Why you need a drill press
Whether in the shop or on the jobsite, for accurately drilled, precisely located vertical holes, there is no substitute for a drill press. And a drill press can do much more than drill holes.
The 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.
Basically an electric drill attached to a fixture, a drill press with adjustable speed drive and drill advance by a rack and pinion drive handles far more and far larger drilling applications than a hand-held drill.
A drill press has a motor, variable speed drive – usually by belts, a quill with chuck that is pressed down with a rotary lever control and an adjustable drill table.
Usually, three handles on the rotary advance the quill and chuck down to the job against a spring that retracts the chuck and drill when drilling is complete. Drill presses are distinguished by the power of the motor, size of the chuck, stroke of the press, size of the throat that accommodates the job, the positioning mechanism for the adjustable table, and the size and shape of the table.
Smaller presses mount to a bench or other work surface and can be bolted down. At 50 to 100 pounds, they are heavy enough and stable enough in most cases that drill presses can be used without mounting to the bench, so provide reasonable portability. A floor press is bigger, more powerful and less portable.
General-purpose drill presses have a conventional three-jaw chuck that can be permanently attached to the quill in the drill head. Chuck sizes vary and most can handle a ½-inch drill. Some heavy hitters use a ⅝-inch chuck. Industrial and machine-shop bench and floor presses may have a Morse Taper mounted chuck for use of heavy-duty taper-driven tools. Generally, this is more drill press than a contractor needs.
The bench press will usually have a lighter motor in the ¼- to ½-hp range with five or more speeds. Generally, higher speeds up to 4,000 rpm are appropriate for softer materials and smaller bits. Use slower speeds (down to 200 rpm) for larger bits or for materials like cast iron. A speed chart is usually on a decal on the case.
Swing and stroke are important and more is usually better. Swing is twice the distance between the chuck and the post that supports the head (the throat). A 10-inch drill press has a throat of 5 inches and can drill the center of a 10-inch board or other larger work piece. The stroke is the plunge depth of the chuck, and bench presses are in the region of 2 to 3½ inches. Floor presses can have a drilling depth of up to 6 inches.
The “press” part comes from the rack and pinion mechanism that drives down the quill and chuck, giving more pressure on the bit for cleaner, faster drilling. Most drill presses have some sort of adjustable drill stop to be able to drill consistently to the same depth.
The less common radial drill press has a movable rotating head for larger materials and angled drilling. The magnetic drill press has a built-in on/off magnet of prodigious strength to clamp it to a ferrous surface. Magnetic drill presses are used for drilling construction steel. Another use would be drilling accurate holes in truck frame rails for chassis-mounted accessories.
If you’re buying a drill press, look for heavy-duty construction for rigidity and strength, easily accessed chuck and chuck-key holder, decent-sized drill table with clamp-through holes, rack and pinion table-height adjustment, swing away and angle adjustment for the table, easily accessed on/off switch in case of emergency, and drilling depth stop.
–By Steve Sturgess, stevesturgess.com