How do you Use a Drill Press Safely?
Drill presses are one of the most valuable tools you can own. Whether you’re a woodworker or metal worker, a drill press is a must-have tool for your garage workshop.
However, just because it’s an essential tool to have and own doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come without its risks. We’re talking about a rapid-spinning chuck carrying a sharp, metal bit for drilling into hard materials – e.g., wood, plastic, and metal. Without the right care, you could actually end up doing pretty potentially dangerous things, leading to severe injury on both you and your tool.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the major DON’Ts of using a drill press. We’ll also include a quick how-to guide on how you can use your drill press safely in order to reduce the risk of hurting yourself, your stock, and your tool.
What not to do
First, let’s talk about things that you should never do while operating a drill press. This list could go on and on, but we’ll just skim over some things first-time users and amateur wood/metalworkers should be conscious of.
1. Using your hand to clamp the stock
One of the most amateurish mistakes you could make when operating a drill press is attempting to keep your stock stable on the work table with your hand. First of all, it’s never a good idea to put your limbs anywhere near a spinning drill bit. Second, there are clamps and vices that come with the work surface to keep your stock from slipping.
2. Entering the drill bit with excessive pressure
It takes time for a drill bit to penetrate the surface of a material and remove materials. If there seems to be a bit of resistance coming from the wood/metal/plastic workpiece, lift the drill head and then make another attempt at penetrating the material. Do this continuously until the bit can smoothly remove material from your stock.
3. Adjusting speed and depth on the fly
Drill presses come with variable speed features and a depth gauge. These two things are what make drill presses an invaluable tool – efficiency and depth precision. However, while the machine is still running or slowing down, it’s not wise to attempt to turn the speed variable knob or twist the depth gauge’s nuts. Since most drill press models require switching the position of a drive belt, you could end up burning your hand or getting the belt tangled. Wait until the drill bit has come to a complete stop before tinkering with the settings.
4. Leaving the chuck key in the drill chuck
One step that often goes overlooked is removing the chuck key after inserting a new bit in the drill head. Oftentimes, the chuck key will just fall to the ground if there’s nothing to hold it up, but on the off-chance that it stays in place, you should remove it from the chuck as soon as possible. The chuck key won’t go flying due to the rapid-spinning bit, but it can be quite a surprise when plunging the drill head only to find a piece of metal dropping onto your work surface. It can be infinitely worse if the key drops right onto the path of the incoming bit.
5. Stopping the rotation of the chuck and spindle with your hand
Obviously, these DON’Ts exist for a reason – someone who thought they knew better found out they didn’t the hard way. Honestly, how much time can you save by manually stopping the spinning chuck and spindle with your hand or digits? Is it really “saving time” if you manually stop the chuck from spinning 2 seconds before it would naturally come to a full stop? Just keep your hands away from the drill head, bit, chuck, and spindle while the tool is moving.
How to safely operate a drill press
The following segment will include the required steps for operating a drill press safely. Your experience may vary depending on your drill press model.
1. Wear the right gear
Drill presses work by spinning a drill bit at high speeds in order to penetrate through wood, metal, or plastic. This means flying material could go anywhere, including into your eyes. We recommend wearing eye protection, safe clothing (work vest or comfortable, non-baggy clothing), and workshop earmuffs. It’s a good idea to have a mask or respirator on since wood dust can wreak havoc in your lungs when inhaled.
2. Set the speed
To set the speed of your drill press, you need to move the drive belt to the correct pulley. Take a look at the instructions manual that came with your drill press, or study the diagram found in the inside of the latch to access the belt and pulleys. In general, slower speeds are better for drilling through metal, whereas higher speeds are for drilling holes in wood. Once again, be sure that you check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to adjust the speed of your drill press.
3. Attach the right bit
Different materials call for different bits. Drilling through metal requires purchasing and mounting a certain bit, different from what you’d use to drill through wood. You also need to pay attention to the width of the bit before mounting it into the drill press chuck.
Using the chuck key, release the current drill bit until it falls securely away from the chuck. Next, insert the bit you want to use into the chuck at the right depth then twist the chuck key in the opposite direction to tighten it. You can check to see if the bit is mounted securely by giving it a few downward tugs. If it moves even in the slightest, you’ll need to tighten the chuck a bit more.
4. Gauge the depth
The depth gauge is usually a threaded rod found on the left or right side of the machine. To adjust the depth, you need to turn the knurled nuts to the appropriate stopping point. This ensures precise drilling depths with every plunge of the drill head.
5. Set the table
Some drill presses use cranks while others use clamps. Whatever your drill press uses, use the system to adjust the height of the table. Setting the height of the table helps you work on a stock of virtually any thickness. The thicker stock will require that you decrease the height of the work table in order to get the drill bit at the proper depth.
6. Secure the workpiece
Remember how we said you shouldn’t attempt to hold the stock down with a hand? Instead of risking one or multiple fingers, use the provided clamps and/or vices to keep the workpiece securely mounted onto the work table. You can use additional clamps or vices to help with odd-shaped pieces if necessary.
7. Pull the lever to drill through your workpiece
Once everything has already been set, press the start button or flip the switch to get the machine running. Wait until the bit has reached its maximum speed based on the current position of the belt before pulling the feed lever. Be sure to pull the feed lever slowly so you have full control over how quickly the bit will penetrate the workpiece. Be sure to work slowly since excessive pressure can leave burn marks or even cause the workpiece to release from the clamps/vices.
8. Turn the drill press off
Whenever you’re not plunging the head into a workpiece, you should always turn the machine off. Before doing this, turn the lever in the opposite direction to lift the drill head away from the work surface. After the drill bit has completely left the workpiece, press the off button or flip the switch to shut the machine down. Wait until the chuck and drill bit have stopped completely before resetting the speed, depth gauge, table height, or switching bits. The current bit might be hot so you might need a cloth or some gloves when removing the bit from the chuck.