Drilling Custom Standoffs


Every electronics project of sufficient complexity needs standoffs – little plastic or metal cylinders – to mount boards to one another. Keeping hundreds of little plastic trinkets around doesn’t really fit with the hacker mentality, though: it would be far simpler to keep some Delrin rod stock around to drill and cut standoffs as needed. [HomeCSP] created a device to do just that, allowing him to turn 1/4″ Delrin rod stock into any size standoff he needs.

Before building this device, [HomeCSP] was taking plastic rods to the drill press fitted with a very tiny drill bit for a #2 screw. The problems with that technique should be evident to anyone. The new solution uses an old cordless drill and a 6 inch piece of linear rail, effectively turning some bits of scrap into a horizontal drill press with a stationary bit.

The end result is a machine that can bore a hole straight down a 1/4″ rod. With a box of screws these homebrew plastic rods are much cheaper than off-the-shelf parts and can be made in any length desired.

29 thoughts on “Drilling Custom Standoffs

  1. Eh. He’s doing this the wrong way around.

    To drill a hole down the center of a cylinder, mount the cylinder in the rotating chuck and the drill bit is stationary.

    Using a drill press to do this is easy, put the bit in the chuck upside down, lower it and clamp it in your drill press vice (go buy a drill press vice if you don’t have one, useful things), release it from the chuck, now your bit is aligned exactly under your chuck’s center. Chuck the rod to be drilled, turn your press on, and away you go. The hole will by definition be centered on the turning rod. For small bits which can flex due their small diameter, use a larger bit first to create a locating center.

    1. The problem with turning the material instead of the drill is that both centers have to be exactly aligned, or else the drill will be bent in a circle as the material rotates. I doubt that his rig can maintain enough precision for this.

      A more forgiving procedure with a drill press vise is:
      1. Chuck the rod to be drilled
      2. Lower it and clamp it in the drill press vise.The material is now aligned exactly under the chuck’s center
      3. Chuck the drill and drill the rod.

  2. If you have a drill press and a vice for it, this is unnecessary.
    1. Chuck drill bit in drill backwards.
    2. Drop the drill down into the vice, secure the vice on the (perfectly centered) drill bit.
    3. Un-chuck the drill bit, chuck the rod.
    4. Drill away.
    Works for any size rod stock.

    1. IIf you don’t have a drill press vise, do the following:
      1. clamp a piece of wood to the table
      2. drill a hole to match the outside diameter of the rod
      3. without moving the wood block, insert the rod in the hole
      4. drill the hole in the rod.
      If the rod spins because the hole in the wood block is too loose, drill a small hole from the side of the block and insert a screw until it contacts the rod.

    1. Yeah if I was going to make my own stand offs I would definitely start off using some tubing. Tubing seems more available to me than plastic rod stock anyways. I might start off looking in my desk drawer for some dead disposable pens.

      Although lately instead of stand offs I have settled on putting a rabbit step into a bit of wood the depth of circuit board, then capping that off with a thin strip. Maybe a picture might help? I enhanced this one so it might be a little easier to see what I’m talking about


  3. Are standoffs that expensive? How many would you need to make to cover the cost of making this? (I know saving money is not always the point of a hack, but it need to be vaguely justifiable.)

    Apparently you can make your own washers too.

      1. I’ve made my own nuts. Sometimes it is not about the cost of an individual part, but the cost of having, and keeping stock. I have an extensive stock of SAE hardware but metric, not so much. I have a few metric taps, and dies though. So on the rare occasion where I need a metric nut I make one out of a piece of scrap metal. Because metric hardware is basically scrap metal as far as I’m concerned anyways.

        1. I suppose it’s all about what you want to spend time doing (as another commenter posted). If you’re likely to be doing projects that need odd-sized spacers, then certainly go for making your own. However, it would surely be better to design around the sort of standard spacer sizes you get, rather than ending up having to make an odd size?

          Kudos to the guy’s setup though, I really like it. Yep, I know it’s better to have a lathe-like arrangement for concentric work, but for a standoff it doesn’t have to be too critical.

          I rearranged my Sherline mill into a lathe for doing little spacers like this a few years back -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGhhq5oI8Io

          (Don’t know why the maximum resolution is only 240p now….)

          As an aside on nuts and screws ;-) It’s one of my pet hates – I NEVER seem to have enough screws/nuts/washers of the right kind! Or threaded rod, which I love using. Some day I’ll just buy 1000 each of M3, M4, M5, M6, nuts, screws (CSK, pan head), washers, threaded rod, both mild steel and stainless steel, and that should last me forever…..

    1. I tried to prove this guy’s method to expensive – and failed.

      MSC has acetyl rod (1/4″) for $2.35 for a 4 foot length. Grainger has nylon spacers (most plastic commercial standoffs are nylon) – a 100 count bag of 1/4 by 1 inch long – for a little over $14.00.

      As you can easily see, the homebrew method is much cheaper, and you get the flexibility to make them any length needed (though not any width – not without a change in the design of the device, anyhow).

      I guess if you need a lot of spacers or that “one off” size (length), this guy’s solution is a good and low-cost method (minus setup time for the jig).

  4. It’s so odd to see this in the context of an electronics hack… So much of electronics development is contingent on external manufacturers and prebuilt solutions. If you’re willing to buy a 741 op-amp instead of linking together 20 discrete transistors, why not buy a 20-pack of stand offs for a project instead of buying and disassembling a hand drill to make your own from rod stock?

    I understand the impulse to DIY, and for something like a steam engine, making absolutely every single part from bar stock can be done and can be really rewarding.

    I guess I’m just wondering what the actual driving force behind this hack was. Economics doesn’t make sense to me considering how cheap standoffs are and how valuable personal project time is. Maybe HomeCSP wanted to take apart a drill and came up with a project to support that? I can get behind that– it’s as good of a reason as any.

    1. See my earlier post: Economically, it comes down to paying $14.00 for 8 feet of spacers, or under $5.00; depending on how you value your time, and/or if you need some weird length – you’ll might come out ahead.

  5. sometimes you just want standoffs, its Sunday, or no local electronic store, so you make standoffs and get the project done. It’s Hack a day, not Ikea a day, you make due with whatever your have, sometimes it’s not very effective, but hey, if it works…

  6. I saw a couple of great comments up there, but I would like to throw out a couple of points myself:

    First, Grainger and Manhattan Supply are both descent companies here in the US, but I personally like McMaster much better. I personally think that McMaster has better pricing and they ship pretty fast.

    Second, I saw great comments about chucking the part in the drill press and mounting the bit stationary to the table. This is most definitely how I would go about making small parts like this.

    Third and last, If you want to make insulated standoffs, these examples are great, but if they can be made of metal there is an easier way…

    I made some 1/4″ standoffs last week for a project. I used some scrap 3/16″ automotive brake line. A 6-32 screw fits in the middle perfectly. I chucked them up in a drill press. With them spinning in the press, I used a hack saw to part them off. Then, I finished them by touching them, still in the press, to a piece of sandpaper on the table.

    Here is a picture of the finished work:


    I do not know how long I will leave the link up, but at least a month……

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