Tool review: Floor-standing Drill Presses
Like a great character actor, a drill press doesn't enjoy the glamour or glory of a tablesaw or router, but it often still plays a critical—and often underappreciated—role in building projects. That's especially true when it comes to drilling precisely angled holes or multiple holes to the same depth.
For most routine drilling duties, a benchtop model packs sufficient capacity and power. (See our review of these models in the November 2007 issue.) But for the most demanding tasks, such as boring deep mortises, plowing a 3" Forstner bit into hardwoods, or drilling into the end of a long workpiece (think: lamp), you'll want to step up to a floor-standing drill press. To help you get the most for your money, we shop-tested models in the 16-18" class. (That figure refers to "swing" capacity—the maximum width of workpiece into which you can drill to the center—measured by doubling the distance from the front of the support column to the center of the chuck.)
Top two qualities in a drill press
A machine this size should handle the largest bits, holesaws, and adjustable circle cutters you have without bogging down. We tested torque on each drill press by boring holes into hard maple, starting with a 2" Forstner bit, then increased bit sizes in 1⁄4 " increments to test each machine's limits. Most of the tested presses matched each other bit for bit, with only slight bogging down when we got up to a 3" bit. But slowing our feed rate a little compensated for this so that each made the cut.
The tested presses have three types of depth-stop systems (shown below): a threaded rod with a single knurled, quick-adjust nut; a threaded rod with two locking nuts; and a dial stop on the quill-handle hub. All proved accurate, but some are faster and easier to use.
Three more that matter
As a rule of thumb, the larger the bit diameter, the slower the speed, so you'll need to change spindle speeds frequently, perhaps as often as you change bits. Only one tested model makes this a snap with its variable-speed selector, shown below. With the rest of the machines you must reposition two belts on three pulleys. None proved overly difficult, but short motor-mount handles make it tougher to get the right amount of tension.
4. WOODWORKER-FRIENDLY TABLES.
Most of the tested models have tables better suited for metalworking than woodworking, with support gussets crisscrossing the underneath side -- limiting clamping space—and a perimeter trough to catch metal-cooling lubricants. Fortunately, a few have tables friendly to woodworkers. Among other features, Delta's table, shown below, tilts 90° left and right for angled drilling, and forward up to 45°. And it requires no tools for table adjustments. Powermatic's table, shown below, increases to as much as 26" when you extend its two wings.
You cannot do precise work if a bit wobbles due to runout—any variance from center while spinning—in the spindle or quill. Fortunately, none of the tested models showed any signs of runout.
CHUCKS THAT GRIP. All of the chucks kept tight bites on bits within their jaws, even under high-torque applications. Two models come with keyless chucks with 5⁄8 " capacity. Although convenient, we found it difficult to loosen those chucks after high-torque boring tasks.
USER-FRIENDLY QUILL STROKE/LOCK/HANDLES. Five units give you at least 43⁄8 " of stroke -- the plunge capacity of the chuck. We like this extra capacity, especially for drilling mortises.
LASERS SHOULD AID PRECISION. Five machines sport red cross-hair lasers to align your marked hole location with the bit's centerpoint. The best lasers shine thin, bright lines that intersect at about 90°. Steeper angles make alignment more difficult.
FLEX-LIGHTS WORK BEST. Flexible-neck incandescent task lights help you direct the light where you want it. Incandescent bulbs mounted in the head behind the quill create shadows on the target area, especially when using large bits.
You can't go wrong with either of these machines
Two drill presses jumped to the head of the class to share Top Tool honors: the Delta 17-959L and the Powermatic PM2800. Both performed exceptionally with plenty of power and no significant flaws—the choice between the two comes down to what's more important to you: a superb table (Delta) or easy speed changes (Powermatic). Should both of these fall out of your price range, consider the Shop Fox W1680, our Top Value. It lacks frills, but proved accurate with ample power.
Editor's note: Although the Delta 17-959L earned a share of Top Tool honors in this review, Delta plans to replace this model in early 2011 with an 18" version. Delta's Bill Harman says the 18-900C will be similar to the existing unit, but with enhanced features for greater torque, table movement, stability, and bit visibility.
Learn the complete results of our testing of the Craftsman 22901, Delta 17-959L, General International 75-200RC M1, Grizzly G7947, Jet JDP-17DX, Powermatic PM2800, Rikon 30-230, Shop Fox W1680, in the September 2010 issue of WOOD magazine, or download the review.