Tool Tutorial: Cordless Drill

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Tools & Materials
Material List
  • two pieces scrap wood, eg, 6"x6" plywood any thickness
  • masking tape
  • ~2" screws with square drive heads (to match driver bit)
Tool list
  • cordless drill
  • safety glasses
  • twist bit, ~1/8" or so
  • clamp (see our clamp tool tutorial)
  • Robertson driver bit (square)

    What's a cordless drill used for?

  1. You can drill small holes called "pilot holes". In wood, pilot holes make inserting nails and screws much easier, and prevent your wood from splitting. To drill pilot holes for nails, use a twist bit slightly smaller in diameter than your nail body ("shank"). For screws, use a twist bit with the same diameter as the inner part of the screw shaft (not including the threads). You can also drill pilot holes in sheet metal to accommodate screws or pop rivets.
  2. You can install a "driver bit", which turns your cordless drill into a screw driver, used to insert or remove screws. You can also install a "hex" drive to insert or remove bolts.
  3. You can drill different-sized holes in wood, plastic, or metal. You might drill a hole in the back of a project so you can mount it on a nail in a wall, make holes to sew string through (like you would while making a wood frame for a kayak), make holes to put electrical wire or plumbing pipe through, drill out holes to remove material to make a project lighter or create ventilation, etc.
  4. You might use a special bit on your drill to "counter sink" a hole, which removes a small cone of wood to make room for your screw head.
  5. If you want to cut out an internal shape in a piece of wood, but you won't want to cut through the edge, you can drill a hole in the middle, then assemble a coping saw blade through your hole, then cut from the inside out!
  6. Safety Considerations

  7. Always wear safety glasses when operating tools.
  8. Make sure to tie your long hair back, take all jewelry off, and avoid clothes with loose bits (like hoodie strings or dangly sleeves).
  9. Students, always check in and ask permission from your teacher before operating the cordless drill.
  10. Make sure to remove the battery before you make any adjustments to the drill, such as changing the bits. If you leave the battery installed, the trigger can be easily bumped or grasped unintentionally, which will power up the drill.
  11. Many drills have a neutral stop between the forward and reverse button. Leaving tools in neutral can prevent accidents!
  12. Setting Up the Cordless Drill

  13. To remove the battery: squeeze the release buttons on the battery at the base of the drill and slide the battery forward to remove it. To put the battery on, slide it onto the handle until you hear it click into place.
  14. To insert your bit: Remove the battery. Widen the chuck by turning it counter-clockwise if you need to. Put twist bits in straight-edge first (so the twisty part is pointing OUT), put driver bits in so the part that fits the screws is pointing OUT. Tighten the chuck by twisting it clockwise until you hear it clicking and it's tight.
  15. To remove a bit: Remove the battery. Twist the chuck counter-clockwise to loosen the bit, and pull it out.
  16. To change the direction the drill turns: locate the "reverse switch" near the trigger. Push it to one side, then gently pull the trigger to see which direction the drill turns. Push the reverse switch across to the other side to change the drill's direction. Look for the neutral stop function here, and leave the drill in neutral when not using.
  17. Drilling Holes

  18. Install your twist bit. Clamp your wood to a solid surface, with a piece of scrap wood underneath to protect the table (see "clamping tool tutorial"). Test the drill to make sure it is turning clockwise. Place the tip of the twist bit on your mark, point the drill straight down, and gently pull the trigger. Drill to your desired depth, then pull the drill back out of the hole while it is still spinning.
  19. Helpful hint: to drill a hole to a specific depth, or to drill many holes to the same depth, mark your twist bit with a piece of masking tape so that you can see when the bit has reached the desired depth.
  20. Diving Screws

  21. Drill a pilot hole with a twist bit. Install a driver bit that matches your screw head (eg, Robertson square, Phillips "x", Torx star-shape, etc.). Place your screw on the end of the driver bit. Position the drill so that your screw is on your mark, pointing straight in line with the direction you want the screw to drive. Gently squeeze the trigger to drive the screw in slowly until the head of the screw is just below flush with surface of wood. Drills can be tricky to learn at first. Screws may strip when drills are used on an angle, or may slip if too much or too little pressure is applied. Be patient with yourself and practice often while you learn!
  22. To remove a screw: Check that the drill is turning counter-clockwise. Insert the bit into the screw head, and pull the trigger gently for a slower speed while keeping pressure DOWN or towards the screw as it reverses out.
  23. Many drills have clutch settings: numbers above the chuck which relate to the resistance of the drill to a certain torque. Setting the clutch to a lower number can be used to stop the drill from spinning once it meets a specific amount of resistance (it will "slip" instead of continuing to drive around). For example, if you want the drill to stop spinning when your screw reaches a desired depth, set the clutch to the lowest number and drive a screw to test it. Set the clutch to a higher setting if you want the drill to drive a bit deeper before it slips.
  24. Environmental Considerations:

  25. A good quality cordless drill with replaceable batteries that is treated well should last for many years. If the electricity used to charge the battery is from a sustainable source, the emissions are negligible. Be sure to dispose of batteries properly when they no longer hold a charge.
Extension Challenges
  1. Practice using your new tool! Make a base for some string art using a scrap of plywood, a twist bit, and your cordless drill. Mark holes all around a circle on your plywood, or in whatever shape you choose, making sure the holes are at least 1/2" away from the edge. Drill your holes out. Sand your wood edges, then sew a pattern in with a big needle and some colourful yarn.
  2. Use your newfound skills to tackle a design challenge where you need to drill holes or drive screws! Does your plastic patio chair always pool with water? Do you need to insert a dowel as a handle for a toolbox? Do you need to hang a project on the wall? How can a cordless drill help you with these tasks?
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