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.
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.
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.
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.
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.