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5 Drilling & Boring

Wednesday 11 July 2018

The next type of tools to look at for your basic toolkit are those used for hole boring.

The process of cutting a hole is one of the most widespread of all woodworking jobs, whether it be for dowel jointing, screwing, pocket screwing, plugging, or to drill holes in masonry to support wall-mounted joinery.

Drilling tools

If you want to start your basic toolkit without any powertools, then you are going to need hand tools to help you drill these holes. When I got my first toolkit as a trainee carpenter way back in the day, I had two basic hole cutting tools: a brace and bit, and a handwheel drill. And, with properly sharpened bits, the results you can get with these tools are very good.

1 As a joiner, the brace and bit was one of my most widely used tools, particularly useful for boring out slots in doors to take locks. Many woodworkers have used the old brace and bit for boring out mortises and dowel joints over the years, and the tool makes a remarkably good job of it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but is very good for cutting deep straight holes, up to a diameter of about 32mm.

2 The bit, usually a Jennings pattern, which doesn't have a central straight running core, just a spiral, is held in place by a two-jaw threaded chuck. The U-shaped part of the brace is a kind of crankshaft.

It gives the brace much greater torque than other hand drills, so can be used to drill wider and deeper holes, but at a slower rate. The bits work by having a self-feeding screw tip which centres the bit on the workpiece and then pulls it into the wood as it turns. Then, on the outside of the bit is a spur, which slices through the wood, creating a nice clean edge to the hole. The helical flute then removes waste material.

3 The handwheel drill is needed for drilling much smaller holes in timber, and uses twist bits. It is an old-fashioned design, but again works very well. It is often fitted with a small three-jaw chuck and takes bits smaller than is practical in a brace. Because of the gearing, the bit turns much faster than with a brace. Good sharp twist bits are essential.

4 These days, however, you can do without either of these bits of kit if you get yourself a good cordless combi drill driver. If you get a power tool with a variable speed motor, then it can run slowly to use auger bits, fast to use flat cutting bits, and anything in between for twist bits.


So you've got a brace, handwheel drill or, more likely, a combi drill/driver, it's now the selection of bits that is crucial. There are many different varieties of bits available. I would recommend a good set of auger or flat bits, depending on whether you have a brace or combi drill, and a good set of twist bits.

5 Flat bits are very good for the quick cutting of holes with a power drill, but they are not the most accurate, and produce a lot of splintering when they emerge from the workpiece. I actually prefer a Jennings pattern bit on a slow speed for more accurate holes. But even here you have to be very careful when the bit exits the workpiece. And please note, some auger bits are designed with a shank for the chuck on a brace: if you are buying auger bits for a cordless, make sure you get the right variety of shank.

6 Other similar patterns include the centre bit, which has a similar

cutting mechanism to the Jennings bit, but unlike the Jennings, and as the name suggests, a central shaft.

7 Yet another pattern is the adjustable wood bit which has a small pilot bit with an adjustable, sliding cutting edge mounted above it, usually with a single sharp point at the outside. The cutting edge can be slid out to make a varied diameter of holes, this allows a single drill bit to drill a wide variety of holes, but is only for use with a brace.

8 Another important pattern of wood boring bit is the Forstner bit. The beauty of the Forstner is that it can bore a wide, shallow hole and, because the bit doesn't have a self-feeding screw thread, if you are drilling a hole in thin material and don't want the bit to poke through the back of the material, they work a treat. In reality, however, the Forstner bit is best used in a drill press or lathe, as they can be quite hard to control. If you take care, however, they can be used with a cordless, but only with a variable speed drill as this gives you the required control.

9 One of the more recent developments is the 3D bit. This is designed to cut straight holes but can also be used to cut around corners. As you cut into the workpiece you can actually tilt the drill to force the bit to cut around the bend, handy when cutting access holes or cutting non straight holes for cables and pipes etc. More of use for tradesmen than anything else, but useful for some DIY jobs as well.

10 When setting up your basic tool kit, you will definitely need a set of ordinary twist bits. If you plan on just cutting wood, then the best twist bits are brad points. These have the normal fluted body of a drill, but at the cutting point there is an extra centering spike which helps to accurately centre the bit.

11 If you plan on making cupboards, etc, for hanging on the wall, you'll need a decent set of masonry bits as well. The masonry bit shown here is a variation of the twist drill bit. The bulk of the tool is a relatively soft steel and has an insert of tungsten carbide, brazed into the steel to provide the cutting edges. If you are wanting to use masonry bits, you should invest in a combi drill driver which has a hammer action. If you are going to be cutting larger diameters then a set of hole saw bits are useful, too. Hole saws take the form of a small circular saw with the teeth parallel to the axis of the drill. They can be used on wood, metal and other materials (see photo 4 for hole saws).

12-13 Another important aspect of hole boring is countersinking and/or plugging. If you are using screws to make a joint you will probably want to hide the head. Here then you need a countersinking and/or plugging kit. There are sets available that cut your countersinking hole for you, and then have a plug cutter which will match a wood plug to your countersunk hole, so that the plug can be glued in place after the screw is tightened to hide the screw head. The plug is later cleaned off and sanded level to provide an almost perfect finish. These countersinkers and plug cutters can either be drill or router based. Router based ones offer a more accurate cut, as you are guaranteed to cut the countersink vertical.

14 If you are going to use a lot of screw joints, it is probably worth investing in a pocket screw jig. This allows you to drill angled holes in carcass members to screw and glue these joints. You can then drop in plugs behind the screws for a decent finish.

15 Last but not least I must mention the bradawl. Really just a sharp point held in a handle, it is great for hole cutting. It is an amazingly useful bit of kit, and can be used to mark centre points for drilling so that the drill bit will not wander. Not only that, but it can be pushed a little deeper into the timber, and forms a great pilot hole for small screws!


At this point it is worth taking a little diversion into the screwdriving options you will need for a basic toolkit. For an indepth look at screwdriving, take a look at our Anthony's technique article Thread Head in WPP36.

16-17 For the basic toolkit with drill driver, you will need a good set of bits. Many manufacturers sell comprehensive sets for drilling and screwing, with all the various bits required. You should buy a set with a range of Phillips, Pozidrive, hex, star and flat bits to cover all of your screwing needs.

18 Of course, if you want to start up without a combi drill driver, and even if you do, you will probably want to invest in a good set of screwdrivers. You never know when they will come in handy, not only for woodworking, but also machine maintenance, etc.

Well, this article, along with the earlier ones in the series, more or less covers all the tools you'll need for your basic toolkit.

Next month, having introduced the drill/driver this month, I will take a look at some of the basic power tools you may want to purchase as your woodworking skills improve.