Portable Drill Press

We aren’t sure that [John Heisz’s] build is really what we think of as a drill press, but it is a very portable way to convert a regular drill into something like a drill press. Your drill will probably be different, but you can follow along with his build in the video below.

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem like this would be very hard, but there are a few tricks. Finding the exact center of the drill axis on the back of the drill takes a bit of effort.

[John] has a well-equipped woodshop, so he fashioned everything out of wood. We couldn’t help but think that a laser cutter or 3D printer might have made easy work out of some of the pieces, even if you might have had to laminate thinner plywood together for thickness with the laser cutter.

The wood slides seem to work well, but we thought it might be useful to use rails like some 3D printers use or even cabinet slides. The basic idea is so simple that you should be able to modify it and extend it with your own ideas.

At some point, you could just skip the drill and use your own motor and chuck. We’ve seen a lot of homemade presses, although many of them aren’t this portable.

31 thoughts on “Portable Drill Press

    1. It’s different in that John Heisz built it himself, documented the process, and shared it so others could benefit from his work. This is Hackaday, not BuyFromAmazonaday.

      1. My first thought when I first glanced the article
        – Like the thing I bought from Harbor Freight but never use because shortly after I bought an actual drill press

        My second thought
        – Yah, but this was home built. Building it was the project so that’s cool.

        Then I read in the summary “it might be useful to use rails like some 3D printers use”
        – Like the thing I bought from Harbor Freight but never use because shortly after I bought an actual drill press

    2. Yes, lets all buy cheap things on amazon instead of making them by hand.

      Why do you even come to this website? This article is a perfect example of someone needing a tool and fashioning it using resources on hand. If that’s not a hack, I don’t know what is.

      1. It’s a valid question. Most of us do buy some – or even most – of our tools.
        Many of the builds here of commercially available items are vastly cheaper than commercial options (not the case here) or have a specific feature added.
        And sometimes we all need reminding it can be better to buy a good tool than make one (particularly where any cost saving is dwarfed by time, and we might be making a less durable or accurate device), and to spend our time building the actual thing we needed the tool for.

        1. The one thing building your own tools really gets you is certainly that the tool can be maintained/fixed by you the end user. Buy something and even if it has a design that is sound and maintainable you probably need special widget x and tool y just to get into it to then use z on the bit needing work. Odds are you have none of the above at least for most people, its only really a hobby machinist that might have the right bits or be able to easily modify existing tools I’d suggest.

          For the most part all my tools are purchased, as while in some case I could probably build as cheaply or get better quality in my budget doing it myself (crappy small mill springs to mind – it just needs so much work to keep it running within acceptable precision, and that is if acceptable isn’t all that precise). But that is not universal (couldn’t come close to the precision of my tiny lathe as cheaply as its rather hefty pricetag for instance) and my project time is better spent making the thing I want to make, not the tool, to make the tool, to make the tool, to make the…. Which is what building some tools at least would be, a very long chain.

    3. Probably not much. The big difference here is the hands on you built it yourself and added to your already packed?resume of things that make you a builder/maker/tinkerer/hobbyist. And as the writer of the article suggests, you could modify the build in any number of imaginative ways. Seems like a good time to me.

    4. I used to live on a tiny island that everything took 6 to 12 weeks to arrive, and about half of the time the goods were damaged or missing pieces thanks to careless customs inspectors. Then I got to pay ridiculous import fees on it. No thanks, I’ll make whatever I can, thank you very much. Even though I don’t live there any more and can get anything I want from Amazon in a couple of days, I still make whatever I can, and I appreciate stuff like this article.

    5. They just need to add a line to the end:

      “If you don’t want to build your own, then buy a similar device from your tool seller of choice.”

      As a hack/cool build, it seems normal, and it may be useful to someone in the future who needs to build the same thing.

    6. Heisz is an actual woodworker. So unlike the stuff on Amazon it is likely to work well for the task: drilling holes perfectly normal to large surfaces that do not fit on a drill press. It looks pretty chonky so it’s likely to be very stable and clampable.

      That said I’ve seen his videos and the guy can drill a straight enough hole for dowel joinery (notoriously finicky) without any guide or jig so I’m not sure how much he even needs this. Seems like it is more for people like me that can’t drill a straight hole without a guide.

    7. Also a difference from generic push down drill guides: this one is purpose built, tailored to his drill without am intermediate chuck. The intermediate chucks are to make a generic mechanism that works for all drills… but they add a level of indirection and distance form the work which has an impact. And his jig has as wide a base as he wants to build into it. So it is going to be stable, accurate, rock solid, which is what you want.

  1. Forty years ago I bought a Black & Decker adapter, maybe $20. It gives you drill press action froma portable drill. I’ve use it a lot. The up down action isn’t perfect, but it’s better than hand drilling.

  2. “Finding the exact center of the drill axis on the back of the drill takes a bit of effort.”

    Chuck a piece of straight rod in the drill. (you HAVE been scavenging and disassembling all those dead inkjet printers yousee on the side of the road, haven’t you?)

    Chuck other end of rod into the chuck of a lathe. Bring up a center in the tailstock to the back of the drill suspended in the chuck.

    Voila: a mark for the center line of the drill.

  3. Hey, I’ve got an idea!

    Instead of turning this person away, let’s convince him/her to go to Amazon and pester people there: “why buy such a cheap-o gadget if you can build it yourself!”

    After all, we consider ourselves hackers, and most of us count social engineering as fair game, ain’t it?

    1. We certainly don’t want to turn them away. What we would like is the “why” for this project – did they not realise something commercial was available? (Been there…) did they have lots of wood and time but no cash, or was it just for the fun / learning experience? or did they have a specific need? Because that’s often where these become most interesting.

      I’ve built tools where it’s substantially cheaper (particularly if I don’t need a good quality tool, and you can cobble a crap tool together in a few minutes), or I’ve got a specific need, or I wanted to for the fun (eg hand-made handles for tools or a marking knife).

      1. He says he could make it for free from scrap wood, but given the quality of tools in his shop, cost probably wasn’t the real driver here, I think it a more he wanted to build it himself. It’s possible he didn’t think to value his time (common hacker problem), but I think he did it himself more because he enjoys woodwork.
        Which is cool; it’s just nice to know if there’s a neat addition someone has made to a design that we’re missing.

  4. You know, I have a drill press that has a swing,, moveable base, tilting spindle, whatever. It weighs 60 lbs has a 3ft cord and is bolted to the worktable. The swing won’t let me bore a hole in the center of a sheet of plywood,, and if I unbolt it, it’s too bulky to move around the house. For what it does do, it’s wonderful, but a portable thing used one off, it sucks.

  5. For many kinds of work, one needs to take the tools out of the shop .

    And when tools start travelling too much, one day your nice and high quality tool will not come back.

    For the kind of work this is directed, it is a cheap and “rebuildable” tool. One can build one with cheap wood, and it will not be that problem to leave it at a construction site for say, a couple weeks. Even if the people there use it for straightening nails, you can just fix it ( or burn it at the stove and build another ) . Not that easy with a good quality one ( probably made of steel ) .
    And said fix can be implemented at the site. Maybe the result will not be that pretty, but will just work.

  6. What I want is a mag base drill. They are essentially a portable drill press, that you stick on a steel beam (typically) that you want to punch a hole in. The base and feed mechanism isn’t that hard, but you want a drill that instead of a normal chuck, accepts 3/4″ weldon shank tools. This lets you mount a “Rotobroach”, basically a hole saw on steroids. (Every one I have used includes a conventional chuck on a shank. when you are making a less than 35 mm hole)

    Right now the usual customer is the employer of an ironworker, so they are commercial prices, not “prosumer”. Even a cheap chjinesium model is the better part of US$500. and if you want a reputable brand, double that. and since they are thin on the ground, used prices are also frightening.

    1. If I understand these devices, they lock down to the surface with an electromagnet?

      Does anyone use those for woodworking? I guess you could place a heavy metal plate on your work to give it something to lock down to.

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