Homework: How to drill into steel like a pro

Steel is the most common metal you'll find

Steel is the most common metal you'll find around your home and it's not as hard to drill through as you might think. (Credit: iStockphoto.com / Yuriy Nedopekin)

This summer there's good chance you'll be faced with some DIY projects where you need to drill into metal. Steel is the most common metal you'll find around your home and it's not as hard to drill through as you might think.

Rookies will usually make a few mistakes that can cause damage to the metal, tools or surrounding finishes and cause frustration. You can avoid all of this by just following a few simple steps.

You can watch a short video of me showing how to drill into steel by going here: go.askthebuilder.com/drillsteel

STEP 1

Gather a power drill that has adjustable speeds. A scrap piece of wood to place under the piece of metal being drilled will be very handy. You'll also need sharp drill bits made to drill into metal. These bits are clearly marked for that purpose on the label and frequently contain cobalt in the steel used to make the bit. You'll need a sharp nail or center punch tool. Metal cutting oil or standard motor oil will also be required. A clamp or two to hold the metal in place while drilling may be necessary. If drilling thin metal, heavy work gloves could prevent a nasty slice or cut.

STEP 2

If the piece of metal you intend to drill is thin and lightweight, you may want to clamp it securely to the piece of wood. The drilling action can cause the metal to spin rapidly as the drill penetrates the metal. This can happen without warning and cause a nasty cut if you're not careful.

STEP 3

If you're drilling a large diameter hole, say 3 / 8-inch or larger, you'll want to drill smaller pilot holes first in the metal. Start with a 1 / 8-inch hole and increase the hole by an 1/8-inch as you work your way to the larger hole diameter.

STEP 4

Drilling into metal, especially metal over 1 / 4-inch thick, can create lots of heat and friction. Heat can and will damage drill bits. Professionals use oil when drilling steel. The oil lubricates the metal and drill bit as it spins. The oil also acts as a heat sink absorbing much of the heat. Simply squirt oil on the metal before you start to drill and add more oil as you drill.

STEP 5

When you've determined where you want your hole, try to create a small depression in the metal with your nail or a center punch tool. This tiny depression helps center the drill bit so it doesn't wander as you turn on the drill.

STEP 6

When you start to drill, use a low speed and moderate downward pressure on the drill. High speeds cause too much friction and high heat levels. Slow and steady drilling speed is best when drilling metal.

STEP 7

If you notice any smoke, you're drilling too fast or not using enough oil to lubricate the drilling process. Slow down and add more oil.

STEP 8

When the drill bit is about to break through the other side of the metal, it can grab onto the metal causing the drill to twist in your hand or cause the metal to spin. Be very wary of this as you are about to break through the metal with the bit. Grasp the drill tightly and pay attention.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Two hammers out of five

Summary: It's not hard at all to drill through metal. Aluminum is very soft and will drill easily. One-quarter-inch steel plate is a challenge, but you can do it. Try to practice first on smaller pieces of metal. It's vital you have a variable-speed drill and very sharp drill bits.

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