Illustration by Len Churchill Photos by Fisch & Lee Valley Tools
To drill straight and true holes quickly, easily, and consistently, you’ll need a drill press. The model you choose should be based on the type of drilling you do. For small-scale work (such as box making, crafts, and toys), or if you have limited shop space, a bench-top model may be sufficient. For furniture and cabinetry work, a stationary model will likely be a better choice. When buying a drill press, look for a large swing (twice the distance between the column and spindle centre) to more easily drill in the central portion of wide panels. A long stroke (the distance the chuck travels vertically) will make it easier to drill through thick stock. You’ll find that a #2 Morse spindle taper, and a 3/8″ to 1/2″ chuck is common. If you do a lot of drilling, you’ll save time with a variable speed drill press rather than having to manually switch belts.
Swing: 8–24″ Stroke: 2–6″
Motor: 1/3–1-1/2 HP
Speed range: 120–3,900 RPM
Chuck size: 3/8–3/4″
Spindle taper: MT2–MT4
A large table that moves up and down smoothly on a robust rack and pinion system and locks easily and securely in place is great to have. If you don’t have a large table, a plywood one, with all the bells and whistles, can be made in your shop.
Sharp bits not only cut smoother holes, but also cut through stock quickly. For general drilling, twist, brad- point, and spade bits work well. For holes with super-crisp rims that are accurately sized, use Forstner bits.
Keep holes from plugging with wood chips by retracting the bit every 1/2″ or so of drilling depth. Bits won’t heat up as much, and will maintain a cutting edge longer. You’ll find this especially helpful if your drill press has a 1/2 HP or smaller motor.
For best results, match drilling speed to the type of material and size of hole you are drilling. In general, select a slower speed for larger bits. Consult the drill speed chart that comes with your drill press.
There are lots of ways to enhance your productivity with a drill press, including a mobile base, a keyless chuck to speed up bit installation, a mortising attachment to speed up mortise production, and a sanding drum for smoothing curved stock.