Tools: Proxxon drill press TBM115/TBM220

tbm220ii

A decent drill press is a crucial tool for an electronics lab. We use our drill press to make holes in our own circuit boards, and tap or break traces on existing circuit boards. We’ve used a lot of tools to drill circuit boards — power drills, power drills in “drill press stands”, and high-speed rotary tools — but when we started doing projects on a schedule, it was time for something more reliable.

We first spotted the Proxxon TBM115/TBM220 drill press in the window of a local shop.  Its tiny size and adjustable speed seemed ideal for drilling circuit boards. At $200, this is one of the pricier tools in our lab, but quality bearings and smooth drilling action aren’t cheap.  Read about our experience with this tool below the break.

belt-exposed

This drill press is tiny, less than a foot tall. It’s easy to tuck away in a closet or under a bed. Despite it’s size, it has all the typical drill press functions like adjustable height and drill depth.

An adjustable drive belt connects the drill head to the motor. The belt moves to different positions on internal pulleys to create three combinations of speed and torque; 1,800, 4,700 and 8,500 rpm. It’s a bit of a pain to adjust the belt, and the instructions for proper tightness are a bit vague.

If the drill is left for long periods, the belt should be loosened so it doesn’t warp. We think our drill press was over-tightened and stood in a hot shop window for more than a year. Now it sometimes suffers excessive vibration and noise after long periods of drilling. This was ameliorated to some extent by the previously mentioned vague adjustment procedure, but we probably need a new belt. While this is a problem specific to our drill, it’s something to consider if you have similar problems, or if you have the opportunity to buy a new belt when you get the drill.

chuck-and-colletii

The drill came with 6 collets of various diameters, but no chuck. We bought the collet-compatible drill bit in the photo at the local electronics store for about $10. Reconditioned drill bits are much cheaper on eBay and we’ve also had Drill Bit City recommended to us.

We usually use cheap 0.8mm bits that don’t fit in a collet, so we bought the optional chuck. As you can see in the photo, after a couple years we still haven’t taken it out of the package. The drill is so smooth and straight that the first bit we purchased has lasted through two years of medium-duty use.

safety1

Proper safety is imperative when working with high-speed drills and tiny bits. You must wear safety glasses. Every bit will break, it’s just a question of when. A broken bit will usually stick inside the circuit board, but sometimes they shoot out like shrapnel and stick in the woodwork. Not wearing safety glasses while using a high-speed drill almost guarantees you’ll eventually lose an eye. We also wear a dust mask, not just to protect the lungs from fiberglass dust, but to shield the face from broken drill bit debris.

hole-quality

Like our soldering station, this is another tool that we absolutely love. It’s the prefect size for working with circuit boards, and worlds better than any high-speed rotary tool we’ve had the displeasure of using. The drilling action is very smooth, and the motor has tons of speed and torque. The biggest difference to us, migrating from a cordless drill on an old drill press stand, is the steadiness of the drilling head. It drills super sharp holes with no wobble or rough edges. This is one of the most important tools in our lab, and one of our favorites.

The 115volt North American model (TBM 115) is available here for about $200, a search shows several other outlets. The 220volt EU/AUS/world model (TBM 220) is available from here, and a number of online shops. You can also contact Proxxon to find nearby brick and mortar outlets.

drillhead

Comments

  1. J. Peterson says:

    What’s the largest bit size it can handle? Can I drill 1/2″ holes with it?

  2. makeprinceton says:

    $200 !?!?!?!

    I bought this one a few years back http://www.toolsnow.com/browse.cfm/4,128.html

    It’s $60 now, but was only $40 then. It has been sturdy and reliable. I highly recommend it.

  3. Ian Lesnet says:

    The collets are 1.0, 1.5,2.0, 2.4,3.0,3.2mm (1/32 to 1/8″). The chuck is good for 0.5 to 6mm (max 1/4″). It doesn’t handle large bits, it’s specifically for small, high-speed carbide bits. 8,500rmp is more than twice the max speed of the drill press makeprinceton linked above.

    I first tried a Dremel and stand. The stand wasn’t very good, and the Dremel head had lots of play. I just happened to see this in the store window, and it was only $25 more than the Dremel setup… It is very expensive, but it’s very good for this type of work.

  4. royce says:

    I thought high speed was essential to circuit board bits. 8,500 rpms is fast enough? Or perhaps its only fast enough with a truly straight and wobble free drill-press?

  5. ab says:

    @ makeprinceton
    I own the same model, it´s offered in different home improvement centers under different brands and with slight modifications (more powerful motor, switches on front, different sizes, different handle). The quality is OK for the price (44€ for the smallest model, 50mm quill travel), but the drill depth adjuster is a mess, the pulleys are cheap plastic, the chuck is imprecise and the belt tightening mechanism is a bad joke (the motors axle can never be perpendicular which sometimes results in a “jumping” or skipping belt). But it does its job, the question is how long. I don´t even intend to use it for pcb related work, i got a mill (with a Proxxon mill motor) for that.

    The Proxxon is probably better suited for miniature work on pcb, mainly because it´s more precise chuck. What the Proxxon won´t handle is huge drill diameters and much quill travel. But it is definitely a longer lasting quality machine.

    I´ll probably go and spend some 80€ in a precision quick-action drill chuck and this will solve some problems related to accuracy. As usual you pay more for the accessoires as for the machine itself. As i am the “buy cheap – improve it later” type i´ll also see if i can eliminate some of the other issues, like replacing the pulleys with aluminium type, getting a sturdier quill travel adjustment and improvement of the belt tightening.

  6. jimmys says:

    ian-
    what are the hackaday guidelines for disclosure? If you received equipment gratis or on loan from a manufacturer or distributor, would you be required to note that in your article? If you communicated with a manufacturer or distributor before posting an article, would you be required to note that?

    I’m not implying anything. I’d just like to know.

  7. dan says:

    jimmmys – what kind of fucked up world do you live in where people have official disclosure guidelines about what to post on their fringe tech blog?!

  8. jimmys says:

    dan-
    a world where credibility matters to some people?

    if there are no guidelines whatsoever, that’s helpful to know as well.

  9. Punch The Donkey says:

    @jimmys

    How does does so called “disclosure guidelines” affect someones credibility in way shape or form?. I suspect you’re some form of litigation Lawyer, please be on your way.

    Well done Hackaday, you just helped me pick out a new bench drill press. :)

  10. Ian Lesnet says:

    @jimmys – We always disclose how we get our gear, especially if it’s free. In this case, as with the Aoyue review, these are the tools we actually purchased for use in the lab where we design the how-to projects you see on this site.

    We’re just a little blog with ‘hack’ in the title, nobody’s jumping to give us free stuff. A notable exception is the Smart Tweezers we reviewed a few weeks ago, we wrote and asked for a review unit because they looked like an interesting tool for people who do a lot of SMD work. We disclosed that this was a freebie at the beginning of the article, and we always will.

  11. jimmys says:

    ian-
    that’s good to hear. it’s not something to be defensive about, it’s reassuring to readers like myself.

  12. matthias says:

    Hi. I’d like to recommend the mini-drill (Proxxon Micomot 50/E) and stand (Proxxon MB 140/S) from the same company. It was less than 100 EURO and I’m quite happy with this set-up. It goes up to 20.000 rpm and the drill does not have any play.

  13. octelcogopod says:

    @dan, punch the donkey

    that kind of disclosure is very important for blogs, as with “small” blogs like this one people tend to assume unbiased reviews. it’s important to retain credibility, because the fringe tends to have the least shills in my experience.
    there’s nothing “fucked up” about it and one doesn’t have to be a litigation lawyer to appreciate that kind of disclosure.
    both of you seem have this irrational knee jerk reaction to jimmys’ comment. i recommend a chill pill.

  14. Waterppk says:

    Best place to get drill bits:

    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=34640

    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=44924

    They’re shanked to fit in a standard drill and into a standard dremel and they’re carbide so they put up with some serious abuse. I drilled out some stainless steel with one the other day and it was fine. Harbor Freight usually has a local store in big cities (check their site), so you don’t have to pay shipping and you can check stuff out before you buy.

    You can also pick up a better drill press for $80, if you wait until they’re on sale or you get a 20% off coupon you’ll be even better off:

    http://search.harborfreight.com/cpisearch/web/search.do?keyword=drill+press&Submit=Go

    Those presses aren’t going to be good for drilling out huge stuff, but for a hobbiest who’s drilling PCB boards and small stuff, it’ll work great.

  15. jb says:

    This is a good piece of equipment; I’ve got a few Proxxon items in my shop. I use the electric drive every day.

    I have drilled a few boards with this press – single sided .062″ thick. Never had a problem. Also use it for drilling basswood and other soft woods. Not had much luck with Mylar – speeds are just too fast.

    And I bought everything – nothing for free, but what the hell does it matter? If we can’t trust HAD to give us the straight deal, why do we even read it? I trust old friends – if HAD says this is a good machine, I’d buy it. If it didn’t work, I’d give ‘em hell in comments.

    //rant out

  16. Oren Beck says:

    Having misused close to every sort of machine tool from crap to gold at one time or another changed my viewpoint. Tools are that trinity oft repeated in variants. Three factors listed and a “pick any two” closer line. Same with drill presses. Cheap-accurate-durable. Pick any two.

  17. matt says:

    i bought the ‘professional’ proxxon drill for my pcb setup, and the stand that it fits into:

    http://www.proxxon-world.com/product/drill_stand_mb_140_s

    and

    http://www.proxxon-world.com/product/professional_drill_grinder_ib_e_220-240v

    no wobble whatsoever, 20,000rpm… don’t know why people would buy the ‘drill press’, never have to stuff around with this one.

  18. BrazenDan says:

    Thanks for writing this review; it seems to be just about the only one on the web at this point, and it is really helpful to get honest feedback on something like this before taking the plunge.

    I have to say that I am still in a bit of a dilemma about whether to buy the drill press reviewed here, or the Proxxon rotary tool with drill press stand (mentioned in a followup). The latter combo is less expensive, can be a lot more flexible and if it works just as well, why not?

    I was looking at the drill presses found at Micro-Mark —

    http://www.micromark.com/MICROLUX-3-SPEED-MINI-DRILL-PRESS,7797.html

    http://www.micromark.com/MICROLUX-BENCHTOP-VARIABLE-SPEED-MINI-HOBBY-DRILL-PRESS,8283.html

    However, both have chucks which increase runout somewhat. They informed me that the more expensive variable speed drill press would have less than .004″ runout, and then it only goes to 5000 rpm. It’s interesting that the cheaper 3-speed unit looks SOOO similar to the Proxxon reviewed here, yet it has a chuck and does not operate at the same speeds. Hmmm…

  19. Josh Canfield says:

    How to choose between the 28128/38128 drill and the 28606 drill stand + 28481 motor?
    1) The 28606 die-cast swivel head does not sit perfectly true, so the drill-bit will not be perfectly vertical in its descent. Hardly matters on a thin PCB, but very important with thicker, heavier work.
    2) The 28606 rises and falls on its column via 2 drilled holes in a thin die-casting. If they develop some wear, you will need to bush the holes. So, durability is the issue.
    3) The 28481/38481 actually has a tiny 232-gram 5000-20000rpm DC motor driven off a mains voltage speed controller, while the ‘real’ drill press motor is a chunky 561-gram 7450rpm AC motor and you change speeds with step pulleys. Again, durability is the issue.

    The 28128/38128 costs more, but is a very professional design for a specific purpose. On a lower budget, the 28606+28481/38481 is versatile (you can detach the tool for grinding, etc) but will yield lower accuracy and shorter life.

    My thanks to Mark at Proxxon World for the numbers. The opinions are my own.

    Josh

  20. tehgringe says:

    I have a question before buying one of these. I plan to use this to cut out pieces of 3mm acrylic, will this handle that sort of thing?

  21. moonmonster says:

    Ugly proxxon crap, get a real drill press at ebay.
    Something like this:

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Sears-Craftman-Drill-Press_W0QQitemZ270536160832QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item3efd363640

    It will also drill holes into PCB with the required precision, (my good old drill press can be adjusted between 400-6000 rpm by changing the drive belt) but in contrast to the proxxon crap, it will last a lifetime.
    In proxxon machines, everything is made of cheap cast aluminum, which wears out after short time.
    Even the screw threads are cut into aluminum. So if a screw is tightened slightly to strong, the screw thread is fucked..

  22. Roger Payn says:

    We have 3 of these Proxxon drills in or r & d department for a few years now and they are good work horses. i would recommend them to any serious user. Roger

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