How to Drill Through Metal

If you’re wondering how to drill through metal, we’ve got good news for you. Drilling through metal isn’t as tricky as you might expect.

That said, there are a few things to keep in mind when you drill through metal to prevent injury to yourself and damage to your project. Read on to learn how to drill through metal and what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tips for How to Drill Through Metal

As you get ready to drill through metal, the most important thing to do is take a deep breath and relax. Then, follow these tips for drilling through metal to help ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Create a dimple. It helps to make a small divot, or dimple, in the metal in the spot where you plan to drill. The dimple will help to hold the drill bit in place.
  • Start small. Whether you need to make a 1/2-inch hole in metal or a 1-inch hole, it’s a good idea to start with a small hole, then gradually increase the size of the drill bit.
  • Keep the drill bits cool. You don’t want the drill to start smoking or the drill bits to get super-hot to the touch as you work. Going slowly and using lubricant, if needed will help to prevent overheating.
  • Keep the drill bits lubricated. For soft metals, you can usually skip this step. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to invest in a lubricating oil or cutting fluid, especially if you’re drilling a larger hole.
  • Go slowly. Figuring out how to drill through metal isn’t a race. Go slowly to keep your drill from overheating and burning out.
  • Clamp it down. You need something to hold the metal in place while you drill and that something shouldn’t be your hand. To keep the metal secure and avoid injuring yourself, use two clamps to attach it to the table or work surface securely.
  • Consider a “sandwich. If you are drilling through a sheet of metal or a very thin piece of metal, it can be helpful to sandwich the sheet between two pieces of wood. The weight and structure of the wood will help to keep the metal in place and flat and will make it easier to make a straight hole.
  • Wear protection.  Don’t try to drill through metal without the right gear. You need safety goggles, long sleeves, and gloves to protect your skin and eyes from any flying shards.

How to Drill Through Thick Metal

Now that we’ve gone over tips for drilling through metal let’s jump in and learn how to drill through metal. We’ll focus on drilling through thick metal first.

What you need:

  • Vise or clamps
  • Nail or hole punch
  • Drill bits
  • Drill, either a handheld drill or drill press
  • Cutting fluid or lubricant
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves

What to do:

  • Put on your safety goggles and gloves. We’re all about putting safety first.
  • Secure the piece of metal to your work surface. Use two clamps or a vise to hold it in place.
  • Mark where you’ll make the hole. Use a nail or a center punch to make a small divot in the spot where you’re going to drill.
  • Place a bit of lubricant on the metal. Just squirt a small amount of the cutting fluid or oil on the metal.
  • Choose your drill bit. It’s best to start small, such as a 1/8-inch drill bit. Attach it to the drill.
  • Start drilling. Go slowly. It’s entirely acceptable to keep the drill at the slowest speed possible. If you need to go faster, don’t go above medium speed on the drill.
  • Add more oil or cutting fluid. As you drill, apply more lubricant to the metal as needed.
  • Pay attention as you push through to the other side. As you reach the end of the metal, there will be some give in the drill. Continue to go slowly and make sure the clamps hold the metal in place so that the piece doesn’t spin out and hit you once the drill bit breaks through.

What Drill Bit to Use for Metal

One thing people often wonder when learning how to drill through metal is, do you need to use particular drill bits, or are there drill bits that go through metal?

While specific materials, such as concrete or porcelain, require particular drill bits to avoid shattering or cracking, the truth is that you can use any type of drill bit with metal.

Or, at least, you sort of can use any type of drill bit for metal. Here’s what you need to know.

Drill Bit Materials

Generally speaking, you’ll find five different materials used in drill bits. They include:

  • High-Speed Steel (HSS). HSS drill bits are your standard, run-of-the-mill drill bit. They are cost-effective and should work on most types of metals, particularly soft metals.
  • Cobalt. Cobalt drill bits are a bit tougher than HSS drill bits and ideal if you have a lot of holes to drill since they don’t get dull as quickly as HSS bits. They also stay cooler longer.
  • Black oxide-coated HSS. Coating HSS drill bits with black oxide increases their durability and makes them resistant to corrosion. As with cobalt drill bits, black oxide drill bits are ideal for making a lot of holes at once.
  • Titanium-coated HSS. Some HSS drill bits feature a titanium coating which is heat and friction-resistant. As a result, the drill bits remain sharper for longer and can be used with a wide range of materials
  • Carbide. You don’t need to invest in carbide drill bits for drilling through metal. Carbide bits are best used for projects involving tile, brick, or concrete.

Drill Bit Size and Shape

Drill Bit Size and Shape

When figuring out how to drill through metal, another thing to focus on is the shape and size of the drill bit.

Usually, you’ll want to start small and work your way up regarding drill bit diameter, according to DoItYourself. The one exception to that rule is if you’re using a specially shaped drill bit.

These are the three types of drill bit you’re most likely to use to drill through metal:

  • Twist drill bit. According to Lowes, this is your general purpose drill bit. It’s got a spiral shaft and comes in a range of sizes.
  • Hole saw. A hole saw looks like a ring-shaped saw attached to a twist drill bit. It cuts fairly large holes in metal and other materials.
  • Step bit. According to Family Handyman, a step bit lets you drill several different size holes, using the same bit. Step bits are ideal for use with thin pieces of metal.

What Type of Drill to Use for Metal

Type of Drill to Use for Metal

When learning how to drill through metal, you have two choices when it comes to the type of drill you use: handheld or drill press.

Handheld drills have their advantages, but so do drill presses. Probably the biggest benefit of a drill press is that it makes it super easy to make a straight hole in a piece of metal.

READ ALSO: How to Fix an Exhaust Leak without Welding

All you need to do is place the metal on the work surface, position the drill bit over it, then lower it down. The downward motion of the handle and drill bit makes it easy to create a hole accurately, without damaging the metal.

That said, handheld drills offer a bit more flexibility. With a drill press, you need to be able to put the metal that you’re drilling on a flat surface.

But what if you’re drilling into a wall? You’ll need a tool that you can easily bring to the metal, rather than bringing the metal to the tool.

There’s also the issue of cost. Drill presses tend to be large and costly while you can easily find a handheld drill for less than $20.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Change Drill Bits [Step by Step Guide]

If you’re just getting started using power tools, a handheld drill is often the better choice. A drill press is a good idea if you’re going to make a lot of holes in metal sheets very often.

Final Thoughts

Drilling through metal isn’t as scary as it seems, and we hope that you now feel confident enough to pick up a drill and make a few holes in metal.

Just remember, go slowly, use the right size drill bit and make sure to protect yourself from any flying shards.

Additionally, make sure you have something to secure the metal so that it doesn’t wiggle or move as you drill. It’s also a good idea to have cutting fluid on hand, especially if the metal is thick.

Now that you know how to drill through metal, the question is, what are you going to make next?

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