What Is a Drill Press?
A drill press is a power tool. It features a drill head (the center of the action on hand held drills, holding the drill bit), mounted on a column shaft. The shaft is usually made of steel, offering excellent durability and minimal movement while in use. The drill head can be moved up, down and around the column, which is typically secured to an immovable object, such as a workbench, with a suitable vise.
Who Uses Drill Presses?
Because a drill press induces less jerking than a handheld drill, and the drill head's range of motion is limited by what positions the workman can physically get into, drill presses are ideal for precision work. They are must-have accessories for gun smiths and jewelers, as well as hobbyists who intend to do a lot of precision work.
While more commonly purchased for a dedicated workshop, there are some drill presses which are compact enough to be set up in an apartment, although these may not be up to the standard required for producing truly professional results.
What Materials Can a Drill Press Be Used On?
What materials you can drill really depend on the quality of drill press you purchase (and, therefore, the money you spend.) All drill presses can handle wood and metal as standard, some are also suitable for plastics, pebbles, and gemstones. When you're looking to buy a drill press, make sure you look into what materials it can comfortably handle, so you can be assured of getting the best drill press for your needs.
How Much Does a Good Drill Press Cost?
How long is a piece of string? The drill presses we're reviewing here are all under $1000, but, as with most things, the sky's the limit. If you do have more to spend, make sure that the drill press you're buying is the best for the projects you intend to carry out.
What Are the Drawbacks of a Drill Press?
The main drawback is that you're limited to the positions the drill press can function in. Most drill presses have a 45-90 degree tilt as standard. If you need greater flexibility than that, it is probably best to talk to a specialist tool manufacturer who can advise you on the most suitable piece of equipment.
The Best Drill Press Reviews 2017
We've reviewed what we consider to be the five best-performing, affordable (under $1,000) drill presses. Our aim, with these reviews, is to give you as much information as possible, so you can make the best choice, and purchase the best drill press for your needs and project plans.
The drill presses reviewed here are all intended for amateur or light-workload professional use, and are not suitable, or intended, for industrial shop settings.
The best drill press we've found is the JET J-2530 15” Drill Press, a good mid-price drill press, which offers a lot, both to the enthusiastic amateur and the professional. The J-2530 features a permanently lubricated ball-bearing spindle assembly, and large quill, for greater accuracy and smoother running.
The J-2530 features a larger-than average steel ground column for maximum support, and offers an adjustable workstation that allows for a 45 degree tilt in either direction.
This drill press also, uniquely among the drill presses reviewed here, features a workstation light, which can take a bulb of up to 60watts. This is ideal for those workers whose shop area is somewhat dimly lit, or who have slight visual impairments which make increased lighting both welcome and necessary when engaged in close work,
The J-2530 drill press is simple yet powerful, and runs very quietly – there is virtually no belt chatter or vibration while the drill is running. The J-2530 drill press also features a cast iron drill head for increased strength and durability.
This is a very heavy piece of equipment, and almost certainly will require at least two people to move and assemble it.
- Very quiet operation
- 60watt lighted workstation
- Poor quality safety shield – better off investing in good-quality goggles (which should be worn when using power tools, in any case.)
This falls in the middle of the under-$1,000 price range, and is therefore more likely to appeal to those who already have some experience of using drill presses. This is not a compact drill press, and therefore would not suit apartment dwellers who do not have a separate workshop space.
Other drill presses that perform well are:
The WEN 4208 8” 5 Speed Drill Press offers a good, well-equipped introduction to the world of drill presses, making it ideal for those working with wood, metal, and plastics.
The drill head features a ½ keyed chuck, with onboard key storage, and can run from 740-3140RPM on a 1/3HP, 120volt induction motor.
Feature-wise, this drill press has everything you need. The worktable is height adjustable, to ensure maximum comfort for individual workers, and the ability to easily place thicker pieces of material. The worktable also tilts up to 45 degrees in either direction, to easily accommodate large materials and awkward angles.
With a 2” spindle and easy-read, locking depth stops, the 4208 allows for accurate precision drilling, including repetition of holes of a set depth along the length or width of your material. While this is good for skilled amateurs engaged in precision work, it may not meet the exacting needs of those involved in, for example, gun smithing or jewelry. It does, however, offer a very smooth, balanced performance, even at high speeds. While the 4208 can be used to drill glass and semi-precious stones, you will, of course, need to invest in a diamond-tipped bit for this work. There should be no problem with running the WEN 4208 drill press with a wet drill bit, as is usually required in working with glass or semi-precious stones in jewelry making.
The WEN 4208 is a compact drill press, and can be situated and used in an apartment.
- Smooth, balanced performance
- Compact size
- Suitable for use on a range of materials, including wood, metal, and plastic.
- Cheap, low-quality build
- No storage rack for tools
Handle on drill can be very hard to turn. This may make the WEN 4208 drill press unsuitable for those with poor motor strength, arthritis, etc.
On balance, if you are looking for a good starter drill press for light use across a range of materials, the WEN 4208 may suit your needs, especially if space is at a premium. The WEN is also the best performing lower price drill presses for precision work, although it is important to note that, in this sphere, the WEN is intended more for the hobbyist jewelry maker than the professional or semi-professional.
SKIL 3320-01 10” 3.2amp Drill Press
Aimed at the weekend warrior, this is a good, multipurpose starter drill press, suitable for use on wood and metal. It features a bump-off switch, which is a good safety feature.
In terms of operational features, this drill press offers five speeds, from 570-3040RPM, with its top speed being a little slower than the WEN 4208. However, it can run at a lower minimum speed, which may be a better option if you do a lot of delicate work on fine materials.
Like the WEN, the SKIL 3320-01 features an adjustable work table and the ability to tilt through 45 degrees left and right, and adjustable, locking depth stops for precision work. In addition, the SKIL features two dual-beam lasers to provide exceptional accuracy in precision drill work. The depth stops themselves, however, can yield, especially when the drill is running at high speed. However, no power tool is ever really going to be “set and forget”, and part of precision work is the close attention that needs to be paid.
The SKIL also features a ½ keyed chuck and on board key storage.
- Twin laser guides for accurate precision work
- Bump-off switch
- Well made
- Depth stops don't always hold
- Speed changes require manual belt adjustment
- Not the best drill press for precision work
- The SKIL requires a significant amount of assembly. It is advisable to have two people available to set up the drill, and, unlike the WEN, it is not a compact model.
The SKIL is significantly more expensive than the WEN, and less suited to precision work. However, the overall build quality is better, which may be a consideration if you anticipate a heavy workload for the drill press, and will just be doing general purpose hole-drilling, rather than delicate precision work. Because of its let-down around precision working, the SKIL would not be suitable for those looking for a drill press for gun smithing or jewelry making.
DREMEL 220-01 Rotary Workstation and Drill Press with Wrench
This drill press can drill perpendicular and angled holes in 15-degree increments up to 90 degrees on the horizontal. The workstation features a tool holder which holds tools at 90 degrees to the material being worked. This is ideal if you're polishing or grinding. There is also an on board crow's nest tool storage point for tools that are not in use, but will be required later on.
The Dremel is a solid construction, featuring full metal column and clamping pins. The workstation features telescopic height adjustment from 16-29”, ensuring comfort for most workers, whatever their height.
The 220-01 drill press and workstation is compatible with a wide range of Dremel accessories and drill bits.
- Several accessories included
- Plenty of tool storage
- Wobbles under pressure
Recommended for the general-use hobbyist, the 220-01 is not considered suitable for precision drill work. If you intend to undertake precision work, and don't want to spend top dollar, the WEN drill press may prove a more suitable option. If money is no object, it may be worth speaking to dedicated tool sales stores, in order to get truly expert advice on which drill press would best meet your individual needs.
Finally, the Delta 18-900L Laser Drill Press. This is at the top end of the sub-$1,000 spectrum of drill presses, and features an auto-tracking belt drive, for fast, easy speed changes and maximum transmission efficiency. It offers best-in-class depth drilling capacity, with a 6” quill stock, and increased precision drilling, with micro-adjustable depth stops, and a fully adjustable twin laser with bright, visible crosshairs to indicate exact point of bit contact.
The Delta drill press features 16 speeds, and a fully adjustable workstation, affording the capacity to handle a variety of materials, and enable workers to work efficiently and effectively.
The Delta drill press also comes with a five-year warranty: most of the drill presses featured here offer a 1-2yr warranty. The additional features, and the increased warranty, seem to suggest that this is intended for semi-professional use, however, it doesn't quite seem to meet the standard that a professional would expect from their tools.
- Auto tracking
- Greater range of speeds (16 speeds) than other drills
- Work table is limited in how far it can be lowered. This limits the variety of projects, size of materials, etc, that can be accommodated.
- The switches are difficult to operate
- Build quality is poor, especially considering the price
The Delta is a fairly pricey drill press, and, other than auto-tracking and a greater range of speeds, offers little that more affordable presses don't. If you know you'll benefit from the greater range of speeds, but don't have the budget for a truly professional drill press, the Delta may be a suitable choice.
While the Delta drill press does have a lot going for it, it is not really worth the price tag: there are many more affordable drill presses that perform just as well as it. If you are looking for the range of functionality that the Delta offers, and your projects require that range, it may be worth considering investing in a drill press designed and intended for professional use. For general purpose use, and amateur hobbyists, there are better, more affordable drill presses available.
The reviews above all feature general purpose drill presses. Below, we've included a couple of shorter reviews on more drill presses that would meet more specific needs, in this case, for space-saving, and precision-focused work.
The Best Drill Press for Small Spaces
You may be looking for a small bench top drill press, such as the DLR-300.00.
Featuring variable speed up to 8,500RPM, this drill press has the power to tackle a range of projects – not just the smallest jobs on your schedule. Measuring under 7”x7”, and weighing in at 13lbs, this go-getting little drill press is ideal if your workbench is more like a kitchen counter, and your shop is the room in the house that your other half said was “too small for anything, really.”
- Space saving
- Easy to use
- Powerful for its size
- Not accurate enough for precision work
- Difficult to adjust height – could be uncomfortable to work at for long periods.
The Most Precise Drill Press
If jewelry making, leather holing, or similar is your thing, you need precision. Why not consider a drill press like the TruePower 01-0822?
The TruePower has variable speed setting up to 8,500RPM, and can accommodate bits from 0.79-6mm diameter.
- Simple to operate
- Ideal for very small, delicate work
- Very little torque
Drill Press Buying Guide
On board storage
You will definitely want to look for a drill press that includes on board tool storage. There's nothing worse than being focused on some delicate or absorbing work, and having to stop to go get another tool. With on board storage, you can set up all the tools you'll need for your project within easy reach.
If you are intending to do precision drilling work with your drill press, make sure you purchase a model with locking depth stops, and, ideally, laser guides.
Finally, if you are intending to drill particularly hard materials – think metals such as titanium, semi-precious stones, sea glass, or natural pebbles – you'll need a drill press that, as well as being exceptionally functional in terms of precision drilling, can accommodate diamond-tipped drill bits. If the drill press is limited to the manufacturer's range of accessories, for example, make sure diamond-tipped bits are included in that range.
What will you be using the drill press for?
If you are simply looking for a workhorse to drill holes for general purpose building, DIY, or wood and metal hobby work, then pretty much any drill press will be suitable. You just need to set your budget, and look for the one that you feels offers the best quality, and would be the best fit for your workspace.
However, if you are intending to do a lot of precision drilling, especially in the areas of jewelry making or gun smithing, you will need to look for a drill press that offers excellent precision operation. A laser sight and locking depth stops are a must for this kind of work.
An integral workstation light is a definite value-add: not only can you more easily see exactly what you're doing, you can keep working later if need be – ideal for when you're almost finished, and the light is starting to fade.
How much space do you have?
Make sure you purchase the most suitable drill press for your space – you need to be able to comfortably move around the drill press, as well as easily and safely being able to bring materials to and from it.
If you live in an apartment, without a separate workshop, you will need to look for a compact drill press, and, ideally, one that runs very quietly, so as not to annoy the neighbors. However, if you have a dedicated workshop, size is less of an issue.
It is worth considering, however, whether you can readily get another person to help you move and assemble your drill press, particularly if you're buying one of the larger, heavier models.
Will you be doing jewelry work?
If so, you will need to make sure that any drill press you purchase can cope with running wet – either using a wetted diamond-tip drill bit, or having water sprayed around it whilst, for example, glass, sea-glass, or semi-precious stones are being drilled.
Staying Safe While Using a Drill Press
Make sure you read and understand the owner's manual. This will help prevent malfunctions, as well as accidents.
Wear safety glasses.
Remove chuck key before starting drill.
Make sure the material you're working on is secured on the drill press table, ideally in a clamp.
Tie back long hair, secure loose clothing, remove necklaces, scarves, neckties. Roll back and secure sleeves.
Make sure you are using proper feed speed. This is the downward pressure of the drill, and will be faster on softer materials, and slower on things like metal.
Keep clear of moving parts.
Wait for the drill to stop completely before removing materials.
Remember that drill presses are top heavy, and MUST be secured to an immovable surface. Ensure you have a suitable surface to secure your drill press to.
If in doubt – DON'T.
A drill press can be an excellent addition to your workshop, and gives you greater flexibility in terms of projects. However, as drill presses can be expensive, and require a thorough understanding in order to be operated safely and effectively, think about whether the projects you typically undertake, or intend to undertake, could be completed to the required standard using a standard, hand-held drill.
If you do decide to go for a drill press, it is definitely worth investing in one that has more than you currently need – that way, you can grow into it, rather than growing out of it.