Quickstart Drill Press Guide
For years, both corded and cordless drills handled the hole drilling tasks in my shop. As my skills increased (along with the size of the projects) it became obvious that a hand-held drill didn’t supply the accuracy I needed. And, it certainly didn’t allow me to use some drill bits, like Forstner-style bits, to their full advantage. So I bit the bullet and added a drill press to my arsenal of shop equipment. And it took my drilling tasks to the next level.
The challenge with a drill press, whether it be a floor or benchtop model, is that it’s really designed for machine shops where drilling metal takes center stage. While drilling metal, and other materials like plastic, is something I do fairly often, I needed to “upgrade” my drill press to better handle all the softwood and hardwoods that I work on.
What follows is a “Quickstart Guide” to the upgrades you need to outfit your drill press for woodworking. The guide centers around some
key items, namely drill bits, table upgrades, and a couple of techniques to get the best results.
DRILL BIT BASICS. If you have a hand-held drill, I’m guessing you already have some drill bits. Most likely a set of twist bits that came in a metal or plastic case (far left bit above). They’re inexpensive and great for general purpose work, whether you’re drilling metal, drywall, or wood. However, while they work for drilling wood, they often tear out the edges of the hole.
CLEANER ENTRY. It wasn’t long before I invested in a set of bradpoint bits (second bit to left). Brad-point bits are designed with cutting spurs at the edge so they leave much cleaner entry holes, which is important for things like shelf pin holes. Plus, when you provide support on the back side of a workpiece (more on this later), you’ll get clean exit holes, as well. These days, I find myself using bradpoint bits for almost all my drilling needs in wood and sheet goods and have relegated my twist bits for the metal work they were designed for.
BIGGER HOLES. Brad point bits cover most of my drilling needs until the hole size starts getting larger than ½". When that’s the case, it’s time to switch to another type of bit. For these larger holes, the first bits I opted to use were spade bits, like the ones you see second to right right. They’re inexpensive and depending on your needs can provide just the right solution.
Spade bits can be a challenge when it comes to fine woodworking, though. They’ll most likely tear out the upper edges of the hole you’re drilling and, unless well supported, the tearout will be even worse on the exit side.
CLEANCUT RESULTS. Here’s where the Forstner bit comes into play (far right bit above). Like spade bits, they come in much larger sizes and like brad point bits, Forstner bits are designed with cutting spurs along the edge. This means they leave a crisp clean edge. And the bit design also leaves a hole with a flat bottom. Another advantage shows up when you’re creating mortises. It’s a simple process to drill overlapping holes to remove the bulk of the waste. For these reasons, a Forstner is my bit of choice any time I need to drill a hole larger than 3⁄8".
SQUARING THE TABLE. Once you have the right bits in hand, it’s a good idea to make sure the drill press table is square to the chuck that holds the bit. A simple way to do this is to install a straight, steel rod in the chuck and check the table alignment to the rod with a square. If everything lines up, you’re good to go.
Now that you have the right bits for your projects, you’ll want to consider a few “upgrades” to get better results at your drill press.
ADDING A TABLE
The first upgrade you should make to turn your drill press into a woodworking workhorse is adding an auxiliary table. The cast iron table that comes standard is really designed for working with metal and it’s too small for the types of workpieces that are common on most woodworking projects.
The simplest solution is to slap on a large piece of plywood and go to work (which is what I did at first). But with just a little effort, creating a table that will do much more is pretty easy.
A quick and simple version that will cover your needs for a long time is the one you see in the main photo on the previous page and in the photos on these pages. Plus, you’ll find detailed plans at Woodsmith.com/255 to build the one shown.
This auxiliary table is just a piece of plywood with a layer of hardboard attached to the top. It attaches to the metal table of the drill press using T-nuts and bolts.
This two-layer design accomplishes a couple of things. First, it makes it easy to add a replaceable insert, (photo at right). After use, the insert will get chewed up. As that happens, all you need to do is slide the insert out to a fresh area. Or replace it altogether. (I made a few spare inserts when I built my first table.)
The other advantage with this two-layer design is it allows you to build in a pair of T-tracks. This way, adding an adjustable fence to increase accuracy is no problem. A fence ensures that anything you drill will be a specific distance from the edge of the workpiece. A great example of this is drilling a set of shelf pin holes in the sides of a cabinet. Another is creating a mortise is quick and easy, too. Just drill a series of overlapping holes, knowing the workpiece won’t shift as you’re working.
The fence shown at the far left is secured to the table with a pair of knobs and flange bolts that fit into the T-track (near left photo). Loosen them and the fence moves easily in or out. Tighten
the knobs and the fence locks solidly in place. A chamfer along the lower front edge ensures that dust and small chips won’t prevent the workpiece from contacting the fence correctly.
STOP BLOCKS. There are times when you need to ensure accurate drilling from the ends of a workpiece. Here, I find a pair of stop blocks are handy.
You can use them individually, as shown in the lower left photo on the opposite page, or in pairs to accurately position multiple workpieces. The main photo on page 56 illustrates this.
SPACERS TO THE RESCUE. Sometimes the workpieces I’m drilling are too long to allow me to use both stop blocks to accurately locate the start and stop points for drilling. When that’s the case, I set one stop block to locate the workpiece for the first hole, like you see in the upper left photo.
To reposition it for the next hole (or holes), I use a spacer block (far right photo). You can make the spacer block any size you need to shift the workpiece. Or you can use multiples if you need to drill a series of evenly spaced holes in any number of workpieces. Be sure to account for the diameter of the bit when you size the spacers.
OTHER CAPABILITIES. Finally, to get more out of your drill press, you can task it for other shop duties, like sanding. For more about that, check out the box below.
My productivity and accuracy increased tremendously after adding a drill press to my workshop. It did mean working in a few upgrades, but as you’ve learned here, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to improve your drill press.
It might surprise you to learn that you can use your table saw to make perfect-fitting through dovetails, like the ones shown in the inset photo above. All you need is a simple shop-built jig and a saw blade ground to leave perfectly angled corners. Best of all, this technique results in through dovetails with that distinct, “hand-cut” look.
The jig is similar to a crosscut sled but the fence is adjustable to allow for cutting both the pins and tails. (For more on building the jig, go online to Woodsmith. com/255.) Besides the jig, you’ll also need a special saw blade to cut dovetails on the table saw.
THE BLADE. If you use a regular blade to make the angled cuts needed for the dovetails, you’ll end up doing a fair amount of hand work to clean up the inside corners. There’s a better way.
Forrest Manufacturing, a company long known for high-quality woodworking saw blades has come to the rescue. If you go to their website Forrestblades. com, and do a search for “dovetail saw blades,” you’ll be directed to a page that lets you custom-build a blade. On that page, you’ll have to specify the angle grind you want (our blade is 10°). The direction of tilt you want, left or right. Finally, the blade comes with a standard 5⁄8" bore, but you can change that as well.
As they state on the website, custom ordered blades take time to make, so plan ahead for this. But once you’ve got your new blade in hand, you’re off to the dovetail races, starting with the tails.