We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Handheld drills are extremely versatile tools, but they have their limits. When you need to use different types of drill bits, in a wide variety of materials, you can't beat the power, precision and repeatability of a drill press.
Drill presses (sometimes called pillar drills) come in all shapes and sizes. It's great to have plenty of choice, but the variety does complicate buying. Do you need a benchtop or floor-standing model? What kind of motor power? How many gears? What about quill travel?
It's not like you can try out different tools to find out which is best. But at BestReviews, we can! We have our own workshops, set up for precisely that purpose. We put each model through a series of tests.
To double-check our findings, we talk with experts in engineering and woodworking. We review the feedback of hundreds of customers.
When we make a recommendation, it's based on a combination of all those elements. It's also important that our analysis is completely unbiased. So to ensure our independence, we never accept manufacturer samples. We go shopping the same way you would, and we buy the same tools you might choose, with our own money.
The five drill presses above have different feature sets, and come in at different prices, but each offers something that puts it above the competition.
If you’re ready to purchase, check out the product matrix.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the ingredients that make a top drill press, read on to our comprehensive report.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Delta 18-Inch Laser
Top Performance, Unrivaled Versatility
There are some very good drill presses around, but few compete with the exceptional Delta 18-inch Laser. It has all the power and features most people will ever need. Sixteen speeds deliver tremendous flexibility. The 5/8" chuck is built to take the biggest drills, forstner bits, and hole saws. The 3/4 hp motor gives you the power to use them effectively. It's immensely rigid. Woodworkers in particular will love the oversize, multi-position table. It's not cheap, but you're investing in the best. We very much doubt you'll be disappointed.
The basic components of a drill press are relatively simple. An electric motor is attached to a gearbox, composed of two sets of stepped pulleys. The number of steps defines the number of speeds available. A v-belt runs between the pulleys, transferring power to a rotating spindle, called a quill. A drill chuck is fitted to this quill. The chuck is raised or lowered using a handle on the side.
This whole head assembly — the drill head — is supported at the top of a steel column. Column height varies, given either a floor-standing drill press, or one designed for benchtop use. A large base (or foot), usually made of cast iron, provides stability.
Running up the side of the column is a gear rack. A table (also cast iron) is clamped to it. A pinion gear and winding handle on the table allows for the table to be raised or lowered.
What makes each drill different is the quality of these components, the various sizes available, and the extra features each manufacturer offers.
Most drill press components are made with a high degree of precision. The rack and pinion that operates the table is often more basic. It's normal for the table to be easier to lower than it is to raise, and some juddering is not unusual. So long as it locks off securely, and remains rigid, this is not a problem.
You might think that horsepower would be a major factor in deciding the best — or at least the most powerful — drill press. In fact, many manufacturers don't even mention it. It's just not that important. A motor between ⅓ hp and ¾ hp is sufficient to drive all but the biggest machinery. A 1 hp drill press would be considered a real monster!
What's more interesting is the number of gears available, and thus, the speed range. This is critical because for best results, you should vary the speed depending on drill size and the material being drilled.
For example, to drill a 3/8" hole in a piece of maple, using a twist drill, 1,500 rpm is the optimum speed. In pine, that speed should be 3,000 rpm, and in acrylic it should be 2,000 rpm. Useful drilling speed charts are readily available online.
Even the most basic drill presses offer five gears, with a speed range of approximately 700 to 3,000 rpm. High-end models offer up to sixteen. The range is extended at the lower end (starting from around 150 rpm) and obviously have more increments, but top speed is unlikely to be much over 3,000 rpm. Higher speeds just aren’t necessary.
When drilling aluminum or steel, heat builds up very quickly, dulling ordinary drill bits in seconds. High Speed Steel (HSS) drill bits should be used. Even then, you should only attempt to drill thin materials. Hot shavings (swarf) can burn your skin and create a fire hazard.
Most drill press tables are quite small; between six square inches and eight square inches is typical. For many jobs, these sizes are perfectly adequate. However, drilling long workpieces can be awkward.
Many people build additional tables to clamp on to the original. A few manufacturers offer bigger tables as standard. These are particularly convenient for woodworkers.
Drill press tables can be tilted to left and right, by 45 degrees in each direction, to allow for drilling holes at an angle. Some can also be tilted forward — allowing you to produce compound angles — though this isn't common.
Marks are usually provided to help you repositioning a table after drilling at an angle. They aren't always as accurate as they could be, so we advise using a square to double check. Likewise, depth gauges may be accurate, but recommend checking with a ruler or caliper.
Something that's often overlooked when people shop for a drill press is quill travel, or quill stroke. This is the distance the chuck travels up and down.
It's actually a very important number, because it defines how deep a hole you can drill. To look at it another way, quill travel is the maximum thickness of material that you can drill a hole through.
Entry-level models will have quill travel of two inches or so. Professional-grade tools could be six inches or more.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
WEN 8-Inch, 5-Speed
The Baby Of The Family
If you need a small, low-cost drill press you won't find better than the Wen 8”, 5-speed. That's because it's not a cheap tool from some no-name importer; it's the entry-level machine from a well-respected manufacturer. You get all the robust engineering that goes into their larger models, in a diminutive package. There's plenty of power from a 1/3 hp motor. The Wen features a 1/2" chuck, five speeds, and two inches of quill travel. It's compact, but it's properly put together.
All drill presses quote a size: the manufacturer will call it an 8” drill press, or a 14" drill press, for example. This can be a little misleading. What this measurement actually indicates is twice the distance from the center of the chuck, to the front of the column. So, in the case of an 8” drill press, if you had a piece of material 8 inches by 8 inches, you could drill a hole in the middle. With a 14” drill press, you could make a hole in the middle of a piece 14 inches by 14 inches.
Eight to ten inches are common sizes for a basic, benchtop model. At the other end of the scale, very few drill presses exceed 24 inches.
The other factor impacting the size of workpiece you can drill is the height available under the chuck. Bear in mind, you can swing the table out of the way, or even remove it entirely if you need to. Floor-standing models clearly have a much greater height capacity than benchtop models.
Always clamp the workpiece securely. A bench press vise that can be bolted to the table is an excellent addition, particularly for drilling small pieces.
Unlike modern cordless hand drills, drill presses do not have keyless chucks. The advantage of a keyed chuck is simple — you can tighten it more than you can by hand alone. This is important because of the forces a drill press can generate. You don't want the chuck coming undone, or the drill bit turning in the chuck instead of the material.
Two sizes of chuck are generally available, 1/2" and 5/8". The size indicates the maximum drill shank the chuck can accommodate, not the maximum drill size. For example, a 3" hole saw might only have a 1/2" shank.
A 1/2" shank will accept the vast majority of drill bits used in garages and home workshops, but some pro tools — such as mortising chisels — have a 5/8" shank. It's a good idea to check the range of drilling bits you intend to use before deciding on a drill press.
If you have repetitive tasks to perform you can often make a simple jig with plywood or composite board. You can use the same materials to make table extensions, to add versatility to your drill press.
Modern drill presses offer a variety of features, so you need to look at each package as a whole. However, the following are valuable additions to a basic machine.
Though brush motors are common, a brushless motor is quieter, more efficient at transferring power (which means it uses less electricity), and more durable.
All drill presses should have a depth stop for the quill, making it convenient to drill multiple holes of the same depth. There should also be a depth gauge on the side of the machine.
Speed selection is simple, if a little frustrating at times. You need to open the gearbox lid, loosen the belt, move it to the desired position and re-tension. Some machines offer automatic belt tensioners to make your life a little easier. They also ensure the belt doesn't slip under load.
A few machines offer variable speed, operated by a lever or dial. It's a big improvement because you don't need to open the gearbox, but it's not common because of the additional expense.
If you do a lot of angled work, you might want to consider a radial drill press. These are very similar to standard drill presses, but the entire drill head can be angled. It's often easier than moving the table, and it gives you the option of drilling multiple holes without moving the workpiece.
Some drill presses offer laser guidance. Two separate lasers project a cross onto the workpiece so you know exactly where you're about to drill. It's an excellent features for those who require greater speed and precision, especially if you need to drill the same hole in numerous pieces. However, it's vital that the lasers are calibrated properly, and you need to check them regularly.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
SKIL 120-Volt, 10-Inch
Superb Value For Money
Bells and whistles are expensive, so most of us compromise. That doesn't mean you choose a bad tool, but you don't get one with all the toys. In this case, you buy a Skil. Ten-inch capacity will cope with many different tasks. You'll rarely need a chuck larger than 1/2". Five speed gives you good flexibility, and the motor is stronger than you'll find on most competitors. There's even a laser for pinpoint drill positioning. It may not be all singing and dancing, but you won't get better reliability, durability or accuracy for the price.
If you look hard enough, you can find a cheap, 8", 5-speed, benchtop drill press, from a brand you never heard of, for around $50. We advise against it. Usually castings are inferior, the table may not be flat, and durability will be suspect.
For around $75, you can get a drill that size from a reputable maker. These drill presses should provide years of trouble-free service.
Above $75, as is often the case with machine tools, the drill press will get bigger and offer more features. A 10” benchtop model costs around $150, while a 12” model will run between $200 and $300.
Floor-standing drill presses tend to have larger capacities and more powerful motors. Prices start around $600 for a 15" model with a 3/4 hp motor, but it's not difficult to spend $1,000 or more for a really good quality, fully-featured machine. That may seem expensive, but we're talking about something that will handle an enormous range of drilling tasks, and ought to last a lifetime.
Radial drill presses start around $300 for a basic machine with five speeds, and are $500 and higher for a floor-standing model.
A light coating of oil on the column will fight rust, and it makes table movement easier.
Some assembly will be required. The drill head with the motor attached is heavy, so it's useful to have a friend help you lift it.
Make sure the drill is unplugged when changing speeds. Be careful of the belts. Trapping a finger is very painful.
Never stop a drill with your hand. A drill’s motor provides significant torquing power, and can do serious harm.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.