How to Use a Drill - Bob Vila

By Tom Scalisi | Updated Feb 9, 2024 2:40 PM

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How to Use a Drill - Bob Vila

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

One of the most important DIY tools is the trusty power drill. Equipped with speed and torque, a power drill can bore holes, tighten fasteners, and even mix paint. There just isn’t a replacement for the convenience and accuracy that a drill can offer.

However, with so much power on tap, it’s no wonder that a drill might cause some hesitation among new DIYers. However, after learning how to use a drill and how much time the tool can save, a user may never turn back.

This guide explains the differences between types of drills, how to use a power drill, and a few safety tips.

The first step to learning how to use a power drill is becoming familiar with the tool’s different parts. Like most power tools, drills consist of several key components:

RELATED: The 15 Most Useful Power Drill Attachments

Power drills are not new tools. In fact, the first power drill patent is more than 130 years old. Over time, drill designs have evolved quite a bit, and today’s models come in three main varieties.

The corded drill is the original power drill. These drills feature electrical cords that plug into outlets or extension cords and power the motor. Often, corded drills are heavy-duty and produce a significant amount of torque, but lack some of the refinement and new technology of battery-powered tools. The cord does tether the user, but not having to worry about a battery can be a fair trade-off.

Our Recommendation: DEWALT 3/8″ VSR Mid-Handle Drill on Amazon for $89.16 The DEWALT DWD115K corded drill features a keyless chuck and a stout 8-amp motor, which produces speeds up to 2,500 rpm.

Similar in design to a corded drill, cordless drills use detachable, rechargeable batteries that allow you the freedom to take a drill anywhere. Often, these drills offer less torque, but they’re full of features like keyless chucks, onboard LED work lights, belt clips, and more. The first cordless drills were slow, underpowered, and featured poor battery life, but today’s models are the opposite: fast, strong, and long-lasting.

Our Recommendation: DEWALT 20V MAX Compact Drill/Driver Kit on Amazon for $116.49 The DEWALT DCD771C2 compact drill/driver uses the same battery system as the brand’s other popular tools, and it produces enough power and runtime for most DIY tasks.

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While corded and cordless drills at least look similar, right-angle drills are visually unique. These drills feature long handles that attach to the bottom of the motor to save space, allowing for positioning in tight spots, such as the insides of cabinets, engine bays, stud walls, and other areas where a traditional drill won’t fit.

Our Recommendation: DEWALT 20V MAX Right Angle Cordless Drill on Amazon for $176.89 This DEWALT right-angle cordless drill features a 2,000 rpm run speed, plenty of power, and a sleek head design with a keyless chuck.

There are a few important safety factors to consider when using a drill:

Drills come more or less ready to use directly out of the box. After charging and installing the battery of a cordless drill or plugging in a corded drill, the right drill bit for the job at hand should be inserted into the chuck. Learning how to put a drill bit in a drill is fairly straightforward.

The drill’s main purpose is to drill holes in materials like wood and metal. The process isn’t difficult but should be done right, and this step-by-step guide can help.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Choose the correct drill bit size. If there aren’t clear instructions for your project, it’s possible to match the bit by eye. When drilling a pilot hole, visually match the diameter of the bit with the shaft (not the threads) of the screw that will go in the hole.

Once chosen, install the bit in the chuck. Set the direction to reverse, lightly squeeze the trigger, and hold onto the chuck until it opens far enough to receive the bit. Place the bit inside the chuck, switch the direction to forward, and hold the chuck while lightly squeezing the trigger.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Using light pressure, place the tip of the drill bit on the mark where the hole will be. Hold the drill so the drill bit is as perpendicular as possible to the target surface.

If the drill is aimed at an angle when beginning to drill, the bit will start to “walk” while spinning, meaning it will move away from the mark and result in an inaccurate hole. It can help to place the free hand on the back of the drill to steady it at the correct angle.

Switch the drill back to forward mode so the chuck spins clockwise. Applying light pressure to the trigger, start the bit slowly until it begins to dig into the surface. If it begins to walk, stop, release the trigger, replace the tip of the bit on the original mark, and start the process again.

Starting slowly helps drill an accurate hole, while squeezing the trigger too quickly and starting at full speed could cause the bit to walk.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Once the bit is started, gradually increase the speed by squeezing the trigger. While the bit is spinning, apply light forward pressure on the drill to help the bit dig into the surface. Be sure to keep the drill bit perpendicular to drill straight. As the bit is close to drilling all the way through, release the pressure and slow the bit to prevent jamming the chuck into the workpiece.

When drilling through metal, do not increase the speed. Metal requires slow drilling in order to manage heat and prevent the bit from dulling.

Tightening or loosening screws with a screwdriver takes a long time, and it can be quite a workout, depending on the material and fastener. Knowing how to use a drill for screws speeds up the process tremendously.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Screws are not universal, so it’s important to match the fastener head with the right driver bit. This could be various sizes of Phillips, straight or regular blade, square, Torx, star, and a number of other bits.

Once chosen, loosen the chuck by switching the direction to reverse. Hold the chuck and apply light pressure to the trigger to open the chuck wide enough to receive the bit. Switch the direction to forward, hold the chuck, apply light pressure to the trigger, and tighten down on the driver bit.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Carefully position the driver bit into the head of the fastener so that it fits snugly. Hold the drill so it is aligned with the fastener. If the drill isn’t in line, or if the bit isn’t fully seated, the bit can damage the head of the screw and make it impossible to drive. Also, holding the drill askew can cause the fastener to slip and the drill can fall off the head.

Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

With the bit seated in the fastener and the drill inline with the fastener, apply light pressure to the trigger to start the screw. A bit of forward pressure may also be necessary, as dense materials will resist the screw. Be sure to keep the drill aligned with the fastener.

As the screw begins to dig into the surface, squeeze the trigger to increase the speed, and apply more forward pressure. If the bit begins to skip, reposition the drill so it is straight. Continue until the head of the screw reaches the desired depth.

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Photo: Tom Fenenga for Bob Vila

Power drills are great tools, and they can transform otherwise long, arduous, and mistake-prone jobs into short work. From drilling holes to driving screws, all it takes is a bit of confidence and willingness to try a new tool. With the tips above, a new DIYer can get the hang of how to drill safely and accurately. They’ll be drilling, fastening, and creating new projects with their drill in no time.

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How to Use a Drill - Bob Vila

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