How to Use a Drill Press for Woodworking

Cut Square Holes, Sand Curved Shapes and More!

A drill press is an integral woodworking machine that can be used for a number of tasks. Of course, a drill press can be used for drilling, but it can also be fitted with a mortising attachment for drilling square holes, be used as a spindle sander and more. Learn woodworking tips for getting the most out of your drill press.

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    Drill Press

    Woodworking drill press
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    When your woodworking plans call for holes to be drilled in pieces of stock, you could certainly use a hand-operated power drill or cordless drill. However, if precision is a concern or if you have large-diameter holes to drill, you should consider using a drill press. The drill press has a much more sturdy motor than a hand-operated drill, and the quill and chuck are kept in alignment with the adjustable-height drill press table, which ensures that your holes will be vertically aligned as they are being drilled.

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    Cut Mortises on a Drill Press

    Drilling Out a Mortise
    Drilling Out a Mortise.

    A mortise is a square or rectangular hole that receives a tenon of the same size cut out of an adjoining piece of wood. For centuries, mortises have been cut by hand with a chisel. Modern ingenuity has brought us a specialty machine called a mortiser that is used for cutting mortises. A mortiser has a square chisel with a drill bit inside that drills the hole and cuts the square edges of the mortise simultaneously. If you don't have a mortiser, you can use your drill press to cut out the majority of the stock in the mortise, and then square up the mortise's edges with a sharp chisel.

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    Drill Press Mortising Attachment

    Drill Press Mortising Attachment
    Drill Press Mortising Attachment. Photo courtesy of Delta Porter Cable (

    If your woodworking project calls for one or two mortise and tenon joint, you can probably create the mortises with a power drill and a sharp chisel. However, if your project requires a number of mortise and tenon joints, you might turn to a dedicated, hollow-chisel mortiser, with which you could whip out a number of clean mortises quickly. If you don't have space (or the budget) for another power tool but have a drill press, there is another option. Many floor-standing drill press manufacturers offer a hollow-chisel mortising attachment. This drill press attachment allows you to use hollow-chisel mortising bits in sizes from 1/4" to 3/4" in width.

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    Spindle Sanding with a Drill Press

    Spindle Sanding on a Router Table
    Spindle Sanding on a Router Table. (c) 2011 Chris Baylor licensed to, Inc.

    When your project has a number of curved cuts from a jigsaw or a band saw that need to be sanded, the quickest and best results come from an oscillating spindle sander. That being said, if you don't have a spindle sander, one simple solution is to use your drill press to do the job. All you really need is a barrel sander attachment that fits into the drill press' chuck. Additionally, with the variable speeds of a drill press, you can adjust your spindle sanding speeds to accommodate nearly any material.

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    Doweling. (c) 2011 Chris Baylor licensed to, Inc.

    Doweling has been used for centuries by woodworkers who needed to strengthen their joints. The principle behind doweling is simple: small, round but evenly cut sticks of wood, called dowels, are inserted into perfectly matched holes in corresponding boards that, when glued in place, provide a strong, durable woodworking joint. Of course, the most important task in creating dowel joints is to precisely drill the holes for the dowels in the adjoining boards. If the holes aren't drilled exactly in the right places, the dowels won't align properly and the joint won't hold well. This is a perfect task for a drill press. In this article, learn how to create these versatile dowel joints with your drill press.