Drill presses are one of those tools that you can always seem to do without but once you finally buy one you can’t remember how you survived without it. Choosing the best drill press for woodworking is a bit of a daunting task though.
Do you choose a benchtop or floor standing model? Will an older, heavy duty model work, or do you need all the bells and whistles that come with a new, modern drill press?
I spent years using my lathe as a defacto drill press and it worked fine. But not great and it was certainly not a fast solution. Especially when I had large orders of items like tea light holders that required a lot of drilling with forsner bits.
What to consider when buying a drill press?
Bench top vs Floor Drill Press
For most woodworkers, the size of their tools is an important consideration.
I can certainly speak to that fact as I have very garage space to work with! So I need to take my placement of tools into consideration and, at this point, often benchtop tools are the only option for me.
Benchtop Drill Press Size
Most benchtop drill presses range in size from 8 inches to 12 inches of swing. The swing is the distance between the center of the drill press spindle to the support column, multiplied by two. That means on a 12″ swing drill press you could drill out the center of a 12 inch round circle. Or the center of a 2×12 board.
Once a bit is chucked into the spindle they also have a limited amount of vertical space between the table and the bottom of the bit.
The smaller the swing on the drill press, the smaller the footprint it will take up. But most benchtop models will have footprints of around 12 inches wide by anywhere from 20 to 30 inches deep.
Floor Standing Drill Press Size
Floor standing drill presses range in size from 12 inches to 20 inches of swing and typically stand at around five feet tall. If you have the room a floor standing drill press is a great tool.
The extra swing, heavy duty components, and additional quill travel will make them a lot more versatile.
Spindle travel on a drill press measures how deep of a hole you can drill.
On most benchtop drill presses the standard quill travel will be around 2 1/2 inches. Some offer a little more and some a little less.
If you are a woodturner who makes pens this is an important factor as pen blanks require a 3 inch hole.
You can still drill a deeper hole but it would require drilling part way, moving the table up, and drilling the rest of the way. This can be a pretty time consuming process.
Floor standing models, on the other hand, will usually offer around 3 to 6 inches of spindle travel.
All drill presses sold now will have a range of speeds available change between during use. This is important as different materials and bits require slower or faster speeds for optimal operation.
A 2 1/2 inch forsner bit, for example, will require a fairly slow speed while drill small holes in hard wood will require a much faster speed.
On the older and lower-end models of drill presses, changing speeds means manually moving the belts between the different pulleys.
With today’s modern drill presses though this operation has been streamlined. Mid-range models of drill presses will often have levers that will move the belts between 4 – 6 different preset speeds. This is typically a fairly quick operation.
Higher-end machines offer knobs or digital buttons that can instantly change the speeds anywhere from 250RPM to 3000RPM. They will also often have digital readouts of the current speed so you don’t have to guess by referencing a pulley chart.
Table Size and Quality
With most drill presses, the bigger the drill press is the bigger the accompanying table will be.
My preferred tables are flat with no supports running around the edge. These edges add extra stability and strength to thinner tables but they make clamping a lot more difficult. And I have found that I now clamp something to the table almost every time I use the drill press.
Many tables are now including upgrades like adjustable fences or even dust collection ports.
Most drill press tables can also be tilted. If that is a feature you’ll feel you would need then make sure the drill press you select has that as an option.
Depth stops are used to make repeated cuts at the same depth. These are great for processes like drilling out wood plugs.
If you’ll be frequently using the depth stops then look for a model that has a quick release button or depth ring. These make setting and adjusting the depth stops extremely fast.
On some drill press models the depth stops are adjusted by moving two nuts on a threaded rod. This can be a bit time consuming when making big changes.
A lot of higher end drill presses now include laser centers. When they work, these can be a great feature for quickly lining up the spindle to your work piece.
With any technology like this though it is important to check the accuracy often as these lasers can get knocked out of alignment.
Work lights are another great add-on. Often the head of the drill press will cast a shadow on your workpiece which can make it hard to line it up to the spindle.
I would recommend adding a flexible gooseneck light to the drill press if it doesn’t come with a built-in light. I use these lights on my tools and absolutely love them.
Some drill presses include an oscillating feature which moves the spindle up and down automatically while the drill press it powered on.
This is great for using the drill press as an oscillating drum sander. I use these sanding heads all the time for some of my Etsy products, and they are a great feature for cleaning up cut lines on curved pieces.
Now on to some recommendations.
The Best Drill Press for Woodworking
Best Benchtop Drill Press: JET JDP-15B 15″ Drill Press
The Jet JDP-15B benchtop drill press is probably the most well equipped benchtop model on the market. It includes almost every feature you could want on a drill press aside from a digital RPM display.
This 15″ inch (!!) drill press offers a full 3 1/4″ of spindle travel, a built in LED work light AND a laser center.
I also love the flat ground cast iron table. Its slim profile makes for easy clamping along the edges.
This Jet drill press comes with a 3/4HP motor and speed ranges from 250 RPM all the way up to 3,500RPM.
One of the downsizes of this drill press for some folks may be its size. At 36″ tall it is quite a bit larger than many other benchtop models and may require a lower bench surface for comfortable use. I feel though that with all the features this drill press includes along with the 15″ swing makes this drill press a no brainer.
Best Budget Benchtop Drill Press: WEN 4210 Drill Press with Laser
WEN tools have made a name for themselves for producing extremely inexpensive yet still fully capable tools. Their lineup of drill presses are certainly no exception to this rule.
The WEN 10″ benchtop drill press comes with a surprising number of features for the price. Features like an integrated light, laser center, and quick change dial for setting depth stops.
The spindle travel on this drill press is only 2 1/2 inches but 99% of the time that is more than enough for woodworkers.
A 3.2amp motor offers 5 speed options ranging from 600RPM up to 3,100RPM. 600RPM is a bit higher than I prefer on the low end on the drill press, especially since I’m often using larger forsner bits. So keep that in mind.
Overall this is a solid, compact drill press that is small enough to easily fit on a benchtop yet capable enough to handle most woodworking tasks.
Best Floor Standing Drill Press: JET JDP-17 17″ Drill Press
Like its little brother, the Jet JDP-15B, the Jet JDP-17 brings almost everything to the table that you would need in a drill press.
This floor standing drill press features an impressive 17 inches of swing, built in work light, laser center, and integrated dial depth stop.
The tiltable table is a large 14″ x 19″ and once again has a slim design that is great for clamping.
Spindle speeds range from 210 RPM to 3,500RPM.
If you’re looking for a hugely capable woodworking drill press and have the space for a floor standing model then this is a great choice!
Best Budget Floor Standing Drill Press: Shop Fox W1848 Oscillating Floor Drill Press
If you’re looking for a solid, budget friendly floor standing drill press then the Shop Fox W1848 checks a lot of boxes.
This floor standing drill press offers 13 3/4″ of swing, 3 1/4″ of spindle travel, variable speeds ranging from 250RPM to 3,050RPM, and an integrated dust collection port in the slim profile cast iron table.
Another awesome feature on this drill press is the oscillating head option. This is a wonderful option for turning your drill press into an spindle sander. Using a spindle sander on a drill press that does not oscillate up and down will quickly burn through the sand paper on the sanding drum.
By including this oscillating feature you’ll be able to use the sanding option without worry!
While this drill press doesn’t come with a lot of the bells and whistles like lasers or built in lights it is still a solidly built machine that will do the job just fine.
Best Top of the Line Drill Press: Powermatic PM2800B 18″ Drill Press
If you’re looking for a top of the line drill press that includes every feature you could ever want then the Powermatic PM2800B is it.
Where do you start with listing everything this drill press includes?
- 18 inches of swing
- Speeds from 250RPM to 3,000RPM
- Digital speed readout
- 6 inches of spindle travel
- Huge 20-inch wide table with a built-in fence
- Can be wired for 110v or 220v
- Two LED work lights
- Laser center
- The handle can be mounted on either side for right-handed or left-handed woodworkers
- Easy speed adjustments with no belt changes.
Overall this is just an awesome drill press that will be a huge upgrade in almost any woodworking shop.
Final Thoughts on the Best Woodworking Drill Press
Adding a drill press to your woodshop can make for a huge upgrade to your woodworking efficiency and abilities. I love that so many different options are available that should meet everyone’s needs, space requirements, and budget.
My pick for the best woodworking drill press is the Jet JDP-15B 15″ Drill Press.
I feel the combination of size and features makes this an awesome all-around tool that is large enough to meet most woodworkers’ needs yet compact enough to fit in almost any sized shop.