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What Are the Different Types of Woodworking Drills?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

The two general categories of woodworking drills are unpowered drills and power drills. Power drills run on electricity and can generally cut holes much more quickly than unpowered ones. The more traditional method of woodworking involves the use of unpowered hand drills; while these are very useful for certain applications, they do take more time and effort to use. The specific designs of woodworking drills can vary significantly depending on the type of job being done; some are hand models, while others are bench-mounted and cut holes using a press system.

Modern woodworkers are most likely to use several types of woodworking drills when completing a project. The most commonly used model is perhaps the cordless or corded hand drill, which runs off electricity and is small enough to be wielded easily by hand. These woodworking drills are versatile and lightweight, and in some cases they are quite portable. Cordless models run off battery packs, which allow the user to take the tool anywhere. Corded drills are more limited because they must be plugged into a wall outlet, but they provide constant power output and, in many cases, more power in general. Both drills often feature systems that make changing the drill bit quick and easy for further convenience.

Unpowered hand drills are used for traditional woodworking.
Unpowered hand drills are used for traditional woodworking.

Drill presses are woodworking drills that are much larger; they are used for making precision cuts as well as several cuts of the same depth. These usually feature sturdy metal bases so a piece of wood can be supported on the machine itself, and the bits are also interchangeable. The bit is mounted on a press system, which means the operator can raise or lower the drill bit using a hand crank mounted on the side of the machine. Most of these machines are powered by a motor that spins the bit at high speeds; this improves the accuracy of the cut and helps prevent burrs or splinters.

Power drills are commonly used in woodworking.
Power drills are commonly used in woodworking.

Unpowered woodworking drills include the "eggbeater" style breast drill, the gimlet, and the brace and bit. The breast drill is known as the eggbeater drill because the crank is mounted on the side of a vertical post, and it spins a gear that rotates the bit in much the same way some eggbeater blades spin. The brace and bit design features a C-shaped arm that can be rotated quickly to turn the bit, and the gimlet features a bit of a specific size that has a built-in handle a user can turn manually.

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Discussion Comments


@stl156 - Like you figured out, regular drill bits aren't going to work with hardened steel. They make cobalt drill bits, which are what I think you would probably need. I am pretty sure those are the recommended drill bits for hardened steel.

I have used them once, but it was with a large impact drill, and the metal was connected to a building. Since you wouldn't be using a really large drill bit, maybe the drill press would work fine.

Keep in mind that cobalt drill bits are quite a bit more expensive than regular woodworking drill bits. A lot of times, the place will try to sell you the whole set, but unless you plan on using a bunch of different sizes, I would just buy the one size you need and save the money.


I don't think I've ever seen any of the gimlet type drill bits. Sounds like they might be pretty neat to look at. I'm sure it would be hard to get a straight hole down into the wood, though.

Anyway, I am working on a project where I need to drill a hole through what I am pretty sure is hardened steel.

I have a set of high speed drill bits, but those didn't do anything. I even ended up breaking a masonry bit that I had. I think it was probably getting old anyway. That being said, what type of bits are you supposed to use? Also, I've been using a woodworking drill press. I assume that would have the right amount of power, right? I don't need a particularly big hole, maybe just 3/16 or something.


@matthewc23 - In my experience, most of the newer drills all do have the battery pack that you can charge separate from the drill itself. A lot of them are even interchangeable with other tools, so there's really no reason to buy a drill without that feature.

Something else you'll want to look for is the type of "chuck," which is how the bits fit into the drill. Some of them need a type of key thing to lock them in, some of them can be locked by hand, and there's one type that uses special bits that just snap into the drill. The last one of those are usually the least expensive, but it's hard to find specialized bits if you need them.

As far as drill bits themselves go, just a standard hardened steel drill bit set should work fine around the house.


My daughter has just moved into a new house, and I am looking into buying her some new tools in case she ever has to make any small scale repairs or just in case she wants to put some screws in the wall to hang pictures or anything.

The drill I have at home is fairly old, and I'm guessing that technology has progressed a lot since I bought that one. What are some of the things you should look for now when you are buying a drill? A lot of the ones I see on TV have the detachable battery. Is that something that comes standard now for the most part, or do you still have to look for that specific type?

Any suggestions about the best types of wood drill bits to buy would also be helpful. I don't figure that would be as hard to pick out, but maybe not.

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    • Unpowered hand drills are used for traditional woodworking.
      By: WimL
      Unpowered hand drills are used for traditional woodworking.
    • Power drills are commonly used in woodworking.
      By: sandrex
      Power drills are commonly used in woodworking.