The pillar drill (AKA ‘bench drill’) is a specialised type of electric drill. Powerful and very precise, it has different speeds and drills dead perpendicular holes. It is mounted on a workbench which has a vice with which to clamp the workpiece on a manipulable ‘table’.
A pillar bench drill is a specialised electric drill, being a lightweight and compact type of drill press. Unlike full-sized floor or pedestal drills, a bench drill is suitable for any home workshop – be it in a basement or the shed.
Drilling is virtually effortless as operator pressure is leveraged through rack-and-pinion mechanisms while the drilling itself is electrical.
A ‘table’ is a part and parcel of a drill; it is really a small squarish plate where the workpiece is held in place with a vice or clamps.
The main draw of a pillar bench drill for hobbyist projects and DIY use as opposed to a handheld electric drill is that a (tight and play-free) pillar bench drill will drill ’square,’ that is it will drill perpendicularly to the workpiece all the way through.
Pillar bench drills have multiple gears and multiple speeds. The correct gear and/or speed has to be selected based on different factors: the material of the workpiece, the size of the bit, and the nature of the drilling – initial punch, pilot hole, final hole, countersinking, etc.
When evaluating such drills you need to look at the power of the motor and various other specifications and factors. Among these the most important are the thickness of wood and steel through which it can drill, the travel of the spindle, the size of the chuck, the range of speed in RPMs, and whether or not the drill provides accurate depth stops for repeated drilling.
The size of the drill is identified as a length in millimetres or inches, and this length is actually twice the distance between the centre of the chuck and the nearest edge of the column. It is called the ‘swing’ of the drill.
All too often when play and wobble enter the equation, the drill and its chuck cop the blame, sometimes unfairly. Not infrequently it is the bit and its shank that are at fault. To get the best out of your pillar bench drill and verify whether or not the drill or its chuck are imperfect, it is a good idea to buy high-quality, name-brand drill bits. Not only will they give a tight and play-free fit, they will also drill true and be more durable.
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Let’s make a start with our top pick –
Though expensive, Bosch’s drill has power to spare, has digital settings and readouts, exact depth stops, and can be viewed as a semi-pro rig.
At 710 watts Bosch’s PBD40 is powerful for a pillar bench drill, and it is the most powerful one in our review. It has a no-load speed of 200 to 2,500 RPMs. The Röhm Supra SK13 chuck has a capacity of 1.5 to 13 millimetres. The travel is 90 millimetres and the maximum drilling depths are 40 and 13 millimetres in wood and steel respectively. The machine drills to these depths without difficulty so long as the operator possesses the requisite skill and quality bits are used.
The travel can be extended up to a seriously impressive 275 millimetres by rotating the drill so that the chuck isn’t over the base but you then have to re-balance and secure the drill’s off-centre weight.
This model’s digital settings and display take bench drilling to a new level. One gets perfect control of the speed using the digital continuous or steady speed settings, and this is super-convenient as one does not need to fiddle with any belts or pulleys. Likewise, setting the depth stop digitally is as excellent as the underlying mechanism, both of which make drilling of identical holes in a series a piece of cake.
Instead of the usual lever or even sprockets, the PBD has a wheel. It is not for everyone and can take a bit of getting used to. Also unlike most pillar drills this one has an integrated laser. It projects cross-hairs, is very useful and is ideal for centre-punching.
Certain bits, particularly larger ones, tend to slip in the chuck when you are applying a lot of pressure when drilling into hard materials. You may also discover slight lateral movement at the tip of a bit of a slight wobble and play in the chuck. If so, experiment with different drill bits and speeds and you may eliminate this problem.
Though targeted to amateurs, in view of this machine’s torque, features and relatively lightweight, and because it can compete with conventional heavy belt-driven iron bench drills, pros too could give it the once-over as it is suitable for all but the most precision-oriented professional work.
It weighs 11.2 kilos.
A parallel guide and quick-release clamps are included in the package.
Bosch provides a one-year warranty extendable to three years if the purchase is registered within 30 days.
- For an amateur’s home workshop bench drill, it is very powerful and it competes with conventional, heavy, belt-driven pillar drills.
- The digital settings and readouts take ease-of-use and accuracy in a pillar drill to a new level.
- For a bench drill, the spindle travel is very impressive.
- Lateral movement or slippage of the bit in the chuck with some bits and certain materials.
- The wheel is not the best of ideas; the customary level or sprockets would be preferable.
Silverline’s rig betrays quality control issues and varies from unit to unit but it is hardy, well-designed, and easy to use – great value for DIYers.
Silverline’s 250-millimetre bench drill has 350 watts of power that rotate the drill at 5 speeds from 580 to 2,650 RPMs. The spindle’s travel distance is 50 millimetres and the chuck capacity is 13 millimetres.
The table is 160×160 millimetres, and it both rotates and tilts.
The speeds are changed by adjusting the belt across a pair of pulleys. This is not at all difficult and is a tried-and-true design. The belts and pulleys are noisy and manifest strain at high speeds but if you bolt down this drill properly you will reduce noise and vibrations to a bare minimum.
The manual includes a very useful chart with a graphic, speed value, and the sizes of three types of bits as suitable for each speed setting. Talking about the manual, it is excellent. Beginners will appreciate the lucid descriptions and instructions.
Depth stops can be set between 0 and 50 millimetres by simply rotating two nuts on the thread running parallel to the depth stop gauge. No matter what the stop, the chuck runs true and it drills square.
All that said, Silverline’s bench drill shows signs of cost-cutting, which is to be expected at what you get for the price. On occasion, the chuck can come loose and get detached. The red plastic chuck guard is flimsy and the internal safety micro-switch’s tab is even more so. Either may break.
This bench drill requires some assembly, and for precision drilling, it may well require fine-tuning.
Quality control is dodgy. Most units are fine and work well enough after the required assembly but one may require some patching up while another may come with some part broken while another may have 1 millimetre or more of run-out. Many units come slathered in grease.
Though the quality is variable from unit to unit, this is a hardy and solid rig. Though not recommended for heavy-duty professional work or precision drilling using small bits, it is just fine for lighter home projects and DIY tasks.
It weighs 7.86 kilos.
Silverline provides a three-year guarantee if the product is registered within 30 days of purchase.
- All said, the chuck runs true and drills square.
- Changing the speed and setting the depth stops both are very easy to do.
- Among budget-priced drills, this one has an excellent manual that will be appreciated by beginners.
- Dodgy quality control means that you never know whether your unit will work out of the box or whether some defect will need to be fixed.
- Cannot rely on the quality of any particular piece.
- Two or three plastic parts are flimsy and prone to breakage.
Although a few parts are flimsy, Clarke’s bench drill exhibits unusual drilling power; add its relative accuracy and features and you have a top buy.
Clarke’s CDP5RB is a 208-millimetre rig with a 350-Watt motor that rotates the drill at 5 speeds ranging from 620 to 2,620 RPMs. You have to adjust a belt over a pulley to change the speed. Though this belt adjustment may take some getting used to, it is not difficult. The chuck capacity is 13 millimetres and it has a B16 taper.
Belying its 350 watts of power, if the operator is skilful and uses high-quality bits, this drill is capable of drilling up to 40 millimetres in wood or plastic, which is quite impressive.
Moreover, it also drills relatively easily through steel. In raw drilling capability, it compares favourably with other similarly-powered and -priced drills.
The 160×160 millimetre table is adjustable, including tilt up to 45° each way. The tilt can be adjusted simply by loosening a bolt under the plate.
The electric cut-out on the belt guard and the accessible on-off switch are such well-thought-out and safety-enhancing features that we wish other makers would emulate them.
The CDP5RB has aluminium alloy pulleys which is a clear plus. However, the belts and pulleys do not run true which causes vibrations albeit to a lesser degree than in other budget pillar bench drills.
This bench drill is very stable on its cast-iron base (whose edges are sharper than they should be). Unfortunately, the table is rather shoddy and is breakable, and should be treated with TLC. Other plastic parts, such as the tab that activates and deactivates the internal microswitch, are also prone to breakage if not handled carefully.
All said, this drill is accurate and for a budget kit is relatively jitter-free and play-free. It is a basic pillar bench drill with a couple of excellent features; one whose construction is rock solid in places and questionable in others, but whose performance is seriously good at its price point. Clarke positions and markets this drill as a hobbyist’s kit, and indeed it can be endorsed as a very good deal for hobbyists and home workshops.
It weighs in at 14.7 kilogrammes.
- This powerful bench drill exhibits unusual raw drilling capacity as if going ‘one-up’ over its specs.
- The aluminium alloy pulleys are worthy of note.
- Very accurate, smooth operation, and virtually free of play.
- The table and a few other plastic parts are shoddy and may break if not handled gently.
- If the belts and pulleys do not run true, you can get a bit of vibration.
- Be wary of those sharp edges on the iron base!
Compact, sturdy, and very functional – these are the chief attributes of Katsu’s mini kit, a ‘mini’ only in name. It is really a ‘maxi’ in value.
Katsu’s ‘mini’ bench drill has a 100-Watt motor. The speed is adjustable both mechanically and electronically from zero to 5,000, 6,500, and 8,500 RPMs. Speed adjustability is unsophisticated; however, changing the speed using the 3-step pulley and belt is not a problem at all.
The B10 tapered chuck has a capacity of 0.6 to 6.5 millimetres but can take 8-millimetre bits too. The spindle travel is 25 millimetres. The drilling capacities of 6 millimetres for wood and 3.2 for steel are rated fairly, perhaps conservatively. Though it may not be a breeze, you can drill in aluminium and other metals even with 6.5-millimetre bits.
The table is 168 x 168 millimetres.
The depth stop settings are somewhat fiddly but once you get your setting it works a charm.
Both pillar and bit come down square on the table, and resultant drilling is also square and accurate. The smallest bits may have some off-centre wander but it is immeasurable and there is next to no run-out.
The instruction manual is useless but it is comical and may be used as light entertainment.
Katsu’s quality control is a hit-and-miss affair so there is no guarantee that the unit you get will be exactly the same as another – it may be near-perfect, or it may have some defect – or it may be perfect but verily doused in oil!
The old-fashioned all-metal construction is not well finished and is rough around the edges but it is remarkably sturdy and also steady in operation. It is good for jobs both fine and un-fine though not for precision work. As a compact and portable rig, it is perfect for cluttered little home workshops and may be ideal for polytechnics and technical colleges to buy in quantity.
The 1.45-metre power cord does not have a mains suppressor and the lack of this causes additional electrical noise.
It weighs 5.3 kilogrammes.
At its retail price, Katsu’s kit is a fantastic value for money.
- Overall square and accurate drilling.
- For such a little thing, it is unexpectedly steady and also sturdy.
- The drilling capability on offer at the rock-bottom price makes this kit a fantastic value.
- Quality control issues mean that your unit may have some or another niggling flaw.
- Setting depth stops is a fiddly business.
- Useless instruction manual – but at least it’s funny!
Basic but functional and easy to use, Dirty Pro Tools’ rig is so reliable and so affordable that DIYers have named it one of the top benchtop drills.
The 350-Watt motor of Dirty Pro Tools’ 250-millimetre rig can drive the drill at 5 speeds ranging from 600 to 2,600 RPMs. The chuck capacity is 1.5 to 13 millimetres and the spindle travel distance is 50 millimetres. It is rated to drill to 13 millimetres, though this spec is on the modest side.
The 160×160-millimetre table can rotate and tilt and swings up to 290 millimetres.
Speed changes, although manual, are easy – you use a grip to loosen and re-fit the belt for the desired speed.
There is next to no play in head or spindle, and it drills square over and over again. It is excellent for both woodwork and light-duty metalwork. However, the chuck is far from the best; you may want to replace it by spending a tenner and significantly upgrade this otherwise really good drill.
One feature this rig lacks is a safety switch of any kind, anywhere, but a surprising bonus is that Dirty Pro Tools’ drill runs quite quietly.
Not only is some assembly required, but a simple fix-up may be necessary – quality control is not Dirty Pro Tools’ strong suit.
This drill is prone to overheating so it is wise not to operate it for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, not that you should need to. However, it is important to let it cool down before starting it up again, and this may be a put-off for some buyers.
It weighs 18 kilogrammes.
Though not well finished, this is a good, solid, no-frills tool for DIY jobs, crafts, and model making. Notwithstanding the term ‘heavy-duty’ in the name, it is not meant for heavy-duty work. A rugged pillar drill at the very low price it sells at has to be considered super value. It is hardly any wonder that it ranks highly amongst other Benchtop Drill Presses.
- Consistently square drilling and relatively play-free chuck.
- For a basic and low-priced bench drill, this one’s so quiet that neither the wife nor the neighbours will complain.
- That it is Amazon’s number-one-selling benchtop drill is a ‘pro’ in and of itself.
- Some fix-up or adjustment may be necessary as Dirty Pros do not create all units equal.
- The rig is let down by the sub-par chuck, which you can easily replace.
- Drill heats up quickly and you need to let it cool down.
What Is A Pillar Drill Used For?
A pillar drill is used for making dead-perpendicular holes, known as ’square’ drilling, in a workpiece that is held on the ‘table’ and usually secured with a clamp or vice. The workpiece may be any material – wood, metal, plastic, acrylic, or even glass. The holes can be of a variety of diameters and even different finishes. It is used to make a mere centre punch as a guide, all the way to drilling a deep, wide hole right through the workpiece. It is also used to make many different holes that are all exactly the same.
A pillar drill uses much less effort on part of the user than a handheld drill while generating much more pressure.
Smaller machines of less than 500 watts power are used for arts and crafts, making finely-wrought models, drilling into printed circuit boards, and such. More powerful machines of over 500 watts are used for woodwork and metalwork projects, prefabrication, etc.
What Are The Risks Of Using A Pillar Drill?
You will read about the risks of wearing loose clothing and having long hair when operating a pillar drill, and these are sensible warnings – clothing should be snug and hair should be short. However, also remember not to wear any chains around your neck. The general rule is that if it is loose or it dangles, it’s a hazard.
Another risk of using a pillar drill is getting swarf and tiny particles in your eyes. You can reduce the risk of using a pillar drill if you follow the suggested safety rules. Rule number one is to wear safety goggles. And rule number two is not to remove them until you have finished your work and cut the power.
An improperly secured workpiece could start spinning or move suddenly during drilling, and cause impact injury. Workpieces should be clamped or held in a vice.
If the drill bit is not secured properly, it could come loose during operation and cause injury. Make sure drill bits are securely attached in the chuck.
Sometimes drill bits simply break and the broken part can travel at high speed. To reduce this risk factor, use high-quality bits, make sure they are in good condition, make sure there is no play, do not allow the bit to be significantly off vertical, and do not misuse bits for materials for which they are not meant.
Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.