How to Use a Drill

Learn how to drill, pick the right bit, and make your next home improvement project successful with these tips on using the quintessential handheld tool.

A drill in carpentry work is like a skillet in cooking. It's a tool important to master, bridges to other tools, and leads to successful home improvement projects. It can be used to build a shelf, replace fixtures, hang a gallery wall, and more. However, many novice DIYers aren't confident using this basic handheld tool. We're here to help. Check out our video and keep reading below to learn about this versatile power tool. We'll introduce you to the different parts, choosing the right bit, driving a screw, and backtracking your work when you make a mistake. With a little practice, you'll feel confident about doing your own home improvements.

Choosing a Drill

drill and battery power tool

When buying a new drill, pay attention to these factors while you test-drive.

  • Voltage: It indicates how long a drill holds a charge as well as the tool’s power. The higher the voltage, the greater the power and run time.
  • Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Batteries: We recommend a cordless drill. Lithium-ion batteries—rather than nickel-cadmium (NiCd) or nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries—are light, quick-charging, and greener. Read warranties fully, especially details about battery replacement. Find out how much an extra battery costs because batteries typically wear out before tools do. Consider purchasing two batteries to support your cordless drill-driver. If you are going to invest in additional cordless tools, look for a system with standard batteries that work with a range of devices.
  • Drill-Drivers: Different from a plain drill, a drill-driver has a clutch you adjust to set the torque, or power, and thereby avoid screwing too deep. About 10 clutch settings should suffice.
  • 3/8-Inch Drills: This is the ideal size for a DIYer. You’ll likely find a ¼-inch model too weak and a ½-inch model heavy and overpowering.
  • Keyless Chuck: This feature lets you change bits by twisting the end of the drill. If you change bits frequently, add a quick-change adapter.
  • Variable Speed (VSR): These drills put your trigger finger in control of how fast you’re drilling. A trigger lock lets you keep your speed low to avoid stripping a screwhead.

Drill Bits

drill bits white background arrangement

A drill is nothing without a bit. A drill or driver bit slips into the tip and is what drill holes or screws in screws. There's a bit for just about any project; they come in all shapes and sizes, but starter kits typically are twisted with a pointed tip. A driver bit, on the other hand, turns your drill into a power screwdriver. The ends of these bits are made to fit all kinds of screws—flat-blade or Phillips point. With the right bit, accessory, or stand, your drill-driver can cut circular plugs, sand and rasp wood and metal edges, buff and shine surfaces, or even stir concrete, plaster, or paint. Below are just a few types of drill bits:

  • Twist bit: This is a good general-purpose bit for making up to 1/2-inch-diameter holes in wood, plastic, metal, and other materials.
  • Brad-point bit: Its sharpened point is ideal for drilling up to 3/4-inch-diameter holes in wood.
  • Masonry bit: An extra-hard carbide tip bores through concrete, tile, or brick.
  • Spade bit: A spade bit drills holes up to 1-1/2 inches in diameter in a single pass.
  • Forstner bit: It produces a precise, flat-bottom hole up to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Hole saw: This combines a pilot bit and cylindrical saw to drill holes up to 2 inches in diameter.

To insert a bit, first loosen the chuck, which is the rotating section at the tip of the drill. As you twist it, you'll see that the jaws in the tip open and close. With the chuck loosened, place the end of the bit in the hole. Hold the bit as you tighten the chuck, or pulse the trigger to tighten the jaws around the bit.

Understanding Torque

drill diy project outdoor how-to

There should be a second knob called a clutch on your drill behind the chuck. This knob has numbers on it that indicate the setting for the torque, or power. You should use torque when driving a screw into a surface or drilling large holes. The smaller the number, the less torque. If you're unsure of what number to set your drill to, we recommend starting low. Most beginner projects will require a medium-low setting. If that isn't working, bump up the torque.

If you have a new drill, you may not have a clutch at all. Some drill-drivers have an automatic sensor that does the job for you. These new tools sense when you need more torque applied as well as when a screw is flush with the wall.

How to Drill

headboard frame with marked spots for drilling holes

Finally, it's time to start drilling.

If you are drilling into a piece of wood, you want to protect both your work surface and the wood. Drilling through a piece of wood often produces splinters or worse (called tear out) on the board’s back. To avoid tear out, rest the board you're drilling into on scrap lumber. A clamp will hold everything steady while you drill a clean hole.

Place the drill bit or screw so it is perpendicular to the work surface. Apply light downward pressure on the drill and gently squeeze the trigger. As the drill spins, the screw or bit will smoothly work its way into whatever you are drilling. When you are nearly finished, lightly pulse the trigger until you've achieved your desired hole depth. Power drills come with a reverse setting you can use if you have inserted a screw too deep. This button or switch is usually above the trigger. Push it into reverse, place the bit over the screw, and slowly pull back.

If you're drilling into a wall, the same steps apply. Just make sure you're at an height that allows you to drill straight into the surface. Use a ladder or step stool if necessary. When hanging particularly heavy items on a wall, such as a mirror or shelf, you will want to position your screws so they drive into wall studs. The extra enforcement will hold a heavy weight without tearing your drywall.

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