Drill press: the proper tool for drilling straight, round holes

Our latest entry in the “Why didn’t we do this two years ago?” category is buying a bench mounted drill press. This thing is so much easier to work with than a hand drill.

We’ve been able to borrow access to our neighbor’s floor mounted monster drill on occasion, but he’s a woodworker and aluminum swarf is a bad idea to have around his shop. Now we have our own hole maker.

If you’ve ever had a drill bit “grab” in the wood or metal you’re drilling by hand, you’ll know how dangerous it is to have your arms wrenched around as the bit stops and the hand drill keeps moving.

The other problem we faced with drilling items by hand was ensuring that the holes went through the material at the correct angle. Once you get thicker than around 1/4″, holes that aren’t perpendicular are going to cause you problems once you start trying to thread bolts through them.

A drill press resolves those issues for you. There’s no way the drill head is going to rotate if the bit “grabs” in the piece you’re drilling. It’s also less likely to grab in the first place because the drill bit isn’t wobbling in the hole. The drill press pretty much guarantees a straight, circular hole. Sure, the piece you’re drilling could start rotating, but that’s why there’s a sturdy table to clamp things down on.

What we bought

WEN is a relatively new brand in the USA. The quality is definitely sufficient for hobbyists. The price is just right. We bought the WEN 4214 12″ variable speed model from Amazon. It is adjustable between around 550 and 3200 RPM. We went with this model because it has a 3″ stroke and a 5/8″ chuck. If you aren’t going to be drilling really deep or really big holes, they do smaller models for equally good prices.

WEN 4214 12" variable speed drill press
Our awesome new WEN 4214 12″ variable speed drill press

As far as we can make out, the 12″ designation in the product name refers to the distance between the motor and the chuck spindle. It’s not the distance from the chuck to the pillar (6″) or the height from the base to the chuck (almost 2′).

Read the manual!

It’s nice to find a tool that comes with an instruction manual that has an exploded parts diagram in the back, complete with part numbers for every part. It gives us confidence that this thing isn’t just designed to be thrown away if a part stops working. It’s definitely more industrial than consumer oriented in its design and construction. The manual reflects that, too.

It’s worth reading the manual. It tells you to clean the grease off several of the parts. It’s protective grease to stop rust from forming on the surfaces during shipping rather than lubricating grease, so it has to be removed before you start using the tool.

It’s also essential to remove all the grease and dirt from the inside of the drill chuck before you mount it. The chuck is a friction fit. Any lubricants would obviously give it too little friction. Any dirt or engineering residue could push it off-center on its spindle and then it would wobble.

While you could undoubtedly figure out how to put this thing together without opening the manual, there were a couple of set-up steps in the manual that help ensure the drill bit is perpendicular to the drill table and show you how to deal with any adjustments that might be needed.

Setup took about an hour in total, including the time to clean the packing grease off the bare metal parts and securely bolt the whole unit to our workbench.

Drilling holes is fun again

We still need to get some proper clamps for the drill table, but already even with a regular c-clamp the drill has made our lives much easier. We used it to drill out our hitch pin to add a locking retainer, and we used it to make the brackets for our awning mounting project. It’s plenty powerful to cut through 3/8″ aluminum, and the hardened steel hitch pin was not an issue with some drops of oil on the drill bit.

If you’re just starting on a conversion project – or even half way through one – you will be drilling a ton of holes. A drill press makes the whole process much more pleasurable. You also end up with more accurately drilled, perpendicular holes. Considering how (comparatively) cheap this WEN model was, we think it’s a good return on the investment.

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