A lot of people in DIY forums asked me how to drill in metal and if it was hard. Let me say that life tests us, and sometimes, we have to drill holes in different kinds of metal.
I know you can already think of a million bad things that could happen with this hard job, but don’t worry, drilling into metal is pretty much the same as drilling into most other surfaces. I’d say it’s easier if you know how to do it right.
Because of this, I made this guide to show you how easy it can be to drill through metal. Also, I will talk about different types of metal and drill bits, how to stay safe while drilling, and, most importantly, some of the most common problems that come up during the process.
Understanding Metal and Drill Bits
You may not be aware of this, but humankind—or rather, let me say our ancestors—has been trying to find new uses for metal ever since it was first formed.
While it’s true that all metals have some common material properties, a closer inspection reveals that some metals are slightly superior to others.
So, let’s examine the drilling requirements of several common metals used in DIY projects with me.
It’s no exaggeration to say that iron is the “lifeblood” of our civilization. Since iron makes up about 5% of the Earth’s crust, it’s very easy to find.
It is a sturdy metal that is commonly used in many of our homes for DIY projects, such as garden gates. So, to keep it from getting too hot, drill into it with a sharp bit and apply consistent pressure.
Aluminum is my go-to metal for any do-it-yourself (DIY) project because it is inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to work with.
The process of drilling into it is as easy as cutting butter: simply use a regular drill bit and move at a steady speed.
Steel is a typical metal used when constructing furniture or shelves. It is heavier than aluminum but less prone to bending, and it is strong and long-lasting.
Drilling through it will be easier if you use a high-speed steel drill bit and make a small pilot hole first.
Safety Precautions For Drilling Into Metal
To avoid problems, let’s go over the significance of wearing the correct gear and how to set up a safe drilling area.
Personal protective equipment
By wearing the appropriate safety gear, like safety glasses and gloves, you can effectively protect yourself from any potential harm that may arise from the metal fillings.
Safe workspace set-up
When you observe football (soccer), basketball, or any game that takes place on a large field, you’ll notice people who are employed to ensure the field is clean before the games begin.
The same goes for where you’re drilling; you need to make sure your workspace is safe by clamping down the metal piece you’re drilling so it doesn’t move around.
You can also put a metal tray (like a safety net for metal debris) under it to catch shavings. This will keep the area clean and lower the risk of slipping or falling.
Metal Pre-Drilling Preparations
Here are some things you should think about before you start drilling:
Securing the Metal
Never plan to hold the metal in one hand and drill with the other. Sometimes, the drill bit will grab the metal piece and make it snatch and spin. This is not only very dangerous, but it could also damage your work.
If you’ve ever wondered how to fasten two objects securely, it’s important to familiarize yourself with clamps. These multipurpose tools come in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and styles; however, with so many options, it can be confusing to know which one to use for each task.
Don’t worry, I’ll show you the most common and versatile clamps and how to use them with any metal.
There are many kinds of clamps, but my favorite is the C-clamp. The shape of this tool gives it its name: it’s in the shape of a C, and it is one of the most useful and widely used tools in many fields.
In general, it has two metal parts: an “arm” that can move and an adjustable screw. As the screw is tightened, it forces the arm down and clamps onto the workpiece to hold it in place.
Read more on C-Clamp uses.
One of the most useful and common clamps in any workshop is the Spring clamp. It is usually made of hardened steel or other metal alloys, and it has a spring-loaded mechanism that lets you use one hand to apply pressure.
Bar clamps are mechanical clamps that hold more than one thing together. They are composed of a metal bar, two clamps, and a lever. These clamps are usually used for working with metal, but they can also be used for other things, like woodworking.
Toggle clamps are incredibly useful tools that effortlessly secure objects together with a strong grip. The design is straightforward yet impactful. There’s a handle that you can squeeze, and when you do, it activates a mechanism that securely clamps down on whatever you’re working on.
Suppose you are working with metal pieces. Kindly position the toggle clamp over them, press the handle, and there you have it! The toggle clamp securely holds the metal pieces in place, allowing you to work on them with peace of mind, knowing they won’t slip or shift.
Note: No matter what kind of clamp you are using, you should always consider safety when using it. Check to see if the clamp is securely attached to your work area, and look for any signs of damage.
Marking and Measuring
To achieve the desired drilling point, it is important to be precise. Precision is a measure of how closely repeated measurements or actions align with each other. Consider the scenario where you are attempting to accurately hit the center of a target using a bow and arrow.
If your arrows consistently land near each other, even if they are not hitting the exact center of the bullseye, you are considered to have a high level of precision.
When marking drilling points on a metal surface, precision means being able to mark the exact places where holes need to be drilled repeatedly.
The process is as simple as using a pen to mark the spot where you want the hole to be and then using a center punch and hammer to make a little indentation in the metal. As you begin to drill, this will assist in keeping the drill bit’s tip in position.
Please make sure that the measuring tools you use are of good quality and are regularly calibrated so that you can get accurate measurements.
How To Drill Through Metal Effectively
Several effective techniques can assist you in creating precise holes in metal while minimizing wear on your drill bit.
Step 1: Start slowly
If you go slowly, the metal or drill bit won’t break or get too hot. So, put the drill bit’s end into the hole and hold it straight up against the metal.
Next, hold the handle with one hand and rest your other hand on top to help it stay in place. Then, lightly squeeze the drill’s trigger to turn it on, and press the bit into the metal to begin drilling a hole through it.
Step 2: Apply steady pressure
Maintaining a steady pace while drilling into metal requires continuous and strong pressure on the drill. The first step is to put the drill bit you’ve chosen into the drill chuck.
Just like I said before, once you’ve clamped your metal piece to keep it from moving, turn on the drill at a moderate speed while keeping it perpendicular to the surface.
Use light pressure and allow the drill bit to spin as you drill. As the bit slowly cuts through the metal, be careful to apply consistent pressure.
Step 3: Handling metal shavings
When you drill into metal, you want to manage those metal shavings effectively, just like when you peel an orange or apple. To avoid shavings getting in the way of the drilling process, all you have to do is lift the drill bit to remove them.
If you can, put something under the metal, like a plank of wood, to catch the shavings as they fall. To further aid in keeping your work area clean, you can use a vacuum or magnet to collect any stray shavings.
Best Practices For Drilling Holes In Metal
Inspecting and Finishing the Hole
When you’re drilling, the hole you make must be the right size for the metal. Now that you’ve done that, get a deburring tool. Please think of this tool as a little helper that removes rough spots on metal to make it look nice and shiny.
Drill Bit Maintenance
Cleaning your drill bits properly is important if you want them to work well and last as long as possible. Metal shavings and other debris always end up on the bit when you drill holes, no matter what you’re drilling or the material.
So, follow these steps to clean your drill bits the right way:
- Carefully remove the drill bit from the tool while keeping in mind the safety instructions and guidelines provided by the tool’s manufacturer.
- After shaking off any loose particles, use a dry, clean cloth or a gentle brush to remove any remaining debris.
- With care and patience, kindly remove solid or tightly packed debris from the flutes and cut the edges of the bit using a toothpick or a needle.
Also, to keep your drill bits in good condition for as long as possible, you should check them for wear and tear regularly. Steel, iron, and aluminum are just a few examples of extremely hard metals that can cause drill bits to wear out quickly.
Following all necessary safety procedures, remove the bit from the drill and examine it visually for signs of damage or wear on the cutting edges and flutes. If you need to, use a magnifying glass to look for tiny chips or cracks on the bit’s surfaces.
Some drill bits will wear out with regular use, no matter how careful you are. It is recommended to replace the bit completely if you experience any problems and are unable to resharpen it effectively.
Advanced Metal Drilling Techniques
Drilling Through Thick or Hardened Metals
When drilling thick metals, it’s crucial to use the correct equipment and techniques. Drill bits made of high-speed steel or carbide are better suited to handling these materials’ hardness.
When you’re cutting metal, the most important thing is to use the right cutting oil or lubricant to keep your drill bit from getting too hot and locking up when you need it to work.
The lubricant keeps the drill bit and the material it’s drilling into from rubbing against each other. Less friction means less heat buildup, which makes both the drill bit and the metal or material being drilled last longer.
It also gives you more control over the drilling process because you need less force to make a hole.
Another reason is that many metals don’t like water, so using a lubricant prevents them from rusting.
Troubleshooting Common Issues
Because we are not perfect, it is normal for us to make mistakes in our day-to-day activities. Many things can go wrong when drilling into metal, but they’re all expected as you learn.
For the sake of argument, assume that you have all the necessary equipment and are prepared to drill into the metal wall in your garage to attach brackets for a new shelf. Now, let me tell you about some mistakes that are likely to be made during the process.
Incorrect drill bit selection
Using the incorrect drill bit is similar to attempting to peel an orange with a butter knife – it simply won’t be effective. Drilling through metal requires the use of drill bits specifically engineered to handle its durability.
This is comparable to neglecting to include oil in your car engine, which will eventually have an impact on the engine. Using lubricant oil is beneficial as it helps to maintain a lower temperature and extend the lifespan of your drill bit.
Not using safety gear
Using proper safety gear, such as safety goggles, gloves, and earplugs, is essential to prevent injuries and long-term health problems.
Drilling holes in metals is easier than it might seem, but every metal is different, and it’s important to know both the drill bits and the metal you’re working with.
In addition to that, as you start your DIY journey, keep in mind that learning how to drill into metals will give you a lot of options. The steps I just talked about aren’t just steps; they’re keys to unlocking your creativity and making your ideas into real, metal works of art.
Now that you feel more confident, don’t be afraid to get your tools and start working on your projects. If you ever need help along the way, don’t worry—I’ll be here for you.