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How to Align a Drill Press

Last Updated: 22.01.22


In our latest article, we talked about the best drill press stands for a hand drill. Today, we will be focusing on how to properly align a drill press for the best results. The solid-body construction of the drill press allows for far more accuracy than what you would normally get out of either a power drill or a cordless drill. So let’s get down to the basics.


The basic principles of positioning

First and foremost, make sure to properly secure the base and stand of the drill press. If you skip this step, you’re in for disaster. Regardless of whether you have a floor drill press or a benchtop model, the base needs to be on a leveled surface that can also support the weight of the press. By doing so, you’ll avoid tipping the press over and many other accidents.

Sure, you might not think that just because the drill press itself is heavy, but make no mistake – it can be knocked over fairly easily even with little effort. Secure the press and tighten it with the bolts all the way down. If you find that the surface you’ve installed it on is too unstable, move it to another place before continuing. We can’t stress enough how important this step is.


Check the motor head

Now that we’ve secured the base, it’s time to move onto checking if the motor head is secured correctly to the drill press’ column. Now, this is where things might get a little tricky since the motor head’s positioning varies depending on the drill press model. Some drill presses lower or raise the head as part of the master height adjustment process.

However, most drill presses have the motor head mounted directly on top of the column. Make sure it is also aligned according to your needs, then tighten its bolts as well. After doing so, we recommend checking if the head rotates or rises if you apply some force. If it stays put, then continue on to the next step.


Pinion gears and rack adjustments

As we’ve just said, most drill presses have the motor head on top of the column. In this instance, you must lower or raise the table to adjust it to the quill and chuck’s working range. The locking rack and pinion gears are responsible for raising, lowering, and locking the drill press table as necessary. 

When the drill is new, the gears will most likely be in great shape. However, in time, dust, grime, and other elements might start clogging up the holes between the gears, thus stopping them from functioning properly. So before we continue, let’s get down to the basics of cleaning the locking rack and pinion gears.

Start by lightly spraying a lubricant cleaning spray onto the gears. Wait a few seconds and then wipe it with a clean and lint-free cloth. Optionally, you can use an old toothbrush if the gears look particularly dirty. This will help you get all the grime out in one go. Afterward, you can wipe the remaining softened gunk with a lint-free cloth as mentioned earlier.

Now it’s time to test how well you can raise or lower the table along the rack. If you’re still having trouble raising or lowering the head, there might be some gunk left in the pinion gears’ mechanism. Cleaning the mechanism goes exactly like the steps mentioned above, so we won’t get into more details for now.


Table rotation adjustments

Apart from adjusting the motor head’s height, some drill presses can even adjust the left-right rotation. In such cases, it is also important to set this accordingly. You should have a screw on the collar on top of the rack gears. Fix the screw in such a manner that you can rotate the table with as much force as you need without having to worry about accidental rotation.


Test the depth stop

Before starting to drill in the material you want to work with, you should get some scrap pieces to test the depth stop. As an example, you can take a piece of wood and make some pencil markings on it. Place the piece of wood right under the drill bit, lower it until it reaches the marking, and then set the fence distance and lock the depth stop.

Doing so will prevent you from drilling too much or too little in the material you will be working on. It’s an important step in the whole alignment process and you shouldn’t skip it. 


How to check the table for square

Working with square wooden objects is one of the most essential aspects of using a drill press. To check the table for square, you should use the 3-4-5 method. 

On one corner of the wood piece, measure 3 inches or any multiple of three (6, 9, 12, 15, etc.). On the opposite corner, measure 4 inches or any multiple of four (8, 12, 16, 20, 24, etc.). Now measure the inches between the two markings. If it’s 5 or any multiple of 5 (10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, etc.), then congratulations. You’ve got yourself a square piece.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if you’re measuring in inches or centimeters. The key thing to remember is that the rule of 3-4-5 applies no matter what. As long as you’ve got a multiple of those numbers, you’re all set.


How to tune your drill press

Now that you’ve learned how to align your drill press for basic work, let’s look at how you can do some basic maintenance to ensure that it will work efficiently for a longer period of time. If you overlook this step, your machine will eventually build up rust, wobble with the quill and spindle, and run into several other problems as well. Read the following instructions carefully.


How to tune the drill press’ drive system

In most models, the entire drive system is located in a compartment within the motor head. Before removing the cover, unplug the power cord. Make sure that the power cord is intact and that no cracks can be found on its surface. This is important because it prevents short circuits and other electrical accidents that can lead to a fire.

Next, check to see if the switch needs replacing. If you can easily press it, that means it’s in good condition and functioning properly. Now check the belt underneath the head cover on top of the drill press. If it looks frail or cracked, consider replacing it. Running a worn-out belt will only bring further damage to the entire drill press mechanism in the long run.

Finally, inspect the pulleys. See if the fore and aft of each pulley shows any sign of damage or rust. Depending on the type of drill press, it is better to just inspect the manual or call in an expert for this one. 

The process of replacing pulleys isn’t necessarily hard, but you can screw it up quite easily. So it’s best to leave it at that if you don’t know what you’re doing and call in an expert repairman.


Fine-tune the quill assembly

The hard part is over. Now, all you need to do is tune the quill assembly to your liking. Remove the chuck and grab the lower end of the quill. Move it laterally in any direction you want and check if the quill and the quill tube run together smoothly. If the quill seems loose or wobbles, you’ll need to tighten the mounting bolt by using a wrench.

This will secure the quill tube into the motor housing. Now check the quill and quill tube again to see if they wobble. If they do, you’ll sadly need the help of an expert yet again.


The bottom line

Aligning and maintaining a drill press, be it a floor or a bench model, is not necessarily easy, but not that hard either. As long as you don’t encounter serious problems, you should be able to do it yourself. Either way, take notes that you find useful from this article and keep them handy for future reference. 

You never know when you might need to use this information. Also, don’t forget the maintenance part. Usually, the manual should have an entire section dedicated to maintenance. If your model does have that in its manual, then follow those exact instructions to the letter.