Drill Press Size. Swing & Spindle Travel Explained.

Drill press sizes vary greatly and are expressed based on various factors. If you are on the hunt for a new drilling machine, then this guide is for you. We will cover how the size of a drill press is measured, what size you need, and how to determine the right size drilling machine for your work.

As you can guess, the size of your project will largely determine which type of drilling machine you need. So, how is a drill press measured, and what are the most critical sizes?

How is Drill Press Size Expressed?

Drill Press Size
There are many factors that go into determining which size drill press you need, but we’ll go over the most important ones below.
Drill press sizes are expressed according to two main elements:

  1. swing and
  2. spindle travel.

The spindle is the part that holds the chuck, which, in turn, holds the cutting tools. Benchtop models are typically smaller and more portable than their floor-mounted counterparts.

1. What is Drill Press Swing?

Drill press swing determines the widest material you can drill a center hole in with this drill press. This element is the distance between the drill press’s central column and the spindle, multiplied by two. Typically, benchtop models offer lower swing than their full-sized counterparts.

Swing of a drill press diagram
The average swing range on drill presses is between 8″ (20cm) and 20″ (50cm). Benchtop drill presses are typically smaller and have a swing range between 8″ (20cm) and 12″ (30cm). At the same time, floor-mounted presses make up the remainder of the average swing range.

What is a 12″ swing on a drill press?

A drill press with a 12″ (30cm) swing has 6″ (15cm) of space between the center of the chuck and the front of the support column. This drill press can drill a center hole in a 12″ (3cm) workpiece. The larger the swing, the larger the workpieces accommodated on the drill press.

2. Spindle Travel

The spindle travel determines how deep you can bore into a workpiece. This distance is governed by the allowance for downward travel on the drill bit as you turn the handle. Typically, benchtop models have less spindle travel than their floor-mounted cousins. Here, you can expect two to three inches on the benchtop models, compared to five or six inches on the full-sized models.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that you’ll probably need a floor-mounted model when drilling workpieces taller than 14″ (35cm). This model’s column would be tall enough to accommodate the larger piece.

Drill Press Swing vs. Spindle Travel

The drill press swing determines the maximum workpiece width you can accommodate on a drill press. In contrast, the spindle travel determines the maximum drilling depth. A small benchtop drill press should do the trick if you have a narrow workpiece that requires shallow holes. For narrow workpieces requiring deep holes, you may need a floor-mounted drill press since smaller benchtop models typically can’t accommodate holes deeper than 3″.

What is the difference between an 8-inch and 10-inch drill press?

The difference here lies in the press swing. An 8″ drill press has an 8″ swing width, thus a 4″ distance between the chuck’s center and the column, while a 10″ drill press has 5″ of space here. So a 10″ drill press can accommodate larger workpieces than the 8″ press.

Keep in mind that the swing distance is 2 times the distance between the column and the center of the drill chuck.

16 inch drill press
A drill press with 16-inch swing distance.

Other Sizes to Consider

Motor Size

The drill press’s motor determines the power (measured in watts or HP) it provides when working. Greater power equates to quicker work on soft material or the ability to drill through more challenging materials such as tough tool steel. The amp and voltage figures are displayed on all drill press motors. To get the watts, multiply these together. Some countries still express power as HP (horsepower) – 1HP equates to 745.7 watts.

A floor-mounted home model would typically offer 1000 watts or less, while a benchtop model would offer between a third and half of that. Industrial models are considerably more powerful, so their watt value would be far higher.

Rotation Speed

Most drill presses offer variable rotation speeds. This is important since the optimum drill bit rotation speed varies with the material you’re drilling. Harder materials require slower rotation speeds.

Most benchtop models would offer you five or six speeds, which is adequate for most applications. High-end floor models offer as many as 16 rotation speeds, allowing for precise optimization for each project.

Drill Chuck Size

The drill chuck size determines the maximum shank diameter you can use on a drill press. The shank is the drill bit portion that gets “held” by the drill press – some types have standard shank diameters, while others vary. Typically, chuck sizes range from ½” (1.27cm) upwards, with many being ¾” (1.9cm). Most drill bits fit into these chick sizes, but some specialty drill bits don’t. If your project requires drill bits that won’t fit into this typical chuck size range, you may need a special tool holder such as a drill bit sleeve.

Flooring Space

In most workshops, flooring space comes at a premium, so the less flooring space required for a tool, the better. Benchtop drill presses require far less flooring space than their floor-mounted counterparts. They are also more portable and can be moved around as needed, although moving a drill press is not as simple and easy as pushing a pile of books. We don’t recommend moving these types of tools.

What Size of Drill Press Do I Need?

The size drill press you need is determined by the type of work you plan on doing and how often you need to carry it out. Suppose you have a small workshop and use the drill press regularly for limited applications. In that case, a benchtop press is probably best. These are small and thus take up limited floor space. While their swing is typically smaller than their floor-mounted versions, they are still excellent tools and sufficient for most tasks.

A floor-mounted model would be best if you’re carrying out repetitive drilling, especially in heavy-duty applications using thicker or harder materials. Benchtop models aren’t meant for this type of heavy-duty work.

Typically, benchtop models are far more economical than their floor-mounted counterparts. Before purchasing a floor-mounted model, ensure that the work you intend to use it for justifies the expense.

For Woodworking

The best drill press for your workshop depends on the projects you intend to carry out and how frequently you’ll use it. Infrequent projects on smaller workpieces generally don’t justify purchasing a large, floor-mounted unit.

Drillpress For Metal

Drill presses for metalwork generally require a greater speed range than woodworking since metals vary significantly in hardness. Let this be the guiding factor as you shop for drill presses. As before, the size and frequency of your projects would determine the type of drill press you get.