How to Drill a Straight Hole Without a Drill Press

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Being able to drill a straight hole without the use of a drill press can be a very useful skill if you need to work in a small space with a hand drill or driver. Locations like walls or cabinet doors are the kinds of spaces where it can be important to be able to drill a hole without the use of a drill press to guide your work.

Tools to Help Drill a Straight Hole

Sometimes small spaces make it hard to use the bubble level on your hand drill, or you might find that the wall or surface that you are drilling into is not perfectly flat or straight.

This is especially true if you are working in an older home that might have settled over time or had prior modifications made to it.

It is very unlikely that you will be able to drill a straight hole by eyeballing it, so it is important to learn how to do this properly.

Person holding a drill

Use a Portable Drill Guide

If you need a guide, there is a great tool called a portable drill guide that you can buy. You can also make this kind of item at home using some scrap wood. Simply use glue to connect two blocks of wood to make a 90-degree angle and hold in place with clamps until dry.

You can then attach this item to your tool belt with some string or wire, or you can keep it handy in your toolbox. You will use this great homemade tool to guide your drill when you are working in a space that is small and to replace the guides of the drill press that was mentioned earlier.

Use a Reusable Jig

You can also make a reusable jig that will guide your drilling process if you need to drill more than one hole of the same size in the same small space. You can buy an aluminum or brass rod segments that matche the diameter of your drill bit. Attach it to the side of your drill guide with some glue.

Be sure that your section of rod is short enough that you can sink the drill bit to the required depth before you glue to the guide. Once the glue has dried, you can insert the drill bit into this handy metal guide and use the rod to guide your drilling.

It will eventually wear out, but you can easily attach a new piece of metal rod and go right back to work!

How to Drill a Straight Hole Without a Drill Press

1. Create a Marker Before you Start

As with many projects that require a hand drill, creating a mark in the surface that you are drilling will help guide your hand and will also give the drill bit something to bite into.

You can do this easily by using an awl to create a small divot for the drill bit to hook into when it is first set. The placement will be secure enough to keep the drill from skittering around as you work.

If you are using the metal rod attached to your square, you will not need to do this step as you will use the metal rod to control the original drilling process.

You might also consider going one step further and drilling a pilot hole.

2. Select the Right Torque

The chuck where you insert your drill bit of choice has little marks on it that indicate the torque value of your drill. You can change this value by rotating the ring around the drill bit.

The higher the number, the higher the resistance threshold. This means that you need to pick the right value for the surface that you are drilling into or the screw that you are trying to drill into the surface.

Always check the instructions of your drill to see what the torque ranges are indicated for so that you do not pick the wrong torque value and snap a screw, or dial in too much resistance to drill a tidy hole.

3. Select Your Speed

The rotational speed of drill is controlled by the trigger, but there is usually also a speed selector on your drill. This switch will allow you to switch from high to low speed. You will use low speed to drive a screw, and high speed to drill a hole.

Always be sure to squeeze gently when you first start out to make sure that you have set the right speed. It can be easy to forget what speed you set the drill at for another project and instantly drill too fast as you get started.

Giving the drill trigger a little squeeze before you even start drilling your first hole is a good plan to prevent errors related to incorrect speed selection.

4. Pick Your Bit

Drill bits can make all the difference in your drilling process and you want to pick the right drill bit for the task at hand. Helical bits are the most common bits that would be used for this kind of task, and a driving bit would be used to screw a screw into a wooden surface.

There are various thickness and materials of drill bits on the market, and the ends might be different sizes or be more or less sharp. Always make sure that you pick the right size driving bit for the screw head so that you do not strip it when you sink it into the wood.

For your helical drill bit, make sure that it is the right thickness for the fastener that you are preparing to affix in the hole.

Drill bit kit

5. Place Your Straight Square

Using the square tool that you made, place it on the surface that you are going to drill.

  1. Place your drill bit at the point of the square in the mark that you tapped into the wood with your awl.
  2. Hold the square against your drill and make sure that you are holding the drill level before you start to press the trigger.
  3. Make sure to look at your proposed drilling angle from the side slightly to be sure that you are actually lined up straight. It can be deceptive to look at the drill from the top only as your hand will be blocking most of your line of sight.
  4. Hold the square firmly in place as you work and resist the urge to crane or look to the side as you drill so that your grip on your tool does not shift the hole from being straight to being crooked.

6. Start Drilling Slowly

Always start out drilling slowly and then increase your speed. Once Started, back off and insert the drill bit into the hole a few times to deburr the hole and remove and shavings and other debris.

You want the hole to be smoothed out and dust and shavings free before you attach anything through it. You can always blow on the hole to make sure that the shavings that are inside are blown free, and to make sure that there is nothing that is still attached that needs to be smoothed out with a few more passes of the drill.

You might need to support your material by placing a second piece on the backside. For example, if drilling through wood, you might want to add a second piece of wood to the back of your original material. This will help keep the backside of your material from fraying and damaging. Make sure that this board is affixed firmly to the project and drill all the way into it before backing out of the hole.

You can also select to have the side with the split edge be the back of your project and the tidy side can be the one that faces out.

7. Control the Depth

If you need to prevent your drill from sinking too deeply into the surface that you are drilling, there is a simple way to do this. Take a piece of painter’s tape and measure along the drill bit to find the maximum depth of the hole that you need to drill. Wrap the tape around the drill bit at this spot.

The tape will stop you from drilling too deeply into the surface that you are working on and you will be able to visually see that you are getting close to the max depth so that you can slow down and prepare to control the pressure on the drill as you work.

This is particularly important if you are not drilling into a wall but are drilling into an exposed surface that can be seen on both sides.

Summary

Drilling a straight hole does not have to be a process that you complete based on guesswork. Make sure to take advantage of the tools that are discussed in this guide to make sure that you will be able to drill perfectly straight holes into any surface, even in small spaces.

There is no better protection against incorrectly drilled holes than utilizing the right tools to make sure that you can control the drilling process from start to finish.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.