PCB Drill Press On A Budget

An accurate drill press is an essential tool for making your own through-hole printed circuit boards at home. Reader [Josh Ashby] offers up a solid design using scrap bin materials.

A major issue with PCB drilling is that even the slightest horizontal play will snap the delicate carbide drill bit. Hobbyist-grade tools such as Dremel’s drill press attachment are usually too sloppy for this task, while a more precise instrument might set you back a couple hundred bucks.

[Josh’s] design uses a nylon “sled” moving vertically in an aluminum u-channel track. Most of these materials were salvaged or were acquired inexpensively from a local hardware store, and assembled in less than a day. Surprisingly, this low-tech approach has proven sufficiently smooth that he’s yet to break a bit while drilling. And the entire setup, including the knockoff Harbor Freight rotary tool, cost less than the wobbly name-brand accessory alone.

21 thoughts on “PCB Drill Press On A Budget

  1. Nice design, but a lot of work when a real drill press from Harbor Freight can be had for $80 to $90 and can be put to other use.

    The carbide bits for pcb drilling are expensive; I’ve had good luck with resharpened bits which are much more affordable.

  2. I second that, $40 – $50 drill press from harbor frieght and a $10 pack of drills from drillbitcity. Thats all you need. But great initiative, what would be nice is a cnc x-y table that you can just import your drill files from eagle to.

  3. I never had problems with the dremel press.

    That said, who does through hole anymore? sparkfun makes my pcb’s far cheaper than I can and they look like you are a uber pro l33t hacker yo!

  4. I always love projects that talk about how cheap they are to make, and then you find out that some critical component was “free.” His nylon sheets, 10″ X 20″ by 1/2″ thick are listed as “free/recycled.” Recycled? Where exactly does one get recycled nylon sheets 1/2″ thick? Try buying that at McMaster-Carr:


    $77.19 for a 12″ x 24″ X 1/2″ sheet of nylon.

    A lot of the other components are listed as “free” as well. This is only a $40 project if your Grandpa already has a well stocked workshop.

  5. I hang my Dremmel on a bungee cord such that the tip of the drill is 1mm or so from the pcb, which is on top of 2 or 3 layers of cardboard.

    The drill bit is chucked up very short, maybe 5mm.

    I can maneuver the Dremmel with 2 fingers, x, y & z. Since I can move it side to side I can drill all of the holes in an inch square without moving the PCB and they are all close enough to square so as to make no difference.

    It is quite fast.

  6. @jeff-o: I’m not, quite, as quick to bash as FredP but he does bring up a legitimate point. Sure, you could build this using scrap wood or MDF but would either of those materials have the same dimensional consistency of Nylon sheet? The primary point of this project was the ultra-straight/smooth motion of the mechanism which was able to allow the drilling of PCBs without breaking the bits. In my experience, wood based products tend to be much less even and straight then other materials. They are also much more susceptible to swelling, contracting, and warping due to ambient humidity and temperature.

    It’s very likely that the properties of the Nylon sheet material are the primary thing that gave the device the precision that set it apart from equipment like the Dremel’s drill press attachment and, as FredP suggested, large scrap pieces of 1/2″ Nylon sheet isn’t the kind of thing most people are going to find lying around unless “Grandpa already has a well stocked workshop”.

    All that said, even at ~$117 (the $40 mentioned plus $77.19 from McMaster) it’s still cheaper than the “couple hundred bucks” mentioned in the summary for the cost of similarly capable equipment (assuming that value is correct, and the $40 Harbor Freight drill press isn’t capable of the needed precision). On top of that, McMaster might be an easy place to find the stuff, but it’s almost always much more expensive than other sources. A little shopping around should bring the price down a lot.

  7. I agree it’s pretty lame to mark some material you just happen to stumble upon as ‘free’ for everybody

    However as a tip I can tell you I had some success using plastic cutting boards as base material for projects, you can get them for a few bucks all over the place, department stores, ikea, dollar stores, etcetera.

  8. I had a similar setup going for a while until the flexible shaft broke. The mount for this seems better built than mine, but I’d think twice before depending on a flexible shaft tool at high speeds for any prolonged period of time again.

  9. This person seems to have assembled a more precise setup for cheaper:


    Although I suspect your mileage may vary with either the Harbor Freight die grinder or the flex-shaft tool in terms of vibration and runout. I would not trust a full-size HF drill press with miniature carbide bits; it’s the wrong tool for the job. (If it works for you, great–but luck may be involved.)

    For a DIY setup, I’d recommend starting with the Proxxon Micromot 50:


    I bought one after HAD’s article on Proxxon’s $200 drill press, and was very impressed. Cheaper than a Dremel, and a very precise tool.

  10. @all the people that were talking about using the $80 drill press from harbor freight, I’ve used drill presses like them, but have found that they didn’t go fast enough to make nice clean holes with my carbit bits, hence why my grandpa and I built this. Also, this was just a fun project over all, and has much more personal value than buying a small $80 drill press thats already made.
    @whatnot I think cutting boards like those would probably work just as well, possibly even better for the slide as they tend to be a little more slippery, were as the nylon we used was a little rough.
    Another thing is that this will probably work for just using wood, but the design my have to be modified to work with wood.
    One last thing, for anyone one that has mentioned using like sparkfuns batchPCB, I would but I find etching my own boards as being fun, and having a little more of a personal touch :)
    Glad you all like it!

  11. Nice work Josh, it looks like it needs to be any stiff flat material for the back, with the bracket being used also for stiffeness, so I think it was fair to name the stuff as free.

    The aluminium runners, drill holder and the sled seem to be the most important parts, suitable bracing on the back to hold the runners straight and this is adaptable to whatever free stuff anyone has lying around or can cheaply acquire :)

  12. Is it just me? I’ve never had this problem. I use a dremel flexshaft and drill by hand. Most bits wear out before I break them. Is everyone drilling super tiny holes or something?

  13. I don’t think an accurate drill press is needed at all either. In fact, I drill all my boards using a small and cheap drill that fits in the hand, and it’s much much faster than using a drill press. I really rarely break a bit. I’m using HSS and not carbide however.

  14. I use a Dremel drill press (220-01 workstation) with carbide bits (eBay, factory reconditioned pack of 50 bits) for my PCB work, and have never snapped any bits from proper use. (I have snapped bits by accidentally hitting the bit with my finger or PCB while repositioning it, however.)

  15. I do mine by hand using the Dremel flexible extension. Never broken a bit. Just have to be careful that you’re applying the pressure directly down the axis of the bit with no lateral pressure.

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