Black oxide and titanium drill bits are some of the most common drill bits that you can get your hands on on the market right now. And while they are both great, they differ in a lot of ways besides the obvious fact that they are made of two different coatings.
Through both personal experience and thorough research, my task here is to help you pick which kind is best for your specific projects.
But before delving into the numerous differences between the two, I am going to explain each individually.
Black Oxide Drill Bits
What is a black oxide drill bit?
Black Oxide drill bits are high-speed steel (HSS) bits with black-colored conversion coating. The drill bits are dipped in an alkaline solution of sodium hydroxide, nitrates, and nitrites at 285°F. This process covert the outer layer of the drill bit to magnetite (Fe3O4) which gives it the black oxide finish. Oil is often imparted during the hot oxidation process to create a surface with reduced friction.
Contrary to what many people believe, this finish isn’t purely aesthetic. Yes, it does make the drills look cool, but there is more to it than that. For starters, black oxide bits are corrosion-resistant. They also generate way less friction when they drill, meaning an improved chip flow and hence can drill faster than standard bight finish drill bits.
Black oxide bits work best for drilling ferrous materials. But from my experience, black oxide drills bits work smoothly on most kinds of metal and alloy (including steel, copper, and aluminum) as well as softwood and hardwood.
Out of the two types that I’m focusing on today, black oxide drill bits are technically the “closest” to your everyday bight HSS bits. They are inexpensive, widely available, and they tend to last about 50% longer than untreated HSS bits.
That said, their performance, though, will vary depending on the quality of the ones you would get as well as on your usage.
What Are Black Oxide Drill Bits Used For?
Black oxide bits can drill wide variety of materials although they are not recommended for non-ferrous metals. Following are some of the most common materials that you can drill with a black oxide drill bit.
- Composition boards
- Carbon Steel
- Alloy Steels
Titanium Drill Bits
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but titanium drill bits are not made of titanium. Then, what is a titanium drill bit?
Titanium bits are HSS (High-Speed Steel) bits coated with titanium nitride. This incredibly hard ceramic coating is what helps these bits drill faster, be more corrosion resistant, and generally last longer. The titanium nitride coating is usually done by Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) and the most common coating is the TiN coating which is yellowish golden color.
Titanium Carbonitride (TiCN), Aluminum Titanium Nitride (TiLN or AlTN), and CrN are also used for specific purposes. You can find the difference between the different titanium nitride coating here.
I have used titanium drill bits on almost every material you can find out there, from wood and plastic to Aluminum and steel.
There is one inherent “flaw” to these drill bits, though. Their superb performance is only due to their coating. In other words, you cannot easily regain performance after long periods of use just by sharpening the bits like the cobalt drill bits. This is because the coating will get removed from the cutting face when you resharpen the bit. But the good news is that the coating on the helical flutes stays and you can also recoat your bits with TiN if you don’t want to give up on those coated cutting edges. More on that later. It’s usually both cheaper and more efficient to just get a new bit, though.
What Is a Titanium Drill Bit Used For?
These bits are excellent for general-purpose drilling as well as heavy-duty and repetitve tasks. Since the cutting edges can stay sharp up to 5 or 6 times, they are commonly used in production lines and on CNC machines. You can use a titanium drill bit to drill holes the following materials.
- Carbon steel
- Regular steel
- Composition board
Black Oxide vs Titanium Drill Bits
Here are what I think is the key difference between these two options:
|Black Oxide Bits||Titanium Drill Bits|
|Entry Level Coating||High-Quality Coating|
|Black Color||Yellowish golden color|
|Conversion Coating||PVD or CVD Coating|
|Best for wood & ferrous metals||Heavy-duty, repetitve drilling|
|Good corrosion resistance and chip-flow.||Resistant to corrosion, run at faster speeds, doesn’t need frequent sharpening.|
|1.5 to 2 times more tool life than bright HSS bits||5 to 6 times long-lasting compared to HSS drills|
While both titanium and black oxide drill bits are hard enough to handle almost any material you throw them at, their levels of hardness vary.
As I have mentioned above, black oxide drills are the product of subjecting high-speed steel to high temperatures. However, the resulting coating isn’t as hard as TiN drill bits.
Simply because titanium nitride is tough (like, super tough), which should give you an idea of what to expect when getting your hands on some titanium drill bits.
Intended Use Case
When choosing between titanium drill and black oxide bits, it’s important to know which works best on what. After all, as a handyman, you probably have several types of bits in your toolbox, each reserved for a specific use case.
Black oxide drill bits can handle softer materials like wood and plastic with ease. This, combined with their relatively lower price, makes them the perfect choice for DIYers, regular woodworkers, and the like.
Titanium drill bits are usually found in toolboxes of professional contractors who find themselves dealing with harder materials more often than not.
Since they’re the hardest between the two, titanium bits can handle every material that their black oxide counterparts can drill and more. In addition to wood, plastic, and PVC, titanium bits can easily drill through cast iron, stainless steel, and alloy tool steels. In short, TiN is an excellent general-purpose coating for both wood bits and metal drill bits.
With enough force and persistence, you could drill through those materials using black oxide bits too. Trust me, I have tried it myself, but the experience wasn’t as pleasant or as smooth as using titanium bits for sure.
Re-sharpening drill bits is quite a common practice especially if you are working with twist drills on metals. While I personally resharpen all my twist bits, I understand why some people would not want to do it. It’s a very efficient way of extending the lifespan of your drill bits.
When it comes to woodworking bits such as brad point bits, spade bits, Forstner bits, etc, re-sharpening is not easy. And as I have mentioned before, titanium bits are very hard, to the point where it will take a long time before the cutting edges become dull and require re-sharpening.
Regular high-speed steel and black oxide drill bits, on the other hand, are a different deal. You can significantly increase their service life by sharpening them when needed. You get to ensure that your drill bits are always sharp which will prevent drill breakage and you also save money.
I strongly advise against trying to re-sharpen very small diameter titanium drill bits, though, as you’ll be removing the coating from the cutting surface. The only functional way to restore titanium drill bits is by recoating them. However, this process is very time-consuming for most people and will usually cost more than just buying new bits.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to find myself buying drill bits often because, in addition to costing me more money, the time I would spend looking for new ones should go to whatever project I have at the time instead. Don’t worry though, both types of bits can last for long.
I’m sure that you won’t be surprised when I say that titanium bits have a significantly longer tool life than black oxide ones. Compared to a bright finish bit, a titanium bit lasts up to 6 times longer. In other words, if you want to get the most value for your money, titanium drill bits are the way to go.
Black oxide drill bits get more used up, especially when you’re drilling into harder materials, something you won’t notice when using titanium ones.
But still, both types of bits are very durable in comparison to regular HSS ones. So, if you’re an occasional user, it might take months for them to completely wear off. Plus, they are both very rust- and corrosion-resistant.
The cost of new bits might seem insignificant when compared to what you paid for your drill. However, we all know this is not the case. The price might be a deciding factor for many people when choosing between black oxide and titanium bits.
And while it might differ from one type (or brand) to another, there is one aspect that is present within all of them. You can save money by buying a set instead of individual drill bits. For example, a titanium bit can cost you around five bucks, but it can only be around a couple of dollars when bought as part of a set.
Generally, titanium drill bits are more expensive. But a brief look at the market right now will get you to understand that it all depends on the brands, really. You can find a set of black oxide drill bits from a popular high-quality brand that might cost more than a titanium one and vice versa.
So, Are Titanium Coated Drill Bits Better?
If I were to guess, this is probably the main question that has been running through your mind as you were reading this article, and the answer is, well, it’s complicated.
When it comes to drilling performance, titanium bits are better with significantly longer tool life, faster cutting, and improved productivity. However, they are expensive.
As I have mentioned before, if you’re a casual user of drills, a DIY enthusiast per se, or you do a little woodwork here and there, then black oxide drill bits should do the trick for you. However, if you use your drill in a professional, consistent manner, then you’re probably better off with titanium nitrate drill bits as they tend to outlive their black layered counterparts.
I personally own both, but if I were to be put in a situation where I’d have to choose one, I would probably go for titanium bits as they are more versatile.