What to look for in a drill press

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Forum topic by TTH posted 08-05-2020 03:22 PM 613 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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23 posts in 152 days

08-05-2020 03:22 PM

Hi pals,

Does anyone have a buying guide they recommend to get learned up on what to look for in buying a drill press? I’ve only ever used one once or twice, but I feel like it’s the next tool purchase I need to make in order to get clean perpendicular holes because I sure as hell can’t drill straight holes with my handheld drill.

As in all things, my strong preference is to buy a used drill press, but I know so little about these tools that I don’t know what to look for; whether I need freestanding or whether benchtop is okay; or what is or is not a good price.

Incidentally, someone is selling a Rockwell 82-710 freestanding drill press for $300. Looks like a solid, old school tool. Any thoughts on the tool for the price?

-- Travis, DFW

20 replies so far

View Madmark2's profile


1604 posts in 1436 days

#1 posted 08-05-2020 04:13 PM

Speeds (more is better, EVS with readout is best)
Spindle travel, longer us better
Runout, less is better
Table size
Max height

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

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6241 posts in 1422 days

#2 posted 08-05-2020 04:26 PM

For me after having had a few over the years I want depth of travel on the Quill to be 5” or if possible better as my #1 choice. Sure you can move the table up and down, but that is a PIA if you have gone to the trouble of getting a tight set up, to find you lack an inch of travel to make the perfect hole.

Of course a mix of enough power, and adjustability of it. Ease of changing speeds cause they aren’t all created equal there. It’s true you can swap chucks, but you want a great one, not just a so so thing, and getting a good one with the drill press seems to me to end up being cheaper than an aftermarket one. Any way you slice that you are buying 2 chucks, when you just need a good one.

I know it sounds like a lot of cash, but I'm saving my pennies for one of these.

Currently I have a Shop Fox radial head drill, and I will likely keep that as I’ve grown tired of making jigs to do angled holes. But back to ALL of my other points, for just a drill press it sux against everything else I want.

Drill presses can be a complication, or a cure.

-- Think safe, be safe

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2447 posts in 753 days

#3 posted 08-05-2020 06:13 PM

I think first is look at what you will be using it for. I very rarely use my drill press for woodworking. I maybe use mine 2x a year and the little benchtop is fine. I drill into metal more, usually no more than 1/8” or 1/4”, and with wood its usually 4/4 .

View jmartel's profile


9047 posts in 2998 days

#4 posted 08-05-2020 06:25 PM

Table size doesn’t matter a whole lot. You’re going to want to build your own auxiliary drill press table anyway.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View AMZ's profile


179 posts in 237 days

#5 posted 08-05-2020 07:26 PM

I have several drill presses – ancient Delta bench top, that is heavier than anything modern, floor or bench style. Also has a split head (desirable) and at least a 5” spindle travel. I have a floor standing Porter Cable, that is OK, but, the old Delta is mile beyong the PC.

Table size doesn’t matter much. Table crank is nice. Long spindle travel is nice. Split head is nice. Good Jacobs chuck, preferably in a #2 MT taper for mounting the chuck into the head.

View AndyJ1s's profile


414 posts in 603 days

#6 posted 08-05-2020 08:00 PM

Variable speed without changing belt/pulley positions is a plus. Without it, many users don’t take the trouble to use a speed appropriate for the bit and material; they just set a mid-range speed and use that for everything.

Mechanical variable speed models usually use a Reeves type variable pulley transmission. These work if well manufactured from appropriate materials (e.g. steel). Cast aluminum versions are more often used, and they have a spotty reputation for longevity. And you cannot change speeds while it is stopped (attempting to can damage the unit). They do have the advantage of higher torque at low speeds with a less powerful motor, just like a manual, step-pulley system.

The Nova drill presses are extremely nice, but pricey. I have the Nova Voyager floor-standing model, and like it a lot. It has a lot more useful features than just variable speed enabled by the electronic controls. The Nova Viking model lacks a few of the Voyager’s features, and is a bench top model, at a lower price (still high for a bench top drill press.) The Voyager has a higher horsepower motor than is typical on drill presses, so that it still has good torque at low speeds. The type of drive and motor (Digital Variable Reluctance, or DVR) helps a lot there too. The Voyager has even more power/torque when powered from 220V rather than 120V.

Radial drill presses offer a lot of flexibility if you need to drill holes at compound angles, or need more reach than most drill presses have. But they also flex a lot for trying to drill accurate holes in tough material (some [Grizzly G9969] are better than others.)

-- Andy - Arlington TX

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19 posts in 2723 days

#7 posted 08-05-2020 08:20 PM

Table crank, one that works easily. Multiple speeds. Least amount of quill deflection with quill extended, when it’s retracted they all seem precise.

-- Dave, Wi.

View Picken5's profile


320 posts in 3539 days

#8 posted 08-05-2020 08:24 PM

I got a Jet JDP-17 (15”, 3/4 HP) drill press about 2 years ago and I love it. The 5” of quill travel was important for me but the large table and built-in work light were big pluses also.

-- Howard - "Time spent making sawdust is not deducted from one's lifetime." - old Scottish proverb

View ibewjon's profile


1934 posts in 3641 days

#9 posted 08-05-2020 08:46 PM

I bought the last Steel City 17” , 5” travel, variable speed, ( Reeves drive), my local tool store had. I have been very pleased with it, but Steel City is gone. If you find a used one, it seems to be a good machine, and I don’t expect to need parts in my hobby use of it. It is a floor standing machine.

View WoodenDreams's profile


1120 posts in 758 days

#10 posted 08-06-2020 03:06 AM

I’d compare the spindle (quill) travel. The drill press I have has a short up/down travel distance. Sorta wish I had a longer spindle stroke, for drilling some holes, so I didn’t have to move the table up or down as much.

View OnhillWW's profile


256 posts in 2080 days

#11 posted 08-06-2020 12:53 PM

All the above needs your consideration and if you distill your options down to a few the one item yet to be mentioned is the way you can set the depth of the hole. This adjustment usually comes in one of two flavors – a threaded rod set with two nuts or a rotating knob usually on the crank handle as in many Delta presses. If you don’t use that feature too often I wouldn’t worry but if you do a lot of drilling to predetermined depths the delta type adjustment is much, much more desirable. I have both and hate the tedium of setting depths with the threaded rod press (a Jet), that said it is easier to make super fine adjustments with the rod type. Just something to add to the list of things to consider.

-- Cheap is expensive! - my Dad

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3932 posts in 2328 days

#12 posted 08-06-2020 02:10 PM

Stroke, power, and wiggle.

Oh, stop it, you gutter tripes!!

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

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224 posts in 1402 days

#13 posted 08-06-2020 03:14 PM

More important than the number of speeds is the range, though they’re sort of inter-related. Bench-top presses with single stage belt drives usually only go down to 500-600rpm, which is way too fast if you’re planning on running big Forstner bits into hardwood. Stationary presses often have a dual stage drive, with a low end closer to 100rpm.

View wichman3's profile


98 posts in 1469 days

#14 posted 08-06-2020 03:35 PM

Other considerations
High and low end speeds. I do fretwork and drill hundreds of 1/16 holes frequently, 3500 rpm leaves clean holes, 2000 rpm chips out the bottom of the hole, even with backing. cuttin a large circle at more than 150 rpm is a very scary proposition.

Depth, distance to the column. What are you going to need?

table style. I prefer the round table with the center hole. I make jigs that fit that hole, pop out the factory table and pop in a jig. easy peasy, can’t do that with the cantilevered tables.

View Foghorn's profile


550 posts in 234 days

#15 posted 08-06-2020 04:42 PM

I bought the last Steel City 17” , 5” travel, variable speed, ( Reeves drive), my local tool store had. I have been very pleased with it, but Steel City is gone. If you find a used one, it seems to be a good machine, and I don t expect to need parts in my hobby use of it. It is a floor standing machine.

- ibewjon

Mine must be an earlier one? 17” and it has 6” of quill travel. Split head design like the Nova and older Deltas. Less than .003” of runout. Bought a Golden Goose chuck for it when purchased. It’s a great press. Too bad they’re no longer made.

-- Darrel

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