Decent jig or cheap press?
January 8, 2020 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Handyfolks, woodworkers, and metalworkers of Metafilter-- say I want to drill a reasonably perpendicular pilot hole (<1/8") in hardwood. Is my money better spent to get a nice (?) set of clamp-able drill guides like this, or an inexpensive ($80 or $130) Harbor Freight-quality drill press? Mostly (currently) for use in wood, not (currently) doing any tapping/threading. Precision desirable but I'm not going to Mars here. Compactness desired, all else equal. Assume reasonable existing cordless and corded drills.

Most useful answers are of the form "I have both, but barely use X at all now that I have Y". Or: "Cheap drill presses will only lead to heartbreak" (something I suspect but I'm ok with lasting a few years with anything less than constant rage at it).
posted by supercres to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you doing this once or will you need to do it over and over again in the future?

If you're doing it once, depending on your definition of "reasonably perpendicular" I would just find a couple square blocks and use them as guides and drill with a cordless drill/driver.

If you'll need to repeat it, then I'd go with the cheapo drill press. Again, it depends on what you consider reasonable but I have a cheap Home Depot (< $100, I think) drill press and have drilled plenty of semi-accurate holes in wood and metal. I can see the advantage of having a real nice, expensive press, but for my needs (basic woodworking, drilling guitar tuner holes, occasional metal work) the cheap one has been good enough.

No matter what you buy, go find a guide on YouTube and get it tuned up and square. Assume nothing you pull out of the box is squared up.

You'll want to use a punch or ice pick to give yourself a starter hole and then use a brad point drill in wood.

But, yes, if you want to repeatedly drill straight holes you're going to want a drill press, even an inexpensive one. If you're always going to be drilling the same hole in the same place then construct a jig to use with the press so you don't have to align and clamp your work down every single time.

Also, keep in mind most lower-end presses don't have much of a reach. So if you're going to be drilling into the middle of a 12" disk you might not be able to get into the middle with a smaller drill press.
posted by bondcliff at 12:21 PM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Definitely not the most useful answer, and I'm not an expert, but in the six or seven metal-working machine shops I've occasionally worked in, I've never seen or heard of a drill guide. (Aside from tapping guides, which are great but different.) In my very limited experience, a crappy drill press is a lot nicer than any hand tool will ever be. Save some cash for center punches and a de-burring tool if you're working in metal.
posted by eotvos at 12:23 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Going to add, if you want accuracy, those guides you linked to have to be clamped down with two clamps. You have to get the guide hole centered where you want to drill with one hand, clamp the guide down with another hand, and then using your third hand...
posted by bondcliff at 12:30 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

For wood, your $150 will go much further into buying a good-quality used press drill than a brand new set of guides, for which you'll also need clamps. As a bonus, you can also use your press drill for sanding, with the appropriate attachments.
posted by ddaavviidd at 12:37 PM on January 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have a $90, 5-speed drill press and I *HATE* it. The only previous experience I had with drill presses were in machine tool class, so I thought all "drill presses" would have certain things in common. My expectations were laughably naive and it failed to live up to my expectations in any way. It wobbles like a bastard, and you have to open up the drive train and move the belt to change speeds, WTF? This is not the drill press I was thinking of. I'm saving up to spend a lot more on the actual thing I want.

Having said that... the one single thing it does right is drill perpendicularly. The size and shape of the resulting hole may not resemble any drill bit you currently own, but by god it'll be at a right angle to the table.
posted by Horkus at 12:44 PM on January 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'd buy a drill press. It can be a real time-saver when you do production work (adding fences or jigs to drill duplicate holes), or need to stop at a certain depth. If you're sticking to wood you'll never change speeds.

If you're eager to get started, this kind of drill guide can get decent enough results for your stated goals. It's also handy to have when you've got a piece that won't fit on a drill press.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:47 PM on January 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm a woodworker who rarely needs a drill press, but often enough that at one point I just decided to buy an inexpensive one that was "good enough." Ended up with a $160 Ryobi from Home Depot. It's not amazing, but it does the job I need it to do, and is significantly better than screwing around with guides.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:00 PM on January 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have an extra decent benchtop drill press if you want it. I'd bring it to you. No, I don't think I'm manic.
posted by Glomar response at 1:26 PM on January 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

I was in a similar situation recently, and went with what ddaavviidd is suggesting and bought a good quality one on craigslist. I got one that was 40ish years old and not in great cosmetic condition, but which cost about what a cheap new one would cost and which will work for the next 40 years with zero drama.

To my mind this is exactly the sort of tool that is the sweet spot for used tool purchases. Unsexy and unwieldy enough that people selling them are trying to rid themselves of the tool more than make a good profit, while simple and durable enough that a good quality one is almost a guaranteed thing for as long as you'll want it to work. There's not much more to a drill press than a body, a couple pulleys, and a motor, so if they're all good quality you don't have much more to worry about.
posted by lhputtgrass at 1:48 PM on January 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thank you, everyone, for the thoughts. Best Ask hit rate I've seen in a good long time, dang near perfect.

I have an ebay saved search set up for local-pickup presses since I'm in no rush. If it doesn't pan out by the time I NEED need it I'll drop the benjamin or two and not feel too bad about it.

Very good point on other attachments-- there have been times when i've lamented not having a spindle sander of some sort.

posted by supercres at 8:51 AM on January 9, 2020

I worked aircraft assembly for a number of years. You really needed to be purt durn near perpendicular to the surface you were drilling if you wanted to pass inspection. We used "drill blocks".
This example is going to stay perpendicular on a curved surface. Ours just had one bushing in the center to avoid the offset issue in the example.
My dad worked at the plant, somehow a bunch of those little blocks ended up in his tool box at home, he was a woodworker. These will get to where no drill press can reach.

Search "aircraft drill block" or just "drillblock". One of the big box stores sells one that has maybe 6 different sized holes in a flat block.
posted by rudd135 at 4:38 PM on January 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

This minor need for a drill press happened to coincide with a significant milestone birthday resulting in a totally workable WEN 12” continuously variable speed bench top press. I imagine it’ll do the trick for quite some time, certainly until I have a lot more space.

Thanks again, folks! (Especially for the note on aligning it; still working on that!)
posted by supercres at 8:38 PM on January 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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