If you’re a dedicated DIYer, sooner or later you’re going to have to drill something. Whether you’re making a modification, running a wire, fastening or installing, knowing how to drill based on your project and materials is essential. The right preparation and technique will save you headaches and keep your bits useful for the next project. Here’s a quick guide to drilling through metal.
When you drill, you’re cutting through and displacing metal, and the bit is spinning rapidly, so tiny metal shards are going to be flying and likely hot. Always wear proper eye protection, close-toed shoes, long pants and sleeves. Depending on the intensity of the project and where you’re positioned in relation to it, you might even want to use a full face mask. Think through everything you might need first, and keep it organized and within reach. Make sure to secure your project tightly in a vice or use a clamp to hold it against another surface you plan to drill through simultaneously.
Choosing a Bit
The kind of bit you choose should depend upon the material you’re drilling through and the desired size of the hole. Generally speaking, there are many more types of bits for wood than for metal. Hard metals like steel require very hard bits, usually made of cobalt, titanium or carbide. While you can also use these harder bits for softer metals such as aluminum, it isn’t necessary, and you’ll save money buying standard HSS (high speed steel) bits. HSS bits also work well on wood and fiberglass, and this flexibility can come in handy on projects down the road. There are numerous shapes and sizes of bits, so pay careful attention to measurements to make sure that you aren’t drilling bigger or smaller than you need to. Some projects with thick, harder metals might require two bits — a smaller one to drill a pilot hole, and a bigger one that is the size you need. Conical-shaped step bits work well for thin, softer metal and use only one bit to drill multiple hole sizes.
Once you have everything you need and your job site is in order, get to drilling! The first part is the hardest — making sure that the bit is lined up (and stays) where it needs to be. To help, before you drill, mark where the point should go and use either a punch or a nail and hammer to make a small indentation there. This will keep the tip of the bit from jumping around. Hold the drill steady with both hands to help ensure the desired angle. For harder metals, drill slowly; if the metal is very thick, take breaks to give the heat a chance to
disperse a little. Softer metals should be drilled quickly to keep the shavings from building up inside and derailing the whole project. In either case, intermittently adding a little lubricant, such as WD-40, will help disperse heat, speed up the drilling process and slow down the unavoidable dulling of your bit.
Wielding a drill successfully makes you feel like a real champ, giving you the confidence to make self-driven creations and improvements. It’s an essential skill for any DIYer, and knowing the proper choices and techniques will help avoid potential mistakes and cost. If you really want to get good at it, grab a piece of scrap metal and get started. As with most things, the real secret is practice.
Check out all the tools & equipment
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.