPM. While neither one of these really struggled to finish the test, both are long way out from from the DeWalt DCD797’s 1948 RPM average that leads this class.

Dropping to low speed for the additional torque, Hercules put up a 423 RPM average with the self-feed bit. Skil closed the gap, but still remained behind at 358 RPM. DeWalt again won this battle, holding onto 550 RPM.

These results really aren’t a surprise. With no-load on either drill, Hercules is 120 RPM faster in high and 91 RPM faster in low, so we expect it to be faster with a bit in it as well.

Verdict: Harbor Freight Hercules Drill

Drilling Efficiency

Efficiency helps us balance the speed results by comparing how fast a drill works against the no-load speeds measured. Every manufacturer has to choose the gearing to go with their motor, so a straight-up speed test doesn’t tell the whole story. In “The Truth About Drill Torque and Speed,” we explore this idea further.

For now, the takeaway is that the better the efficiency percentage, the lighter the load on the motor and the longer it’s likely to last. Higher efficiencies also tell us the drill can handle larger bits than the ones we’re testing easier.

The first round goes to the Harbor Freight drill. Hercules maintained 74% of its no-load speed with the auger bit while Skil was a little behind at 68%.

Skil is able to close the gap with the self-feed bit but doesn’t pick up enough to overtake Hercules. Skil finishes with a 74% average and Hercules sits at 77%.

Verdict: Harbor Freight Hercules Drill


Our testing rig measures soft torque using a truck spring that provides increased torque as the drill turns. While these numbers don’t match up against the manufacturer’s specifications (they use hard torque), they help us see the differences in power.

Hercules specs 576 in-lbs on their drill and manages 125.2 in-lbs of torque on our rig. Skil specs a lower 450 in-lbs, but produces 160.4 in-lbs. The way one product manager puts it, the lab torque tests gives each manufacturer a number to put on the box, but that doesn’t mean you can judge it by that alone.

Advantage, Skil.

Verdict: Skil 20V Compact Drill


Skil tends to be a bit heavier than its premium professional counterparts. Things even out in the Prosumer game, though. With no battery, Skil’s compact 20V drill weighs just 2.02 pounds while Hercules is a hefty 2.81 pounds.

Things don’t improve much with their compact batteries. Skil is just a hair over 3 pounds (3.01 pounds) and the Harbor Freight drill is a beefy 3.80 pounds. Compared to the rest of the compact class, Skil is the second lightest of the entire group.

Verdict: Skil 20V Compact Drill


Like we see in weight, Skil has a pretty significant advantage in footprint as well. Its 7.4″ height and 7.1″ head length easily reach more compact spaces than Hercules at 7.6″ tall and 7.7″ long.

Verdict: Skil

Feature Set

Skil and Hercules are very similar in design save for one major component—the motor. Hercules uses a 4-pole brushed motor and Skil gives you a brushless one. For an extra $10, that’s more than worth it.

Here’s a quick list of the features they share:

  • 2-speed gearbox
  • LED light
  • All-metal chuck
  • Belt hook
  • Charge status on the battery

Verdict: Skil

Compatible Tools

Harbor Freight has exactly 3 tools that work with their Hercules 20V battery: a drill driver, hammer drill, and impact driver. While Skil doesn’t have the 100+ tools that some of the major brands do, they are quickly expanding and have your core tools covered and then some. They also have a wide range of combo kits you can buy to save some money getting into the system.


Verdict: Skil

Hercules Harbor Freight Drill Vs Skil: The Bottom Line

The Hercules Harbor Freight drill definitely has an advantage in speed over Skil and I really like its DeWalt-esque form factor. However, Skil gives you more torque in a more compact tool with a brushless motor for just $10 more. Considering the additional Skil tools you can add that have Pro performance at a DIY price, do yourself a favor and spend a little more.


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