Versatility, is one of those complimentary words, often mixed in with other positive adjectives paying kudos to something or other. Cars, football players, computers, washing machines, the Swiss Army knife.
It’s a noun which sums the ability a certain object or person has to be adapted to different tasks and scenarios.
Should ‘versatility’ defy the laws of the universe and manifest itself in reality the first item, object or utensil it took bodily form would, without doubt have to be a drill bit. No?
The secret of drillers’ versatility relies not within them, but in the plethora of drill bits available for them.
Just by switching bits, your driller can face tasks in the woodworking, masonry and even metal working sector. However, considering the huge variety of bits to choose from, picking the one that fits certain job best can prove to be a daunting task.
Thus, the following post is dedicated to help you knowing the different types of bits and help you in the buying process according to their material, tip and style.
The first thing you should ask yourself is which type of work you are going to perform. The material of your drill bit must be directly linked to the materials you expect to drill. The most common materials you’ll find in the hardware store are:
- Soft low-carbon steel: Thanks to its low price, low-carbon steel is widely used for drill bits. However, such a bargain has some underlying expenses: it can only be used in softwood due to its poor temper and, additionally, requires constant sharpening to maintain the edge.
- High-carbon steel: High-carbon steel is more durable than its low-carbon counterpart thanks to its better temper. Hence, it can handle jobs involving wood (even hard ones) and some soft metals. Yet, if overheated from friction, they can lose their temper and result in a soft cutting edge.
- High-speed steel (HSS): HSS is a special type of carbon steel that can withstand better the heat produced from friction, while preserving is integrity and strength. It can drill through metal, wood and some drywall materials. If coated with other materials, it can handle more difficult tasks:
- Black oxide: This inexpensive black coating provides resistance and lubricity, as well as corrosion resistance.
- Titanium Nitride (TiN): This hard ceramic material can triple the lifespan of the bit.
Other coatings for more specific applications: designed to deal with tougher materials, these coatings include: Titanium Aluminum Nitride (TiAlN), Titanium Carbon Nitride (TiCN) and Diamond powder as an abrasive.
- Cobalt: Alloys of Cobalt with HSS are capable to keep their properties at even higher temperatures. Due to their hardness, they are used to treat extremely hard materials such as stainless steel; yet, this same hardness makes them brittle.
- Tungsten carbide: In few words, these bits can drill basically any material and hold their edges longer; however, it’s expensive and more brittle than steel.
Drill bit tip
Another way of choosing a drill-bit based on the materials you expect to face is by looking at the tip of the bit, particularly, its angle:
- 118º point bits: These steeper point bits are designed to drill into softer materials such as wood and soft metals. Besides, the pointy end helps them to stay in place and produce clean entry and exit holes.
- 135º point bits: These flatter point bits are suited to drill into hard materials such as metals and stainless steel. Since their tip is flatter, they might require a pilot hole to prevent them from slipping.
- Speed helix bits: These bits are the toughest available. They provide both faster drillings and more lifespan thanks to their more aggressive drilling angle.
Drill bits come in different shapes and sizes; which, in turn, determines their functionality. Here’s a list of the main bit styles you might find in the hardware store:
- Twist bits: They are the most common type of bits found and used for general drilling into wood, plastic, masonry or metal.
- Brad point bits: They do great at drilling wood and other soft materials thanks to the point on their tips, which grants them accuracy. Some of them have flutes that help removing the dust away.
- Auger bits: Used for woodworking, they are similar to a brad point with a screw on the tip which helps to have even cleaner drills. They also include flutes to remove shavings while drilling.
- Step bits: They are shaped like a stair, with each level’s diameter wider than the previous one. They do better with wood and aluminum –their cone shape prevents clogging.
- Countersink bits: Their use is limited only to woodworking and its aimed to help you drilling countersinks (either to drill a pilot hole or to enter a screw head)
- Hole saw bits: These bits include a circular saw around them which enables them to dig precise circles in thin materials.
- Spade bits: These bits, despite the different shape, are also used to dig large diameter circular holes; however, their use is limited to softwoods.
- Forstner bits: Forstner bits are also used to drill holes in softwoods, particularly, for cabinet-making. They are a bit more precise and clean than the spade bits thanks to the point at the center of their tips.
- Plug Cutters: These bits’ use is to create small wooden plugs used in concealing recessed fasteners.
- Glass and Tile bits: These are special bits for glass and tile uses. They have a carbide tip which can drill through these fragile materials without cracking them.
- Masonry bits: They feature a hammering action and are built to endure the tough conditions of masonry works.
- Installer drill bit: They are specialized bits used for wire installing. They can drill through wood, plastics and some masonry.
We recommend you to start by identifying the materials your drill will be facing. If you are in a rush or have a broad list of possible materials you’ll be drilling, then choose by looking at the bits’ tip; otherwise, and preferable, choose by examining the bits’ materials available. Don’t forget to select a bit style that matches your requirements.
By taking the time and effort to choose the proper bit for your drill you’ll ensure not only the preservation of your tools, but also the success of its results. Remember, the devil always relies on the details or, in this case, on the bits.
Here is a link to our top choice drill bits for 2020 – used for a variety of purposes and also some recommended for specific tasks.