Drilling tools for woodworking are specially designed to cut wood cleanly and accurately. Here the types of drill bits you need for woodworking, along with a practical approach to acquiring the drilling tools to get you started in woodworking.
The key to how a drill bit bores wood accurately and cleanly is in the tip. A close look at the tip designs of the bits in the photo below tells the story.
The ideal drill bit for most woodworking jobs is a brad-point bit. Its first big advantage is the sharp center point that is used to accurately place the bit on the layout mark. Once placed, this point prevents the bit from skating off the mark when drilling begins.
Brad-point bits also score the surface wood fibers at the start of the cut and continue this as the bit advances. The highest quality version, at the far left in the photo, has two sharp cutting lips at the perimeter that slice wood fibers exceptionally cleanly. The second bit from the left has sharp bevels that do an acceptable but less clean job.
The three twist bits, to the right in the photo, are general purpose drilling tools more efficient in metal than in wood. Still, they are good for miscellaneous work in the shop, for DIY, and they also bore wood nicely along the grain. The tip of the bit in the middle, unlike the one to its right, has a better quality split point design that starts the cut more directly and helps prevent skating. The bit on the far right has a secondary nose (“bullet”) point that also helps start a hole reliably.
In the photo below, compare the clean hole on the left made by the high quality brad-point bit with the ragged hole on the right made by a twist bit.
An ideal set of woodworking drill bits would be high quality brad-points from 1/16″ – 1/2″, in 1/64″ increments, but this is expensive. I suggest get a set up to 1/4″, plus a 5/16″ and 3/8″, and fill in the other sizes with utility quality bits.
Forstner bits can bore flat-bottomed holes. The center point places the bit on the mark, then the rim enters the wood and guides the bit as the horizontal cutting bevels slice the wood. They are a great way to make large diameter holes up to 4″. However, a full set of high quality Forstners can be very expensive. Since these are not day-to-day tools for most woodworking, hold off on these for a while or start with an inexspenive import set up to 2 1/4″, which is adequate for most shops.
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Don’t forget about the humble spade bit (on the far right in the photo at top) when you need to drill a large hole. These are available in increments of 1/16″ up to 1″, and 1/8″ increments beyond 1″. Carefully used, they can bore a decently clean hole.
Of course, there are lots of specialty drill bits that you can acquire as needed but a good 82° countersink is an essential from the start. The photo below shows, from left to right, three good countersinks: an old style with radially asymmetric cutting flutes (currently unavailable), an excellent large single-flute countersink, and a small single-flute countersink that works well in wood or metal. The hardware store model on the far right chatters in wood and leaves a ragged surface.
An electric drill-driver is the practical way to go in my opinion. A cordless model is not usually necessary for a woodshop but is very handy and will see plenty of crossover use for your DIY home projects. A lithium-ion battery is the best overall choice.
Hand tool aficionados prefer a traditional brace for larger holes and chairmaking, and an eggbeater style drill for smaller holes.
Eventually, a drill press is a worthwhile investment for almost all woodworkers. In the meantime, since this guide is meant to get you started in woodworking, a drill guide like the one shown below is a surprisingly effective way to drill accurate perpendicular holes.
Because there are so many types of screw heads in common use, a multi-tip hand driver is more practical than numerous separate hand drivers. The example on the left below and similar models are widely available, inexpensive, have a ratchet mechanism, and come with a set of common bits stored in the handle. The model on the right has a more sophisticated and efficient gear drive mechanism.
The interchangeable bits can also be used in your electric driver. Note the different lengths and the extra-long bit.
I included the wood screw and driver bit below to make my recommendation of the routine use of square-drive screws for woodworking. Notice the deep threads on the yellow zinc-coated screw, which is hardened and more durable than regular steel screws.
The square-drive bit fits snugly in the recess in the screw head and won’t slip or degrade even under vigorous torque with a power or hand driver. Square drive screws are available in various metals including solid brass.