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?
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|
|Lumberjack DP13-580B||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||--||300W|
|Dirty Pro Tools||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||100mm||350W|
|Silverline 262212||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm||350W|
|Sealey SDM30||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm||350W|
|Guild 350W||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||104mm||350W|
|Wolf 350W||5-speed||13mm (keyed)||50mm||105mm||350W|
|DART F12-941||12-speed||16mm (keyed)||60mm||126mm||450W|
|Scheppach DP16SL||5-speed||16mm (keyed)||50mm||127mm||550W|
|Draper 42638||16-speed||16mm (keyed)||80mm||165mm||550W|
|Titan TTB541DBT||16-speed||16mm (keyless)||80mm||165mm||700W|
|Bosch PBD 40||Electronic||13mm (keyless)||90mm||125mm||710W|
Drill Press Reviews
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 drilling machine to the Silverline 'generic' basic pillar drill described earlier. The manufacturers of both drills have clearly sourced many of their parts from the same suppliers before branding each machine according to their respective parent companies. As a result, the Clarke CDP5RB can be considered essentially the same drill as the Silverline 262212 but with a few, mostly aesthetic, differences. In addition, the Clarke drill press comes in two colours: the red version discussed here, model number CDP5RB, and a blue version, model number CDP5EB, which are essentially identical machines but in different colours.
Once again, as with the Silverline version, when shopping for this type of generic drill, it is more about finding the best priced one rather than what features it possesses or the build quality. Feature-wise the Clarke CDP5RB is essentially identical to other generic pillar drills in this category, it has a 350W motor as well as 5 drilling speeds from 620 - 2620 rpm, with the speed set through a belt and pulley system. The Clarke drill comes with a traditional keyed chuck that can hold bits with shank sizes ranging from as low as 1-1.5 mm in diameter up to 13 mm. The drill has a maximum spindle travel of 50 mm, while its throat capacity is the typical 104 mm that one sees on all generic drills of this size.
Like most other generic drills of this category, the Clarke machine also comes with a 160 mm x 160 mm square drill table which can be tilted to the left or the right by up to 45º for angled drilling. Power on the pillar drill is controlled by a no-volt safety switch meaning that if there is a power cut while the pillar drill is running, the drill will not start up again after the power is re-established, but instead requires the pressing of the on-switch again.
From a build quality standpoint, the Clarke benchtop drill is just as rough around the edges as its generic brethren, although some of its components are of decent quality. The pulleys, for instance, that make up the drill speed-changing mechanism are made of metal rather than plastic which bodes well for their durability and longevity.
Like so many power tools these days, especially ‘generic’ versions, this Clarke drill is manufactured in the Far East, meaning that build quality can be a bit of a lottery as to how well the unit and its components have been manufactured and assembled. As a result, while the majority of units arrive in a good state and users can quickly get to work with them, some units arrive with poor workmanship or minor defects that need to be resolved before use.
One typical example involves the cast iron base of the Clarke drill which has occasionally been found to not be perfectly level or with sharp edges on it. Fortunately, this can usually be corrected with a bit of filling or grinding down. Another common complaint is excessive play in the chuck. This is a more difficult problem to solve and may require returning the drill if simple DIY hacks fail to improve it. Finally, the depth stop on the drill is very crude and can be tedious to use. However, drill depth accuracy can be significantly improved with another simple DIY hack that we have discussed elsewhere.
Other notable aspects of the Clarke drill include a fairly heavy weight of 14.7 kg, which can make moving it around the workshop a bit of a chore, but it also means the Clarke drill is a stable drilling machine. In addition, unlike some generic drills which come with operator manuals that are usually written in poor English, the Clarke drill comes with a properly produced manual written in perfect English with clear instructions for drill assembly and use.
Finally, many-a-pillar drill user finds that attaching a drill vice to the drilling table is a useful accessory in order to get the most out of this type of drilling machine. However, one always has to be careful here to choose a vice that fits the pillar drill in question, as there are a plethora of them on the market and not all of them have compatible attachment holes. In the case of this Clarke drill, we can confirm that the slots on the drill table where the vice is attached are 100 mm apart centre-to-centre. These slot specifications exactly match the 3” Clarke drill vice model number CDV30C. So if you want to be sure of getting a drill and drill vice to match, then this is the drill and accessory to get.
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.
DART (formerly Fox) F12-941 Review
The DART (formerly 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.
Scheppach DP16SL Review
The Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill is a notch above the most basic type of 'generic' drill press, making it slightly taller and bigger than its more basic brethren. It is a solidly-built and heavyweight machine that represents good value for money, especially if one buys it when it is on sale. Quality-wise, the Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill shows imperfect but acceptable quality, which makes it suitable for the DIYer or hobbyist on a budget but not really for the woodworking professional. Like other DIY-targeted drill presses, the Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill is ideal for someone willing to make a few adjustments and upgrades to correct the few flaws or inconsistencies that it might come with.
Like the basic pillar drill type, the Scheppach DP16SL drill is a five-speed machine with a speed ranged from 510 - 2430 rpm, however unlike the basic drill, it is driven by a potent 550W Motor. It has a keyed chuck which can accept drill bit shanks up to a generous 16mm, with the key itself being neatly stored in a bespoke holder on the side of the drill head. Similar to the basic drill, the Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill only has a drill chuck travel distance of 50mm, which is a relatively short distance for a machine of this size, but its throat depth is still a reasonable 127mm.
As with higher specification drill presses, the drill table on the Scheppach DP16SL is raised and lowered through the operation of the preferred rack and pinion mechanism; however, the table is quite loosely attached to the drill column giving it some unwanted play. In addition, too much pressure on the drill table while drilling can also cause it to slip slightly downwards. To counter this, the drill also comes with a locking lever that does a better job of fixing the table securely in place, although it can be challenging to provide enough force to lock the lever sufficiently.
Like most other pillar drills, the drilling table on this machine can also be angled to the left or right of the horizontal. However, doing so is a rather cumbersome process requiring the use of a wrench, so changing the angle of the drill table is not something one wants to be doing frequently. One particularly nice feature of the drill is the table can be fully rotated around the axis of the support column. This moves the drill table entirely out from under the drill head, increasing the overall size of the workpiece that can be accommodated under the drill head.
Although the machine provides a good price-to-performance ratio, especially if bought at a discount, the pillar drill does come with a few other caveats that potential buyers should be aware of.
First off, the Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill is a heavy machine, coming in at about 23kg. As a consequence, couriers have more trouble than usual transporting it. This means that the package is more liable to getting mishandled, with several recipients of the drill having reported receiving packages that were obviously damaged during transit. This has sometimes resulted in the components of the drill being damaged as well, so new buyers of the machine should probably be prepared to either refuse delivery or send back the purchase if one receives a package with significant damage.
On reception of the Scheppach pillar drill, one will notice that although it is a product of a German company, the drill itself is made in China. This means that quality control of its manufacturing process is variable with some units clearly exhibiting quality-control issues. The most common of these issues include the laser not being correctly centred, or the start-stop switch not affixed evenly. Another common complaint concerns the spindle on which the chuck sits, which can have too much play in it.
The Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill is also a relatively noisy machine. It can make a strong rattling sound, especially if the belt is not correctly tensioned or the chuck is not properly assembled. In addition, the machine makes an unpleasant grinding noise when stopping, although this is entirely normal and represents its braking mechanism in action.
The Scheppach machine also comes with a vice as an accessory which can be attached to the drill table. Unfortunately, the vice itself is rather low quality, poorly engineered, and does not come with any fixing bolts, so it is recommended to replace it with a better-designed, higher-quality third party one.
Another minor point to be aware of concerns the operating manual for the Scheppach DP16SL which, although written in good English (and other European languages), is poorly documented image-wise, using black and white pictures that are too dark. This can make it difficult to make out specific details within the photos, which can make assembling the pillar drill more challenging, especially if one is not familiar with the different components of this drill type and how they usually go together.
Overall, the Scheppach DP16SL pillar drill is a robust drill with a fair amount of capacity and features, but also comes with a few quality control issues. If one is willing to spend a little time and a few extra pounds tweaking the machine, one can usually end up with a robust, accurate drill with a lot of capacity, all for a relatively low price. However, If one is in the market for a high-quality and everything-working-perfectly-out-of-the-box type of machine, then it is probably best to invest a higher amount and to look elsewhere.
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.
Titan TTB541DBT Review
The Titan TTB541DBT 530mm pillar drill or drill press is a smart choice for those users who need to drill a wide array of materials efficiently. The tool is a big drill standing at almost a meter in height, 290mm wide, and 610mm deep. At 700W and a range of speed from 210 to 3040 rpm, this pillar drill has the power for versatility. It will take a maximum drill bit shank diameter of 16mm and a minimum of 3mm while the drill motor allows for 16 different speed settings. Together, this gives it the capability to drill with many different sizes of bits, into a variety of materials from steel to wood. Metal drilling typically takes a lower speed setting while a softer wood can use a higher one. The travel range of the spindle is 80mm, giving it a solid drilling depth and it also has a good-sized throat depth of 165mm. These specifications will usually be more than enough for most DIY drilling challenges.
The Titan drill press is both user-friendly and ready for a range of projects. The pulley adjustment on the Titan drill, which is used to change the speed, is fairly straightforward and easy to use. As with most pillar drills, there are a couple of guides on the drill press itself that reference how to arrange the belts on the pulleys for different RPMs. Unlike most other consumer-level pillar drills, this Titan drill press comes with a vice included in the package, which is useful for safely holding the target piece steady. For projects that take a lot of time and require continuous drilling, the motor is air-cooled as well. The chuck on the drill press stands out among its competitors, given the fact that it is keyless. This makes changing between bits quick and can be a huge time saver during a project. Another excellent feature of the drill is the laser, which pinpoints the exact place where the bit should touch the working surface. However, as a note, the laser may need some fiddly adjusting when it first arrives as it can be out of alignment. The use of this technology, however, really helps dial in the precision of the tool.
Given the fact the pillar drill has some handy features, it can also just miss the mark on a couple as well. A notable feature that is missing on this pillar drill is overload protection, which comes in handy if the drill bit binds in the material. Without this protection, the drill motor can become damaged. The drill also comes with a work table that is adjustable to 45° on either side of the horizontal. This is a useful feature when the material is an odd shape or when an oblique drilling angle is needed. However, it should be noted that changing the orientation of the table isn’t as user-friendly as it could be, with the adjustment made through the loosening of a difficult-to-access bolt using a standard wrench. This is at odds with most other changes that are made on the drill which are implemented through the use of handles or knobs. A typical example of this is the rack and pinion used to lower or raise the work table, and which makes the changing of the table height a breeze.
Another important point to note when purchasing the Titan drill is an issue buyers have had with its packaging and delivery from Screwfix. The current box and styrofoam packaging the pillar drill is shipped in is surprisingly inadequate, and together with the hefty weight of the tool makes for a higher likelihood that the drill will arrive with some damage. As a consequence several users have reported having to return the drill for an undamaged one. Though this has been an annoyance for some, Screwfix, as always, is incredibly good at accepting returns and getting customers a product that works.
Overall, the Titan TTB541DBT pillar drill is a machine with superior usable power and features. Despite some initial delivery issues with the product and a couple of other minor design flaws, the Titan drill does tend to stand out among its competitor pillar drills. And with a laser, keyless chuck, and attachable table vice as bonuses, this makes the titan drill press appealing to both the DIYer and professional alike.
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.