The Best Benchtop Drill Presses Reviewed
When it comes time to drill there’s no finer and more precise way to get things done than to work with a drill press. Unlike the hand-held drills that most of us are familiar with, a good benchtop drill press allows you to quickly and cleanly make holes at an exact right angle.
We decided to make finding the best benchtop drill press a priority. They’re invaluable to the home DIYer, especially those who like to get crafty, so let’s dive right in and help you find the best one for your needs.
In This Article:
Who Needs a Benchtop Drill Press?
For this test we excluded full stand-up drill presses. While they certainly have a place, they’re not quite as useful to the home DIYer and they take up a lot of workshop space.
Instead, we focused on benchtop models. These smaller presses are great for rapidly pushing precise holes and won’t take up any floor space.
While they’re not required for many of the things they’re used for around the home, they make metal and woodworking much easier. Specialized benchtop presses can even be used with bits for ceramics and stone.
If you’re tired of the imprecision of handheld drills you’re in good hands with an investment in a press.
How We Picked the Best Benchtop Drill Presses
While we were asking amateur machinists and woodworkers which was their preferred model we came upon a few key points that are important when you’re looking into your press. We also found out that bit choice can mean just as much as your press as long as you’re not working with something horrendous.
Motor Power and Variable Speed
These were the first things that came up when we started talking about statistics. A drill press needs to be variable speed if you’re planning on cutting different types of materials. The finer the gradient the better, as you get to know your tool and materials you’ll figure out the perfect speed to use.
Power also mattered. More horsepower meant that the drill press could power through heavier materials, our testing mainly focused on the difference between standard pine 2x4s, aluminum sheet metal, and ⅛” steel. Higher power presses were able to get through the metal much easier without having to amp up the RPMs.
Higher seems to be better in this case and with a variable speed control there’s no worry about being “overpowered” since you control how quickly the bit is spinning and can avoid burn marks or warping in the material you’re cutting.
While we didn’t run into it too badly with any of the models we tested, super low-end drill presses can be a bit… less than sturdy.
Since most of these motors run at a decent horsepower a housing which isn’t sturdy enough to contain them properly leads to wobble in the bit. Wobble means a less precise press. A less precise press… pretty much defeats the entire advantage of using a press over just grabbing a hand-held drill.
The construction quality of any drill press should be unquestionable. These tools are for precision and lacking them they’re just an expensive and large bit of rubbish.
Depth stops are extremely important for woodworking, especially if joinery is your purpose for picking up a press. You need a good one with fine gradation to make the most of your press’ capabilities, and it’s a quality which is pretty much not available when you’re using a standard drill.
A Good Press Table
What makes a good press table is likely up to your own needs, but for the most part we’d consider the following features as something to take a closer look at when you’re picking out a table:
- Dimensions suitable for work space
- Tilt and incline abilities
- Depth between press and bottom of table
- Built-in clamps
Additionally, the press’ table should be made of a high quality material to prevent a single accident from destroying the whole thing. All of our final pics had suitable tables, but not all of them had as much articulation as we’d have liked when it came down to it.
A drill press is a significant investment. Check the warranty so you know if you’ll be covered in the event of an accident or a manufacturer’s error leading to malfunctions. Most should have a lengthy warranty, these are heavy-duty tools.
If they don’t, you may want to ask yourself why the company in question doesn’t have enough faith in their own product to stand behind it.
The Top 6 Benchtop Drill Presses in 2019
We tested a total of 10 models that we felt fit within the budget range of the average home DIYer. Of them, six turned out to be the best. So, let’s dive right in and take a closer look at the technical specifications and our experience with the best benchtop drill presses around.
Best Overall Benchtop Drill Press
WEN 4214 12-Inch Variable Speed Drill Press
The WEN 4214 at a Glance:
- Motor: ⅔ HP
- Speeds: 580-3200 RPM
- Table Dimensions: 9 ½” x 9 ½
WEN often makes our lists, but it’s usually because their product is innovative, low-priced, and multifunctional rather than because they rival bigger brands in quality. However, in this case the WEN 4214 delivers with an excellent benchtop drill press that’s sized perfectly for even the smallest workshop.
This one is priced just about right for those who are working on smaller projects at home. The overall build-quality was surprisingly good but it was the “infinite” variable speed control that sealed the deal for us. By being able to slow down and speed up the drill on a smooth basis we could find the sweet spot for any material within a few cuts.
We actually found that it was remarkably smooth as well. Perhaps not as buttery as the more expensive picks but there were no issues with chattering or sticking points while the press was being lowered.
Our biggest concern is that it was a little bit underpowered. ⅛” steel is pretty thin and even there we were experiencing slow down. This one might not be ideal if metal is your primary working material, although it’ll still do a serviceable job on most scrap metal and thinner sheet metal types. We also noticed the speed control took a bit more force to move than most that made their way into testing.
The Professional Benchtop Drill Press
NOVA 58000 Voyager DVR Drill Press
The NOVA 58000 at a Glance:
- Motor: 2 HP
- Speeds: 50-5500 RPM
- Table Dimensions: 16 ½” x 16 ½”
While the NOVA 58000 is extremely expensive compared to our other picks we felt it deserved a spot as the professional variation which some people find themselves looking for. And make no mistake, if high-quality is what you’re after no matter the cost then you’ll find that this one is right up your alley.
While many of the presses we looked at had some basic electronic controls, only the NOVA really seemed to go above and beyond. It maintains the same speed while going through things, has an excellent little LCD readout display with vital information, and gives you a constant stream of information while it’s operating.
Overall, it’s hard to even compare it to the others on our list. Calling it well-built is a bit of an understatement and the higher horsepower compared to most rendered it capable of making short work of everything that we threw down under the bit.
The only real problem? It’s expensive. At the time of this writing we’re not talking about “a bit more expensive”, this one is a bank breaker for most people.
Most Portable Benchtop Drill Press
DEWALT DWE1622K 2-Speed Magnetic Drill Press
The DWE1622K at a Glance:
- Motor: ~1 ½ HP
- Speeds: 300/450 RPM
- Table Dimensions: None
There are some limiting features with this one, but it’s definitely worth the mention for those who need a small, portable press to take with them on the job site. This press is designed to sit on the surface it’s being used to drill, which makes it handy to fit in a case but also means that it lacks a table.
Our biggest concern was that it’s only a two-speed drill. The lower RPMs make this one mostly suitable for metal although we were still able to punch holes in 2x4s without any issues. The high horsepower added some torque which made putting bits through sheet aluminum and steel a complete snap.
So, this one’s a bit of a different beast compared to most and the higher price is probably only worth it if you’re a professional and need something portable to take to work with you. It even comes with a magnetic coolant bottle so you can keep your workpiece within reasonable temperatures without needing to buy accessories.
Upgrade Pick for a Benchtop Drill Press
Shop Fox W1668
The W1668 at a Glance:
- Motor: ¾ HP
- Speeds: 250-3050 RPM
- Table Dimensions: 12 ⅜” diameter, round
If extra quality is your get-down but you’re not planning on refinancing your home in order to finance the purchase of the Nova 58000, you should take a closer look at the Shop Fox W1668. It’s a high-end benchtop drill press but the price is reasonable enough that most people can find it in their budgets if they need a top-notch press. The motor has a considerable amount of power and the variable speed controls were the smoothest out of the ones we tested except for the Nova.
It’s super smooth operating, punches through everything we threw at it easily enough, and also has an articulated table to allow for easy holes at differing angles. That last little bit almost made it our top pick but we felt the price differential compared to most hobbyist use made it a bit iffy as our recommended pick for home.
Overall? It’s a solid press with few flaws at a decent price. It’s not the cheapest and the extra features may not be necessary for those who are just making simple wood joinery or punching straight holes, but for those who need them it’s hard to find anything better.
The 3320-01 at a Glance:
- ~¼ HP
- 5 Speed, 570-3020 RPM
- Table Dimensions: 7 ⅝”x 7 ⅝”
Compared to the others on our list, the SKIL 3320-01 is really nothing to write home about. It’s solid, it does a good job on wood and is passable for thin metals. It also has a 5-speed control instead of the variable controls that we liked much more.
However, for the price it’s a hard little machine to beat. It worked well enough for wood with bits up to ½” and the five speed control wasn’t as much of a limiting factor as we thought it would be although it might be a bit of pain if you’re regularly drilling oddball materials like copper or brass.
So, in the end… it’s not the best drill press for around the home by any means. It’s the only one which made our list that had any “shakiness” issues that we feel keeps it from being proper machining, it’s a bit underpowered, and it generally isn’t up to par with the rest of our favorites.
The JDP-17 at a Glance:>
- Motor: ¾ HP
- Speeds: 210-3500 RPM
- Table Dimensions: 14”x 19”
Don’t get us wrong here, the Jet JDP-17 is an excellent press for a wide variety of materials. We just feel that the cost is too high for the little bit of extras compared to… well, just about every other press that we tried out.
As a tool, it’s wonderful. It’s smooth, it has a considerable amount of power, and a simple LCD readout to give you vital information while you’re working.
This one is available in both a benchtop and stand-up model with a slight price difference. We tested the benchtop model but it appears the stand-up version has the same technical specifications with a bit further of travel and ends up being freestanding.
Was there anything we didn’t like? Not really. It’s a great press, but if you’d asked us how much we thought we’d be paying for it we’d have estimated about half of the cost that we paid when it came time to review it.
Let’s Talk a Bit About… Bits
Many people make the mistake of purchasing a great drill press and generic bits.
You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you do that. Instead, you need to first think about the applications you’re planning on using your press for and then invest in the right bits from the outset.
Your bits create the cutting surface for your press and are almost as big of a factor as the press itself. If you’re not careful about making sure you’re using the right bit for the material you’re drilling then you can end up in trouble quickly.
For the most part standard tool steel bits should only be used for wood and plastic drilling. They’re not hard enough for drilling ferrous metals like steel and they have a tendency to pick up more debris than strictly necessary for materials like copper. They will work for ferrous metals, but be sure to keep the speed high enough that the material doesn’t deform.
Tungsten carbide bits are quite expensive, but they’re also the best around when it comes to cutting through metal. The extreme hardness of the material makes them difficult to create, hence the high cost, but they’ll make short work of even hardened steel and maintain an edge for an extremely long time. They’re also brittle, so be careful when using them in unpredictable and “flexible” materials like wood.
Lastly, diamond drill bits are used for stone, ceramics, and glass. These bits are extremely specialized, virtually useless for wood, plastic, and most metals, and will require a lot of technique and finesse on your part to use without breaking the workpiece or overheating the bit and burning off the diamonds.
Even if you go with a budget saw don’t go cheap on your bits. A good set of the same type of bits will cost ~2x as much as a budget set, but they’ll last for many times the length of the cheaper set and save you money in the long run.
The one place this doesn’t hold true is with diamond bits. If you’re a lapidary or glass artist and frequently find yourself drilling agate, glass, and other seriously hard materials your bits have a lifespan measured in a small number of holes even if you buy the best bits available and the cheaper ones are the way to go since they can be had for pennies each instead of $10-$15 each for bits that only last twice as long.
Drill Press FAQ
We’re here again. We’ve anticipated your questions about the uses and operation of your new benchtop drill press and we hope we’ve got your answer right here. If not, leave us a line in the comments below and we’ll get back to you in no time at all.
Q: What speed is optimal for cutting different materials?
A: As a general rule, metal should be cut at the lowest possible speed while wood is best cut at as high of an RPM as possible as long as the wood isn’t getting scorched. Plastic and non-ferrous metals seem to cut best in middling ranges, too slow and the bits clog and too fast will warp the material or even melt it in the case of plastics. Each piece is a bit different, but this guide should get you started on the right path. Going too slow won’t hurt anything, but too quickly can damage bits and materials.
Q: Do drill presses have any other uses?
A: Not surprisingly, anything which spins a bit quickly can be used for a variety of tasks. We didn’t test the capabilities during our testing, focusing on the primary purpose, but things like sanding spindles are commonly used alongside a drill press. Some people have even managed ti turn them into a vertical lathe with some extra care.
Q: How dangerous are drill presses?
A: Like any power tool, you need to be very aware when you’re using a drill press. However, compared to tools like table saws and reciprocating saws which are notorious for major lacerations and amputations they’re relatively benign. Keep your hands off the table, wear protective goggles, and check any cheap bits for damage regularly and you’ve got almost nothing to worry about.
Q: What’s the big difference with stand up bench presses compared to benchtop?
A: Honestly? Not much until we’re talking about industrial scale presses. Indeed, some of the presses we reviewed have a stand up version which uses identical hardware. The biggest difference in most cases is that stand-up presses tend to have a longer throat, meaning there’s more travel possible with the drill itself.
Q: Why are some of your tech specs estimated?
A: Unfortunately, not everyone lets us know how much horsepower is in the motor. In instances where this was the case we were forced to use a conversion calculator for 115V amperage to horsepower, which is a bit inexact.
Q: How do I do dowel joinery with a drill press?
A: Use the depth stop, an appropriately sized bit, and don’t screw it up. In all seriousness, during our testing we were exposed to a great little video on the subject which explains the basics in an easy-to-understand way.
Q: How essential is a drill press to a home workshop?
A: For most people they’re not a high priority tool. Wood drilling can be done almost as well with a hand-held drill and some care. They become a necessity if you’re working metal at home, however, and they can make pretty much every task involving drilling a hole much easier and quicker without the risk of broken bits or messing things up with a crooked hole.