Drill Press Uses (Woodworking & Metalworking)

Drill presses are highly versatile tools and a staple in most workshops. What are the advantages of using a drill press, and in which applications would you use it?

Read on to find out.

Jump to: Drill Press Uses in Woodworking Or Metalworking

What Is the Advantage of Using a Drill Press?

A drill press is a stationary benchtop or floor mount drilling tool. It’s a simple, yet powerful machine tool available in various sizes. The most significant advantage of a drill press is its power and precision. When using a hand drill, you rely on the operator’s steadiness and physical arm strength for precision and hole depth. This isn’t always enough, especially in high-precision applications.

You can drill exact holes to any specified depth with a drill press, regardless of the material used. Depending on the material in question, you might have to change drill bits, but the drilling will always be precise.

Using a drill press is usually faster than drilling by hand, especially for projects that require a lot of repetitive drilling. High-speed, automated drill presses further decrease working time without sacrificing quality and accuracy.

If you’d like more information on how a drill press works, see our article on the topic.

Top 10 Uses of Drill Press

Drill Press Uses

Drill presses are versatile tools capable of performing a wide range of tasks. Here are the top 10 picks for drill press uses.

1. Spot Drilling

Spot drilling is the first step in precision drilling. Here, you would choose a center drill or drill bit with a split point since these bits are best for precise hole positioning.

Start the drill press and slowly lower the spot drill bit until it engages with the material surface. This would create a slight indentation (approximately 1/16 inch) in the material, called a spot or starter hole. Now, you can replace the spot drill bit with the twist bit you need to drill the actual hole.

Spot Drilling with center drill
You can carry on drilling as usual by positioning it on the starter hole. The drill bit will engage at the previously drilled spot, resulting in an exact hole with a neat finish.

2. Drilling Holes

Drill presses are mainly used to drill holes, typically with great precision and high speed. The 118° twist drill bits are the commonly used tool bit on my drill press.

Drilling hole on Drill Press
Depending on the type of job, you can use wood drill bits, twist drills, hole saw, step drill bits, etc. to drill holes in different materials. You could even use a tile bit to drill tiles and diamond bits to drill glass.
Metal cutting hole saw
The drill press’ dimensions govern the maximum hole depth and workpiece size – we have an entire article on drill press size.

3. Chamfering & Deburring

After drilling the hole, you would use a chamfering drill bit to slightly widen the hole’s lip to remove the burr during drilling. It also protects the edge of the hole and allows the shaft to enter inside easily. You could use a dedicated chamfering tool, a countersink bit, or even a twist bit with a larger diameter.

Deburring and chamfering hole
I like to use the countersunk because chamfering is, in a sense, similar to countersinking; but with less deep. Chamfering is usually done only to a depth of 1/64 ″ to 1/32 ″ (0.3 to 0.8mm).

4. Countersinking

Countersinking is an effective technique for removing material from the top of the hole to form a conical depression for the screws to fit flush with the surface of the workpieces. A drill press does this very well.

To do this, you’ll need a conical bit called countersunk (or countersinking bit) positioned at the center of the hole you want to countersink. Once the drill bit engages with the material, allow it to follow the edge of the hole in gradually increasing orbits until you’ve reached the desired finish.

Countersinking on Drill Press
Countersinking is also great when you want screws and bolts to fit flush to the working surface. Here, the countersinking drill bit won’t orbit the drilling hole. Instead, you should align it with the center of the existing hole. Slowly sink it into the material to the desired depth. This creates a conical depression for the screw head to fit in once installed.

5. Counterboring

Counterboring is a technique used to enlarge the diameter at the top of existing holes to a depth slightly more than the screw head. This allows the cap screw head to sit below the surface of the work without compromising on the clamping force.

Counterboring is usually done on a drill press with a counterboring bit which has a guiding diameter at the tip followed by flat cutting tips.

Counterboring a hole
If you do not have a dedicated counterboring tool, then use a regular twist bit to drill the hole to slightly less depth. Now you have a counterbore with conical bottom. You need to make it flat to let the shoulder of the cap screw to seat properly. The next step is to either grind the tip of the bit flat to make a flat drill bit or use an end mill equal in diameter to get a flat bottom.

6. Tapping

Tapping is a method of creating internal threads to fit screws securely into workpieces. Here, you would drill a pilot hole equal to the core diameter of the required thread. Then use the tapping bit to cut the threads. Now, you’re all set to install the screw.

A machine tap
Keep in mind that once the tapping is done, you have to rotate the tapping bit in the reverse direction to get it out of the hole. Otherwise, you will break the bit or damage the threads.

Drill press models with tapping mode make it easy. In tapping mode, the spindle will rotate in the clockwise direction (for right-hand thread) during tapping and when it reaches the set depth, the spindle will rotate in the reverse direction allowing the tap to unscrew from the thread it just created.

7. Reaming

Reaming allows creating holes with greater accuracy and an excellent surface finish. Here, you enlarge a previously formed hole incrementally and with great precision using a reamer.

Reaming on Drill Press
You will need to drill the hole diameter to slightly undersize to allow stock for the reamer to cut. As a rule of thumb, this stock allowance should be approximately 2 to 3% of the reamer size or keep 0.006″ to 0.10″ for holes up to 3/8 ″ in diameter and 0.010″ to 0.015″ inches for holes from 3/8″ to ½ ″ in diameter.

Reaming offers a smooth hole finish and accurate dimensions.

8. Boring

Drill presses are excellent for high-speed boring. This is an application where you need many identical holes that are all equally smooth. Completing this task using a hand drill is nearly impossible, hence a drill press. If you have an auto-feed drilling machine, this job gets even more accessible. Here, you would program the machine to complete the project, insert the workpiece, and let it do its job.

If you have a manual drill press, you’ll need to perform some measurements to ensure that the holes are correctly positioned. Fortunately, this is not a difficult task on most drill presses. Either way, it’s much faster and far more accurate than attempting this kind of project using a hand drill.

9. Sanding & Polishing

Drill presses are highly effective at polishing and sanding using a sandpaper attachment. When using an electric sander or in hand-held sanding operations, coarse sandpaper is used to obtain a coarse finish, while fine sandpaper offers a smooth, polished finish.

Sanding bit
You could also use lapping paste and lap to polish holes to a very fine finish.

10. Cleaning Metal with Wire Wheel Brush

Using a wire wheel brush attachment on your drill press allows you to quickly and easily clean metal workpieces. This wheel brush spins at high speed, efficiently brushing dirt and debris from metal surfaces. The only caveat here is that the workpiece should be small enough to fit on the drill press table.

Drill Press Uses in Woodworking

You can find a drill press in nearly any woodworking workshop, and with good reason. Here are some of the tasks they’re typically used for.

1. Drilling

Drilling is the primary purpose of a drill press, and this is generally what it is used for in most projects. Drill presses allow for greater precision drilling than when using a hand drill. Here, you can drill repetitive holes in a workpiece at precise locations and exact depths, far more manageable and much faster than before. Automatic drill presses further speed up the process since you program the task, clamp in the workpiece, and press start. The machine does the rest for you.

2. Cutting Mortise Using Forstner Bit

Mortise and tenon joints are a staple in woodworking projects, and with good reason. This is an old and reliable way to combine two pieces in a larger project. You could create the mortise by hand, although this can be tedious, and it’s often hard to get the position and size precise.
Cutting Mortise with Forstner bit
Alternatively, you could use a mortising machine, but not every workshop has one, especially if you’re a weekend DIYer. That’s where the drill press comes in. With this tool, you can do the bulk of the work using the drill press and complete the finishing touches using a chisel.

Here’s how:

Mark out the position of the mortise on your workpiece. Use a rule and combination square or mortise gauge to ensure that the lines are square and properly positioned. Clamp the workpiece into the drill press and adjust it to have the Forstner bit centered on the mortise outline. Mark the desired mortise depth on your workpiece and adjust the drill press stop to match this.

Set the drill press speed between medium and low. This allows it to clear large wood chips effectively. Next, bore a hole at each end of the mortise. Ensure that the bit just about touches the lines drawn. Drill a series of holes inside the mortise outline, about one drill bit diameter apart. Don’t let the holes overlap since this will cause the drill bit to wander, leaving a crooked cut with ragged edges.

Next, carefully drill the areas between the holes. The next part can be tricky since the drill bit no longer has a center point to guide it. Carefully drill out the remaining material crescents. Lower the drill bit into the mortise and slowly move it from side to side inside the mortise outlines. This will remove the remaining material.

Remove the workpiece from the drill press and remove any remaining material from the mortise edges. Lastly, use a chisel that matches the mortise width to square the ends.

3. Cutting Tapered Snug-plugs

Plugs added to workpieces provide the final finishing, producing neat workpieces with invisible joints and other potential surface aspects. Cutting a well-fitting plug is often a near-impossible task since they often don’t fit the hole they’re meant for.

Attaching a tapered snug-plug bit to a drill press solves this issue. With this tool, you can cut a series of identical plugs at precise dimensions and smooth sides. They install quickly and easily and offer a hassle-free experience. These plugs are tapered at a 3° inclusive angle, allowing them to easily slide into the specified hole until they reach the required depth.

4. Sanding

Using sanding drum fittings on your drill press, sanding down workpieces is really quick and easy. These drums vary in diameter to match the measurements of your project. Larger drums work faster since the linear speed is higher here.

Sanding drums can be fitted with sandpaper of varying coarseness, matching your needs.

5. Doweling and Fitting

Doweling and fitting operations must be precise to ensure a good finish. A drill press simplifies this process. Here, you can use a small diameter drill bit to mark the dowel position on your workpiece. Cut the heads off some thin nails and insert the nails into the pilot holes with the tips facing upwards. Ensure that the tips protrude slightly.

Place the workpieces together in the manner you’d like to join them. The nails will make slight markings on the second piece, indicating where the dowels should be positioned. Now, remove the nails from the first workpiece using pliers.

Install the drill bit needed to cut the dowel holes. Cut these holes in the positions marked out by the nails. Lastly, install the dowels in these holes and combine the two workpieces.

There are many opportunities for inaccuracies in this process, resulting in uneven finishes. For this reason, the drill press and workpieces must be positioned with care. This ensures accurate hole positions, resulting and neatly joined workpieces.