Selecting and Buying a Drill Press

Selecting and Buying a Drill Press

Feb 21, 2022

James Laumeyer

When buying tools for a workshop on a budget I believe Adam Savage said it best, "Buy cheap tools until you know what you really need from that tool, then buy the best one you can afford.”


Recently our little Harbor-freight drill press just hasn’t been cutting it for the work we want to do with it and it became clear that it was time for an upgrade. In a perfect world we would replace that press with a mill, however a decent mill is at least $2000 for the machine alone and takes up a significant amount of space to operate in a safe manner. In this case while the dollar cost is a factor the bigger issue for us is the space cost; as Boca Bearings continues to expand our inventory to suit all your bearing needs, the amount of empty floor space in our shop/warehouse is constantly dwindling so a large mill just isn’t in the cards right now for that reason alone.


This brings us back to the words of Adam Savage and so Mark and I asked ourselves, what do we really need out of this tool? Well the answer to that is as follows:


  1. We need a machine that can drill straight holes of at-least 5/8” diameter through a minimum of 1/8” mild steel without stalling out.
  2. We need to be able make a set of mounting holes in plate steel and keep the tolerances precise enough on the location that we don’t have to wallow out the holes to make a bolt mount up.
  3. We would really like the machine to be able to do some light milling, a minimum of just enough to square up parts better than an angle grinder and  give us the ability to machine slots or groves in a piece of metal.


With these criteria in mind we came to the conclusion that given the choice between a low-end Harbor-Freight bench-top minimill and a high-end bench-top drill press with a machinist vise, the drill press and vise combo was probably the safer bet. So after some research we settled on the JET Model J-2530 as our drill press of choice for the shop.


By using a machinist vise with this press we have essentially created what I lovingly refer to as a poor man’s mill. Now make no mistake at nearly $1000 this machine is not cheap, nor will it ever hold anywhere close to the ± .001” tolerances you can expect out of a mill as we expect it to be more like ±.02” if we are lucky. Another draw back to keep in mind is that the bearings used in drill press heads are not designed for the axial loads that milling causes, they are designed for the thrust load of keeping a drill bit centered. Because of this you have to either take really small passes while milling or be prepared to swap a bearing when it fails. As we are a bearing company and the parts diagram on our particular machine appears to give fairly reasonable user access to the bearings, this was not a huge concern for us in our decision making.


With all that being said you maybe looking at this post and hesitating on implementing solution like this at your home shop, but don’t let the price tag and bearing scare you away just yet. As I said before we went with the right solution for us, if you took the time to hunt the used listings or went with a more budget brand you could probably get something of nearly equivalent power for less than half the cost of our drill press. And after getting our machine fully set up and mounted I can confidently say we made the right call and this machine is an absolute beast. 


While this machine may have cost ten times more than what our old drill press did, I honestly think this is one time ten times the cost does equal ten times the performance. There are still a few kinks to iron out with the system but most of the stem from the vise itself and not the press. These include a kind of odd mounting slot size that we need to source the right bolts for, the handle on one axis not quite hanging off the side of the work plate, and just general play in the vise that needs tuned. But these are small issues and we have plans on how to fix them. Despite these small issues we did get the vise secure and stable enough to do some quick test cuts on a piece of scrap pipe we had in the shop as you can see in the picture below. 



We are all really excited to use this new machine on current and future projects here at Boca Bearings, so stay tuned tune for future updates on this machine in action.