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Dead-on drilling

Get accurate, trouble-free results from your drill press by following these simple guidelines.

The drill press seems simple compared to a workshop’s other stationary machines. But when it comes to setup and use, many of the same operating principles apply: You need to align it properly; add some basic accessories; and stick with safe, sensible procedures. 

To help you along, we’ve collected six surefire tips and techniques to guarantee your drill-press success. They’re simple, quick, and require only items that you already have in your workshop.

1. Line it up at 90°


Because we tilt drill-press tables for angled drilling from time to time, or because they may not be perfectly set at 90° when purchased, we sometimes must reset the table for perfect right-angle boring. 

To do this, get hold of a 10" piece of heavy wire like that found in a coat hanger. Bend each end into a right angle, and chuck one end in the drill press. Set the height of the table so that the free end of the wire contacts the surface. Turn the chuck by hand, keeping an eye on the wire to make sure it maintains consistent contact with the table without flexing. If so, the table sits at 90° to the chuck. If you find that one side is lower than the other, adjust it as shown in your owner’s manual.

2. Call for backup


Protect your bits while expanding your work surface with a 34 " plywood auxiliary table clamped or bolted to the metal table, as shown in the opening photo. When you need to drill several through holes, go one step further—place a backer board on top of the auxiliary table. Use any handy scrap, such as the particleboard shown above. The backer board prevents tear-out on the bottom of your workpiece by supporting wood fibers around the hole, while keeping your auxiliary table intact. Move the backer board to place solid material beneath the next hole.

3. Set the depth

Set Depth.jpg

After you mount the bit and adjust the table height, set the depth stop to control the depth of the hole. On the typical depth-adjustment assembly shown above (your drill press might have a different stop design), lower the bit alongside your workpiece to the chosen depth, hold it there, turn the depth-stop nut until it contacts the top of the bracket, and then tighten the jam nut against it. 

If the depth-stop rod is calibrated, like the one shown above, you have another choice. Lower the bit until it contacts the workpiece, note the location on the gauge, and then move the depth-stop nut up the desired distance and hold it in place by turning the jam nut against it.

4. Add a dust-relieving fence

dust fence.jpg

A simple fence comes in handy when you need to drill more than one hole at the same distance from the edge of the workpiece. Make a fence by cutting two straight pieces of 34 " stock to a length that matches the width of your auxiliary table. Use your tablesaw to cut a 18 ×18 " dust-relief channel at the edge of one piece. This channel preserves accuracy by keeping sawdust and wood chips from lodging between fence and workpiece. Screw the pieces together at a right angle, as shown above, and you have a fence that’s easily clamped to the table.

5. Get a grip

Get a grip.jpg

Twist bits can drift off course when drilling into irregular grain, especially small-diameter bits like the 116 " bit shown above. Limit this tendency by inserting the bit well into the drill-press chuck when you mount it. Leave enough of the bit exposed to bore the hole to the desired depth—and make sure that it’s centered in the chuck, not trapped between just two of the three jaws. You also can improve your accuracy by using brad-point bits.

6. Drill a dowel end


One of the trickiest drill-press tasks is boring a centered hole into the end of a dowel. Try this quick and neat solution.

Clamp a 2×3" scrap of 34 " wood to your drill-press table, and bore halfway into it with a Forstner bit that’s the same diameter as your dowel. Leave the scrap in place, replace the Forstner with a bit the size of the hole you want to drill in the dowel, and drill the rest of the way through to make the centering guide shown above, left. Place the larger hole on the end of the dowel, and clamp the dowel onto a holding jig, such as the V-groove version shown. Lower the bit to align it with the smaller hole. Clamp the holding jig to your drill-press table, and carefully drill your hole, as shown above, right.

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