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How to Drill Through Metal

How to Drill Through Metal

Metal drilling is an easy process if you have the right tools for the job. Getting Proper Drill bits designed for metal, using lubricant oil to control the temperature of the bit, and proper drilling technique will ensure efficient results. 

There are some considerations to follow to get clean jobs. We recommend following the procedure below to drill into metal efficiently while protecting yourself from any hazards.

Getting a drill press will allow professionals to get more work done in a short amount of time. There are other traditional old-school ways to drill through metal without electrical tools, but let us save them for rainy days.

How to Drill Through Metal

Follow the procedures and alternatives stated below for maximum results.

Security Measures Reduce Workplace Risks

  • Please wear proper safety equipment like glasses, leather gloves, etc. Drilling metal releases chips of metal shavings which could seriously hurt our eyes.
  • We recommend clamping metal pieces down on a worktable or any other possible surface for any movable metal surface. 
  • Metal materials sheets are hard and can have sharp edges. If it’s not kept stationary, the drill might cause the material to spin or move abruptly, increasing the chances of getting hurt.

Get the Right Drill Bit

In terms of Shape, you need to use twist bits or step bits to drill into metal surfaces. You can opt for a hole saw made for metal surfaces for larger diameter holes.
types of metal drill bit

  • In terms of Materials, the general-purpose drill bits to use for metal surfaces are made up of High-Speed Steel. These work great for soft metals. As you progress onto tougher metal surfaces, you can either opt for High-Speed Steel Drill bits with added cobalt or jump straight to Carbide Drill Bits.
  • Carbide is the strongest drill bit material but will be the most expensive. The carbide drill bit will also have the longest lifetime and will most likely do more work than cobalt drills with a factor of 10.
  • You will also find different coatings done on the drill bit. Bright Finish coating is the least expensive meant for low-carbon steel or aluminum. The black oxide coating will have better lubricity and resistance to oxidation.
  • Titanium coatings are the most common ones. There are variations like titanium nitride, titanium carbo-nitride, or titanium aluminum nitride. The general titanium nitride coatings are also not suitable for high heat transfer. As you move on to titanium variations, the compatibility with high-temperature materials will increase.
  • The drill bits come in 118- or 135-degree points. The 118 degrees will be fine for mild steel, aluminum, or other soft materials. The 135 degrees are for harder materials.
  • If it’s household drilling, a good cobalt drill with titanium coating or titanium carbo-nitride coating will work for most surfaces.

Metal Drill Bit VS Wood Drill Bit

Wood drill bits have spurs in the center of the bit, which penetrates the wood to maintain stability during drilling. Metal Drill bits do not have these center protrusions.
wooden drill bits

Some Examples of wood drill bits are spade bits, brad point bits, Auger bits, Installer bits, Forstner Bits. The general go-to metal drill bits are twist, step, and center bits.

You should use hole saw attachments specifically made for metal for bigger diameter holes.
hole saw

Figure: Hole Saw Attachment for Metal Drill

Always Start With a Guide Mark/Pilot Indent

The first step is to create a small ident on the metal material, which will help the drill machine to accurately drill in one spot. You can achieve this small indent with a center punch and hammer.

If you do not have a centerpunch, use a nail. The mark doesn’t have to be very big, just enough to hold the drill bit accurately in place and minimize the chances of the drill wandering off.

There are also spring-loaded center punch machines in the market that don’t even need a hammer. Center punches range from 9 to 45 pounds depending on the brands, different sizes in box sets, etc.making guide hole

Apply Cutting Fluid

As metal surfaces are hard, drilling into them can cause friction and excessive heat. Specific drill cutting oil is found at local hardware stores to minimize these factors through lubrication. These commercial cutting oils generally range from around 10 to 20 pounds.

If you do not have these commercial cutting oils, generic multipurpose oil, lightweight motor oil can do the trick.

If there is excessive heat generated, you might also see smoke. Apply cutting oil on the metal surface as needed to minimize this issue.

Cutting Oil application is nonnegotiable for hard metal surfaces like steel. For softer sheet materials like aluminum, cast iron, brass cutting oil is generally required but recommended if there is friction and heat.

Use Sacrificial Boards to Keep Metal Sheets 

If the intended materials are metal sheets, it is recommended to create a sandwich of wood scrap pieces, plywood, or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) to act as an upper & lower layer. This sandwiching process helps keep the sheets flat on the workspace and minimizes the veering of the drill. As a result, you get clean holes.

Start the Drilling Process

Remember to move up to the needed diameter of the hole from smaller twist bits to larger ones. Another rule to follow is that the bigger the bit size, the slower it should spin.

Do not try to drill directly with the bit size equal to the diameter of the intended hole. Start with the smaller bits and work your way up to the required size.

We recommend starting with half the hole diameter; if the progress is fast, increase bit size. If the progress is slow, decrease the bit size.

Deburr Holes

The holes generated most times have sharp curves or burrs. You can buy specific burring tools called metal rasps from local hardware stores to smoothen the curves of these holes. These products generally range from 5 to 15 pounds. You can buy a single piece of in-box sets.

For a more DIY approach, place the drill bit in the hole and twist it. You can use the same drill bit or a slightly large bit for the best smoothening results.
metal rasp or file

Looking For Alternatives for Handheld Drills

Drill press machines are available in the market but are expensive. We recommend buying these only if you want to create a workshop or do metalwork regularly. There are so many brands to choose from. The drill press is either going to be stationary or a benchtop. Floor models are generally heavier to provide stable footing but have more power.

If you want to buy a machine, check the variable rotation speed offers. Benchtop models generally have around 5 to 6-speed settings, while floor models get up to 16. The harder the surface you are drilling, the slower the bit needs to be set.

Also, remember to check Power Output. Good floor models generally have around 1000 watts of power. Bench models will have about 300 watts.

These machines can range from 150 pounds to 3000 pounds depending upon the brands, power output, size, drilling power, compatible metal surfaces, etc.
drill press machine

How to Drill through Metal Without a Drill

Use the method stated below for metal sheets. Drilling manually through hard metal plates might not be possible without some form of machinery.

Hole Punch Pliers / Hollow Punch

You can get these products at local hardware stores. They generally range from 10 to 20 pounds.

  • These pliers feature a pin at the end of the jaw, which creates holes on sheet metal when force is applied. These tools are quite accurate to use. These products are generally solid for about 20-gauge thick sheets or thinner and mostly come in 1.25mm sizes.
  • Remember to mark the area with a center punch and adjust the plier as per manufacturer instruction. Apply pressure on the handle to punch the hole. 
  • Depending on the brands, you might have to deburr the hole. Use a metal file or rasp.
  • If you opt for a metal punch, use a wooden block as a base. These hollow punches range around 6 to 10 pounds.

Nail & Hammer

  • This method is old-school and will require manual force. Nail & hammer will only work for thin metal sheets. We recommend using a wooden block as a base.
  • Mark the area, clamp it down with a wooden base, and start whacking. Remember to use masonry nails as they are meant to go in concrete and withstand hammering force. The size of the hole depends on how big a masonry nail you can find.
  • Remember, after whacking, the nail is probably getting stuck on the wooden base. Use a plier to pry out the nail.

Nut & Bolt Method

  • The diameter of the hole created will be governed by the size of the nut and bolt. Take the bolt out of the nut and weld it to a metal handlebar to create a sort of hammer. The bolt should be the horizontal head of the hammer.
  • Put the nut below the metal sheet where you want the hole to be created. Take the bolt hammer and place it directly above the nut. Use a regular hammer and start whacking from the top.

How to Drill into Metal Studs on Drywall

Studs are frames embedded inside the wall to carry vertical load structure or as non-load bearing frames creating portions walls. Houses either use wood or metal studs. Metal studs are formed using some form of galvanized steel. Learn the process of drilling through these frames stated below:

Identify the Placement of Studs in Walls

We recommend getting a magnetic stud finder machine. These machines generally range from 20 to 150 pounds depending on the brand and its features.

Metal studs are generally 16 to 24 inches apart. Find the edges of the studs with the finder. The machine beeps when it recognizes a metal stud and uses a scale to find the center point of these studs and mark it.

Walls aren’t Installed Yet

Get a steel stud punch if you haven’t installed the walls yet, and the studs are exposed. These are the fastest way to make holes in metal studs. 

These cost around 30 to 50 pounds. Some popular brands are Zunate, Plumtool, etc.

Start Drilling into the Wall & Studs

You might want to mount things like wood, tv into the wall and secure it to the stud. You can use cobalt or carbide material drill bits for this purpose. For Coating, titanium or oxide will do the trick.

Drill slowly into the wall. The general norm for metal studs is a ½ inch or 13mm hole. The process requires some patience. Be extra alert, and the drill after piercing the stud wanders if pressure is not lifted. As soon as you feel the pierce, start decreasing perpendicular pressure.

For different anchors, the hole’s depth requirement will be different. E.g., an anchor for drywall generally needs a ½ drill bit to create a hole for the anchor to be fastened into the stud. Once anchors are set in place, mount the screw. The screw will drill into the metal piece and threads/ wedges to quite a bit of metal.

You can also use snap toggles. These generally need a ½ inch diameter hole. Get the toggle through the hole and stud and have the toggle vertical. Slide the cap to the wall, break off the snap, insert the bolt, and tighten it until it gets snug.

Related Questions

Can you use WD 40 as a Cutting Oil

Yes, WD 40 has a specialist cutting oil made for metal drilling. These generally cost around 7 to 9 pounds per can.

What kind of oil is used to maintain the Drillbit after use

You should use oils that feature rust and corrosion, penetrate stuck parts, and displace moisture. The common tool used in the industry is WD 40 multi-use product. If you do not have this, do not fret, a light machine oil can do the trick.

Which Drill Bit Should I Use for Hardened Steel

The general go-to drill bit is an HSS bit with added cobalt. A carbide drill bit will get the job done if that still doesn’t do it. They might get a bit expensive in comparison.