Making the Switch to a Drill-Powered Auger

Drill-powered ice augers have become wildly popular in recent years. If you haven’t made the switch yet, here are some things to consider.

Making the Switch to a Drill-Powered Auger

Photo courtesy of www.kdrillauger.com

If you’ve been ice fishing at all in the last few years, you’ve likely seen someone drilling a hole with their handheld power drill. If you’re like me, you grew green with envy as they pulled the trigger and drilled a hole or two while priming, choking and pulling and pulling and pulling to get your gas auger started. Drill-powered augers seem to be all the rage lately, but are they really that much better than a gas auger? In the terms of full disclosure, I have jumped on the drill train and sold my gas auger. Here are some things to consider if you’re on the fence.

Drill 

The powerhouse of the operation, the drill is the most important part of the four-part system. The drill needs to have the right specs and settings to properly drill a hole without damaging the internal components or the auger itself. Many smaller “picture hanger” drills don’t have the oomph to get the job done. In general, you’re looking for a drill that has at least 100 in/lb of torque per inch of hole radius. For example, a drill with 600 in/lb of torque will likely handle a 6-inch hole, but an 8-inch hole could smoke the drill. Keep in mind, an 8-inch hole has nearly twice the surface area to cut as a 6-inch hole (50 square inches versus 28 square inches.) The drill needs to have a 1/2-inch chuck to accommodate most auger adapters as well. 

There are three drills on the market right now that are considered the top three based on specs and availability. Those are the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-inch Hammer Drill, Ridgid Octane 1/2-inch Hammer Drill and the DeWalt 996 20V Max XR Hammer Drill, in no particular order. Besides considering the overall torque rating of the drill, it’s important to research the warranty before making a purchase. Although these drills will get the job done, they weren’t made for this sort of thing. If you drill a lot of holes, you may end up needing to make a warranty claim, and you’ll want to know your drill is covered.

Whichever drill you choose, the settings on the drill are almost as important as the specs. You need to make sure your drill is set to its lowest speed setting and set to “drill” mode. Using a drill on “hammer” setting will likely dull or damage the auger blades and slow down the drilling process. 

These high-torque drills should include an auxiliary handle, and you’ll want to make sure you use it. Trying to drill a hole without the auxiliary handle is a quick way to get hurt, either from straining your wrist or getting hit by the drill as it spins around when you lose your grip. The auxiliary handle makes the drill perform more like a conventional auger that’s held with two hands.

Auger 

There are more options for augers now than there have ever been, which is great for the consumer. You can tailor your auger to your type of fishing. That means what works best for your fishing buddy or the tournament ice angler might not be best for you. It may seem daunting when you look at how many choices there are, but you can narrow them down significantly if you know what features you need. 

One significant feature of an auger is the blade style. Most augers have either shaver blades or chipper blades. Shaver blades cut easier and with less power required from the drill. Chipper blades are less prone to dulling when drilling through dirty ice and work better for re-opening frozen holes, like in a permanent ice shack for example. Whether or not the auger has a center point will also dictate whether or not you’re able to drill overlapping holes. If you frequently fish an area with monster fish and find a single 8-inch hole too small, you should seriously consider an auger with a center point. The overlapping holes can also be drilled to create a spearing hole for pike or sturgeon.  

There are a handful of augers on the market today that were designed specifically for use with a drill, but other augers can also be retrofitted for that same purpose on a tighter budget. Many hand augers can be converted to work with a drill using an adapter. More on adapters later.

This year I upgraded to an 8-inch auger and 9 Ah battery and was able to drill 80 holes through approximately 14 inches of ice, and still had two bars of battery left according to the display.”

Battery

If you’ve shopped for power tools lately, you know the selection of batteries is almost as vast as the selection of tools. Battery sizes are rated in amp hours. The more amp hours, the longer run time. Easy enough. But, there’s a bit more to it than that. I’ve watched a number of videos proving the larger batteries also help unlock more of the drill’s overall torque potential. Unlike a gas auger that will run the same whether it has a full tank of gas or just a little bit sloshing around, a drill will run stronger with a fully charged larger battery than an equally as charged smaller battery.  

If you’re planning on running an 8-inch or larger auger, you’ll want to spring for the larger battery. The consensus from the ice anglers I’ve talked to is that a 5 Ah battery is the minimum for the larger holes, though the 9 Ah and 12 Ah batteries are even better, though pricier. When deciding which battery to get, keep in mind that the batteries can also be used to run other equipment such as flashers, radios and lights. 

Adapter

The last piece of the puzzle is the adapter. This is what connects the auger to the drill. Just like the choices for augers, there are numerous adapters available today. Not all adapters are created equal. Certain adapters have built-in fail safes that prevent the auger from dropping to the bottom of the lake if the chuck becomes loose. These can take the form of a strap or cord that wraps around the drill, or a plastic or metal disc larger than the diameter of the hole. Either way, you’ll want something to protect your investment. Different augers have different shaft diameters, so make sure the adapter you buy is compatible with your drill and auger.

Double Duty

There are a handful of battery powered augers on the market that look very similar to a gas auger in both form and function. However, the advantage goes to the drill because it can be removed from the auger and used to screw in ice anchors. The drill can also be used around the house when the lakes and rivers aren’t frozen, so your investment isn’t sitting idle while you wait for ice. That can make the purchase a little easier to stomach. 

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering how many holes you could get from a single charge and whether it will be enough. There are a lot of factors that go into answering that question, but I can offer some anecdotal experience. I have been using a drill-powered auger the last two seasons here in Wisconsin. Last season I used a 6-inch auger with shaver blades and a 3 Ah battery. With that setup I was able to drill 27 holes through approximately 16 inches of ice. This year I upgraded to an 8-inch auger and 9 Ah battery and was able to drill 80 holes through approximately 14 inches of ice, and still had two bars of battery left according to the display. Whether that’s enough for you depends on your style of fishing and your average ice depth. I know I’ve never drilled anywhere close to 80 holes in a weekend, let alone a single outing.

If you’re considering making the switch to a drill-powered auger, now is the time to shop. Many stores are running sales to try and offload their ice fishing equipment before they roll out their spring inventory. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time selling your gas auger though.

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