Drill presses drill holes ... seems simple enough. How much room for improvement could there be? But once you log some hours with the average drill press, little annoyances start to crop up. Take speed changes, for instance. We all know that one speed does not suit all bits. Yet prying those belts on and off the pulley clusters takes time, and it’s a dirty job. I’m always left with black belt grime on my fingers. Have you ever misplaced your chuck key or grumbled as you tried to clamp things to the edges of your table? Have you ever wished for a bigger tabletop, a better option for tilting it or a more precise way to line up your holes?
Well, if you’re nodding yes to any of these, a better day has finally come! Manufacturers are now building a few drill presses with woodworkers in mind. I recently gave six of these tools a closer look, and their updated features are quite snazzy. The machines I saw included Powermatic’s 18" PM2800 ($899.99), a Delta 20" Model 20-950 ($749), Steel City’s 17" Model 20520 ($470), the Craftsman Professional 17" Model 22901 ($530), Ryobi’s 12" Model DP121L ($169) and a Shop Fox 131⁄4" Model W1668 ($250).
I’m excited to share some of their cool features with you here. If you’re in the market for a new drill press right now, these are the machines I recommend you check out first.
Fuss-free Variable Speed
Variable speed just might be drill press nirvana. Powermatic, Delta and Ryobi have this wonderful improvement. Basically, instead of switching belts manually, you move a hand wheel or lever to dial the machine’s RPM up or down. A centrifugal clutch, similar to those you’d find on a go-cart or a snowmobile, handles the speed change. Two adjustable pulleys inside the case open or close around a single wide belt. You never need to open the cover or touch anything. Now, switching speeds from a tiny twist bit to your biggest Forstner is both quick and simple. What a sweet deal! Powermatic and Ryobi even provide a digital readout to show the exact bit speed. I’m told Delta will soon add digital readout, too.
Better Table Manners
Drill press tables have three drawbacks for me: they’re too small, hard to clamp to and don’t tilt easily or in all the right ways. Some of these new drill presses address all my gripes. Delta’s table is superb: at 14" x 24", it’s huge. It’s also cast without that meddlesome lip around the bottom edge that makes clamping more difficult. Ryobi, Craftsman and Steel City also have “lipless” edges on their tables — so kudos to them all. Another breakthrough on the Delta table is that it pivots left and right AND front to back. Yep, you read that right: two pivot planes instead of one. Need to set up compound drilling angles or bore spindle holes in chair seats? If so, this Delta will delight you.
Powermatic and Craftsman offer pull-out workpiece supports on their tables, which should make those monstrous workpieces much easier to manage during drilling. Powermatic also includes a topnotch fence with T-slots and built-in dust collection — very handy.
Keyless chucks have taken the drill/driver market by storm in recent years. Now, tool-free chucks are a reality for drill presses, too. Craftsman and Powermatic are the only machines in this group to have them, but they’re mighty nice. Just slip a bit in and give two knurled collars a twist. That’s it...the bit is tight. I tried these out with some large bits and heavy-handed hogging cuts, but they didn’t lose their grip. Best of all, I never misplaced that infernal chuck key. With these new chucks, who needs it?!
New Light Shows
Worklights on drill presses aren’t new, but I like the gooseneck lamps that come on the Steel City, Craftsman and Delta presses. It’s helpful to be able to direct light right where you need it. Powermatic has done away with the bulb completely; the PM2800 has two LED lights, which should never burn out or break. They provide shadow-free illumination.
A bigger change in lighting is the addition of laser crosshairs. Ryobi, Powermatic and Craftsman have them. At first I was a bit skeptical about this convenience, but on closer inspection, the lasers are quite nice. When the beams are dialed in precisely (and all of them adjust easily), you know exactly where the centerpoint of your bit will hit the mark. For drilling those really critical holes, here’s a way to split hairs.
Drill presses make decent drum sanders, but an oscillating spindle sander does the job in less time because of that second, up-anddown motion. Wouldn’t it be slick if a drill press did that, too? Well, one does: Shop Fox’s W1668 benchtop model, and it deserves a tip of the hat for that sensible feature. All it takes to engage the oscillating motion is slipping a separate belt onto a dedicated pulley. This engages a gear that moves the quill up and down almost an inch. It’s just enough motion to give your sanding efforts that added advantage. Shop Fox also makes drum sanding more convenient by providing a set of sanding drums as well as a modified table with an oversized pass-through hole, dust collection port and drum reducer rings. For small shops or tight budgets, this machine’s dual capacity should make it a great value.
Improved Operator Controls
In my experience, the tools that seem safest can actually be the most dangerous if you aren’t diligent all the time. Spinning bits can be hazardous. That’s why I’m happy to see several of these models equipped with oversize kill switches and safety lock-offs ... just in case.
Quill handles have taken a few steps forward in design as well. Powermatic allows you to install the handles on either the left- or right-hand side, with no special modifications. Lefties should love this. I’m also impressed with Craftsman’s single-lever pull: it has a number of detents inside the handle mount so you can position the lever wherever it lends the best advantage to what you’re doing. For a long throw, set it farther back; move it forward for shallow or repetitive work.
Here’s another dandy doodad: tool-free depth stops. Most drill presses employ a pair of nuts on the depth stop rod to set drilling depth, which works OK. On the Steel City, Craftsman and Delta drill presses, however, all you do is push a button on the stop collar to make the coarse adjustment, then turn it for fine-tuning.
One last goodie worth noting is overall quill travel. You never know when you’ll need to drill a really deep hole, and most drill presses bottom out at about 4" of drilling depth. If you could use a few inches more from time to time, consider Delta and Steel City’s drill presses; both provide 6" of quill travel.
Drilling has Never Been Better
Drilling holes may be among the more mundane aspects of our fine craft, but these new drill presses will make the job more enjoyable and precise. Given the bounty of good woodworking features emerging here, I’m hoping other manufacturers will follow suit. After all, drill presses may have got their start in metal shops, but they’re certainly in our woodshops to stay.