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Drill Press Facts

By Contributor ; Updated September 21, 2017

The drill press is a key piece of equipment for any woodworking shop. Its power and control makes it possible to drill larger and deeper holes than you can make with a hand-held drill. A drill press can also be used to sand or polish a piece of material by placing a specialized attachment in the chuck instead of a standard drill bit.


A drill press is a fixed drill mounted on a spindle that can be raised or lowered in a vertical line. A variable-speed motor spins the drill at a selected speed while the operator pulls down on a lever to drop the drill bit into the working stock. Drill presses can be a free-standing floor model or a smaller unit mounted onto a work bench. Floor models are generally sturdier and can handle more powerful engines.


The throat size is the key measurement when deciding what size drill press to buy. The throat size is the distance from the vertical pillar to the exact middle of the table. Drill press sizes are generally listed by the amount of swing, which is twice the throat distance. For example, a 20-inch drill press will actually have a 10-inch throat.


The main benefit of using a drill press over a hand drill is that it takes much less effort by the operator. Instead of being forced to apply his or her body weight to the drill to generate force, the operator can use the leverage of the drill press. The working stock can also be clamped directly to the table of the drill press, so it cannot shift while the spindle is being lowered. Some drill presses have an adjustable table, permitting perfect drilling of angled holes.

Geared Head

Geared head drill presses use gears inside the head of the machine to transfer power from the motor into the drill's spindle. This reduces the amount of maintenance because there are no belts to replace. The spindle is controlled by a lever and three-speed motor, allowing the operator to change the gear ratio to vary the speed of the drill. Geared head drill presses are common in commercial settings where the same settings will be used repeatedly.

Radial Arm

A radial arm drill press also uses a geared head, but the head can be adjusted along a swinging arm. This allows the operator to work on a large piece of stock without having to keep moving it around on the table. The arm can also swing out of the way to make it easier to get the large stock onto the table and clamped into place. A large radial arm drill press can make holes up to four inches in diameter.


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