Drill Press

Antique Black & Decker Drill PressAlso known as the bench drill or pillar drill, the drill press is a valuable addition to any woodworking workshop or metalshop. It has higher accuracy than either hand drills or portable electric power drills and can drill holes to depths of up to 6 to 10 inches.

You can buy an accessory attachment that converts your power drill into a make-shift drill press if you want, but for sheer power and ruggedness, nothing beats the real thing.

The bench mounted drill press incorporates a heavy cast iron base supporting the vertical column that holds the motorized drill head and it’s controls. Fastened to your workbench with heavy bolts, the base itself can be used as a worktable surface.

Clamped to the column above the base is an adjustable worktable. It can be raised or lowered, pivoted sideways, and on some models, angled. The base’s work surface is precisely machined for flatness and is equipped with fixing holes to accommodate special jigs or vises for holding work pieces as required.

The drill head includes the motor, mounted on it’s rear, which, through a succession of pulley wheels and drive belts, or gear wheels, drives the spindle in order to provide assorted speeds at the chuck. The chuck can accommodate any drill bit which fits portable electric drills as well as specialized bits for bench drilling.

Setting Up Work on a Drill Press

A speed is selected by moving the drive belt thus: the fastest speed is provided by the top position, whilst the lower position gives the slower speed. Using one hand, pull up or down on one side of the belt, while turning the pulley with the other hand and move the belt to the desired position.

In general, for metal, ceramics and other hard materials, slow speeds work best. Use the faster speed for lumber and clean finishes, but refer to the drill bit manufacturer’s instructions for specifics.

After inserting the bit into the chuck and tightening the jaws with a chuck key, adjust the worktable so that the top of the work piece is just below the drill bit’s point. If the table is not required and the work can sit on the base work surface, the table should be swung to on side out of the way. Tighten the clamp on the worktable to secure it.

Next, set the desired hole depth using the depth gauge. It limits the depth of the hole by whatever amount you adjust it to. Make a mark on the outside of the work piece to denote the bottom of the hole. Lower the feed arm until the bit tip aligns with the mark, then adjust the stop nuts on the depth gauge to suit.

For through holes, clamp a scrap sheet of ½ inch plywood under the work piece to avoid the bit breaking into the worktable. To finish off the hole cleanly, turn it over and drill from the opposite side afterwards.

Drill Press Safety

For safety, it is best to always clamp the work securely to the worktable. Bits can catch in the work and spin your piece from your hands easily, particularly with metals. An alternate method of securing the work piece is with a fence. Clamp or bolt a guide piece of wood to the rear of the worktable, ensuring it has a clean straight edge. This works well for drilling hole linear patterns.

For round stock such as pipe, rods or doweling, a notched v-block can be made which will safely hold it in place.

A transparent chuck guard can be fitted to the chuck to improve safety. Avoid loose sleeved shirts, and wear a good pair of safety goggles when operating power machinery. If you have long hair, make sure it is secured in a hat or tied back.


  • Always make sure the chuck key has been removed prior to powering on the machine.
  • Disconnect the power supply prior to making any adjustments.
  • Avoid feeding the drill too fast.
  • Secure your work piece before drilling holes.

Accessory Attachments

Various attachments are available for extending function of the drill press. Drum sanders, buffing wheels and router attachments can be fitted to the chuck, as well as mortising and other attachments. These can all come in handy in a pinch, but as always, dedicated tools designed for the specific tasks are best.

Photo by Colby Gutierrez-Kraybill, Creative Commons Attribution License