Introduction: Drill Press Safety ( Lesson Cost Six Stiches)

Picture of Drill Press Safety ( Lesson Cost Six Stiches)

Any accident, mistake, or blunder is a learning opportunity.  The following incident is no exception.


I was making an oak cabinet which included some nice brass hinges, but the screw holes in the hinges were not large enough. No problem, I could just ream out the holes on my drill press. I chucked the drill bit.  I paused, realizing that a power drill can be dangerous, the bit can catch in the workpiece and cause it to spin; it can become a very dangerous spinning blade. Since I didn’t want that, I got out my vise grips and held the hinge tightly in one hand as I operated the drill press with the other.  It did not spin, that’s for sure. The helix of the bit caught in the hole and slammed the hinge and my hand almost instantly up into the chuck. In a fraction of a second the sharp edges of the spinning chuck did the inevitable damage to my thumb and forefinger.  A trip to the emergency room and six stitches later, I had definitely learned another lesson. Like clamp the workpiece down and get my hands out of the way!


shannonlove (author)2012-10-28

Six stitches is a cheap lesson. Only my compulsive wearing of safety glasses saved my one good eye some years back.

I think people get bit by this because they think the danger comes from the size of the workpiece, which is small and easily controlled and not the power of the drill motor, transmission and leverage. They should reflect that a bullet is much smaller and has less mass than the gun and propellent that fire it.

Once any work piece becomes engaged by the drill press the full energy of the press's rotation, including angular momentum, can be transferred to and concentrated in the workpiece turning it a whirling blade or projectile. Like a bullet the workpiece now that packs most of the energy imparted to it by the drill press but concentrated in a very small area.

That means our intuition is backwards. We intuit that the smaller the workpiece the safer it is and the less clamping and securing it means, the opposite is true. The small the workpiece the more it needs to be nailed down.

nwlaurie (author)shannonlove2015-05-25

Excellently put - and point taken!

Bill WW (author)shannonlove2012-10-28

Thanks for the words of wisdom.

I also have just one good eye left, so this is serious stuff.


nwlaurie (author)2015-05-25

Thanks - I've always done what you did first time around, from now on I'll heed your advice!

Tex Arcana (author)2014-02-14

two words: LEATHER GLOVES!!!! Do not EVER operate a power tool like this or others without them. And forget those "mechanix"-style gloves, they'll snag and suck your fingers and hand in faster than bare hands. Nitrile gloves are okay for automotive work, but not great with power tools. only proper cowhide/pigskin/goat hide/deerskin will provide enough protection to save your hands and fingers.

Bill WW (author)Tex Arcana2014-02-14

Thanks; I'm sure you saw my bare hands in the photo.
I have two pair of leather gloves, will put one by my drill press.
Appreciate your comment.

jeffreymstinson (author)Bill WW2014-09-04

I've always heard one should NEVER wear gloves near any rotating equipment. In this case, they would have saved you from 6 stitches.

If they someday snag on a bit, especially a 1/4 inch or bigger, they tightly wrap your gloved finger and arm around the chuck until the bit breaks. Sometimes that means breaking every bone in your arm. Gloves save you from a lot of little nicks and cuts around the shop, but they cause amputations, too.

Sickativ (author)Bill WW2014-05-02

I would recomend that you continue operating without gloves. Most valuable lesson i've learnt over the years while using various types of machinery is to not wear gloves or long and loose armsleeves. Especially rotating machinery. I've been unfortunate enough to witness what happens when you get caught by the glove or sleeve, and it is not pretty

Bill WW (author)Sickativ2014-05-02

Thanks; I understand how things can get caught and cause a problem. In my shall shop I have a belt sander, and have to reach over it to turn on a vacuum. Last month I turned to sander on FIRST then reached over to turn on the vacuum. My loose shirt got caught in the sander, not causing an injury, but keeping me pinned there until I could find tools to take the sander apart!

Sickativ (author)Bill WW2014-05-02

This is a perfect example of what can happen with loose clothing around machines. thankfully you escaped unharmed. Imagine same scenario with a much higher torque machine for example a lathe, drill press or planer which wont seize up or jam, but rather pull you in. As far as gloves go i understand Why one would want to wear them to avoid cuts and splinters, but id rather have cuts on my hands than torn limbs. This may sound overly dramatic but its very much possible with high torque equipment. Hopefully someone reads this and save themselves a trip to the ER.

I wish all safe D.I.Y

Tex Arcana (author)2014-02-15

Bill, I wish I had pics of the time I sucked a finger into a large bandsaw: great demo of how good leather gloves can protect you, because THEY DID!! The piece sucked into the blade slot, and too my glove fingertip with it, jammed the blade so thoroughly that it popped it off the drive pullies. but it saved my finger, which is the point. B-)

broken board (author)2014-01-15

wow, lol I thought that was the safe way.

ill have to start using hold downs

thank you

reverend-pheedrayt (author)2013-12-19

Here's a photo of a drill modified for brass

Thanks; good input. Obvious you have experience with this.

reverend-pheedrayt (author)2013-12-18

Another point I didn't see mentioned is that you can modify the drill bit so it won't yank into the workpiece like a corkscrew. This happens with soft materials like brass and plastic, especially if you are drilling into a smaller hole because there's no material to keep the point from freely plunging into the workpiece. Hone or grind a flat the cutting edges to make the face of the cutting edges parallel to the axis of the drill bit.

bfk (author)2013-05-12

Been there, done that... But unlike you, kept doing it many times. Some people just don't learn. I finally picked up a drill press clamp at Harbor Freight, but because it was a pain to use, it sat next to my drill for years. It took forever to thread the wing nut up the long shaft that holds the clamp to the table... A few years ago, I had a "duh" moment and cut the shaft down. Now, it's so quick and easy to use, it doubles as a stop clamp for production setups.

flavrt (author)2013-04-15

Thank you for a good lesson.

Bill WW (author)flavrt2013-04-15

I'm a retired engineer, trying to stay out of trouble (and not always succeeding!). See the Instructable I just posted for an example.

Thanks for the comment.


Mindmapper1 (author)2013-04-02

mmm I have taught 'shop' for years and despite telling and telling and telling students there is always one who will not believe (until it happens) that they cannot grip thin, sharp metal, plastic or wood to drill it safely without taking the risk that they might not be able to hold it. They think they can get away with it but as others have said, it spins and the natural reaction is to grab it, of course the worse thing that you can do!
Never try and think that you can beat the drilling machine 'cos you can't and won't!
Fortunately never done it myself but have seen others come off second best. You have been quite rightly warned.

Bill WW (author)Mindmapper12013-04-02

Thanks for your comment. I'm still learning!

digitallyinsane (author)2013-03-07

I now take a moment before turning anything on to think "Is this the safest way I can do this?"

I lost three months of work, loss of the use of most of my left index finger, and copious amounts of scar tissue on my middle finger and ring finger when my hand caught my table saw blade. It was a momentary lapse of judgement, I've been behind a table saw for more than 15 years. I partially amputated my index, middle and ring finger, lost the last knuckle of my index finger, and had to endure pins sticking out of my fingers for months, and even a bone graft harvested from my hip when there just wasn't enough bone material for it to solidify.

Never reach past the blade of a table saw. If anyone can learn from my mistake, it's not a total waste. Here's a safe for work picture of my hand while I was healing.

Stay safe and enjoy your hobbies.

Bill WW (author)digitallyinsane2013-03-07

Thanks, appreciate the comment, very timely.

I started working with tools when I was eleven, so (I'm doing the math now) I have been "lucky" for sixty years.

So, yesterday I was cutting a 12" x 18" 3/4" thick panel on my table saw, using the rip fence. I reached past the blade. The panel caught, kicked back so hard I thought it had hit and broken my car windshield. Again I was lucky and not hurt. Will take your advice.

digitallyinsane (author)Bill WW2013-03-07

Complacency costs those with our hobbies (or professions) fingers or grave/catastrophic injury.

I was milling wood from an oak pallet, trimming off the arches on the 2" piece, hit an air pocket and then a knot while reaching past and guiding the trim out of the way. That's what did it. Complacency and momentary oversight.

Dardaro (author)2013-02-19

i learn that lesson in the same way

noahw (author)2012-09-18

I agree with Rimar2000, I find myself making the exact same mistake you just described at the drill press time after time. I pause for a second before flipping the "on" switch and say to myself, "boy, I should really clamp this piece of material down". I usually do, but sometimes I proceed anyway due to some mysterious force inside of me that seems compelled to do things knowingly in the wrong way.

Quick-tune (author)noahw2012-09-25

I too do it most of the time... the force also known as stupidity.

dll932 (author)2012-09-23

I use a drill press frequently at work. After nearly getting my hand broken and ruining a mold worth a few K$, I drilled and tapped the table for lathe/mill clamp hold-downs (5/16x18 thread). Cheap insurance. Some tables have slots for clamp hardware-use them!

SlickSqueegie (author)2012-09-18

Glad you are ok! I find the drill press to be one of the most dangerous tools on the shop....

kenkaniff (author)SlickSqueegie2012-09-19

I agree. I think sometimes people get careless because of how easy it is to work with. I was lucky, one time while using a drill press, the whole quill fell loose; if the table were not set so high, it probably would have fallen completely off, onto my hands or spun into my torso. Since that day, I always make sure the quill is nice and tight.

Any machine with power can be dangerous, and sadly I think this one is one of the more overlooked dangers.

Bill WW (author)kenkaniff2012-09-19

Thank you for your comment.

I believe one reason for overlooked risk from a drill press is that it is relativly quiet. If machinery is loud, we assume it is also dangerous. A nice quiet drill sounds "safe".

wolfkeeper (author)2012-09-19

I wonder if it would have been safer to clamp it in a vice and use a hand drill to do this.

Bill WW (author)wolfkeeper2012-09-19

You are quite right, Wolfkeeper. All I needed to do was enlarge the screw holes a bit.


rimar2000 (author)2012-09-18

Es muy difícil escarmentar, Bill, lo digo por experiencia propia. Yo me sorprendo a menudo haciendo las cosas mal, arriesgando mis manos, mis ojos, etc, indebidamente.

It is very difficult to learn a lesson, Bill, I say this from experience. I catch myself often doing the wrong thing, risking my hands, my eyes, etc, unduly.

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a retired mechanical engineer, woodworker, boater, and inventor. Now I'm getting into wood turning, and have found that all my wood projects ... More »
Add instructable to: