So you are thinking of getting a pillar drill (a.k.a. bench drill, drill press)? That probably means that you are a relatively active DIY-er or newly-minted professional and you have discovered some of the limitations of the humble hand drill. So right now you are probably trying to decide whether it is worth the investment … and the answer to that is almost certainly yes. You might be thinking to yourself that everything you can do with a pillar drill, you can do with the hand drill that you already own. Well, that is probably somewhat true, but DIY life gets a whole lot easier having the pillar drill around. Below are some of the obvious (and not so obvious) reasons for getting one:
Why buy a Pillar Drill?
- Hole placement accuracy: The key reason for investing in a pillar drill is accuracy. Pillar drills facilitate the very precise positioning of holes in a workpiece. That is not to say that you can’t do the same thing with a hand drill, it’s just that you can do it so much easier and reproducibly with a drill that is fixed to your bench top.
- Perpendicularity of the drilled hole: One aspect that DIY-ers using a hand drill often overlook is how perpendicular the drilled hole is to the plane of the workpiece. Most of the time this is not a big issue, but if perpendicular accuracy is important, say you want to drill through a particularly thick piece of stock, then this can be difficult with a hand drill. When drilling through acrylic (perspex) or other materials that have a tendency to fracture under pressure, it can also be particularly important that the holes are exactly perpendicular especially if you plan on attaching fixings to the surface of the workpiece. This will ensure proper fixings alignment and also prevent unsightly fracturing around the hole.
- Accurate hole depth: Not all drilling involves going through the workpiece completely. Sometimes, you just want a hole on one side of the workpiece while the opposite side remains pristine. In such a situation, a pillar drill is far superior to a hand drill and relies far less on the skill of operator. It’s easier to do it time and time again too. With a pillar drill you can easily make multiple holes all of the exact same depth – try doing that with a hand drill!
- Drilling at an angle: With a pillar drill, workpieces can be easily fixed at an obscure angle to the drill bit allowing you to drill holes at precise angles to the plane of the workpiece without the fear of the drill bit slipping off.
- Easier on yourself: Having the drill fixed to the workbench obviates the need for holding the drill. This might not be an issue for the occasional bit of drilling, but if you are considering purchasing a pillar drill in the first place, then you are probably more the semi-professional type than the odd-job handyman and you use your drill far more than the regular Joe.
- Greater force: Through the action of leverage, pillar drills allow for more force to be applied to a workpiece allowing you to cut deeper and easier through harder materials. In addition, since you are not holding the drill yourself, pillar drill motors can be made much more powerful (= heavier) since weight is not a critical issue.
- Variable drill speed: With a pillar drill, the speed of rotation can be precise and is much more consistent compared to varying the pressure on a hand drill trigger. With that comes the ability to adjust drilling speeds to cope with materials of varying hardness, different hole sizes, and increasing the longevity of the drill bit. In general, using too fast a drill speed can heat up and degrade drill bits faster, while using too slow a speed can lead to poorly cut holes (and just takes longer!).
- Other uses besides drilling: With the right attachments, a bench drill can be used for activities other than just regular drilling including sanding, grinding, mortising, and just about anything where you need a fixed rotating spindle.
What to look for when buying a Pillar Drill?
Number of speeds
Most modern pillar drills can be set to a number of different speeds. This can be useful when drilling different materials as each material, whether it be wood, metal, plastic, or anything else, has an optimal drill speed at which it can be drilled most efficiently. This is especially important when drilling materials which are prone to overheating, such as metals, where the overheating can interfere with the drilling process (for ideal drilling speeds in different metals check out the Ultimate Handyman’s Guide). Consequently, the more speeds the pillar drill is capable of being set to, the greater its capability. On most pillar drills, changing drill speed involves a rather crude manual process of moving a rubber belt between different sized wheels located in the head of the pillar drill. More expensive machines do this speed change electronically which is a significant improvement upon the tedious manual method.
Accuracy of the rotating spindle
The ideal pillar drill will have a spindle that rotates perfectly around the longitudinal axis of the drill bit and is commonly referred to as ‘the spindle running true’. This allows the drill bit to pass through the material being drilled more easily and does so with more accurate drill holes. Most budget pillar drills have a tiny bit of play in their spindle rotation however for most drilling jobs, this is inconsequential. More expensive machines will tend to have more accuracy on the spindle as they will have likely been manufactured to a higher specification.
Spindle travel or maximum drill depth
Spindle travel refers to the maximum distance that a pillar drill can lower its drill bit to during the drilling process. This provides a good approximation to the maximum depth that a pillar drill can drill to at any one time. In general, one wants as high a spindle travel distance as possible to maximise the overall capability of the pillar drill.
Size of the chuck and locking mechanism
The size of the chuck (i.e. the part of the drill that holds the drill bit) determines the maximum size drill bit shank that the pillar drill can accept. However, this does not mean that the pillar drill is restricted to drilling holes of that maximum size as most larger drill bits come with shank diameters that are smaller than the drill bit size itself specifically so that they can fit into smaller chucks. Chucks can be keyed or keyless, which refers to the mechanism used to secure the drill bit in the drill chuck, with the keyless variety being much more efficient to use. Ideally in your new pillar drill, you want a (keyless, if possible) chuck that can handle as many different-sized drill bit shanks as possible.
The power of the pillar drill motor correlates with the overall capability of the drill and the materials it can efficiently drill into. Thicker and harder materials require a more powerful motor to drill through them effectively and without any inadvertent slowing down or stopping of the rotating chuck. Therefore, the greater the motor power of the pillar drill, the more versatile the drill.
Another important characteristic to understand when buying a pillar drill is the throat depth of the machine. This refers to the horizontal distance between the centre of the drill chuck (ie. the drilling point) and the nearest wall of the pillar drill column (see picture). The throat depth is an important characteristic to take into account when needing to drill holes at more central locations of workpieces as the throat depth will limit how far in from the edge of a workpiece that the drill bit is capable of reaching. In recognition of this important characteristic of drilling with a bench drill, some pillar drills have been designed with extendable drill heads that can increase the throat depth as required (up to a defined maximum). Ultimately, the higher the throat depth of a bench drill, the more capable the pillar drill.
What are the best Pillar Drills in the UK?
Buying the best pillar drill / drill press is very much a matter of deciding on the product that meets your needs. There is a range of pillar drills with differing features, and as their capability increases, so does the cost. One thing to note for the most basic type of pillar drill, the 5-speed belt-driven units, is that they are almost identical to each other except for colour and branding. As a result, here we only discuss the preferred versions of this type of drill at the time of writing.
Popular Pillar Drills in the UK
|Pillar Drill||Drive||Max Chuck Capacity||Max Drilling Depth|
|Lumberjack DP13-580B||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||--|
|Silverline 262212||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm|
|Sealey SDM30||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm|
|Dirty Pro Tools||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||100mm|
|Guild 350W||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm|
|Wolf 350W||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||105mm|
|Fox F12-941||12-speed||16mm (keyed)||60mm||126mm|
|Draper 42638||16-speed||16mm (keyed)||80mm||165mm|
|Bosch PBD 40||Electronic||13mm (keyless)||90mm||125mm|
Silverline 262212 (our favourite) Review
The Silverline 262212 bench drill is the most basic type of pillar drill available. It belongs to a family of generic pillar drills where retailers have essentially taken the same drill press and added their own branding and colouring to it. So essentially you are getting the same pillar drill that just looks aesthetically different. But there is nothing wrong with that so long as its capabilities match your drilling needs. In fact, if this is the drill for you, then it is rather a good thing that there are so many sellers offering essentially the same exact drill as it provides the opportunity for getting it at a great price. At the time of writing, the Silverline 262212 is the pillar drill to buy at this level.
So does this basic type of pillar drill suit your needs? If you are a DIY-er buying their first pillar drill, then the answer is most probably yes. It provides all the function of a pillar drill but lacks the more advanced features of more professional drills in order to remain reasonably priced for the consumer. The important aspects of drilling, such as whether the spindle runs true (so you can cut precise and straight holes) have been taken into account with the Silverline 262212 while convenience of functions and overall build quality have taken more of a back seat. As a result, the drill is fiddly to change speeds and is noisy at high speeds. But then again, for the price, it is excellent value. The machine itself is approximately 60cm high and has a throat depth of 10.4cm meaning that the furthest away from the edge of a workpiece that a hole can be made is 10.4cm.
One last point to note is that many-an-enthusiastic DIY-er has bought a Silverline drill vice at the same time as purchasing this Silverline drill on the natural assumption that a same-brand accessory would automatically be the best fit for the drill – but buyer beware, this is not the case! The mounting holes on the Silverline drill table are 10.5cm apart (measured from centre to centre) which do not line up to Silverline’s drill vice holes, so make sure that you check your choice of drill vice has compatible fixing holes with the drill table you’re purchasing.
Clarke CDP5RB Review
The CLARKE CDP5RB 5-speed pillar drill is a very similar unit to the Silverline ‘generic’ basic pillar drill described above. In fact, the manufacturers almost certainly source many of the same parts that make up the drills from the same suppliers. As a result, the Clarke CDF5RB can be considered the same machine as the Silverline 262212 above but with a few different components. Once again as with the Silverline version, at this level of pillar drill it is more about finding the best priced one than what features it possesses or the build quality. For a more in-depth analysis of Clarke drill presses, click here.
Sealey SDM30 Review
The Sealey SDM30 pillar drill belongs to the same family of generic 5-speed belt-driven pillar drills as the Silverline 262212 and the Clarke CDP5RB drills described above. Consequently even though it falls under the reputable Sealey name and one might hope for a marginally higher quality product, this is not the case, with the drill being just as ‘rough around the edges’ as its competitor equivalents. For instance, a common theme with these generic drills is that the bearings tend to be noisy with the chuck rattling during operation, while several parts on the machine such as the depth gauge are a bit on the flimsy side, and the Sealey SDM30 is no different.
Users of the Sealey SDM30 drill have also raised the issue that there is a small amount of play in the drill shaft assembly of about 1 or 2mm which means that drill hole accuracy can suffer slightly especially if a punch is not used to start a small hole in the workpiece beforehand. However once again this is not unique to the Sealey-branded version of this drill but is present in the competitor equivalents as well. In fact, these generic 5-speed drills appear to have some variability in manufacturing tolerances meaning that there can be some small differences between different units of the same generic drill, and it can sometimes be a bit of a lottery when purchasing one as some units will have more manufacturing discrepancies than others.
Ultimately, it should be remembered that these pillar drills are basic drills designed mostly for the DIY-er and they are still reasonably good tools considering their low price. So once again the strategy here is to go for the best priced one and be prepared to return faulty ones (or repair yourself if it is a simple fault) until you have got a pillar drill that you are happy with.
Wolf 5-speed drill press Review
The Wolf 5-speed pillar drill is another member of the generic type of five-speed bench drill presses that are available from a number of different brands but which use the same or similar components in the make up of the machines. These drills are usually manufactured in the Far East by a generic manufacturing facility before being adorned with the appropriate client company’s branding. Sometimes there are small differences in the components that are used in the assembly but on the whole they can all be considered to be the same drill but with different branding.
As with the other generic five-speed pillar drills, the Wolf-branded version has a 350W motor that can vary the speed of the chuck from 620 – 2620rpm. The chuck is also keyed and can accept drill bit shanks from 1.5mm up to 13mm, while its travel distance is the same 50mm that one sees in the other generic drills. Throat depth on the Wolf pillar drill is 105mm while the drill table dimensions on the machine are 158 x 160mm. The drill table is also able to be tilted to either side up to 45° for angled drilling while the overall weight of the Wolf machine is a reasonable 12kg.
Just like the other generic five-speed pillar drills, the build quality on the Wolf bench drill is not the best but is more than sufficient for most medium precision DIY work. There is usually a little play in the rotation of the chuck which makes very precise drilling difficult (especially for angled drilling), but then if high precision drilling is required, one would need to spend a lot more on a pillar drill. Similar to other members of this generic drill family, other minor negatives with the Wolf drill include a chuck guard that is a bit of a flimsy plastic affair, while the drilling depth stop is a crude design which is sometimes rendered useless by the sticker that displays the depth measurements becoming detached.
On the more positive side, the Wolf drill press stands out from the other five-speed generic machines by coming with a useful vice attachment accessory for the pillar drill table. In addition, unlike some products sourced from the Far East, the manual of the Wolf pillar drill is written in good English making it easy to understand for both device assembly and usage. Finally, the company behind Wolf tools is the UK home shopping network which is probably better known for being one of television’s shopping channels. This means that there is quite a large and responsible company behind the Wolf pillar drill and this is evidenced through the decent level of customer service that comes with the purchasing of any of their goods.
Fox F12-941 Review
The Fox F12-941 takes the capabilities of the basic pillar drill to the next level. The machine is taller than your basic drill press coming in at an overall height of 82cm. This allows for a larger workspace between the chuck and the work table allowing for greater spindle travel (60mm) and the drilling of deeper holes. With a throat depth of 12.6cm, this allows for holes to be drilled further in from the usual limiting edge of a workpiece. With a 450W motor and the option of 12 different drill speeds as opposed to the usual 5 that you see with the basic models, this is a very capable machine. In addition, it can take a larger drill bit with a maximum width of 16mm instead of the usual 13mm that one sees on the basic pillar drill. One thing to note though is that the smallest drill bit size that it can accommodate is 3mm, but then again using smaller bits with a drill this size is not a common occurrence.
Draper 42638 Review
Every DIY-er has heard of Draper Tools and you yourself right now probably own one or several different Draper tools as the company is heavily involved in just about every aspect of consumer DIY and professional trade work. So it is not surprising then that they also have a range of pillar drills for both the active DIY-er and the professional. Although the Draper 42638 is not the smallest bench-top drill that they produce, it is one of the more popular ones of their range, and like most Draper tools, quality is a standout feature. With a 550W motor and 16 drill speeds, it is a very versatile machine. As with most Draper pillar drills, the worktable is moved up and down by means of a rack and pinion and can be rotated as required which makes for a much easier time when positioning the workpiece. Draper bench drills tend to be more expensive than the equivalent less-familiar brand name pillar drills, but with the Draper brand comes a better design and a superior quality-built tool.
Bosch PBD 40 Review
The Bosch PBD 40 is in a class of its own, and with a price tag that is in the hundreds of pounds, you have to really do a lot of fixed drilling to justify the cost of this machine. Make no mistake about it though, this is a beautiful machine with a lot of convenient features built into the design. One of those features that really stands out compared to other pillar drills is the ability to change drill speed ‘on-the-fly’ at the touch of a button (or in this case, rotation of a dial). This is in contrast to less expensive belt-driven machines that require tools and some time in order to make a drill-speed change. Other standout features are the drill motor, which is much more powerful than your run-of-the-mill pillar drill, and the drill depth capacity, which is also exceptional at almost twice that of pillar drills of the same size. The distance between the centre of the spindle and the supporting post or the throat depth is 12cm while the chuck is keyless, making for rapid bit changes. Other features include an integrated clamp that can be used to hold workpieces securely, a laser for pin-point accuracy and integrated lighting to illuminate the workpiece, but these features tend to be seen as a bit superfluous by most users.
One point to take note of is that although this machine is brilliant for all levels of woodworking as well as general metal-drilling, it falls short when it comes to professional metal work. Of course it can still drill through metal as well as any other pillar drill but don’t let Bosch’s advertising that it is equivalent to a precision metal drilling machine delude you – there is just too much lateral play in the spindle for that qualification. Overall, if you have the cash to spend, then you won’t be sorry adding the Bosch PBD 40 to your workshop.