Drilling Perfect Holes: 12 Tips for Drilling Holes in Metal

November 21, 2023

Drilling holes in metal can feel like an intimidating project, especially for those who are new to DIY projects. The variety of metals and the numerous tools and techniques available can make it overwhelming. 

However, with the right knowledge and guidance, drilling perfect holes in metal can be a safe and efficient process. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide you with 12 top tips to help you successfully drill holes in metal for various projects. Whether you are a DIY enthusiast or a professional contractor, this guide will equip you with the necessary information and techniques to tackle any metal drilling task.

1. Identify the Type of Metal

Before you begin drilling, it is essential to identify the type of metal you will be working with. Different metals have varying hardness levels, which will determine the type of drill bit you should use. Common metals include steel, aluminium, brass, and cast iron, each requiring specific drill bits for optimal results. By accurately identifying the metal, you can ensure that you select the appropriate drill bit, saving time and effort.

2. Choose the Right Drill Bit

Once you have identified the type of metal, it is crucial to choose the right drill bit for the job. Various drill bits are specifically designed to drill through different materials, including metals. For most metal drilling tasks, a cobalt drill bit is highly recommended due to its durability and ability to cut through tough metals. However, for softer metals like aluminium, a high-speed steel (HSS) drill bit can suffice.

3. Secure the Metal

Safety should always be a priority when drilling, especially with metals. Before you start drilling, securely clamp or secure the metal to your work surface. This prevents the metal from moving or spinning during the drilling process, reducing the risk of accidents or injuries. Using metal clamps or vices provides stability and ensures precise drilling.

4. Wear Safety Gear

When drilling metal, it is crucial to protect yourself by wearing appropriate safety gear. Safety glasses or goggles are essential to shield your eyes from metal shavings and debris. Additionally, wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt can help protect your hands and arms from sharp metal edges. Safety gear is a vital precautionary measure that should never be overlooked when working with metals.

5. Mark the Hole Placement

Before drilling, accurately mark the desired hole placement on the metal. This can be done using a pencil, chalk, or any marking tool that allows for clear visibility. Marking the hole placement ensures precision and helps guide the drill bit during the drilling process. By taking the time to mark the metal, you can minimise the risk of drilling inaccurately or off-centre.

Pro Tip: If you are unsure about drilling into the metal directly, you can create a pilot hole using a smaller drill bit. This pilot hole will serve as a guide for the larger drill bit, ensuring accurate drilling.

6. Lubricate for Smooth Drilling

To ensure smooth and efficient drilling, it is recommended to use a lubricant or cutting oil. When drilling metal, friction can cause heat buildup, leading to premature wear of the drill bit and potentially damaging the metal. Applying a lubricant or cutting oil reduces friction, dissipates heat, and prolongs the life of the drill bit. It is particularly important when drilling through hard metals like steel or cast iron.

Pro Tip: Apply the lubricant directly on the drilling area or use a lubricant spray for even coverage. Reapply the lubricant as needed during the drilling process to maintain optimal performance.

7. Choose the Right Drilling Speed

Drilling at the correct speed is crucial for achieving clean and precise holes in metal. The drilling speed depends on the type of metal and the size of the drill bit being used. Consult a drill speed and feed chart to determine the recommended drilling speed for your specific metal and drill bit combination. Drilling too fast can generate excessive heat and reduce the lifespan of the drill bit, while drilling too slowly may result in poor hole quality. It is essential to strike the right balance by adhering to the recommended drilling speed guidelines.

8. Use Proper Technique

When drilling into metal, it is important to use the proper technique to ensure accurate and effective results. Start by positioning the drill bit perpendicular to the metal surface. Apply gentle pressure and maintain a steady hand as you begin drilling. Avoid excessive force or pushing, as this can cause the drill bit to slip or damage the metal. Let the drill bit do the work, and allow it to penetrate the metal gradually. If necessary, periodically clear away metal shavings to maintain optimal drilling performance.

9. Drill in Short Bursts

To prevent overheating and maintain drilling efficiency, it is advisable to drill in short bursts. Continuous drilling without breaks can lead to excessive heat buildup, which can damage the drill bit and compromise the quality of the hole. By drilling in short bursts and allowing the drill bit to cool down between intervals, you can ensure optimal performance and prolong the lifespan of the drill bit.

10. Debur the Hole

After drilling the hole in the metal, it is essential to remove any sharp edges or burrs left behind. These sharp edges can be hazardous and may cause injury if left untreated. To debur the hole, use a deburring tool or a slightly larger drill bit than the one used to create the hole. Gently rotate the deburring tool or larger drill bit around the edges of the hole to smooth them out and remove any burrs. This will result in a clean and safe hole in the metal.

11. Clean Up Metal Shavings

Metal shavings can accumulate during the drilling process and pose a safety hazard if left unattended. After completing the drilling, thoroughly clean up the metal shavings using a brush or magnet. Metal shavings can be sharp and cause injuries if not properly disposed of. Collect the shavings in a container or bag and dispose of them responsibly. This ensures a clean and safe work environment.

12. Finishing Touches

Once you have successfully drilled the desired holes in the metal, you can take some additional steps to ensure a professional finish. Use a metal rasp or file to smoothen any rough edges around the hole. This will enhance the appearance and safety of the drilled holes. Additionally, consider applying a protective coating or paint to prevent corrosion and maintain the integrity of the metal.

Not sure? Get in touch with us today

Drilling holes in metal can be a challenging task, but with the right knowledge and techniques, it becomes much more manageable. By identifying the type of metal, selecting the appropriate drill bit, and following the recommended safety precautions, you can achieve precise and clean holes in metal for various projects. Remember to use proper drilling speed, lubrication, and technique to maximise efficiency and prolong the lifespan of your drill bits. With these 12 top tips in mind, you are now equipped to confidently tackle any metal drilling project.

However, if you’re feeling unsure, we’re the experts at drilling through a wide range of tough masonry materials including metal, concrete, brick, and asphalt. We are fully accredited and offer our commercial services nationwide, and our domestic services across the North West, East Midlands, and North Wales. Get in touch with us today if you've got a project in mind.