So You Want to Drill a Hole?




Introduction: So You Want to Drill a Hole?

About: Keen on making anything that pops into my brain. No fixed interests. Pretty much everything interests me.

Ok. Bear with me because this gets a bit complicated.

So you've found yourself in need of a hole. There's no need to be anxious. You may be relieved to know that there are literally millions of people with needs just like yours. This guide is for all of them and for all of you.

It seems you've been perceptive enough to note that a drill is a fine tool for making holes. We will make use of this knowledge later. But first things first.

Step 1: Drilling of Holes: a Brief History

Drilling holes has a long and proud history. Let's have a look where it all began . . .

Step 2: History - Using a Stick

Using a stick to dig a hole in the ground is not good for much really. Perhaps this technique is useful if you wish to trap small animals. Later advances in this technology were based on making the stick sharper.

Step 3: History - Auger Bit and Brace

Used for boring medium to large diameter holes in timber. This tool has a long and proud history. Much like steam locomotives.

Step 4: History - Hand Twist Drill

Very much like a modern cordless drill, it also has no cord. It was capable of drilling both wood and metals, but it relies on human power alone to turn the bit.

Step 5: The Old and the New

As with a great many things, there's something to be said for doing things the old way.

That something is "The old way is rubbish."

Drilling holes is much faster, convenient and more accurate than ever.

Step 6: Drilling Workflow

The drilling workflow is a vital tool and it will assist you to successfully execute your hole. When you read the following steps, PAY ATTENTION.

Step 7: Decide Where to Drill

Deciding where to drill is a citical step and one that is often overlooked. I can't stress this enough. An in-depth knowledge of your hole's location is vital in the successful execution your hole.

Cast your gaze about the point where you wish to drill. There are some important items to consider that may seem a bit alien at first.

Step 8: Accessibility

Is the drilling location difficult to access? If the location is on a piece of wood on your bench then congratulations. You have selected an easy and relatively safe location for making your hole.

If your hole's location is on the underside of a car or at the very edge of your two-story home then you have a more difficult circumstance. You need to use your ingenuity to devise a way of making your hole more accessible.

If your location is inside an active volcano or perhaps in another universe it may be time to reconsider your need for this hole in the first place.

Step 9: Danger

Never locate a hole in close proximity to cats, unstable elements as they are.

Other things to watch out for are live electrical cables, explosive substances and high pressure gasses. Don't drill in close proximity to these either.

Any of these can put your hole in serious jeopardy.

Step 10: Expensive

Is the item or material you're drilling into expensive? When you drop the drill and it falls, is the thing it will hit expensive?

Murphy's law applies to all situations where power tools are in use. Be prepared to deal with the financial consequences.

Step 11: Boarder Issues

Serious students of this discipline will wish to study the knowledge of the hole's location itself and how this knowledge was acquired. Was it from a plan detetmined by a distant stranger? Was it a design that came to you in a vision? Can you be sure if the holes location is an absolute truth?

The epistemology of the location of the hole is a bit beyond the scope of this mere pamphlet but it is fascinating nonetheless.

[Authors note: I tried taking pictures of philosophical concepts at this point but I found it was difficult. So I gave up.]

Step 12: Mark the Location

Precisely mark your hole's location. There's no point in just making a hole anywhere. You need to mark where it needs to go. Select an appropriate instrument for marking out your hole. Some examples of marking tools are:

  • Pencil
  • Pen
  • Punch
  • Printed plans

In fact most things that are Pointy and start with P are good for Precisely Placing the Position of your Penetration. Yep, I'm talking about your hole.

For metals, you need to punch them. You know, to keep the hole in line. With a punch and a hammer even.

Step 13: Tool Selection

The material into which you are driling has the greatest influence on the selection of appropriate tools. The materials in which holes are usually created fall into three broad categories:

  • Soft materials - Wood and plastics
  • Hard materials - Metals
  • Brittle materials - Masonry

Step 14: Soft Materials - Bits

You're spoiled for choice here. There are many selections for types of bits and bobs that you can use to drill your hole. Simply select a bit that will create the diameter and depth hole that you require.

Step 15: Soft Materials - Drills

Almost any drill can be used for soft materials. The larger the hole the more torque you need. Start with a drill on the small end of available sizes.

How do you know when it's the right time to get a larger drill? The rule is: If the bit is not turning AND you are not turning, then get a drill with more torque. This rule has a natural upper limit for maximum torque. This is the point at which the drill bit is stationary and you start spinning.

Step 16: Hard Materials - Drills

Harder materials need harder bits. Telling your bits to harden up is not the solution.

As the name implies, general purpose bits are generally OK.

Step 17: Hard Materials - Drills

Most drills can be used to drill metals. As per soft materials, the larger the hole, the more torque you need.

With metals though, the speed is also critical. For large holes, big drills with low speed, high torque gearboxes are ideal. Please take care, though. In this case you are much more likely to encounter the natural upper limit for maximum torque.

Step 18: Brittle Materials - Bits

For brittle materials, use dedicated masonry bits. These bits are made for pounding their way through concrete like tiny, but still supremely noisy, jackhammers. Because of this, the diameter of your hole will be somewhat larger than the bit. Jackhammering is not the same sort of precision operation as, say, carpet bombing.

Because the holes are larger than the bits, when choosing the diameter of the bit, read the directions for the fasteners you are using. Yes, actually read them for a change. The directions will translate for you the diameter of the fastener to the diameter of bit you need.

Step 19: Brittle Materials - Drills

Drilling masonry requires a drill which can create the aforementioned jackhammer effect.

Just to confuse everybody, these drills are called masonry drills.

Step 20: Safety - Eye Protection

Learn from my several trips to the emergency department. Eye protection is good. No joke.

However, what is funny is people thinking they're safe when they can't see through their eye protection. There's no end to the ways that you can accumulate dust, scratches and condensation. Call that safe? Funny!

Step 21: Safety - Ear Protection

Particularly important for masonry drilling. It's the loudest form of drilling that you are likely to encounter. You don't want bits of flying masonry to end up in your ears.

A bonus is that the noise of flying masonry will also be kept out of your ears.

Step 22: Body Location

There are several anthropometric and ergonomic considerations for drilling your hole.

  • Comfortable position - Are you situated where you will gain maximum happiness from the hole drilling process?
  • Loose limbs - A good one to watch out for is whether any part of your body is placed behind your hole. You may end up with one more hole in your body than is absolutely necessary.
  • Standing securely - Sometimes the drill turns. No not the drill bit, the DRILL. Try to plan your hole drilling operation so that, when the drill turns, you will remain on the ladder / on top of the roof / away from sharp objects.

Step 23: Securing the Material

Adequately securing the material is critical to ensuring that the material doesn't end up as part of your body. With masonry, you're probably OK as the material us usually part of a building. With soft materials, they don't hurt as much when they hit you, so the precautions are generally alligned with the percieved toughness of the drill operator.

Things get a bit more serious with metal. Most, if not all, drill operators will fail to be impervious to flying metal. No mater how hard they try.

To secure your material:

  • If it's attached to a solid object, then great: Your work here is done.
  • If it's not solidly attached, try to work out a way of clamping your material with a sturdy clamp or two.
  • If you can't clamp it with a clamp, then clamp it in a vise.
  • If you can't clamp it in a vise, try to hold it with pliers or grips.
  • If you can't hold it with pliers, wear thick gloves and hope for the best.

Step 24: Mental Preparation

Are you mentally prepared to deal with the fact that your hole will not be as perfect as you had envisaged? That it isn't positioned as precisely or dimensionally exact as you wanted? That it has a broken drill bit half way down?


It's OK. Most of us feel that way.

Step 25: Drill a Pilot

We can all do without so much pressure in our lives, right? The same is true for your hole.

Moderate to large sized holes in hard materials and large sized holes in soft material require a pilot. A pilot is a small hole that is drilled in advance of the main hole. If you drill a pilot, you will "fly through" your main hole. Ha! Geez I make me laugh.

Personally, I keep a whole squadron of pilot bits.

Pilot bits are expendable. These are the ones most likely to get blunted, broken and lost. Sound like airplane pilots? Anyway, the pilot hole helps greatly to relieve pressure on your main drill bit. Whew.

Step 26: Actually Drilling the Hole

Grab your tools of choice. Position the bit over the marked hole location. Start the drill. Push with light to moderate pressure. Stop when the bit reaches the required depth. Your perfect hole is done.

Yep, it's that easy. To be more precise, it's that easy only AFTER you have done adequate preparation. The lazy path leads to broken tools, broken projects and broken parts of you. That's the real lesson in this Instructable.

Step 27: Troubleshooting

Drilling proceeding too slowly - The drill is in reverse. Drilling in the forwards direction is not essential but it will make your job significantly faster.

Drilling requires enormous pressure - You have no pilot. Your hole has no sense of direction. Get a pilot hole so that your main hole can sit back, relax and enjoy the journey.

Long strings of swarf blocking drill bit - Intermittently relieve pressure from the drill bit. The swarf will break off and fly somewhere uncomfortable.

Smoke coming from the drill or the drill bit - Stop the drill. Take a step back to admire your handiwork. This is clearly a significant learning experience. One to cherish.

Step 28: Terminology

Bit - The twisty thing on the end of the drill

Drill - The turny machine thing for drilling holes

Material - The stuff you want a hole in

Pilot - Holes that are too small

Swarf - Long curly bits of stuff flying out of the hole

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16 Discussions


I can't wait for your follow up instructable - all about what one might want to put IN the hole!

Great piece of writing, I was laughing all the way through it! 10/10!

Robert Powell
Robert Powell

5 years ago

This was fantastic! You uncovered all of the magic hole drilling secrets! And you added humor too! Great job mate!

Robert Powell
Robert Powell

5 years ago

This was fantastic! You uncovered all of the magic hole drilling secrets! And you added humor too! Great job mate!


5 years ago

Hole-ie mackerel. nice instructible. I may just drill a few holes to practice. who'd a thunk I've been doing it wrong for so many years?


5 years ago

May I suggest, for step 11, this image,

I loved reading your instructable. As you are making this the ultimate place to go for your drilling needs you might include (only a suggestion which you may or may not act on) instructions on using a sharp drill and keeping your drill cool so it stays sharper for longer and makes the job easier?


5 years ago on Introduction

Since I am a veteran hole maker (I even use a shovel for some on occasion, and then there is the pet cemetery thing but that is another story) I read through this rather quickly but was impressed with your attempt to cover all possibilities. You of course missed a few techniques such as shooting a hole with a gun because your drill won't fit. (Does NOT work on steel)

Anyway, I didn't notice you mentioning anything about the direction the drill bit should turn. I found that it helps speed up the process quite a bit to go in one direction but not the other. Unless of course you have a reverse twist bit in which case you need to go the reverse of the correct direction. But then, I don't know since toilets go in the reverse direction in Australia perhaps drill bits do also. So that would mean that the reverse is true and correct but not the standard which would be backwards.

Hmmm, which direction does your lawnmower go in?


5 years ago

Hey there Fred. Australian is my first language. I'll try to put in more explanatory notes for non- Aussies.


Reply 5 years ago

that was hilarious, I'll never look at a hole the same again. *clap clap clap*


5 years ago

I would suggest that you clarify the difference between a spade bit (you know the kind usually rated for wood only) and metal carbide bits. You know before some one starts to drill holes in metal with some spade bits. Thought the outcome would be pretty funny if they posted pics.


5 years ago

Not sure if your English is a variant of standard American English, or perhaps the Queen's English, but in the US we refer to the twisty bit as the drill, the handle/motor thing found most commonly with a battery or power cord is the drill motor. Also, I didn't see the use of oil mentioned for drilling metals harder than aluminum (or aluminium in UK English). That not only helps form a cleaner & more useful hole, but from a safety standpoint, prevents heat buildup which could shatter the drill bit and possibly injure the drill motor holder or others.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

The "twisty bit" is technically the "twist drill bit". Unless it is a paddle, auger, taper, brad point, or forstner bit. The drill motor is found in the tool housing. The entire tool is properly referred to by exactly what it is. Such as a 3/8s chuck VSR power drill. Though it is quite common to shorten the names of both to simply, "drill". I have never heard of a power drill referred to as, a "drill motor".

Some metals harder than aluminum are still machined dry, such as chilled cast iron. There are even cutting fluids made specifically for aluminum for that matter. Heat build up will not shatter a drill bit either. It will more than likely just soften the tip of the drill bit. Which isn't good either, but it still is not shattering the bit. Having shattered innumerable drill bits myself I have to say the leading cause of that is material break through. There is little risk of injury beyond the broken bit itself when that happens either. But you are out the bit, until you resharpen it.


5 years ago

I have often lacked the confidence to make my own hole, that was until I read your highly informative instructable, bless you kind sir.


5 years ago

great one:-) i just missed the part where you explain the freudian implications of drilling holes and using pilots do do so... quite a large hole in this instructable imho... ;-)


5 years ago on Introduction

I am ready to start drilling lots of holes. Thank you! :)