Woodworker’s Guide to Drill Bit Types
As woodworkers, our projects often require a lot more than just wood. There are obvious necessities such as hardware and glue that hold the pieces together. Then there are more complex pieces that require electrical components, glass accents, and metal frames. Whatever your case may be, you’ll likely have to manipulate the materials to best fit your needs. That’s where our free guide comes in—bookmark our page to look up the best drill bit material and coating for different applications. This will save you time and money as you’ll break fewer drill bits and reduce the number of project delays.
High-Speed Steel (HSS)
HSS drill bits are best for PVC & low-density woods. Larger-sized HSS drill bits work perfectly on higher-density woods, but our experience has been that smaller bit sizes break too easily. As a general guide, avoid using high-speed steel drill bits on wood if the size is smaller than 1/8″. Lastly, we know that HSS steel bits are generally the most economical option when compared to other options. Despite that fact, we still recommend opting for titanium nitride bits when drilling into wood.
These guys are appropriate for PVC, most woods, and non-ferrous metals. Though they are a bit stronger than their HSS counterparts, black oxide drill bits are still prone to breaking at smaller sizes. If you’re using a power drill, stick to sizes larger than 1/8″ to protect your wallet. Drill press users can experiment with smaller sizes and even venture into thin penetrating ferrous metals. Play it by ear when it comes to opting for black oxide drill bits.
When it comes to drilling larger holes, cobalt steel drill bits dissipate heat more efficiently than their pure steel counterparts. Thus, these are the best drill bits for creating holes greater than 1″. With that being said, we understand that most woodworkers will utilize a spade bit or hole saw to create larger holes. While those bits are essential to any tool box, do be mindful that they aren’t always compatible with metallic materials.
These are a Hand Tool Essentials staff favorite. They work on all woods & steel while offering greater longevity & durability. Unlike the previous drill bits are this list, titanium nitride bits are less prone to breaking at smaller sizes. Thus, these are our go-tos when drilling smaller holes in hardwood. Most importantly, they can penetrate steel on both a drill press and a hand-held power drill. This makes titanium nitride drill bits one of the most versatile offerings on the market.
Diamond drill bits are best reserved for glass, tile, & ceramic. First of all, they are the only bits that are hard enough to penetrate those materials. Secondly, they are much pricier than any of the above options. We do have a set of diamond drill bits in our tool chest—however, we only use them when the occasion calls. In case that isn’t convincing enough, diamond drill bits react negatively when mixed with hot steel.
Honorable Mention Drill Bits
Reserved for the hardest materials like steel and aluminum alloys, tungsten carbide drill bits can pierce almost any surface. However, their brittleness and vulnerability to breakage makes carbide drill bits unsuitable for woodworkers. In fact, some machinists view a drill press as being too unstable for handling these types of bits. We recommend only purchasing these if the occasion calls.
Looking for help with picking the right drill bit size? Checkout our wood screw countersink chart and guide to drilling pilot holes.
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