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Don’t build a drill press out of PVC pipe

This past weekend, Lifehacker posted instructions for building a makeshift drill press out of PVC pipe. Although the finished contraption looks kind of cool, it’s not something you want to build yourself.

My drill press cost me $40. It’s far better and far safer, even though it’s still possible to injure yourself with it. But structurally it’s as sound as it gets, and acquiring it didn’t take me all weekend, either.

You can find them on Craigslist easily enough if you’re willing to pay a bit more than I did. Mine came from a garage sale literally a couple of miles north of me, and I see them at estate sales very frequently. It seems like almost any estate sale that advertises tools has one. And I really think there are more used drill presses out there than there are people looking for them. They’re more scarce at garage sales, so mine was a lucky break, but lucky breaks happen. As I recall, we were out driving around one Saturday afternoon and stumbled across that sale, and decided it looked more interesting than whatever else it was we were going to do. I spotted the drill press and eagerly handed over $40 for it. I don’t know if we bought anything else, or what it would have been.

But that reinforces the notion that there are more of them out there than people looking for them. The best stuff is always gone within the first hour of the sale.

Mine’s nice. It has a lot of steel and what appears to be cast iron in it, and a heavy duty motor with two speeds. It was made in St. Louis sometime in the mid 1980s. I don’t use it all that frequently, but when I need it, I need it. I probably couldn’t justify paying $200 for one, especially at the time I got it, but I know I’ve gotten $40 worth of use out of it over the years and I know it has decades left in it.

And a drill press really serves two functions: hold the drill perfectly straight, and give you more pressure than you could get on your own, so you can drill through hard materials. A homebuilt PVC contraption will hold things relatively straight, but you won’t be able to drill through thick steel with it like you could with mine. I’ve never needed to do that, but if I ever do need to, I can. And I can hit center with pinpoint precision, within the limitations of my patience. I’m the limiting factor, not the machine.

There are several things you ought to think twice about buying new, and probably not even think about building yourself. I would lump a drill press into that category. Make sure you can plug it in and turn it on to make sure it works before you pay for it, and you’ll be fine.

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