Benchtop Drill Presses
Long a cornerstone woodworking machine, a drill press safely and repeatably bores holes with great precision and power. When buying one, make your decision by finding the right balance of size and useful features while staying within budget. The eight benchtop drill presses we tested, though not as powerful or feature-laden as most floor-standing models, perform well—and all for less than $400.
Three reasons to buy a floor-standing drill press instead
2. You need enough power to bore holes larger than about 2” in diameter.
3. You want a table better suited for clamping and supporting workpieces.
Uncork the torque
If you seldom drill with large bits (over 2"), all of these machines have ample power. We started our testing by drilling with a 1" Forstner bit in oak and hard maple, an easy task for each machine. As we stepped up to larger bits, the Craftsman 34983 and Ryobi DP103L stalled regularly, but we could nurse them along with a light touch. Three models (General International 75-010 and 75-030 and Grizzly G7943) continued to perform well with bits up to 2". Although we were able to stall even these models with 2" Forstner bits, backing off to a less-aggressive feed rate got the job done.
In addition to the torque generated by the motor and pulleys, keep in mind that longer quill-feed handles help you leverage more downward force on the bit. The short handles on the Craftsman 34983 and Ryobi make sense given the overall size of these smaller, light-duty machines. But the short, hooked quill-feed handles on the Rikon 30-120 limited the amount of leverage we could muster.
It’s all about that swing
Consider, too, the width and length of workpieces you might need to drill into. Greater capacities typically come with higher price tags. Drill-press manufacturers classify a drill press by its “swing”: the maximum width of workpiece into which you can drill to the center (twice the measurement from the chuck’s center to the column). The Grizzly topped this field with a 14" swing; the Craftsman 34983 and Ryobi measure at least 3" less. (See the chart for complete specs on all the tested machines.)
In vertical capacity, five units have a quill stroke—the maximum plunge of the chuck—of at least 3". But the Craftsman models and Ryobi deliver only 21⁄2 " and 2", respectively. As for workpiece capacity between the chuck and table or base, the Craftsman 34983 has about one-half the capacity of the Rikon, which has the largest vertical depth in our test. You might never need this extra depth, but it comes in handy when drilling into a long or tall workpiece.
We drilled hundreds of holes of varying sizes with each drill press, and none demonstrated any runout (bit wobble). That allowed us to repeatedly and precisely drill into fine cross-hair markings.
Good lighting helps, too. Task lights on all but the Rikon and Shop Fox W1668 illuminated layout marks well; the gooseneck LED lamps on the Craftsman models were our favorites because we could position them where most needed.
Five models have crossed laser guides to align with layout marks. We prefer the hard-wired lasers on the General 75-010 and Ryobi because they provide pinpoint accuracy and protection against bumping. On the other hand, the battery-powered lasers on the Craftsman machines work okay with bits 1" or less in diameter, but bumped out of alignment easily. We found the General 75-030’s battery-powered laser too faint and difficult to use.
Reliable stops a must-have
For holes that must be drilled to a precise depth, the slip of a depth stop can prove disastrous. For example, if you’re boring holes for Euro-style cup hinges on cabinet doors, a too-deep hole can break through the front stile, ruining the door.
The tested drill presses have two types of stop systems, as shown below. To test the reliability of each machine’s depth stop, we drilled 100 holes with the same bit, and measured the depth of each. Those that fared best: Craftsman 34985, General 75-010, Grizzly, Ryobi, and Shop Fox. The Craftsman 34983 slipped 1⁄32 ", the General 75-030 1⁄16 ", and the Rikon nearly 1⁄8 ". In general, locking nuts proved more reliable than locking collars.
Changing bits should be easy
All the tested models use a key to tighten and loosen their chuck jaws. The Grizzly, Rikon, and Shop Fox chucks accept bit shanks up to 5⁄8 " in diameter. The others max at 1⁄2 ". The Rikon and Ryobi chucks proved difficult to open and close by hand, requiring the use of the key, especially as the jaws get closer to tightening on bit shanks 1⁄4 " and smaller. To avoid misplacing the chuck key, all but the Grizzly and Shop Fox provide a storage spot on the machine. The General 75-030 has a holder, but we could not get the key to fit.If it’s easy to do, you’ll change speeds
As a rule, larger bits require slower speeds. With all but one machine, you change belt position on the pulleys manually. This proved easiest on the Craftsman 34985, Grizzly, and Rikon machines. Only the General 75-010 has a speed-adjustment lever, shown below, so you can change spindle speeds easily without touching a drive belt.
We found changing belts on the other models cumbersome because the motor did not slide forward enough to adequately relieve belt tension, shown below. Or, we had trouble getting sufficient tension on the belt after the change.
Three machines (Craftsman 34983, General 75-010, and Ryobi) will not go slower than 600 rpm. We recommend speeds as low as 250 rpm for 1" or larger Forstner bits and holesaws. (Rikon provides a helpful chart under its hood with recommended speeds for various bits.)
Setting the table
None of the tested drill presses have what we would call a woodworker-friendly table. Half of them are too small to be practical for most woodworking tasks, but the General 75-030, Grizzly, Rikon, and Shop Fox are of respectable size. All the tables have slots for attaching hold-downs or fences, but only the Craftsman models come with a fence. Clamping workpieces around the edges of the tables can be frustrating because hollow spots between gussets underneath the tables make it difficult to seat clamps. All of the tables tilt at least 45° left and right, but the Grizzly tilts 90° each way. This lets you clamp a workpiece to the tilted table for end-drilling.
Weight equates to stability
The top-heavy nature of these machines means they can be tippy if not anchored to a bench. Nevertheless, models weighing more than 90 lbs proved the most stable in use when not anchored, thanks to larger, weightier bases and columns.
Shop Fox press not just a one-trick pony
All of these drill presses can be turned into sanders when you chuck in a sanding drum. But only the Shop Fox W1668 converts into an oscillating spindle sander in just a couple of minutes. By engaging the oscillating pulley with a third belt (not used for drilling), the spindle travels up and down 3⁄4 " while also spinning (at a slow speed you set manually). The table has a cutout for the included sanding drums and a dust port for attaching a shop-vacuum hose. Watch a video of converting this machine into a sander.
Put your benchtop-drilling bucks here
The Top Value award goes to the Shop Fox W1668. It’s a good-to-excellent drill press, and the fact that it becomes an oscillating spindle sander, too, makes it a great value for $420, saving you the cost of buying a separate sander.