The Best Drill Press Options for the Workshop

For precision drilling, it’s tough to beat the accuracy of a drill press.

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Photo: depositphotos.com

For woodworkers—or anyone who needs to drill precise holes in wood or other materials, including plastic and metal—a drill press comes in handy. A hand drill, though useful for many hole-drilling and screw-insertion projects, is controlled by the user’s hand and arm, so human error can result in a hole that’s slightly off-center. A drill press produces perfectly aligned holes of equal size every time.

The drill press is strictly a workshop power tool mainly due to its weight, which can top 200 pounds, depending on the model. The exception is a magnetic drill press, designed to be used on construction jobs when there’s heavy steel to drill through. A drill press can be a floor model (ideal if you have ample floor space and would like to save workbench space for other tasks) or mounted to a workbench (great when workshop floor space is at a premium). When choosing the best drill press for you, factor in the thickness of the material—average drill depth is around 2 to 6 inches—and the type of material you’re working with: Dense wood and metal require more power to drill through than softwoods and plastic.

  1. BEST OVERALL: WEN Drill Press with Laser
  2. RUNNER UP: WEN 12-Inch Variable Speed Drill Press
  3. BEST UPGRADE: Shop Fox W1848 Oscillating Floor Drill Press
  4. ALSO CONSIDER: SE 3-Speed Mini Drill Press Bench
The Best Drill Press Options

Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Drill Press

When shopping for the best drill press for your needs, consider whether you have sufficient space on a workbench to mount the tool or if you’d prefer a freestanding floor model. All drill presses operate on the same basic principle, but differences can be found in power level and in optional features.

Benchtop vs. Floor Model

A benchtop drill press is usually mounted to the workbench with bolts to keep it from moving during use, while a floor model can either be bolted to the floor or weighted down with something heavy, such as sandbags. Both are considered to be mostly stationary tools once a location is decided upon, but either one—with some effort—can be moved to another location in the workshop. A floor model is larger, topping out around 60 inches in height, but when mounted to the workbench, the top of a benchtop model reaches a similar height. Floor models are often found in commercial workshops, while benchtop models are designed more for the home workshop.

Horsepower

The power of the motor—horsepower—determines how long the drill press will run without undue stress on the motor. More powerful motors will withstand frequent use without overheating, but in most home workshops, a drill press with a 1/4 horsepower to 3/4 horsepower motor is usually sufficient. In commercial shops, it’s not uncommon to find drill presses that feature 1 horsepower or even more power in larger motors.

Chuck Size

The chuck is the assembly that holds the drill bit. The average benchtop drill press is likely to come with a 1/2-inch chuck. This means the chuck will accept any drill bit up to 1/2-inch in diameter, including a 1/4-inch bit, a 3/8-inch bit, and so on. Some floor models also come with 1/2-inch chucks, but many floor model drill presses come with 3/4-inch and 1-inch chucks for accepting larger bits. The majority of drill bits are 1/2 inch or less in diameter, so unless you plan on using larger bits, a drill press with a 1/2-inch chuck will be sufficient.

Variable Speed

Most drill presses come with a variable speed adjustment that allows the user to increase the speed up to about 3,000 rotations per minute (rpm) or reduce it to around 250 rpm. Lower speeds are desirable when drilling through some types of material, such as steel, to keep the bit from heating up and breaking.

Size

Drill presses are sized according to their “throat distance.” The throat distance is the space between the center of the chuck (the part that holds the drill bit) and the front of the tool’s supporting column. That distance is doubled to indicate the drill press’s “size.” So if the throat distance on a particular press is 6 inches, we say that machine is a size 12. The throat distance, sometimes called “swing,” indicates how far the user can drill a hole from the edge of the material. For example, a 10-inch drill press will drill a hole up to 5 inches from the edge of the material, and a 12-inch drill press will drill a hole up to 6 inches from the edge of the material. Most drill presses are 10-inch or 12-inch, although larger ones are available for commercial use and much smaller ones can be found for crafting use.

Weight

Mini drill presses, which are used more by crafters than by mechanics or woodworkers, can weigh as little as 2.5 pounds, while benchtop models range from around 35 to 65 pounds and floor models can weigh 130 pounds or more.

Safety Features

Drill presses don’t have a lot of extra safety features, but some come with a plastic see-through safety guard that encircles the drill bit to help keep wood chips and metal shavings from flying in all directions. In many cases, the clear safety guards are sold separately and can be attached to most models.

Before operating any power tool, study the owner’s manual and follow the safety instructions. A drill press is one of the safer power tools, but never wear gloves, dangling jewelry, or loose clothing that could become caught in the spinning bit. If you have long hair, pull it back and secure it out of the way. It’s also important to wear safety goggles to keep wood chips or metal shards out of your eyes.

Additional Features

Drill presses come with a few additional features that may be helpful.

  • LED light: The ability to direct a bright light right where you need to drill can be very helpful, especially in workshops where the lighting isn’t great.
  • Oscillation: Some drill presses are capable of oscillating in an orbital motion as well as drilling. This makes the tool capable of sanding and polishing, in addition to drilling holes, when the drill press is fitted with a sanding wheel or polishing hood.
  • Accessories: Some drill presses may come with optional accessories, including clamps for securing the material when drilling. These can also be purchased separately.

Our Top Picks

Among the best drill options available today, our top-favorite picks are powerful enough to drill through a range of materials and are designed for tool users of varying needs and skill levels.

Best Overall

Best Drill Presses Options: WEN 4210T 10 In
Photo: amazon.com

With a laser guide and five variable speeds, WEN’s 10-inch drill press is our top pick for DIYers. It comes with a 7 5/8-inch square cast-iron table and will drill a hole up to 5 inches from the edge of the material being worked with. Its laser guide helps pinpoint the exact spot to drill, and the user can choose from speeds between 600 rpm and 3,100 rpm. The WEN 4210T also features a locking depth adjustment, which lets you set the depth and then drill a series of holes to that exact depth. The table tilts up to 45 degrees for drilling directional holes. This bench-mount drill press should be bolted down to a workshop counter for stability during use.

Runner Up

Best Drill Presses Options: WEN 4214 12-Inch Variable Speed Drill Press
Photo: amazon.com

This benchtop WEN drill press offers ample power for drilling through wood, plastic, and metal with ease, making it a good choice for the DIY workshop. This drill press provides a number of features found on industrial models, including a digital readout that lets you select a full range of speeds between 580 rpm and 3,200 rpm and cross-hair laser beams that pinpoint the exact spot to drill. The 12-inch worktable, which tilts up to 45 degrees in both directions, allows users to drill holes up to 3 1/8 inches deep and up to 6 inches from the edge of the material. The cast-iron base comes with holes for bolting it to the work surface.

Best Upgrade

Best Drill Presses Options: Shop Fox W1848 Oscillating Floor Drill Press
Photo: amazon.com

For the woodworking pro who needs both a drill press and a sander, the Shop Fox is a fine option, as the drill bit can be easily removed and replaced with a sanding pad. The oscillating movement (orbital movement combined with a spinning motion) of the sanding feature produces a smooth surface without leaving scratches or cross-grain marks like non-oscillating sanders can. The drill press is fitted with a 2-inch dust port that connects to a standard shop vacuum for wood-dust control. The worktable tilts up to 90 degrees in both directions, and the user can select from 12 different speeds, ranging from 250 to 3,050 rpm. The maximum hole depth is 3 1/4 inches, and holes can be drilled up to 6 1/2 inches from the edge of the material. The round worktable measures 12 3/8-inches in diameter, and the floor base can be bolted down to a concrete floor.

Also Consider

Best Drill Presses Options: SE 3-Speed Mini Drill Press
Photo: amazon.com

For drilling holes in small pieces of wood, thin metal, and other crafting materials, it’s tough to beat SE’s mini drill press, which is able to drill holes up to 1 inch deep and up to 3 3/4 inches away from the edge of the material. It comes with a choice of three drilling speeds—5,000, 6,500, and 8,000 rpm—and features a 6 5/8-inch square table to hold the material.

FAQs About Drill Presses

If you’re shopping for your first drill press, you may have some questions about this tool’s range of use.

Q. Can you mill with a drill press?

Trying it is not recommended. The bit on a milling machine is designed to spin at speeds of up to 15,000 rpm or faster, which is required for shaping aluminum and other metals, while a drill press, even at top speeds, spins around 3,000 rpm. Additionally, on a milling machine the material is clamped to a movable table, which allows the user to move the material safely. On a drill press, the table is stationary, and the machine is not equipped to mill in a way that is considered safe.

Q. Can you use a mortising bit in a drill press?

Yes, mortise bits are available for use with drill presses. Mortise bits can save time when you need to cut a mortise (a hole with square sides). A mortise bit features a drill bit with a flat end and a side chisel for creating holes with straight edges.

Q. How do you change the speed on a drill press?

Drill presses come with speed adjustments that allow you to drill as fast as 3,000 rpm or as slow as around 250 rpm.

Q. How long does a drill press last?

A quality drill press should last for years, if not decades.