Drill Press Safety ( Lesson Cost Six Stiches)





Introduction: Drill Press Safety ( Lesson Cost Six Stiches)

About: 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 need not be flat and square.

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!



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    33 Discussions

    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.

    2 replies

    Thanks for the words of wisdom.

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


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

    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.

    5 replies

    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.

    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.

    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

    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!

    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

    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-)

    wow, lol I thought that was the safe way.

    ill have to start using hold downs

    thank you

    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.

    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.

    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.


    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.

    1 reply