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Why High-Torque Cordless Drills Come with a Side Handle

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Side handles are a safety feature commonly included with high-torque cordless drills and hammer drills, such as the Milwaukee M18 Fuel model shown here.

I’m sure you’ve seen that many cordless drills come with an auxiliary side handle, while compact and lower torque models don’t. Let’s talk about the reasons why.

When a high-powered cordless drill kicks back, such as if a large drill bit jams or binds in a hole, it can quickly counter-rotate with enough force to cause major injuries.

Some users have lost control of high-powered drills and twisted their wrists. Others have knocked themselves – or others – in the face. I remember reading about at least one incident where drill kickback caused a worker to fall.

Dewalt Cordless Drill with Side Handle and Handle Length Measurements

Side handles can provide greatly improved control, and not just because gripping a cordless drill with two hands is better than with one; they are often longer than the drill handle and allow for users to more effectively resist kickback torque.

In the diagram above, you can see that the side handle length (b) is greater than that of the cordless drill’s main handle (a).

What a lot of tool users don’t realize is that side handles are usually included with high-powered drills in order to meet certain safety guidelines.

Ridgid R86116 Black Friday 2018 Cordless Drill Speed Selector Switch and Side Handle Attachment

Often, cordless drills ship with a side handle attachment because they are required to.

I dug into UL’s drill handle length requirements a while back, when cordless power tool brands started launching increasingly powerful cordless drills.

Basically, any cordless drill with a torque-to-handle-length ratio above a certain value must come with a side handle of sufficient length in order to meet UL safety guidelines. This also implies that 18V form-factor cordless drills with low-enough torque capabilities don’t need to ship with a side handle.

To be clear, high-powered cordless drills don’t necessarily require an auxiliary side handle, but such handles help drills meet UL’s handle length requirement without the primary handle grip having to be extended.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel Cordless Hole Hawg

Certain drills, such as the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Hole Hawg right angle drill, have long enough primary handles to avoid the need for an extended length auxiliary side handle.

Professional tool brands seem to strictly adhere to handle length and side handle guidance, presumably because OSHA requires power tools to be listed or certified by UL or other nationally recognized testing laboratories (NRTL).

If you’re wondering why impact drivers don’t come with side handles, that’s because they deliver non-reactive torque. If an impact driver or wrench binds or jams during an operation, its body won’t counter-rotate and put your wrist and body at risk of injury. It might recoil just a little, but not with anything like the unconstrained motion of a typical cordless drill.

Anti-kickback features aren’t a substitute for long side handles, at least not yet. They help to stop kickback in its tracks, but do nothing to improve the control of a high torque drill in use.