New Pillar Drill (drill press) - losing my mind

Bainzy

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After getting noticing my cheap bench top drill press is not what it used to be, I've started looking at options for a decent pillar drill.

My old machine was bottom of the range Chinese made for £50 in 2007, but actually hasn't been that bad. I've given it some abuse and early on even managed to get acceptable results thicknessing fretboards accurately with the safe-t-planer. It's always taken too much time though to get the table at the right height (no rack mechanism) and flat (it's not naturally flat front to back at 90 degrees to the chuck). The throat will need to be deeper for some jobs in future though, the drilling gets less square the more the chuck is depressed and I think both the chuck and the bearings are starting to go in it.

Looking at options though I'm starting to think the market's idea of a decent 'prosumer' or 'trade' drill at under £1000 is just a bit of a lie? Taking Axminster for example, they have some really nice 'craft/hobby' drill at around £3-400 with really useful features, but the reviewers all say don't expect that much accuracy, tables that are level or chucks free from excessive run out. Fair enough, for the price I think they still seem reasonable for the average hobbyist but not really what I'd want for luthiery. I have more money to spend these days and know the cost of buying something rubbish.

Even the 'trade' rated models get awful reviews from people using them for fine woodworking, and all seem to share the same roughly finished Chinese castings. Some of the designs for these are really quite poor, like depth stop adjusters you can't access, or missing features that you would have got at the 'craft' £3-400 price range. For these drills we are talking £600 to almost £1000, and people are sending them back because of excessive run out, sub optimal designs or rough running motors. The argument seems to be "woodworking" pillar drills don't need to drill holes accurately and you need an 'engineering' drill to be able to drill 6 holes in a straight line without a jig.

The only alternative seems to be an 'engineering' drill costing around £1400 (that's about $2400 in Canada), which looks perfect and a tool for life. Guaranteed to be well machined, everything square, no runout and a depth stop, table lift and spindle lock that all work. I'm all for not buying tools twice because even my £50 drill is going to be hard to let go of, but is this really the only option for buying something new that gives good accuracy? It just seems bizarre that all these products in lower price brackets would be such poor offerings, all you'd really want is some of the specs on the craft machines with a bit more accuracy rather than a heavy duty motor.

Many people seem to suggest buying an old British (Meddings, Startrite etc) drill and refurbishing it, but that looks like quite masochistic from where I'm standing. The ones I've seen are all many miles away, require you to pick them up yourself with a van and come with three phase motors and limited features. I haven't come across any yet that look like a worthy project within reach. I'm open to this but just surprised at how poor the choice seems to be in the market for quality, like there's this big gulf between cheap and professional with nothing worth having in between. For £1400 I'm even half considering buying a craft pillar drill and a mini milling machine to start off the holes when accuracy is needed, such is the budget that would afford you when looking at other types of machinery.

Has this been people's experience? Just wondering what pillar drills people are using to build guitars, and if you've gone for a cheaper model did you find one accurate enough to live with? Am I being too picky?

The reason I'm concerned about accuracy is from past experience. A 6 screw strat tremelo won't hold tune if the screw holes aren't perpendicular, holes you can see from both sides like tuning pegs need to line up... etc
 

pshupe

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I would expect a very good pillar drill. (drill press in North America) for about £600, Can$1000, US$850. (Wondering why you quoted Can$ as most would be American here ;) ) Can you go to a store where they have a model setup and test cut or at least take a square and some tools to check critical for issues?

I have a floor drill press that I bought at a garage sale for $150 and it has a little run out and would've been Can$300 - $400 brand new. It works fine and I have not had too many issues with drilling holes or the other features. I'm not really sure you need a super precise drill for Luthiery. Generally you are not drilling really deep holes. Even hole diameter is not that big of an issue. Most holes will be covered with something. I always test drill in to scrap from the same piece of wood I am drilling to confirm drill bit size.

I have no problem spending ridiculous sums of $$$$ on tools but I would not spend Can$2400 on a drill press.

Regards Peter.
 

Joe Desperado

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Not sure what used tools are available around you, but in the States, you can find 50-60 year old Craftsman and Delta machines stupid cheap. They were build like a horse! I own a 16" Craftman drill press from the 60s that runs very true (almost no run-out) that is big enough for all guitar work. I think I paid $100 for it off Craigslist. Same for their jointers and table saws. Well built (much better than Most modern units) and much cheaper.
 

Bainzy

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Thanks guys really value your thoughts. Glad it's not just me then thinking it's too much to spend, it can be hard to have perspective when options seem somewhat limited.

I just used Canadian dollars as on balance more of the frequent posters I recognise here seem to live around Ontario! Many familiar places that bring back good memories of visiting family there.

I love the romantic idea of refurbing an old drill, you seem quite lucky in North America with options. Here prices seem to be climbing for old machinery, although second hand things used frequently still by tradesmen e.g. routers can be had for good bargains.

Good idea on viewing in person Peter, it's been hard doing that during the pandemic but I might be able to find a retailer that can order something in. Its incredible how much people have shifted to online ordering here in the UK, high streets were already struggling and for many retailers the pandemic will be a killer blow.
 

pshupe

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Yeah - we're doing quite well here in Ontario as far as the pandemic. Everything is open now except for gyms and theatres. Not many cases /day and most are fully vaccinated. Wood working places are open and most have a few floor models. As I said, I can buy a decent drill press for about $600 that should be true and of a very good quality. Adding more money seems to add frills, like larger throat, laser, and more speeds and even some digital options.

Cheers Peter.
 

the great waldo

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If your living in blighty you should be able to pickup a decent pillar drill second hand. For guitar making you don't need the ultimate in accuracy. Getting decent drill bits for woodwrking is a bigger problem. I got a really nice set of hss wood bit's from rutlands when they had an offer. By the way I just had a look at axminster
https://www.axminstertools.com/axminster-craft-ac680rd-floor-radial-drill-105112 and the reviews look ok.
Cheers
Andrew
 

Bainzy

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That's the one I'd like to go for Andrew to be honest, just a shame Devon is so far to go in person from Yorkshire. 3mm min chuck is the only minor drawback on the spec, otherwise it looks better than their trade models.

I may send them some questions on what tolerances they set the manufacturer for square and runout...
 

tonefi

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That's the one I'd like to go for Andrew to be honest, just a shame Devon is so far to go in person from Yorkshire.

Axminster have several stores including one in Newcastle and one in Warrington.

Tony.
 

Westside

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I bought a Jet JDP-17 Pillar drill refurbed from Axminster on their eBay store. It had a tonne of run out when it arrived (as well as a broken plastic front panel which they had been epoxied back together, I got a 25% refund on the price I paid as they didn't mention this damage, probably because they were hoping I wouldn't notice before the 3 month warranty expired).

I ended up replacing the supplied chinese made chuck with an Albrecht chuck and now the runout is barely measurable. Something to bear in mind if you end up being disappointed with the accuracy of the new drill you buy, I imagine most will come with chinese made chucks.
 

valvetoneman

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Get a second hand old pillar drill like a fobco or meddings etc it'll last much than you will be alive, these old drills are built like tanks, I had to replace a motor on my old one, can't remember what make but it's heavy duty and probably 60s
 

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