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Wonkee Donkee’s top tips for using
a hand drill or brace

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Wonkee Donkee Donkee tip When using a hand drill or brace to drill or drive screws into a workpiece, there are a few simple tips that can make the job easier and quicker and reduce the chances of you damaging the work.

Preventing wood from splitting when driving in screws

Driving a screw into wood too close to the edge can cause it to crack Driving a screw into a piece of wood can sometimes cause the wood to split.

This is more likely to occur when driving a screw into a piece of wood close to its edge, or with hardwoods.

Driving a screw into wood too close to the edge can cause it to crack

What causes wood to split?

When you drive a screw into wood you have to displace the space that the screw will occupy. This forces the fibres of the wood apart, and, if this is done too close to the edge of the wood, can result in the wood splitting.

Hardwoods are generally denser and so have more fibres closely packed together, this means you have to force more of them out of the way to make room for the screw, which is why hardwoods can split more easily.

Drilling a pilot hole before driving a screw into wood will help prevent it splitting. Countersink and pilot hole ready for screw

What is the solution?

The solution to this problem is to drill a pilot hole prior to driving the screw into the wood.

The pilot hole removes some of the material that the screw needs to displace, which reduces the chance of the wood splitting.

The drill bit for a pilot hole should have a slightly smaller diameter than the shank of the screw so you can stiil see the screw threads either side of the drill bit when the two are held up next to each other. The drill bit you use for the pilot hole should be the same diameter as the screw’s shank excluding the width of the threads.

This will allow the threads of the screw to still grip the wood but as most of the wood where the screw will sit has been removed by the pilot hole, the pressure to force the wood fibres apart will be reduced so the wood should not split.

Removing a snapped screw can be difficult. So you should drill a pilot hole to reduce the chance of this happening. You should always drill a pilot hole when drilling into hardwood, not only to prevent the wood from splitting, but also to prevent the screw from snapping as you drive it in.
Wonkee Donkee says: "It’s a lot less time-consuming to drill a pilot hole than remove a snapped screw."
Countersinks allow screw heads to sit flush or below the workpiece surface. This allows you to use woodfiller to conseal screws in a finished project. When drilling a pilot hole, you may also wish to create a countersink for the head of the screw. This will allow the head of the screw to sit flush or just below the surface of the workpiece.
Wood filler can be used to conceal countersunk screws Wood filler can then be used to completely conceal the screw in your finished project.
Pilot hole and countersinks can be made together in one action with special bits Special countersink drill bits (sometimes called screwdiggers, pilot bits, or screwsinks) can be purchased that will make the pilot hole and countersink in one action.

Screwing two pieces of wood together

A gap can be generated between the two pieces of wood you want to attach if a screw is driven in without first drilling a pilot and clearance hole. When screwing two pieces of wood together, there can be a tendency for the screw to push the top piece of wood away from the bottom one as the screw enters the second piece of wood. This can create a gap between the two pieces.
The clearance hole is wider than the pilot hole so the screw threads do not catch on it as the screw passes through the first piece of wood

How can I prevent this?

The best way to prevent this from happening is to drill a pilot hole into both pieces of wood but enlarge the pilot hole in the top piece of wood to the diameter of the screw’s shank including the threads (this section is called the clearance hole).

This will allow the shank of the screw to pass through the first piece of wood before the threads grip the second piece, pulling the two together.

Drilling at an angle to the workpiece surface

Sometimes it can be necessary to drill or drive a screw at an angle to the workpiece surface. Whenever possible, it is always better to drill at a 90 degree right angle to the workpiece surface. However, there may be occasions when this is not possible and you have to drill at an angle.
Drilling at an angle can make the drill wander across the workpiece surface One of the biggest problems with drilling at an angle is that initially the drill bit will want to wander across the surface of the workpiece.
Create a starter hole a few millimetres deep at a right angle to the workpiece surface

What is the solution?

The best way to overcome this problem is to drill a starter hole into the workpiece of just a few millimetres depth at a right angle to the workpiece surface.

The starter hole will prevent the drill from wandering once the reposition the drill at the angle you want Then reposition the drill at the angle you want to drill, within the small starter hole you have made.

This starter hole will help to prevent the drill from wandering across the surface of the workpiece.

How to drill holes in acrylic

Acrylic sheet cracked from drilling The biggest problem when drilling holes in acrylic is preventing it from splitting or cracking.

This is normally caused by trying to drill too large a hole straight away.

Step drill bit with the diameter size of each step marked in millimetres

How can I prevent this?

The easiest way to prevent this is to use a stepped drill bit. These are shaped like a cone made up of different stepped diameters.

A step drill bit being used to create a progressively wider hole in a sheet of acrylic. As you drill into the material, the hole is progressively widened by each step of the drill bit.

The progressive way in which the hole size is created helps to prevent the acrylic from splitting or cracking.

 Wonke Donkee says: "If you do not have a stepped drill bit then you can get the same effect by using progressively larger drill bits on the same hole. This will take more time, but should prevent the acrylic from cracking."
Clamping acrylic to wood will help prevent the acrylic from flexing and cracking whilst you drill it. Other things you can do when drilling acrylic to reduce the risk of it cracking include placing a piece of wood under the area of the acrylic you want to drill.

This will help to prevent the acrylic from flexing as you drill into it, and works even better if you are able to clamp the acrylic to the piece of wood.

Leaving the protective film on acrylic when drilling will help the drill bit grip and start the hole as well as reducing the chance of the acrylic cracking. Leaving the plastic film covering on the acrylic when you are drilling holes through it also helps to prevent cracking and serves to protect the surface of the acrylic a little more in the event that the drill bit slips.

Drilling larger holes in metal

Drilling holes in metal is a little harder than wood, especially if you are using a hand drill. This becomes even more of a problem if you need to drill a larger hole that is, say, greater than 6mm (1/4″).
A centre punch is used to place a mark on metal where you need to place a hole when drilling.

What is the solution?

Similar to drilling acrylic, the best way to accomplish this is to start with a small hole and then enlarge it.

After measuring where you want your hole to go, use a centre punch to mark the position and create a slight indent in the metal. This helps to position the drill bit and keep it from wandering across the surface of your metal workpiece.

Drill bit set of progressively larger bits. These are needed to gradually enlarge a hole drilled in metal by a hand drill. Begin by using a small drill bit of about 4mm (5/32″) in diameter. As small drill bits such as these can be brittle, you should not apply too much pressure.

Once you have made a hole with the 4mm (5/32″) bit, replace it in the chuck with a 6mm (1/4″) bit and enlarge the hole you have already created.

A breast plate hand drill will allow you to apply more pressure whilst drilling but should only be used with larger drill bits as the extra pressure applied could break small ones. Repeat this process with the next size drill bit. At this point you may wish to use a hand drill with a breast plate fitted so you can apply more pressure whilst drilling, as these larger drill bits are less likely to snap.

Continue increasing the size of the drill bit in small increments until you achieve the hole size you want.

Drilling larger holes in wood

Tear out can be caused by drilling all the way through a piece of wood with an auger bit. An auger bit is the best tool to drill larger holes in wood.

However, if you drill all the way through a piece of wood with an auger bit, it can tear out, creating an untidy exit to the hole.

Stop drilling through the workpiece once the lead screw starts to emerge on the other side to prevent tear out of the hole.

How can I prevent this?

There are two ways of preventing this. First, you can stop drilling into the wood once the lead screw of the auger breaks through the far side of the wood.

Using the hole created by the auger bits leads screw as a guide to drill from the other side of the workpiece will prevent you getting tear out of the hole. Then, if you turn the piece of wood around, you can use the hole created by the lead screw as a guide and drill back through the wood with the auger.
Clamping a backing block to the workpiece will enable you to drill all the way through the workpiece with the auger bit, without tearing out the far side of hole on the workpiece. The second way is to clamp a piece of wood (called a backing block) to the workpiece you want to drill. As the auger bit exits the back of the workpiece, it will immediately enter the backing block you have clamped to it, this prevents the auger tearing out the back of the workpiece as it continues to drill into the backing block.

Continue drilling until the auger has passed all the way though the workpiece, then you will have a nice clean and tidy entry and exit to the hole.

Ensure you are drilling horizontally

Wonkee Donkee says: "To help ensure that the hole I’m drilling with an auger is horizontal and does not begin to angle up or down I like to use this little trick."
Before fitting the auger bit in the chuck of the brace place a ring over the shank of the auger to help gauge that you are drilling horizontally. Before fitting the auger bit in the chuck of your brace, place a ring over the shank of the auger bit.
If the tip of the auger bit is pointing down then the ring will move away from the chuck along the shank. Then as you begin to turn the brace and the auger drills into the workpiece, the ring should stay in the same position on the auger’s shank.

If the ring starts to move down the auger’s shank away from the chuck, the auger bit is being angled downwards.

If the auger bit is pointing upwards then the ring will work its way along the augers shank towards the chuck. If the ring starts to move up the auger’s shank towards the chuck then the brace is angling the auger bit upwards.