Tool Review: Benchtop Drill Presses
Thinking about buying a floor-model drill press? Consider this: Nearly all drilling in woodworking calls for the table to be situated within 4" of the chuck. That means a benchtop drill press not only can handle most of your drilling needs but it also costs about half as much as a floor-standing model.
Despite their small size, benchtop models offer workpiece capacities pretty close to full-size presses. All eight machines we tested offer 12-14" of swing, compared with the 17" swing typical of a floor-model drill press. Seven feature at least a 3" stroke (the maximum depth you can plunge a bit). Stationary presses range from a 31⁄2 " to 5" stroke. Although a few have less, most of the tested presses have 1⁄2 - to 3⁄4 -hp motors, equal to those on typical floor models.
Curious to see if these machines' horsepower ratings converted to real drilling power, we force-fed each drill press a steady diet of hard maple and white oak under large bits and hole saws, trying to make the bits stall. Drill presses with three pulleys handled these tough tests best without the motor stalling or the belts slipping. The two variable-speed units also performed well, as their wide V-belts transferred power from the pulleys to the spindle without slipping. For speed changes, you just can't beat the ease of variable-speed controls, which eliminate the nuisance of moving belts to make speed changes, which can be difficult, especially on taller models.
Every drill press should have a sturdy, reliable stop for drilling multiple holes to the same depth. These units feature two different styles of depth stops: a threaded rod on the left side of the head, or a dial stop on the handle shaft. To test the effectiveness of each unit's stop, we drilled 100 holes using a 3⁄8 " Forstner bit, and then measured the depth of the first and last holes with a digital caliper, noting any variation. Threaded-rod stops with locking nuts performed flawlessly in our tests, but we found mixed results with the dial stops.
- Lasers prove helpful. Several drill presses now sport bright-red crosshair lasers to aid in aligning your drill bit. Once calibrated, they proved dead-on at marking the centerpoint of any bit.
- Handle leverage proves critical for larger bits. A long handle provides more force than a short one on a drill press. The handles on some models proved uncomfortably short.
- Mortising with these presses requires great patience. Sure, you can use mortising attachments on most of these machines. But between removing equipment (lasers, chuck guards, etc.) to make room for the attachment, fussing with adding and aligning a fence, and adjusting the depth stops, it's hardly worth the effort.
- Switches do make a difference. You only need a power switch to turn a machine on and off. But it matters most when you need it in an emergency. We like front-mounted paddle-style switches because they're easiest to turn off, especially if you can't take your eyes off your work.