How steady is your hand? How accurately can you make a cut with a circular saw or a cordless drill? The answers will have something to do with your experience as a woodworker. Certainly, professional woodworkers are accustomed to having power tools in their hands and don’t think much about making that quick cut or a straight hole in the wood with their portable drill.
A straight and accurate hole is something of a mark of distinction for a woodworker.
But what if your hand isn’t steady or experienced? The need for straight holes in wood will occur eventually in your shop, and for those with the space in their shop and the money in their budget, there is the drill press. Absent either the space or the money, though, what are your alternatives to a drill press?
Let’s drill down, so to speak, on this and examine alternatives.
Drill Presses in The Woodworking Shop
A drill press is a stationary power drill, a floor tool, that uses a multi-cutting-edged drill bit that is locked into a rotating chuck (the “clamp” that holds the drill bit in place) used to drill holes in wood. They have an arm, something like the old-style pull-down arms that once adorned slot machines, that is pulled down to lower the drill bit to bore a hole in wood.
The wood to be drilled sits on a plate, a drill press table, held against a fence for stability, and the drill bit is drawn down from above it. The significant advantage of using a drill press is accuracy – the drill press table is stable and fixed, and the piece of wood being drilled can be pressed against the fence.
A depth guard can be set, and the design of the drill press keeps it working at a precise angle, usually 90 degrees, and a precise depth for as many holes as are needed, either in a single piece of wood or in mass production.
The drilling is consistent, accurate, and precise, and the holes drilled will be of identical size, depth, and position on the wood for as many pieces as are needed. It’s easy to operate and quick at the task. They are used both to drill and enlarge holes in wood or metal but are also used for counterboring, countersinking, and tapping.
Woodworkers favor a drill press because of the power it brings to the task, along with its accuracy of drilling and ease of use. The most commonly used drill press in a woodworking shop is a single-spindle (just one chuck holding one drill bit) floor model (for stability) that is belt-driven and used for single or a low number of drilling tasks that would not be considered production work.
When using a drill press, there are a few safety precautions to take, including not wearing loose-fitting clothing or gloves and keeping long hair tied back. Avoid any clothing that could get grabbed by the spinning drill bit as it is drawn down onto the wood. Safety goggles are advised, also, as they are for any task that will result in sawdust or wood fibers/chunks flying through the air in front of you.
Is A Drill Press Worth It For Your Shop?
If the work you will be doing requires precision drilling in wood or metal, and you expect to be doing a lot of projects that have this requirement, a drill press is worth the money. How much are we talking about for a floor-mounted drill press?
Depending on the brand and model, a floor-mounted drill press can range from just under $200 up to $1500. When you consider, you’ll probably want a table saw, a miter saw of some kind, and perhaps a planer and jointer, depending on the work you will be doing, that can push the budget pretty high, as well as require the additional floor space to fit it.
Why Would You Prefer a Drill Press over a Handheld Drill?
This is an easy one – to be sure that the hole(s) you are drilling is exactly perpendicular to the piece of wood being drilled. Accuracy, precision in size and depth, and consistency make a drill press preferable to a hand-held drill. If your hand isn’t steady, or your experience is limited, a handheld drill might not give you what your project needs. As convenient as a cordless hand drill can be when you need exactness, it might not give you what you need.
But what if you don’t have the floor space for the drill press or the money to purchase one? Are there alternatives?
Alternatives To A Drill Press That Won’t Break The Bank
As is the case so often in woodworking, there are workarounds, hacks, and alternatives. Those of us who have been at it for a while probably have a homemade jig or two in our shop that we devised or saw a video about and made ourselves from wood scraps around the shop.
When it comes to alternatives for a drill press, there are a few options, all of which can be made to work well for the woodworker who doesn’t require the accuracy and precision of the floor-mounted drill press too often.
Benchtop Drill Press
We all have a bench in our shop, of course. Many of us may even have a benchtop power tool or two, saving a bit of the budget by opting for the benchtop rather than the free-standing tool. The same holds true for a benchtop drill.
Smaller, less powerful, but nonetheless accurate and precise in their work, a benchtop drill press is a suitable alternative that will not hurt the shop budget too badly and certainly less than a floor-mounted model. Of the types of drill presses you could purchase for your shop, the benchtop drill will give you the precision and accuracy your project may need, but at a much lower price point.
Assuming you’re not involved in production drilling, and it’s only the occasional need, a benchtop drill will serve your needs well.
They are light enough to be able to move them about easily, and since they are relatively small for a drill press, they can be stored easily, too. Brands include Ryobi, Jet, and Wen. Wen benchtop drills come in a couple of sizes, including a 12-inch variable speed model and an 8-inch, 5-speed model, and they won’t set you back too badly.
A benchtop drill press will range in price, again depending on brand and model, from just under $100, to just under $400. The Wen models we looked at for this article and mentioned above are in the just-over $100 price point, certainly a lot lower than a floor-mounted model.
Drill Guides for Portable Drills
A portable drill guide can be a decent alternative, notwithstanding the many bulletin board screeds against them you come across. We know about drill guides and jigs, of course. Perhaps the best-known and most widely stocked of these would be the Kreg pocket hole jig. It drills at an angle to create that pocket for screws that keep them hidden from view, whether in cabinet-making or adding a skirt to a table, for instance.
But, when you need to drill a hole that is at 90 degrees to the piece of wood or metal, the Kreg pocket hole jig is not going to help. As an aside, though, drill presses can also drill at angles.
A drill guide is a fixture that attaches to a handheld drill and sits flush on the piece of wood to be drilled. There is a plunging mechanism that allows the cordless drill to do its work in the wood, all the while holding the drill steady, level, and at the proper angle. The drill holes will be perpendicular to the wood every bit as much as if you had used a drill press.
Drill guides come in a variety of configurations and shapes, each working in its own way but accomplishing the same task. Among the better-known brands/models are:
- Milescraft Drillmate. This model has a number of desirable features, including the ability to drill both at 90 degrees and at 45 degrees. It also has a depth guard stopper. It’s light and easily portable.
- Wolfcraft Drill Guide. This model also has some helpful features, and it, too, can drill at an angle from 0 (perpendicular) to 45 degrees. It, too, is easily portable.
- Rockler Drill Guide. This model offers all the same features as the previous two – drilling at an angle, light, and portable.
Price-wise, a portable drill guide will set you back between $30 – $60, depending on the brand, model, size, and power you choose. That’s less than a benchtop drill and much easier to store and move about.
Video Demo Of A Drill Press
Never seen a drill press in action? No problem. Here’s a drill press basics video to give you a very decent introduction to them and their operation.
So don’t worry if your shop is too small or your budget is too limited. There are alternatives to a drill press that will still give you the accurate and precise drill holes your project may need.
Last update on 2023-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API