Although drilling a hole in a piece of material may seem like the simplest of tasks, having the wrong combination of drill type and bit will soon make your realize how inefficient and potentially hazardous the wrong combination can be. In this article, we will take a look at the various tools available to perform the specific task of drilling. We’ll examine the benefits and limitations of each of these drills. In addition, we’ll look at the variety of drill bit designs and construction materials to help you find the ideal fit for your specific task.
It is highly recommended that you wear eye protection when working with a drill, as well as a mask if you are drilling through concrete or any other material where dust and debris may be generated in the process.
There are a wide range of options available for tools that can handle the task of drilling. The right choice for your particular task will depend on your budget for tools, the location of the item you are trying to drill, and the material you are working with. In our analysis, we take a look at corded drills, cordless drills, hammer drills, and the drill press as options to consider when determining the right fit for whatever project you are undertaking.
Although impact drivers are very adept at driving screws into wood — due to their ability to provide both radial and axial force — we have left it off this list, as our focus is solely on assessing types of drills. That said, if you are working primarily with wood and go back and forth between drilling and driving screws, the impact driver might be your best choice. Impact drivers apply a downward-pushing force, accompanied by a characteristic clicking sound; this force is in addition to the rotational energy that comes standard with other drills or drivers. The forward motion reduces the amount of forward force the user needs to apply and helps to reduce the chance that the bit will slip out of the screw. This is especially helpful when working with hardwoods or with long screws.
If you are working on projects that require long periods of sustained drilling and you are going to be near an electrical outlet, a corded drill might just be your best option. This type of drill can be used with wood, metal or concrete materials. As we will explore later, your success with each material will depend on whether you choose the right bit for the task.
Another huge benefit of a corded drill is that it is always ready to go to work whenever you plug it into the socket. Cordless drills may require you to take periodic breaks to let the battery recharge or to purchase additional batteries or chargers to keep the production going. All you have to think about with a corded drill is whether or not you can do the work near a plug, or if your extension cord is long enough to reach an electrical outlet.
Although it used to be true that corded drills provided more torque than cordless drills, with the increasing capabilities of batteries and cordless tool design, the difference between the two has reached the point of being almost negligible.
The choice between the corded and cordless drills really comes down to personal preference regarding power source, convenience, mobility, and ergonomics. These two types of drills vary slightly in their abilities, but they are generally so similar in performance as to make the speed and torque categories almost a toss-up.
You should choose a cordless drill as the best option for your task if you are working primarily with wood or metal, and if your material is far away from a power outlet. Although the drill press will offer the best efficiency for drilling through metal, the cordless drill or corded drill options will get the job done just as well, especially if you don’t have access to a drill press for your project. Additionally, although a cordless drill isn’t the best option for concrete, it will work in a pinch.
The hammer drill is specifically designed for working with concrete. The pulverizing action of the hammering motion combined with the drill’s rotary movement works to break up and move through concrete. This is a specific tool for a specific task. It works great on concrete and comes in corded and cordless varieties. If you are working with concrete, stone, brick or mortar, the hammering action of these drills, along with the correct concrete bit, makes for a highly effective and useful tool. The main drawback of this piece of equipment is its limited usage beyond stone and cement materials. While it won’t be as effective as the hammer drill, you can get away with using a concrete bit with a regular drill — this will get the job done slowly but surely. That said, if you have it in your budget to add a hammer drill to your tool set and you do regular work with concrete-type materials, it can be a valuable addition.
The bulkiest and most expensive piece of equipment on this list is the drill press. Not everyone will be able to afford or have room for this tool — but, if you do, you’ll immediately recognize its value. The drill press is designed to use a levering mechanism to produce the forward motion of the bit. Because of this efficiency, the drill press requires the least amount of physical effort to produce the drilling action. This tool also keeps the piece and the drill bit held in uniform position, which produces very accurate and reliable results.
If you have access to a drill press and you can get the material into position on it, this should be your go-to tool for both wood and metal drilling projects. This tool is especially effective for harder and denser materials or for drilling projects that need to be highly accurate.
DRILL OPTION SUMMARY
If you are working with wood, metal, or even concrete and have to deal with repeated tasks in a variety of locations, a cordless or corded drill will be a good all-around tool for these tasks. However, the drill press is always going to be the most accurate and efficient tool for drilling tasks involving hardwood or metal, given the levering involved in the tool’s design, as well as its ability to hold the piece and bit in a uniform position. Of course, not everyone has the budget or room in their shop for a drill press. If you do have one and can get your material within range the drill press is ideal, especially for more robust materials. Likewise, although you can use a regular corded or cordless drill to do concrete drilling, the hammer drill is specifically designed for the task and will be much more efficient at producing results.
BIT OPTIONS BY MATERIAL
As we have seen, the effectiveness of your drilling project has much to do with the type of drill you use. Perhaps even more so, your success will be highly dependent on the bit. Here, we will take a look at the recommended bit materials and designs for wood, concrete, and metal, in order to help you make the best choice for your needs.
Bits that are designed to drill through wood will feature a pointed tip in the center of the leading edge that serves to pilot the hole. Generally, the threads of the drill will start farther back and there will be space for material to be pushed back, out of the way of the head of the bit.
If you are working with softwood, a standard steel bit will have enough toughness to bore through the material and maintain its sharpness. However, these bits will struggle more and lose their sharpness under the strain of hardwood material.
High-speed steel (HSS) bits are stronger than regular steel bits and will hold up better when working with hardwood material. HSS bits resist heat better and maintain their sharpness over a longer period of time. They are also more versatile and can be used to drill into wood, fiberglass, PVC, and soft metals like aluminum.
Combining an HSS wood drill bit with a drill press will produce the best possible results when working with wood.
TIP FOR DRILLING IN WOOD
One of the most common issues that people run into when drilling into wood is having the spaces in the bit become clogged with material. When this happens, the leading edge is unable to move forward into the material and the drilling process stops. Make sure you clear out any debris as you drill by pulling the bit out of the hole regularly, especially on deeper cuts.
A masonry bit is designed to bore efficiently through concrete, stone, brick, and mortar. These bits have a curved tip that features a solid edge that grinds away material.
When working with harder stone and more dense material, a masonry bit with a tungsten carbide tip will provide the strongest grinding material. When working with concrete, the recommendation is to use the sharpest bit you can find.
Combining a masonry bit with a tungsten carbide tip and using a hammer drill will produce the best results when working with concrete and stone materials.
TIP FOR DRILLING IN CONCRETE
To cut down on dust, you may choose to inject a small amount of water into the cut while you are working, or between stages of drilling. This will also help reduce heat on the cutting edge, and will keep the cutting surface clean of debris. Just be careful that the water doesn’t get into the motor of the drill while you’re working. If you are using a hammer drill, this technique may not be plausible or effective while you are drilling, but may help to clean out the hole between stages of drilling.
A cobalt (HSCO) bit is generally considered the top choice when drilling into metal. It is an upgrade from HSS materials because of the addition of cobalt. Bits that work best on metal will not have a pilot point like those designed for wood. Instead, metal bits will have a triangle shape at the tip.
Carbide is considered the hardest material in a bit. However, carbide tips are also the most brittle and have the greatest chance of snapping under strain.
The ideal combination for drilling through metal will be an HSCO bit with a drill press, used on a slow rotational setting. To cut down on heat buildup around the bit, keep the rotational speed down and use a lubricant of some kind on the cutting surface. There are numerous products on the market, termed cutting oil or cutting lubricant, which are perfect for this task.
TIPS FOR DRILLING IN METAL
Generally, it is better to drill at a slower pace when you are working with metal. If you rotate the bit too fast, you will build up heat on the tip and won’t be giving the cutting edge a chance to catch on the surface.
You will also benefit from giving the center of the bit a place to start by punching a dent into the surface of the metal with an appropriate tool or by drilling a small pilot hole. This will keep the bit from wandering at the beginning stages of the drilling.
Finally, to keep down the temperature on the cutting edge of the bit, some form of lubrication can be applied to the drilling surface.