Workshop Wednesdays – Exploit Your Drill Press

Monday 9 July 2018

The drill press is much more useful than you would at first think and there are a few really good jigs and tips that will help you squeeze even more value from this machine.

False table with fence


The simplest addition is a custom-made false table with fence that can be bolted in place on the main table. This measure will instantly make the machine much more versatile


As well as providing extra support and safety, the false table allows you to drill a series of holes the same distance in from the edge of the work without having to mark out each time


Notice that the fence has a rebate machined in the bottom edge where it meets the table. This prevents any swarf that accumulates on the table from stopping the workpiece seating back properly against the fence

Parallel guide


If you don't happen to have a dedicated mortiser you can use this fence as a parallel guide to drill a series of overlapping holes. This technique will remove the bulk of the waste in a mortise

Even spacing


If holes have to be evenly spaced, as you would find for the shelf support studs in a bookcase side, then add a simple indexing pin of some sort that locates in the previous hole each time you drill the next one

Repetition drilling


A simple fence like this makes repetition drilling of any sort dead easy and you can clamp on end stops as well to make alignment foolproof. If you are having trouble with chuck clearance when working close to the fence with short drill bits, use a series of jacking pieces to lift the work, see photo. These packing pieces are always useful to have around as you are nearly always working within a small table-to-chuck range, and packing up the workpiece is often quicker than raising the table on the rack and pinion, particularly if you don't want to disturb any alignment settings


Drilling a series of holes all to the same depth is obviously easy if you have a sophisticated depth stop…


… but if your drill press is more basic and you want to repeat drill to more than one depth without changing the settings, tape a wooden spacer in place to act as a temporary stop

Safe practice

Safety is often overlooked on the drill press as they do not present the obvious dangers of spinning blades or teeth, but they are still quite capable of inflicting injuries, most accidents being caused by the wood spinning when a drill jams or breaks through the underside of the work. It goes without saying that you need a drill vice for holding small items; you should never rely on holding them with your fingers


If the stock is long there is a danger of it swinging round and clouting you if the drill snatches. In this case use the machine column as a stop to eliminate the danger


Drilling round pieces is not without its own problems, but if the stock is relatively large in diameter you can usually hold it securely enough by hand or in a drill vice, though this can mark the surface…


… a better way, particularly if the stock is smaller in diameter, is to use a V-block that provides perfect support without any danger of damage

Pocket hole screwing


Pocket hole screwing has become a very popular way of assembling furniture, but it is difficult to drill the holes accurately enough freehand so you need a jig of some sort. On the drill press add a false fence to your table with the face angled at 15° to ensure perfect positioning each time

Smoothing curved edges


A sanding drum held in the chuck is very efficient at smoothing curved edges while keeping them a true 90° to the face. Use a backing board with a hole in it on the drill press table to allow access to the whole sanding surface and to spread the wear evenly over the length of the sleeve


Rigging up a temporary fence turns the drum sander into a mini thicknesser, allowing you to clean up the face and edges of small workpieces

Setting angles


Although most drill tables have an angle scale these usually leave a lot to be desired, so if you need accurate angles, set them manually using a protractor


Sometimes it is difficult to get the angle you want simply by tilting the table, and in these situations it is better to use a home-made angling jig which clamps to the main table. This can be as simple as two bits of MDF hinged together, with a couple of threaded bars for height adjustment. Although very basic, it works really well for any type of angle drilling and is much easier to set than the tilting table


Used in conjunction with a V-block for round stock…


… angle drilling for chair legs and the like becomes dead easy and very controllable. To some extent the same effect can be achieved using your standard sub-table and fence and tilting the main table to create the V-block, but fine-tuning the angle is nowhere near as easy

Use jig for clearance

Another reason for using a jig rather than tilting the table is clearance. Often tilting the table with only relatively small workpieces causes the capstan handles to foul. You can usually overcome this by unscrewing one of the levers and just using the other two.


If you need to drill into the end of long pieces it is often better to tilt the table to 90° and clamp the work to this. If you need to drill deeper than the travel of the quill, stop the drill, raise the table and then have another go, but do clear out the swarf as you work

Dowel truing


Start up the drill and hold a piece of abrasive wrapped around a square-cut block of wood against the revolving dowel, maintaining downward pressure with the quill all the time. As the dowel trues up to the correct size it will gradually disappear through the hole so you know it must be the right size. Use a medium to slow speed to minimise any burning of the dowel in the hole


When truing up a long piece, stop the drill and raise the table when you run out of quill travel

It seems to be difficult to get good-quality dowelling these days. For a start you have all the nonsense of metric dowel and imperial drills and no matter how many bits you have you never seem to have the right size! Then even if you do have the proper one, the dowel itself is often badly formed and probably it is not even round.

Ideally the dowel needs to be perfectly sized to the hole you want to fit it into and this neat little trick trues and sizes it in seconds. Drill a hole in a piece of scrap wood with a drill bit a fraction bigger than the dowel size you wish to create. Countersink the rim of this hole to help the dowel enter it easily.

Grip one end of the dowel in the drill press and arrange the jig so that the dowel can pass through both it and the central hole in the table. Clamp the jig in place. Start up the drill and hold a piece of abrasive wrapped around a square-cut block of wood against the revolving dowel, maintaining downward pressure with the quill.

As the dowel trues up to the correct size, it will gradually disappear through the hole and you know it must be the right size. Use a medium to slow speed to minimise any burning of the dowel in the hole. If you are truing up a long piece, stop the drill and raise the table when you run out of qull travel.

Centring drill


The business of centring the drill bit is sometimes critical and I was recently struggling to drill an accurate hole in the end of some small-diameter dowels. After several abortive attempts I eventually swapped the position of the drill bit and dowel, gripping the dowel in the chuck of the drill press and the bit in the drill vice, see photo. Lowering the revolving dowel onto the stationary drill had the effect of pulling it dead central and the holes were drilled perfectly, not an obvious method, but sometimes a different approach is needed