A Drill Press For Woodworking?
Some may be surprised that woodworkers even need a good drill press as a starting tool. Well, shall I say we at least need something that works for what we do. The question becomes, which brand best fits the bill and at what price range?
As I am writing this know that I do not gain anything from any company in this article. My opinions here are mine alone. I will include here a link source to part information for those who are not familiar with drill press parts.
With this know that the purpose and needs you have may vary from that of my own. I will give you the most critical pieces to watch out for when shopping that often is never explained. This way you will at least be armed with the most essential information to watch out for.
Things To Watch Out For In Pricing A Cheaper Drill Press
In real world application the greater problems you face can come from the motors. You will see many advertised with two ratings. One will be amps and the other horse power.
Not all are equal despite comparing spec sheets and claims to being the same horse power or amperage. For example the Porter Cable 8 amp 12 speed drill press rates in their specs at 1hp. So with this let’s run a comparison.
The Powermatic PM2800B rates in at 1hp as well but two different settings. It can run at 7.5 amp and also 15 amp. What does this mean for these two tools?
Amps within a motor such as these tools determine how long a motor can run before heat begins to degrade the life and electrical components. It has less to do with power. The components, circuitry, and design impact how efficient this rating should be taken as well.
Horse power is also misleading. This is determined through a mathematical formula in a relationship between speed and torque. Yet the problem is how a given company will calculate these numbers.
Because a machine is rated at 1hp does not mean it is truly 1hp. Most manufacturers use the stalling torque as their max number. So if your Drill Press reaches 1hp and it stalls, that is no good.
What should be used instead is the number for sustained torque while running. This would give a more true indication of what the motor can do or should be expected.
Keep these points in mind when shopping especially with the common chain store brands. What you often see is not what you are really getting for your dollar.
In the above comparison between Porter Cable and the Powermatic you have the Porter’s numbers maxing out where the Powermatic’s begins. The Porter Cable is clearly inferior for a reason and also consider its numbers are most likely calculated at stalling torque.
The Powermatic on the other hand can deliver a lot more. Yet this is also reflected in the price. The former is between 500 to 600 dollars while the latter is near 2k usd. The prices you see reflect what is put into the machine.
What Makes A Good Drill Press?
If you need portability then obviously a portable option is good for you. Others may need a greater swing height and spindle stroke. These variables will come into play for everyone and further impact potential cost.
From my experience some of the features which I look for cannot be found in a spec sheet. I need to see and feel the machine with my hands. Here is what I personally look for.
1. How smooth is the feel as the drill press moves on the stroke under load? Unfortunately most stores will not let you experiment with actual drilling.
2. Is the spindle solid when the bit is locked in? I want little to no play in the spindle as the stroke is in process of drilling. Again this is something to see in real use.
3. How easy is it to adjust the base height? Here it is more than just the ease of movement. If I really need a specific height with measured control could I get that?
4. Last but not least I like metal housing around the motor and of course a steel base. I also do prefer higher amps to get more motor life and beat the heat buildup while working.
I will get into brand difference soon yet for a Drill Press I personally care less about the brand. For what I like in cost to efficiency as well as lifespan I will land somewhere in the mid tier brands.
For most small shops a Drill Press does not need to be expensive. It needs to drill a clean hole, straight, and to depth with necessary power.
Better Brands To Look For
The better brands are names like Powermatic, Jet, Rikon, and even Teknatool which some have never heard of. The better machines are made in the USA. Virtually all machines today have electrical components made in Asia and you are not going to avoid that.
A better drill press can have a steel or cast iron table. This I do like and yes I use paste wax to protect the steel pampering this premium feature.
For those who get hung up on 100% made in the USA allow me to throw something your way. You really need to dive into the QC of companies that come from Taiwan. They have the ability to produce quality products and compete with American quality.
China on the other hand can be hit and miss. They have improved over the past decade but much depends on what brand and where it comes from. The problem there is tracing that source as often it seems to come out of a black hole of who knows where.
I know with mills they certainly have made great strides within some brands for electrical components which go into many parts. This includes improving the quality of spindles.
Overall when it comes to tools like a drill press I would have no issues with Jet being from Taiwan. So what about China?
Lesser Brands Of Drill Press
Now we get to the brands like Porter Cable. Most of the tools made by Porter comes from China and Mexico. Suddenly the price tag between the 500 dollar drill press and the 2k Powermatic begins to make more sense.
Companies like Delta have a back and forth relationship between the USA and Taiwan, then other parts and products from China. Yet their QC I would say falls well below the specs of Jet. That is my opinion and some Delta fans I am sure would disagree.
It really depends on when and where their tool was made. For me that is really inconsistent. Yet when it comes to tools like a Drill Press I would not hesitate at owning a Delta. I would not say the same for my table saw, that is an altogether different story.
Wen and Rockwell are obviously made in China and would be the last on my list of brands for buying a Drill Press. Well for that matter they are last on my list for pretty much any tool. Here you are diving into the Harbor Freight lines but they can also show up at places like Lowes.
Palmgren has had historically mixed sourcing of parts. It would seem they put things together from these sources. I do remember seeing in a woodworking forum it often stated that “Palmgren and quality are words that do not go together”. So your mileage may vary.
General used to be Canadian based but went out of business and General International is now branding on tools that appear to come from Asia. Just like the Black Bull brand it is the “black hole” of what appears to be somewhere in China.
If you are looking at buying a drill press from one of these black holes of assembled parts from who knows where, as a hobbyist I am sure it will serve you in occasional use. I personally would go with no less than a Delta.
For the comparison in cost to Delta why deal with the “black hole” from some unknown factory in China? Chinese quality is improving, it just is not there yet in these lesser products.
What Do I Think About A Cheap Press?
The first Drill Press I ever owned was given to me. It was definitely a cheaper one which you could find at any hardware store in town. Yet it worked at the time for what I needed.
I did have to fight it. My most frequent project for the machine was drilling holes for wood hinges that I hand make. As you can imagine the holes had to be straight. It wasn’t an option.
To achieve this I had to drill slowly. It required applying a little pressure at a time, remove material, and then go again. It had just enough power to supply the needs I required and that was sufficient.
If you read what I just gave you carefully then you would pick up on a few notes. Even if the Drill Press you have is not the best, how you use it matters. You can prevent heavy loads by controlling how fast you ask it to drill and the pressure you apply.
Clearly you are not going to be drilling through cast iron with a cheap three hundred dollar press. All things being reasonable we are talking about the occasional use within daily shop needs.
The frequency of use really matters as much as how it is used. If it is a few times a week then most models at Lowes will do fine. Just match the general specs to what you need.
I would say the same for those who use it a couple times a day. Naturally I would avoid the obvious garbage that tends to be sold in chain stores. Yet there is no need to go buy a Powermatic.
Best Drill Press Of Whatever Year
You will find too many blog posts online with the best Drill Press or xyz tool for the current year. Its garbage copy and paste crap paid by vendors or the collaboration of those companies.
Generally speaking when you see those pages advertising the best of the year nothing at all has really changed from the past five years. It is just marketing. The only times to really pay attention is when a company has turned over, or has historically changed hands frequently.
I talk about tools some here in my blog but never am I paid for it. The breakdown I just gave you is a no nonsense look at where they come from and the why behind prices and quality. So while the application here is for a Drill Press you can take that general perspective across all tools.
When it comes to something like a Drill Press I really do not invest a lot of money into them personally. It is not something I see as a critical component to my studio. It is necessary, but not the focus.
Would I personally spend 2k on a Powermatic? No I wouldn’t. Yet at the same time I would also not hesitate at buying the 800 to 1k dollars Jet. The point here is that the Drill Press would probably last for the rest of my life due to how frequent I would use it.
What Really Matters?
Get the Drill Press which matches your needs. Have a decent amperage to handle heat as you work and try to get at least a 1hp model. If that rating is calculated at the stalling torque then you should be good anywhere between .5 to .75hp with its amp rating.
Keep in mind those margins matter with how long it is running to achieve the end goals of your project. Longer run times with higher amp and at higher hp mean more potential degradation of lower end tools.
Outside of that choose the one which has the features you prefer. Benchtop vs floor mount, table size, height, and the myriad of other things they offer will be specific to needs. Just do not get sucked into the crap marketing of some blogger pushing a brand.
Choose what you need but also smartly for the hard earned money you are giving them.