Best Drill Press
The drill press is essentially a larger version of a handheld electric drill but it’s also so much more. Putting the drill on a base and mechanically controlling the drilling feed, speed and depth of cut makes for a more accurate tool than you can ever expect to get with a handheld drill. Drill presses also have larger motors, so drilling through metal and other hard materials is much easier than with a handheld drill.
Surprisingly, few home workshops actually have a drill press. I say it's surprising because a small drill press was my second stationary power tool that I bought for my own workshop. That drill press has since been replaced by a bigger one, when I started doing projects I couldn't handle with the small one.
We aren’t showing the best and most expensive drill presses on the market here as industrial monsters can top $10,000. Since most home users aren’t about to drop that much money for a drill press, we haven’t touched them. What we’re showing you are the best drill presses available for the home workshop, broken down into a variety of categories. To help you select your drill press, we've given some guidance in our buyer's guide listed below.
Best Drill Press Overall:
There’s no better way to drill a straight hole than with a drill press. It doesn’t matter how careful you are, you’ll never get a hole as straight and perpendicular to the work surface with a hand held drill as you can with a drill press. Drill presses are probably the most common stationary power tools found in a home workshop.
When looking for one of the “best” drill presses, the following criterion should be kept in mind:
- Stability – This controls how straight and true your holes come out. There are a number of factors which affect stability, including: column size, base plate, table size, spindle diameter and spindle bearings.
- Motor size – Obviously, the larger the motor, the bigger drill bits which can be used, and the tougher material that can be cut, without drill “chatter” and jamming.
- Spindle stroke – A true convenience item, it affects how far one can move the drill bit down towards the work surface. One thing to note is that the farther the spindle extends the more possibility of “chatter” and eccentric bit movement.
- Hand crank for table height – Again, this is a convenience item, but you wouldn’t want to support the weight of a cast iron drill press tables with one hand, while tightening the clamp with the other.
- Laser crosshairs – While not necessary, it is probably one of the most useful options on a drill press. The crosshairs pinpoint exactly where the center of the drill bit will land, virtually eliminating the possibility of drilling a hole in the wrong place.
- Work light – Am extremely useful option for keeping your workspace brightly illuminated.
- Speeds – Most drill presses have a belt and pulley system, allowing a number of different bit speeds. This is most important when cutting metals, as an overly fast cutting speed will “burn” the drill bit, causing it to lose its temper and become prematurely dull.
The term “drill press”, while actually referring to only one type of tool, covers a broad range of actual units. For the sake of practicality, this list of best drill presses is limited to models running on 115VAC which can be used in a home workshop although each of the brands mentioned have better (and more expensive) units available running on 220VAC.
Because of the power these units are putting out, it is dangerous to hold your project by hand, especially if you are drilling into metal. It is highly recommended you purchase a dedicated drill press vice and attach it to your worktable.
This is a drill press specially made with the woodworker in mind. It comes with infinitely variable speeds, changed by a single handle. A digital readout gives you an accurate indication of the actual spindle speed. Read Full Review
Delta tools are rugged workhorses, and this drill press is no exception. For smooth, chatter free operation, you're not going to beat it, unless you spend 20K on a mill. The spindle has an amazing full 6" of travel. Read Full Review
Like the Powermatic, this is another drill press that's been designed with the woodworker in mind. Of all its features, the most impressive is the clutch-type drill stop. Read Full Review
This is the largest drill press, save one, in Grizzly's impressive lineup. Larger than the others we've looked at, you get a lot of bang for your buck with this one. Read Full Review
Best Budget Drill Press:
Drill presses are one of the most basic and most useful of stationary power tools. The two great advantages of a drill press over using a hand drill is a more powerful motor and the security of having your drill exactly perpendicular to the work piece. If you need to ensure your holes are straight and true, you’d better use a drill press. Because most drill presses have a series of pulleys to vary the speed, they can be used for work on a variety of materials including wood, plastics and metal. As a general rule of thumb, use higher speeds for softer materials and lower speeds for harder materials.
Like most tools, especially stationary power tools, drill presses can run the full range on pricing. I’ve seen drill presses for machine shops going for over $20,000. Since this article is on budget drill presses, I’ve decided to limit my list to drill presses going for less than $200.00. Typically, this means sticking to bench mounted drill presses instead of free-standing units. But unless you’re really hurting for workbench space, the extra cost of a free-standing drill press really doesn’t buy you any greater capacity.
These are also compact drill presses which are smaller compared to other benchtop drill presses on the market. While the small size may limit you for some projects, I used a compact drill press like these for over ten years before upgrading and rarely had a problem where one wasn’t big enough to do the job. Being small doesn’t limit the functionality of these drill presses including the ability to precisely control bit, maintaining perpendicularity to your work piece and the ability to control the depth to which the holes are drilled.
Some of the drill presses I’ve selected have a laser crosshair locator for pinpointing where the drill point is going to hit the work piece. This is a great option to have on a drill press and eliminate lots of wasted material from drilling holes in the wrong place.
The following are the three most important specifications when looking at a drill press:
- Vertical Capacity – This is the space between the end of the chuck and the table, with the table at its lowest position. Obviously, this limits the size of what piece you can work on.
- Stroke – This is the maximum amount of vertical distance the drill bit travels.
- Motor Size – The larger the motor, as rated in horsepower, the less likely the drill press is to bog down as you’re drilling.
This one has the laser crosshairs like the WEN unit below. Additionally, it comes with a fence for the table, an option you don’t often run across on drill presses. Read Full Review
WEN has a very nice unit which comes with a 1/2 HP ball bearing induction motor for long life. This one has dual lasers, which pinpoint the exact location that the drill bit is going to hit, preventing errors. Read Full Review
This unit is the smallest offered from Grizzly's extensive line of drill presses. It comes with a 1/3 HP motor and a 2 inch spindle travel. Read Full Review
This budget drill press is a nice combination of small size and inexpensive. The keyless chuck is a nice option, saving you from constantly having to search for your chuck key. This little drill press is ready to make a lot of holes for you. Read Full Review
Best Drill Press Buyer's Guide
For accurate drilling, a drill press is a much better choice. While the drill press isn’t portable and is hard to use with large objects, anything which can be put onto its table and fit under the drill chuck, it provides much more control and accuracy versus a handheld drill. More than anything, a drill press provides a sure way of maintaining the drill bit perpendicular to the work piece.
While electric hand drills are the most common and oldest portable electric hand tool on the market, they still have limitations. When one needs accuracy, a hand drill isn’t the best way to go. Accuracy with a handheld drill is totally dependent upon the skill of the operator, being able to hold the drill steady and exactly perpendicular to the material being drilled. For most people, this is a problem. While some electric drills have built-in bubble levels to help, it still requires a fair amount of skill on the part of the operator.
Another advantage of drill presses over handheld drills is the speed on a drill press can be accurately controlled. Many drills offer variable speed trigger, allowing the user to use a fast or slow rotational speed as they want for the particular cutting operation they’re doing. However, there’s no accurate way of judging the speed the drill is moving at. On the other hand, all drill presses, from the least expensive up, have systems for accurately setting the rotational speed through a series of pulleys.
Hard materials, such as stainless steel, require a slow cutting speed. High speeds only cause excessive friction which heats up the drill bit and strips its temper. Low speeds allow the drill bit to work the material without creating excessive heat.
Drill presses also offer much more power than hand drills as it’s possible to find drill presses with up to 5 hp motors. While these are very expensive tools, the extra power is needed when large holes need to be drilled in extremely hard materials.
Finally, drill presses offer the ability to control depth of cut accurately. A gauge and depth control is attached to the side of the spindle, which can be used to either see how deep a cut has been done or set to stop the travel of the spindle when the hole is at the desired depth.
Drill presses can be fitted with a table vice to hold the workpiece which helps ensure accuracy and they can also be fitted with a X-Y table for simple machining projects. While this won't make a drill press into a machining mill, it will simulate one well enough to complete an AR-15 80 percent lower receiver. That's not the world's most accurate milling requirement but it's a whole lot more than you can do with any handheld power tool.
While drilling into wood with a hand drill isn’t difficult, metal is another story. In most cases, a drill press will provide a much easier and faster way to cut through the material, especially harder metals, such as steel or stainless steel. It’s highly recommended to use cutting oil when using a drill press to cut holes into metals. This reduces wear on the drill bit, providing for a longer drill life.
Selecting a Drill Press
There are several different things to look at, when trying to choose a drill press. First of all, you'll need to know the type of work that you are going to do with it. Most specifically, you need to have an idea of the types of materials you are going to use, the size of the workpieces and the size holes you'll need to bore through them.
Don't even bother looking at a drill press that won't accommodate the physical size of the pieces you want to drill. That means a combination of the distance between the chuck and the table, and the distance from the chuck to the column, or throat depth. Throat depth isn't always provided for drill presses so you may have to estimate it based upon the dimensions given. However, the distance between the chuck and table is the standard dimension by which drill presses are sized; in other words, a 13" drill press is 13" from the chuck to the table.
You will need to decide on whether you want a bench mount or floor mount drill press. This will be determined more than anything by the amount of vertical height you need between the drill chuck and the table. Floor mounted drill presses allow for larger workpieces.
Motor Size & Speed
Motor size is the most important factor for the size holes you can drill and what type of material you can drill them in. When you start working on metal or start drilling large holes, such as with hole saws, you will need a lot of power. Just to give you an idea, cutting a 1" hole through mild steel strap with a hole saw can bog down a 3/4 HP motor if you don't take it slow.
The motors will be connected to the spindle with a belt or belts. There is a series of pulleys, which allow for adjusting the spindle speed of the drill press and while all drill presses pretty much cover the same range of spindle speeds, the larger the drill press, the more adjustment steps it typically has. Lower speeds are needed for cutting harder materials to prevent the drill bit or cutting tool from overheating, losing its temper and getting dull.
Another very important specification that most people don't pay much attention to is the stroke length. This is the distance that the spindle can travel downwards, from the resting place to its maximum depth of cut. A drill press with a short stroke length will limit what tasks you can use it for.
Tables on pretty much all drill presses are adequate with most of the smaller to mid-sized drill presses having round tables which tilt and turn. They will be slotted for mounting a drill press vice or for using hold-downs for your workpiece. The larger drill presses will have square tables, which are T-slotted for mounting to. This is more like a mill's table is designed, allowing the workpiece to be clamped to the table in a variety of ways.
Other Options to Consider
While the major specifications are really the deciding factor in buying a drill press, some manufacturers add on extras to their products, making them easier to work with.
One of the most useful extras to find is a depth gauge. These might be a rotary gage that goes around the stroke handle or a linear gage attached to the spindle. Either way, they allow you to know how deep you are drilling into the material.
The depth gauge will usually have some sort of a stop on it, allowing you to pre-set how deep you will drill and then stop. This prevents drilling all the way through the workpiece, a very useful feature when milling on a drill press.
You might also find that a drill press comes with a light attached. These can either be on a gooseneck or mounted to the head behind the spindle and they're extremely useful for improving visibility of your workpiece.