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A drill press seems such an essential tool -- even outside of fine woodworking I have found need for it a great many times -- but as I dive into woodworking I see even more of a need for it. The precision, straightness of cut, and depth limiter will obviously give better results and make some near-impossible hand drill tasks easy. But how do I choose one?

Spindle travel seems very important. 2" sounds tiny and 5" sounds big. How much do I actually need, or what depths should I expect to want to reach. If I only drill through 3/4" wood, any size is fine. (Right?) But a 2x4 could makes more travel useful.

Table size and adjustability seems very important. Big, tiltable, easy clamp spots, etc. would make it most easy to use with any workpiece. Right?

Bench vs floor standing also seems important, however I'm not sure I see many scenarios where floor standing space would actually matter for the workpiece... though maybe I'm short-sighted?

What else am I missing?

  • What kind of projects would you be using this for? – Matt Jan 9 '16 at 7:52
  • This is a good question and well asked Dan. I can't help with what to look for but I feel someone should say it: a drill press is not considered an essential tool by all. Many modern woodworkers don't have one, even with 10 or 20 years under their belts. Whether you need one is partly about the work you're doing of course, but in fact many of the tasks where a drill press is now considered a must for would have been done using one or other hand drills back in the day, either sighting carefully for vertical with the help of an assistant or using one or more guides or jigs. [cont'd] – Graphus supports Monica Jan 9 '16 at 9:28
  • [cont'd] If the need for the kind of guaranteed controlled drilling that a press does provide isn't great, and/or where the tasks are likely to be on a more limited scale, it's worth looking into a drill stand instead of a drill press as much of the functionality is the same, it just lacks some of the 'higher-end' features which might actually turn out to be superfluous for individual users. – Graphus supports Monica Jan 9 '16 at 9:30
  • @Matt: currently, I'm not sure what I need it for. I'm building a few birdhouses and shelving now, and intend to build a workbench, speaker stands, and a standing desk. I have no specific plans for most of this. So far, my plans have sometimes been changed to construction where I specifically don't need to use a press. – Dan Wolfgang Jan 9 '16 at 17:25
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    @Graphus: my 20-year-old experience with drill stands wasn't good -- each I've seen has been junk; very sloppy and imprecise. It sounds like you're experience doesn't match mine -- perhaps a drill stand would be wise. I think this could be a good answer (or at least, part of an answer). – Dan Wolfgang Jan 9 '16 at 17:29
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Table size matters, but it's common to add your own table -- many drill presses come set up with a table that's better for metalworking than woodworking.

Ease of adjusting the table matters. You want a table that can be reliably brought back to level... or you can leave it level and use a jig when drilling on an angle, which some find easier.

You want a table whose height is easily adjusted, and that can be swung off to the side for end-drilling large pieces. Most drillpresses will have those features.

You want a head that lets you change speeds reasonably easily. It should have a built-in depth stop, ideally with both quick and fine adjust. You USUALLY won't need more than 4 inches travel, if that; if you're going deeper, moving the table vertically can supplement quill travel.

Note that I'm saying "want". You can save a significant amount of money by getting what you need instead. The best deal is often a 50-year-old machine in reasonable condition which may be s bit more nuisance to set up and will be heavy but will do the job just fine, especially if you spend some time tuning it up.

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I was hoping someone would cover this question from getting a drill press perspective. Keshlam has done a good job of just that.

I wanted to be sure that you actually need this tool. Like most power tools a drill press will help you perform the same task repeatedly fast and efficiently with good results where tolerance in concerned. I would like to call on a comment by Graphus

Whether you need one is partly about the work you're doing of course

Drill press, in its basic form, will help you make 90 degree (or other angle if you table rotates) in your work pieces. You would need to ask yourself how often you need to do that. In that same vein how often you need to be that accurate.

You mentioned that you wanted to make some birdhouses. Those are the projects I started out with. Woodworking is one of the trades were tolerance does not have to be 0%. This of course depends on the project but there are many where not everything has to be perfectly flush during assembly. Adjusts can be made after. Nor does a screw have to be perfectly inserted.

Consider a Jig

Unless you plan to be using a drill press regularly, or get one a good one at cost, you can perform most of the functionality you would get with some jigs. A really good question about this topic is: How do I ensure my drill is perfectly vertical before cutting a hole in my desk?. Two of the answers there cover a homemade jig and a commercial one.

So again, depending on how often you need that functionally it might be better to start with a jig. Once you get an idea how often you need it then maybe you will know if a drill press is right for you.

0

This doesn't answer for a drill press specifically, but is the method I use for choosing any major power tool purchase.

1) I determine the price range breakdowns for a given tool. You will see natural breaks in manufacturer pricing across a given variable. Often it is hobbyist, pro-sumer, proffesional, industrial or something like that. The size of the motor will usually be a key factor. Quality of key mechanics will also matter - such as bearings.

2) I identify 3 models in the price range I'm comfortable with. I do this by looking around on the web to see what other people suggest and so forth. Often tool round-ups on blogs or buying guides in woodworking publications work for this.

3) Next I make a chart of the specifications that seem pertinent to the tool and put this in a research document for my tool. Here is an example for a bandsaw purchase: enter image description here

4) I then create a section in my research document for each model and start digging around on the web for more pros and cons. I list them under each models section with links.

5) I search for specific gripes on each tool of the 3 chosen. Some models of tools seem to be known for certain problems - some you can live with or not.

6) I look for any oddities with respect to repair or upkeep of the tool. If the tool has an oddball proprietary chuck or something, might be a no-go if you're hoping to run to a box store and buy replacements.

7) I check forums on the tools. Again documenting with links any issues or advantages.

8) I see if I can find the tool in a store. And I watch several videos of the tool in use.

9) Look for deals on the tool. Sometimes a tool needs to be shipped - but freight can be averted in the right circumstance. There's also the chance that it will go on sale at a certain time. I will contact sellers of the tool and specifically ask that question.

10) Buy the tool. Examine it when it arrives and make sure everything is functioning properly and there's no damage - contacting the seller immediately if there's any problems.

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