How to Drill Metal 

Drilling metal might seem a little bit complex, but the actual drilling process is the same as if you were drilling into wood or masonry.

There are a couple of little tweaks required and you do need the right drill bits of course. Below I have included a simple procedure, that will help you get the job done quickly and safely. Also i have recently bought a right angle drill that's very useful for getting into awkward areas. It's well worth reading a bit more about them.

The Correct Drill Bit

Carbon steel drill bits that are coated with titanium nitride or high speed steel drill bits work best for nearly all kinds of metal.

In addition, you can also use a cobalt steel bit for very hard metal, such as stainless steel or cast irons. I have done a full article here on what I believe the best drill bits for metal are. These are fairly cheap and I don't know why anybody would buy a drill bit sharpener with sets like this available at this sort of price.

Fixing The Metal

If you are drilling a smaller piece of metal, then this is easily done by clamping the metal to your workplace or setting it in a vice. If you are fortunate enough to own a drill press then make sure it is clamped into it.

This step isn’t really necessary if you are trying to drill into a large, heavy steel object like a door or a frame. It is however very important to clamp in some way smaller metal as it can easily get spun around when drilling.

That of course can be very dangerous. People can easily lose a finger from a fast spinning piece of sheet metal.

It really doesn't take that long to find some method of securing the material that you are drilling into. An extra minute or two spent doing that will mean that you can work safely, and still get the job done.

Marking the Spot for Drilling

You need to be accurate when it comes to marking the centre of the spot where you want to drill the hole. Just remember it is much harder to patch an error in metal than to patch one that you have made in wood.

In some cases it will just not be possible to repair it so make sure you know exactly where you want the hole.

Mark it with a pencil, and then get a nail. Set the nail on the pencil mark and then tap the nail slightly with a hammer to mark your drill spot and create an opening divot. That will allow the bit to find this small divot when drilling starts.

Stay Safe When Drilling Metal

The chances are very minimal, but the huge number of sparks thrown when drilling metal can sometimes create small fires.

A fire extinguisher within arm's reach will help you keep those small flames from getting out of control. It is always a good idea to have a small fire extinguisher in your garage or workshop in case of a fire.

Put on Safety Goggles

Your drill bit material has to be of strong construction, and you must take additional precaution to protect against flying debris. This is due to the fact that slivers of metal are very sharp and can cause further damage than pieces of wood.

The safety goggles are to protect your eyes from the sparks and thrown debris as well. You might also want to put on a long-sleeved shirt that has a closed collar for the same reasons.

Many people and men are the most guilt of all may be silly enough not to wear goggles. Please never risk that as losing an eye for the sake of speed or being macho is just pretty dumb.

The Drilling Process

OK so now we know how to stay safe, we have the metal clamped and marked and we are now ready to drill the actual hole. Just follow this process and it will work out great.

Make sure that the drill has been set level to your drill angle. Moreover, newer drills have integral leveling bubbles that help with this.

Setting the drill in place saves time and helps in eliminating accidents and material loss as well. Proper precaution plays a vital role in drilling metal. Safety measures to be considered include:

  • Never support the workplaces using your hand.
  • Always use a holding tool to prevent the work-piece from being tom from your hand.
  • Never make any unnecessary adjustments while the appliance is operating.
  • Never clean away the machine chips with your hand. Always use a brush.
  • Keep all clothing away from any turning tools.
  • Ensure that the cutting tools are running smoothly before you begin the operation.
  • Never place tools or any equipment on the drilling tables.

Places the centre of the bit into the small hole or indent made by the nail. Then apply a steady pressure to the drill and it should catch the metal and start to form the hole.

For hard metals, you should drill gradually and steadily. Soft metals require a faster speed since the metal shaving might melt if you are too slow. Even with the soft metals, avoid using speeds higher than medium.

Drill Bit Removal

When you reach your preferred depth, remove the bit right away. You should keep the bit spinning until you have removed it entirely from the drilled metal.

After drilling the hole, always remove the drill or back the drill press out and shut off the appliance. If any problem occurs during the drilling process, fix it as soon as possible to prevent any damage or harm.

Never ever touch a drill bit when it has finished drilling as it will be hot and burns can easily happen. Let the bit cool down before removing it from the chuck.

Removing Metal Shrapnel

When you drill metal, you do get metal dust but you can also get curly strips of thin metal. These can be very sharp so never attempt to wipe these away with your bare hands.

Always wear gloves and dispose of them into a bin using a small brush and shovel. Below I have included a few videos that you may also find helpful.


Video 1 - How To Drill Metal

Video 2 - How To Drill Large Holes In Metal

Video 3 - Drilling Holes In Steel

Hopefully we have given you enough information here to allow you to safely drill into metal of different types. If you are still not sure then check out our article on which drill bit to use. The important things to remember are to have a drill with variable speed, the right drill bit and to stay safe by wearing goggles at all times. I woould also suggest you buy a good quality drill as this will make your life a lot easier. We have lots of drill reviews if you need any help with picking one, including the Best Cordless Drill for Metal

There are plenty of options to choose from here but I always try to stick to a well known brand like MilwaukeeMakitaRyobiBlack and DeckerDewalt or Bosch when I am buying a tool like this.

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