How to Use a Drill Press

Here's how to use a drill press in 4 steps. Using a drill press is not a complicated process because the same 4-step process applies for every machine. All you have to do is put on your protective equipment, fasten the work piece, aim and start drilling.

Step 1 - Put On Protective Equipment

Before you can do anything, you should put on your protection. This is just as important as drilling because there are lots of downsides to going unprotected. You should put on your hearing/eye protection and also take OFF your gloves, watches, bracelets or anything that might catch on the drill bit when you're drilling. Gloves are not useful here. All you need is your bare hands and your face protection. Read our safety section to see which products offer the best protection. You need minimal face protection to keep debris away because it might scar your skin in the worst or irritate it in the best case scenario.

Step 2 - Secure Your Work Piece

The work piece (wooden/metal/plastic piece you're working with) has to be secured to the bench and this part takes longer than the actual cutting because you have to mark the spots and make sure it's held in place. Laser beams help with this and new drills have them. If you’re going to hold it in place with your hands you should use all your strength because the power from the drill will cause it to start rotating and slide out. If this happens it won't fly off but it will hit your hands and possibly scar you. If you don’t have lasers you need a simple marker or a pencil to mark where you want to drill on the wood piece and depending on the drill size you might want to make the mark bigger than the drill to be able to see when the actual drill goes in.

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The "Vise" is the part that attaches your wood piece to the table and we have a dedicated section that explains their use. It's better to purchase drill press vises separate from the one that came with your drill press because they offer greater stability. The installation process takes a few seconds and you can learn how to secure vises to the table very fast. The idea behind them is to keep the work piece in place and free up your hands. This way you only have to keep replacing the wood pieces and calibrating the machine instead of using up all your strength keeping the piece in place. You can also use a simple clamp as an alternative but these are all things you do to keep it place. The takeaway is to not leave pieces unattended without securing them to the surface first. Drill presses have levers which you can use to manually align all the work pieces.

Step 3 - Prepare For Drilling

Once you've secured your work piece you have to calibrate the machine and prepare it for drilling. There are different accessories that come with a drill press which you’ll want to make use of here. The most important is the "drill bit" and it's the part that goes into your actual work piece and does all the drilling. There are different drill bits for different uses and your selection will be based on the material you're cutting. You can't use the same drill bit you used for wood to cut metal. The chalk will release the drill bit and then you can replace it. All you have to do is loosen it and plug in the right bit. You don't have to do this every time you're about to drill because if you work on the same wood pieces, the same drill bit will work. You only have to change the drill bit when you cut different materials.

Once you've selected the right drill bit you have to adjust the drilling depth. This is important to make sure the drill doesn't penetrate too far down and end up destroying your work piece. There is a part called the "depth stop" that allows you select the exact depth you need to drill. Depth stops are not important if you want to drill the whole work piece but if you want it to stop halfway or a third of the way in, you need to adjust them.

Step 4 - Start Drilling

This is the last part because once you're all set and you've done all the calibration, the drill will take a few seconds at most to give you the exact drilling you need. It doesn't matter if you're using a benchtop or a floor mounted drill press - the cutting power is the same and you'll notice how fast it cuts through average wood boards when you give it a try. This is also when you adjust the speed by changing the belts (if it's not a single-speed). If you're not sure about the speed leave the default or set it somewhere in the middle. Once you've gone over your first cuts, shut it down and change the speed to see if you prefer the faster or slower settings. All you have to do is bring down the drill bit until it touches your wood piece and it's going to do all the work for you. It needs to be operational and running at a solid speed or it's not going to penetrate.

DRILL PRESS SAFETY

Drill presses can be dangerous but as long as you do basic maintenance work and wear protective equipment, they are safer than other drills. The more affordable drills are the most dangerous ones because they tend to vibrate more and have immense cutting power; you have to be careful with hand placement when you’re using them. Modern drill presses are very powerful and immediately grab hold of everything you throw their way. The good news is that wood workers don't have to wear as much protective equipment as other crafts because they only need basic face protection. You don’t want to underestimate the power of an entry-level drill press.

Drill Press Maintenance

Maintenance on drill presses has more to do with cutting calibration than it does with motor repairs and oil leaks. You should lubricate your drill as often as possible and double-check before cutting harder material such as metals. The wrong material can mess up your drill bit. You want to disperse the pressure gradually and never leave it the same from start to finish because when the drill goes inside the work piece it doesn't need the same pressure to keep drilling. It only needs high pressure at the start and you'll have to lower the pressure when it goes in. The more powerful drills can easily pull the piece inward and even break it. Drill presses can hurt your hands if you don't hold your wood piece in place or make sure it's fastened with a vise because it's going to start spinning and hit your hand - the rotary power of the machines is immense. This is especially true for the ones with high motor power - those are ruthless.

Sharpening the drill can also take time and it's just as important as oiling it before heavy cuts. The drill bit can break if it's not sharp enough and it's not going to cut as accurately as it should. The floor around it should be free of oil because any extra oil might leak out. If you do the minimum to keep your work space organized and remove debris/scraps that you don't need, this helps. The MOST IMPORTANT part with maintaining drill presses is to stop them every time you are about to change speed or adjust the drill. Double check to make sure it's completely shut off and cooled down before you proceed with your adjustments. This way you'll stay safe and your machine won't break. Calibrate two steps ahead because it’s the best way to stay safe.

Maintenance on drill presses is a lot more straight-forward than other power tools because you only have to change oil and keep the bits sharp. We use vices and clamps to secure the work pieces and prevent them from flying off. If you have to fasten the work piece by yourself, you should hold it as tightly as you can otherwise it's going to rotate and hit your hands. Vises are affordable and we have a section on the best drill press vises and tables. They are just as useful for small work desks for hobbyists as they are for commercial-sized operations.

What To Wear?

Wood workers don't have to wear as much protective equipment and they don't even have to wear gloves. In fact, it's recommended not to wear gloves if you're doing delicate drilling work. You need all the hand sensitivity you have from your fingers and gloves lower your sensitivity. It’s more important to focus on what you shouldn’t wear than what you should wear. You should take off your watch, rings and bracelets. It's also preferable to wear short sleeve shirts over hoodies and long sleeve shirts. If you have long hair or you're a female you should wear a cap or find a way to tie your hair back so it doesn't get caught in the drill by accident. You're going to need face protection to protect against debris.

Face Protection - Husqvarna ProForest

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The ProForest is the most well-known face protection package that is ideal for craft work. It has a very simplistic design that keeps your face safe and bounces off every kind of debris. This makes it ideal for close-contact drilling when you want to get as close as you can to your work piece to observe detail, but not be exposed to the dangers you would if you weren't wearing it. Your eyes will stay safe because nothing can fly in there and you can concentrate on making the most accurate cuts. The ProForest is a helmet, face protection and sound isolation accessory in one. It provides all the protection you need in the most comfortable package, without having to combine these individual pieces separately.

If you've dealt with ratchet strap helmets they are not the tightest and they have uncomfortable plastic that gets weary after using them for a few hours. The ProForest is a lot more comfortable and it's ideal for long-session use. You can wear it on your head all day and feel as if it's a part of your face instead of this thing you're forced to wear against your will. It covers the whole face and it's better than regular glasses because it can't get ripped off by accident. If you only had to purchase one protective device for all your drilling work, the ProForest is everything you need in one.

The ProForest also features excellent sound isolation and you won't hear anything as you're working with the noisiest drills. You might not mind noise or even enjoy it if you only have to drill for a few hours, but if this is a full time job then you want to get the most isolation possible. Floor mounted drills make a lot of noise and this is the best protective option. When you're wearing the ProForest you're fully isolated from external noise and your face is protected in a comfortable manner. The isolation is superior to bare-bones noise isolation headsets. If you purchased all these parts individually you couldn’t find them at a more affordable rate and they're even more comfortable because they're designed to work as one. You'll also save time because you don't have to put on 3 individual pieces but you're putting on one protective item.

Eye Protection - DEWALT DPG82-11

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If you only want protective glasses and prefer a single protective piece over the whole package, the DPG82-11 are the best protective glasses for indoor use that will offer complete eye protection and comfort against humidity and high-temperature drills. They are extremely weather resistant/transparent and provide clarity even during the highest temperatures. They are also fog-resistant. If you only use regular sunglasses for protection they might start melting when exposed to the highest temperatures and you'll be afraid to get too close to your drill. They also don't offer the same level of transparency.

The DPG82-11 come with an anti-fogging system that makes them usable for people who sweat a lot and allows you to preserve your transparency while your eyes stay protected. If you don't want to have to remove your glasses every time you sweat and they fog up, the DPG82-11 is your best bet because they never fog up they stay transparent in every temperature. They are so affordable that you could purchase multiples and the DeWalt brand name means they are among the most reliable glasses. You can't go wrong with the DeWalt’s protective glasses.