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A drill press ranks in our top five of machines every woodworker should own. (The others are tablesaw, bandsaw, thickness planer, and jointer.) More than a glorified electric drill, the tilting table of a drill press makes it possible to drill holes at precise angles, and in perfectly aligned rows at repeatable depth for making mortises, and more. And, these machines bring to the table enough torque to safely drive bits too big for a handheld drill, such as a large Forstner bit.

Drill presses are classified by their swing capacity, and those with 17–18" of swing make up the most popular class, meaning one of these eight models may be the only drill press you'll ever need. To find the best in this class, we tested them head-to-head in the WOOD® magazine shop. Here's what we found.

Torque matters more than horsepower

To test each machine's torque, we bored holes with increasingly larger Forstner bits in hard maple. Most of the drill presses in our test use a belt-and-pulley system to drive the spindle, and with belt-driven models, more horsepower doesn't necessarily translate into more torque. In practice, maximum torque is achieved at the stall point—when the amount of force required to turn the bit overcomes the belts' grip on the pulleys, and the bit stops.

We were able to eventually stall each of the seven belt-driven machines, with the Powermatic PM2800B besting the other belt-drives by powering a 3" Forstner bit without stalling and the Delta 18-900L spinning that same size bit but requiring a lighter touch to avoid stalling. By contrast, the Jet JDP-17 stalled while using a 2" Fortsner.

Instead of drive belts, the Nova Voyager uses a direct-drive motor-to-spindle setup, which we were unable to stall. When the motor controller sensed heavy draw on a bit, it would simply supply additional torque to maintain cutting speed.

Changing speeds: Easier is better

Ideally, you should change drill-press speed depending on the type and size of bit. But we're guilty of not doing this every time, because it's almost always a hassle to reposition the belts on the pulleys. Luckily, two of the test models—both with infinite variable speed for the whole speed range—require no belt changes. On the Nova you simply set bit speeds using an electronic control pad, shown above; with the Powermatic, you turn a crank to adjust the speed, as shown on a digital readout. Rikon's 30-217 also has variable speed, but in two ranges (200–700 and 600–2,200 rpm), so you have to reposition the drive belt to change ranges, which we found a little fussy. Of the multispeed models, the Delta, shown below, makes changing belt positions easiest. The Delta, Jet, and Rikon 30-230 all have 16 speeds available. The Grizzly G7947 and Shop Fox W1680 have 12 speeds, with larger gaps between speeds.

To change speeds on the Delta, you release the belt tension with a cam lever, quickly freeing the belts so you can easily reposition them on the pulleys.
With the Shop Fox (and a few others), the motor manually slides horizontally to add or release tension. But because it has so little travel and the handle is so short, the belts were still somewhat tight.
Nova Voyager's multifunction controller offers dozens of settings and adjustments, including choosing the bit speed for you based on your answers to its questions about bit type, size, material, etc.

The key to a great-gripping chuck

These machines all come with a keyed chuck that will accept any bit with a shank up to 58 ". In our tests, each chuck held bits securely without slipping, and released them easily with the chuck key. Our favorite chuck key, on the Delta, has about a 4"-long handle with a thumb pad for better leverage, and a spring-loaded self-ejecting mechanism to prevent accidentally leaving it in the chuck. We also prefer to have the key store on the machine for easy access and to avoid losing it.

Precision comes from pinpoint placement

To ensure the hole goes where you want it, Delta and Powermatic use microadjustable crosshair lasers that show the center of the bit and calibrate easily, as well as LED task lights that can be positioned as needed. Jet also has lasers that work well when calibrated, but we found that process difficult. The others have either insufficient built-in task lighting or none at all.

News flash: Woodworkers want good tables

A woodworking-friendly table makes life easier when you need to clamp a workpiece, or attach a fence or hold-down. Delta's large table, shown above, is our favorite, with a large surface, accessory channels, a large replaceable center insert, and front- and side-tilting capabilities. The tables on the Jet and Powermatic also get high marks with similar features, except front tilt.

Tables on the other models seem better suited to metalworking, with either deep perimeter troughs (for catching coolant) or milled slots too wide for most woodworking accessory T-bolts and hardware.

Delta's table ranks best among the test machines, with slots for attaching accessories, easy clamping along its perimeter, and a replaceable insert.
Powermatic's height-adjustment crank angles away from the table, greatly reducing the risk of scraping your knuckles on the table as you crank
Grizzly's table has wide channels and grooves with no opening to the bottom that we found difficult for attaching accessories or even an aftermarket table.

If it doesn't stop a bit, it's not a depth stop

Drilling to a preset depth without worry that you'll overdrill proves one of a drill press's best features. We tested the reliability of each machine's depth stops by drilling 100 holes in 34 " MDF, then measuring each hole's depth with a calipers. The Delta and Powermatic fared best, differing no more than .005" in hole depth. The Grizzly, Jet, Nova, Rikon 30-217, and Shop Fox were all within .020", an acceptable amount. However, the quill-feed hub depth stop on the Rikon 30-230 slipped repeatedly, drilling deeper after just 10–15 holes. It needs to be checked regularly and reset.

To use a hub-mounted depth stop, you zero the bit on the workpiece surface, then turn the stop to match the depth of the desired hole.
The Delta has two depth stops: a hub stop and a threaded rod with two quick-adjust nuts that let you intuitively set depth based on quill travel.

Drop your dollars into these drillers

The Powermatic PM2800B and Delta 18-900L both earned high marks in every area of performance and capacity, so they share Top Tool honors for this test. We liked Powermatic's continuous variable-speed feature, but if you value a more woodworking friendly table (and $300 more in your pocket) go with the Delta.

Pressing details about the tested models

Delta 18-900L, $1,300


High Points

▲  With 16 speed selections and the easiest belt changes of the non-variable-speed machines, you can easily and quickly set the speed you need for each application.
▲  Its self-ejecting chuck key was our favorite of the test group, and stores on the machine. The table-tilt wrench and drill drift knockout tool (used to remove the chuck, if needed) also store on the machine.
▲  Microadjustable lasers and a flexible-neck LED task light improve drilling precision.
▲  The quick-adjust knurled knob on a threaded rod makes for an excellent and reliable depth stop. This machine also allows you to set a stop for hole depth rather than simply quill stroke, a handy feature.
▲  Its 618 " maximum quill stroke ties for longest in the test.
▲  This unit's large table proves best for woodworking, with T-slots for accessories; a wide, thin clamping edge; full 180° tilt left and right and 45° forward tilt; and a replaceable MDF center insert.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty.

Powermatic PM2800B, $1,600


High Points
▲  Its variable-speed drive lets you choose any speed from 250 to 3,000 rpm; a hand crank and LED display make this job easy. Highest torque among the belt-driven units.
▲  Two LED worklights and microadjustable lasers make for precise bit placement.
▲  Its 618 " quill stroke ties for longest in the test. And it's the only machine that lets you swap the quill-feed handles to the left side.
▲  The table proves ideal for woodworking, with T-slots, a fence with movable flip-stop, wide clamping rim, and replaceable center insert. The crank, angled away from the table, proves easiest to use for raising and lowering the table.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty.
Low Points
▼  The variable-speed belt-and-pulley system makes a constant clattering noise.
More Points
 We like the spring-loaded chuck key, but it does not store on the machine.
 The depth stop proves easy to use and reliable, but the spring-loaded nut occasionally catches in the scale groove on the threaded rod, making microadjustments finicky.
 The table tilts left and right, but the 24mm wrench needed for the locking nut is not included.

Grizzly G7947, $650


High Points
▲  The 434 " quill stroke provides plenty of reach for common drilling tasks.
Low Points
▼  Its heavy-duty cast-iron table has ¾"-wide slots that prove difficult to use with accessories, a deep trough around the perimeter, and little space underneath to accommodate clamps.
▼  The chuck key is more difficult to use than others, and does not store on the machine.
▼  We found the plastic chuck guard to be more of an annoyance than a benefit.
▼  An incandescent bulb situated mostly within the drill-press body provides only basic lighting that gets obscured easily during use.
More Points
 Its 112 -hp motor requires a 20-amp, 110-volt outlet. It delivers adequate torque, but the 12-speed system lacks an option in the wide gap between 640 and 1,220 rpm.
 The two-nut, threaded-rod depth stop proved reliable, but the 18mm wrenches needed to tighten the nuts don't come with the machine.

Jet JDP-17, $1,000


High Points
▲  The large table proves ideal for woodworking, with a replaceable center insert, T-slots for accessories, and plenty of good clamping space around the rim. It's also the only machine with the table lock on the same side as the height crank, a nice convenience.
▲  It has a respectable 518 " quill stroke and good quill-feed handles.
▲  The speed chart printed on the machine's inner hood was the best among all the test models.
▲  The easy-to-use chuck key stores on the machine.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty.
Low Points
▼  With no way to tighten the belts sufficiently other than hand pressure, they slip far too easily on the pulleys, limiting us to drilling with a maximum of 2"-diameter bits—and that required a soft touch.
More Points
 An LED task light and lasers make it easy to drill precisely, but we found the lasers fussy to adjust and needed pliers to do so.
 Although the hub-style depth stop proved reliable, it proved confusing and frustrating to set without consulting the owner's manual each time.

Nova Voyager 58000, $1,550


High Points
▲  This is the most technologically advanced drill press we've ever tested, with more electronic controls and options (and digital readout) than we thought we'd ever need, but now find handy.
▲  The direct-drive motor delivers more torque than any belt-driven drill press can muster. The motor senses load and delivers more power as needed. We could not bog it down.
▲  Its 6" quill stroke and 50–5,500-rpm variable-speed range make nearly any drilling task easy.
▲  With a heavy 18×23" cast-iron base, this machine proved the most steady of the test group.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty; the motor and controller have a 2-year warranty. Software updates can be downloaded to the controller via a port on the machine.
Low Points
▼ The spindle rotates so freely that changing bits can be challenging. You can activate an electronic spindle lock, but it requires several steps on the control pad to do so.
▼  The table's 34 "-wide slots are impractical for attaching accessories, and the thick table rim and gussets make workpiece clamping difficult.
▼  It's the only test machine without either a light or crosshair lasers to aid in bit placement.
More Points
 We found the mechanical depth stop more reliable and easier to set than the electronic one.
 The chuck key fits more loosely than others, but it's comfortable to use. It does not store on the machine. (The included table-lock wrench does store on the machine.)

Rikon 30-217, $1,050


High Points
▲  With two infinitely variable speed ranges, this model lets you set the exact speed you need for each application.
▲  It has a 6116 " quill stroke.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty.
Low Points
▼  The drive belts slipped with bits larger than 212 ", with no way to increase belt tension. Belt changes between the two ranges can be difficult.
▼  This machine drilled holes varying in depth by as much as 132 ", but it was not a progressive slippage. We could not pinpoint the problem.
More Points
 The digital speed readout lags a few seconds when changing speeds.
 The chuck key is not self-ejecting, but does have a thumb pad and stores on the machine.
 We like the inclusion of an LED on a flexible neck, but we wish this light was brighter.
 The table's thin rim makes clamping workpieces easy, but there are no T-slots for attaching a fence or accessories; through slots work for this, but require longer, larger bolts. The table-lock wrench is included, but does not store on the machine.

Rikon 30-230, $680


High Points
▲  If you plan to drill primarily holes less than 2" in diameter, this budget-friendly machine can work for you.
▲  It comes with a 5-year warranty.
Low Points
▼  With the smallest base (11×19") in the test group, this machine needs to be bolted to the floor or to a larger base to improve stability.
▼  The quill-hub depth stop slipped gradually in our testing; we had to check it and reset it every 10–15 holes.
▼  We found the table's 58 "-wide slots impractical for attaching accessories, and the table's uneven bottom made workpiece clamping difficult.
▼  An incandescent bulb situated mostly within the drill-press body provides only basic lighting that gets obscured easily during use.
More Points
 It has a nice selection of 16 speeds, but the belts slip easily when drilling with a bit 2" or larger.
 Its 316 " quill stroke is adequate for most work, but shortest in the test. You'll need to raise the table to drill deeper holes.
 The chuck key is not self-ejecting, but does have a thumb pad and stores on the machine.
 The table tilts left and right, but the 24mm wrench needed for the locking nut is not included.

Shop Fox W1680, $758


High Points
▲  It has two depth stops: a traditional threaded rod, and a locking hub stop. Both proved reliable but fussy to set.
Low Points
▼  The drive system makes it difficult to change speeds and get adequate belt tension, resulting in a lack of torque when drilling with bits larger than 112 " in diameter.
▼  Its 14"-diameter table leaves us wanting a more woodworking-friendly size and features.
▼  With only 12 speeds to choose from, we would have liked a speed option in the gap between 540 and 980 rpm.
▼  The chuck key is more difficult to use than others, and does not store on the machine.
▼  We found the plastic chuck guard to be more of an annoyance than a benefit.
▼  An incandescent bulb situated mostly within the drill-press body provides only basic lighting that gets obscured easily during use.
More Points
Its 314 " quill stroke proves adequate for most work, but is second shortest among the test group. You'll need to raise the table to drill deeper holes.