How to use a drill press | Pro Construction Guide
How to use a drill press

How to use a drill press

Skil Model 3320-01 drill pressThe versatile hand-held drill is probably the first power tool in any professional’s toolbox. But a hand-held drill has limitations in precision drilling. That’s where the drill press comes in.

The first step when you’re ready to use a drill press is setup, and setup is simple. If you have an electric drill — and who doesn’t? — you’ll be familiar with chucking a drill bit. Because of the feed of the bit into the work, larger holes can be cut using a Forstner bit or a hole saw as well as drilling with a conventional helical drill bit.

For specialty applications, you can use a drill press with upward-spiral, flat-faced cutters like those used in a router. A flat-faced cutter can be used on angle faces because the drill press can sustain a side load and the flat face of the cutter will notch into the workpiece instead of possibly breaking off like a conventional drill might.

The thing to learn when you use a drill press is cutting speed. This includes rate of rotation and speed of feed. The press provides a far greater vertical force than drilling with a hand-held drill. This is good, because it speeds up the process, but it can easily result in damage to the cutting bit through overspeed and overload.

To put you in the right ballpark, before you use a drill press consult the drill or cutter manufacturer guidelines for the appropriate drilling speed and feed rates. These are usually tables varying with material and drill or cutter diameter.

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The greater the diameter, the faster the surface speed of the outer face of the tool and the slower you want to run the spindle.

The greater the diameter, the faster the surface speed of the outer face of the tool and the slower you want to run the spindle. You may be able to find a website that features a calculator spreadsheet application so you can just dial in material and cutter diameter and out pops the suggested spindle speed.

With that in hand, you simply pop open the top of the drill head and select a pair of pulleys that gives you the nearest speed. Because the tool manufacturers want to boost the apparent performance of their bits and cutters, erring on the side of slower rotation speed is always a good idea.

That way, when boring into a hard material, there’s less chance of overheating or tool chipping and accelerated tool wear. Also, be aware of the feed rate. Advancing the tool into the job too fast will lead to high wear and damage of the cutting edges.

When working with wood, speeds and feeds can be much higher when you use a drill press as there’s far less chance of damaging the tool, and the quality of the hole is improved. Generally a light touch is preferable and the tool will do the work to advance itself.

As always, when working with any power tool, especially one that throws off chips and metal swarf, eye protection is a must.

–By Steve Sturgess,

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