Drilling holes with your cordless drill might have worked fine on your latest small DIY project. However, sooner or later, you’ll want to tackle a home improvement requiring holes at specific depths and distances, and you’ll realize that the hand-held power tool isn’t up for the task.
Cordless drills have many uses, but precision drilling isn’t one of them. And once you understand you’ll need the increased accuracy that only a drill press can provide, you have to decide which features you’ll need and how much you’re willing to pay for them.
This buyer’s guide is designed to help you choose a drill press that will give you excellent results in your next project. Having the right drill press’s versatility means you’ll succeed in a wide range of metal drilling and woodworking projects.
Ready to step up to an efficient and powerful tool? Here’s what you should know to find the perfect drill press for you:
What is a Drill Press?
Similar to a hand-held drill, a drill press has a drill chuck that holds the drill bits for drilling holes of various diameters. But that’s where the similarities end since drill presses are not hand-power tools. Instead, the drill press’s head—consisting of a motor, chuck assembly, speed control handle, and feed handle—sets on top of a heavy-duty support column and base. An adjustable worktable rides along the column and can support a vise.
The support offered to the head assembly and chuck by the cast iron base and column prevents any movement of the workpiece during drilling, eliminating most quality issues. Woodworkers, machinists, and hobbyists favor the drill press because it offers more power and accuracy, allowing them to drill larger holes and work with tougher materials.
What Are the Main Types of Drill Presses?
The two primary types of drill presses are the benchtop drill press and the floor drill press. Here, we will cover both of them
Benchtop Drill Press
As the name suggests, the benchtop model fits conveniently on a workbench and takes up minimum space in a small workshop. These drill presses are best for smaller jobs and typically have an 8- to 12-inch swing. (Swing is the distance from the center of the drill chuck to the edge of the support column, times two). The benchtop drill press can drill 2” to 3-3/8” deep. If you’re looking for a compact size drill press for a garage, these are the option for you.
Floor Drill Press
On the other hand, floor drill presses stand alone and are fastened directly to the shop floor. They offer more horsepower for heavy-duty jobs and larger workpieces, typically featuring a 13-to-20-inch swing and drilling capability of 3 to 6 inches deep.
What Are The Most Common Uses for a Drill Press?
Believe it or not, there are many uses for a drill press that go beyond drilling holes straight through a workpiece. Here are a few examples:
- Drilling holes to a specific depth with the help of a depth stop.
- Drilling holes at an angle by tilting the head or the table if the drill press has one of these features.
- Reaming holes that require a precise diameter.
- Creating threaded holes with a tap.
- Countersinking holes for a flat-headed screw or to deburr a hole’s edge.
- Counterboring to allow for a socket head cap screw.
- Cutting square or rectangular holes in wood using a mortising bit.
- Sanding materials with a sanding drum that fits into the drill chuck.
What Features Should I Look For in a Drill Press?
What is enough horsepower? As a rule of thumb, you should not settle for less than 1/2 horsepower. For example, WEN has a 5-amp 2/3-horsepower 12-inch drill press. This variable-speed drill press has plenty of power to handle almost anything you need it to do. So, there is little reason to spend more on models that offer over one horsepower unless you are drilling large holes in tough metals regularly.
Remember, the swing size is the distance from the center of the chuck to the column times two, so a 12-inch swings mean you can drill a hole in the center of a 12” workpiece. If you determine you’ll be drilling holes more than six inches from the edge of your workpieces, you will need to look at something larger than a 12-inch drill press.
Make Sure the Machine Has a Depth Stop
A depth stop is an essential feature if you are going to be drilling several holes at the same depth. For example, if you need to drill 12 holes and all of them must be 2” deep, the depth stop will ensure that all twelve holes will be the same 2” depth.
Get the Most Stroke Distance You Can Afford
Stroke distance is often referred to as quill travel or spindle travel, and it measures the maximum depth a spindle, drill chuck, and drill bit can travel as the operator rotates the feed handle without moving the table up. More stroke distance (3″ to 5″) typically means a higher price, but it also allows for working with longer drill bits and thicker material and adds to the drill press’s versatility.
A digital readout on a drill press is a helpful feature that displays the running speed and eliminates guessing your RPMs. Some DROs also measure the depth of the hole you’re drilling.
Choose a Drill Chuck With a Large Capacity and a Chuck Key
Drill chucks tightened by hand are convenient and eliminate the possibility of losing the key. Still, if you intend to drill relatively large diameters, it’s more secure to tighten the chuck with a wrench or chuck key. Also, a 5/8″ diameter drill chuck is ideal for drilling larger holes.
Get a High-Quality Worktable
You’ll want a table you can adjust up or down depending on the size of the workpiece and the depth of the drilled holes. You can even swivel some of these tables.
Make sure a solid warranty backs your drill press. For example, RYOBI offers a 3-Year manufacturer’s 10″ drill press warranty that includes an EXACTLINE Laser Guide Alignment System.
Common Drill Press Accessories
- If you’re opting for a benchtop drill press, get a heavy-duty worktable on which to attach it.
- A drill press vise is invaluable for holding smaller parts for drilling.
- Mortising chisels are used for cutting squares and other shapes.
- A built-in LED work light provides direct lighting and reduces shadows.
- Sanding drums for sanding tasks
- Look for a model with a laser guide that aligns with the drill point using crosshair lines on the workpiece. The laser guide allows for pinpoint drilling
How Much Does a Drill Press Cost?
Drill presses come with a variety of features and accessories which greatly impacts their cost. Smaller benchtop drill presses can start as low as $40 – $50 and can be found on eBay, Amazon, or your local hardware store.
Benefits of Owning a Drill Press
Drill presses provide a level of control and power that handheld cordless drills don’t. They’re faster and allow for more accurate drilling, which allows the user to drill more even and uniform holes.
In addition, a solid drill press will allow you to drill through harder surfaces than a handheld. Many drill presses can handle larger drill bits than handheld drills which makes them more versatile for larger jobs.
Since drilling is a common job, drill presses are used frequently. A good drill press will last longer than a handheld drill while providing consistent performance.
Is a Drill Press Worth the Money?
Yes. Most buyers should strongly consider a drill press because of its accuracy and speed.
Specific tools would be on your must-have list if you were to design a machine shop. First of all, it’s hard to imagine getting by without a milling machine, lathe, bandsaw, grinder machine, and perhaps a router. However, equally essential to your successful shop is the versatile drill press. Whether it’s a Jet floor drill press, a Shop Fox bench top or radial drill press, a powerful magnetic drill, or an entry-level 5-speed drill press from Amazon, you’ll turn to your drill press countless times to make it easier to build things.