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What is a Drill Press?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 16, 2024
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The drill has been a staple in the arsenal of woodworkers, carpenters, and machinists for many years, and the versatility of this tool has only increased in recent decades. When accuracy is key to success, professionals will turn to a drill press, or a vertical drill that is fixed to a tabletop, workbench, or to the floor. Also known as a bench drill, it is capable of drilling accurately spaced holes at specific depths, widths, and straightness.

This tool is made up of a base, column, spindle, and drill head. The base can be a tabletop or it can be built-in legs made of metal; every one includes a table, or a surface to rest the materials to be drilled. It is positioned below the drill spindle and head, which spin and hold the bit respectively. A bench drill press is smaller and more portable, but a floor model is typically more powerful and has more accessory options.

The drill press has a three-armed handle attached to the head that raises and lowers the drill bit. These arms give the user more control over the movement of the bit and makes it easier to use. A depth-stop may be used to prevent the bit from moving past a certain point, allowing the user to make uniform-depth holes in various locations on whatever material is to be drilled.

The size of the tool is determined by measuring the distance from the drill head chuck to the column and then doubling it. For example, if the measurement between the center of the chuck to the column is 8 inches (20.32 cm), then the device is considered to be 16 inches (40.64 cm) press. This is because, while the press can drill a hole 8 inches (20.32 cm) from the side of a straight board, it can drill into the center of a 16 inch (40.64 cm) circle, which means that this is the largest diameter of board the press can handle.

A drill press is typically motor-driven and variable speed, which means the user has to expend less effort in using it than in hand drilling. The variable speed allows the user to use the tool for a variety of tasks, from drilling holes to sanding materials. The variable speed also allows the user to control the amount of force and friction on the drill bit, thereby preventing unnecessary wear or breakage.

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Discussion Comments

By anon315915 — On Jan 26, 2013

This may be obvious to those on this forum, but could I ask a question related to a drill press please. I will be using a drill press to create holes in wooden furniture legs with a forstner drill bit. I then need to screw a threaded metal dowel into the hole to a certain depth. How do I do this? it would be too difficult by hand surely. Is there a machine to do this or can it be done with some drill presses? The metal dowels are usually flat at both ends, but I understand you can also get screw ones. Thanks for your help.

By jcraig — On Jun 12, 2012

@TreeMan - Most hardware stores sell bits that you just put into the drill chuck and use like a regular bit. They are round, of course, so getting the sandpaper for them can be a problem. If you look around, you can usually find ones made specifically for those attachments, but I usually just cut out my own sandpaper. It ends up being a lot cheaper that way.

I was also going to mention a nice trick that I picked up a couple of years ago for a woodworking drill press. The problem I kept having was that I would misplace the key to lock the chuck. I know a lot of people usually just take a piece of string and tie the key to the press, but the only place I had to tie it to ended up making the key dangle near the table.

What I finally ended up doing was getting a magnet that was about 3x3 inches and attaching it to the side. Now, I can just stick the key to that and keep it out of the way. I've also found it comes in very handy for holding nails or screws or anything else metal you need to have around.

By TreeMan — On Jun 12, 2012

@stl156 - If you know anyone else who owns a drill press, it might also be worth just taking a few pieces of wood over and using his press. Of course, if it starts to be a regular occurrence, it's probably a sign that you need to get your own.

I don't think I have ever heard of a drill press being used to sand wood. It sounds like a good idea, though, especially if you are working on something fairly small. I guess it would be kind of like a miniature disk sander. The one question I still have, though, is how does the sand paper attach to the drill press? Do they make special attachments that hold the sandpaper, or is there a way to make your own bit?

By titans62 — On Jun 11, 2012

@stl156 - I would say whether you need the drill press or not will come down to how confident you are at making holes and how deep the holes will be. In my experience, the vast majority of what you will be doing can be done quickly and easily with a power drill. That being said, there have been a few occasions where I have needed to put a dowel rod or something through a larger piece of wood. In those cases, it would have been very difficult to keep a regular drill perpendicular to the wood.

Drill presses can be expensive depending on the size. I have never used a benchtop drill press, but it might be worth looking into for your projects. Obviously, they won't be able to handle the same size of blocks and will probably be a little less durable, but if you won't be using it very often, it might be perfect for you.

By stl156 — On Jun 10, 2012

I am trying to decide how necessary a drill press may be for me. I have done woodworking for a while, but I have decided I think I am going to start working on larger projects like furniture and entertainment centers. I have had a few people approach me already wanting me to make things for them.

In the past, I have usually made smaller things like jewelry boxes where holes could easily be made with a regular drill. I am not sure if I'll encounter anything with larger furniture where a drill press is going to be important. I just have enough money for the drill press or a new saw, so I want to make a good choice.

If you think a drill press would be important, what brands do you recommend? I figure most of them are all pretty similar, but who knows? Any other advice would also be appreciated.

By anon178898 — On May 22, 2011

Best description of a drill press I have seen on the web.

Well done. Regards from the guys at Drill Press Reviews.

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