Drilling is a cutting process that uses a drill bit to cut or enlarge a hole in solid materials. The drill bit is a multipoint, end cutting tool. It cuts by applying pressure and rotation to the workpiece, which forms chips at the cutting edge.



Drilled holes are characterized by their sharp edge on the entrance side and the presence of burrs on the exit side (unless they have been removed). Also, the inside of the hole usually has helical feed marks.[1]

Drilling may affect the mechanical properties of the workpiece by creating low residual stresses around the hole opening and a very thin layer of highly stressed and disturbed material on the newly formed surface. This causes the workpiece to become more susceptible to corrosion at the stressed surface.

For fluted drill bits, any chips are removed via the flutes. Chips may be long spirals or small flakes, depending on the material, and process parameters.[1] The type of chips formed can be an indicator of the machinability of the material, with long gummy chips reducing machinability.

When possible drilled holes should be located perpendicular to the workpiece surface. This minimizes the drill bit's tendency to "walk", that is, to be deflected, which causes the hole to be misplaced. The higher the length-to-diameter ratio of the drill bit, the higher the tendency to walk. The tendency to walk is also preempted in various other ways, which include:

  • Establishing a centering mark or feature before drilling, such as by:
    • Casting, molding, or forging a mark into the workpiece
    • Center punching
    • Spot drilling (i.e., center drilling)
    • Spot facing, which is facing a certain area on a rough casting or forging to establish, essentially, an island of precisely known surface in a sea of imprecisely known surface
  • Constraining the position of the drill bit using a drill jig with drill bushings

Surface finish in drilling may range from 32 to 500 microinches. Finish cuts will generate surfaces near 32 microinches, and roughing will be near 500 microinches.

Cutting fluid is commonly used to cool the drill bit, increase tool life, increase speeds and feeds, increase the surface finish, and aid in ejecting chips. Application of these fluids is usually done by flooding the workpiece or by applying a spray mist.[1]

In deciding which drill(s) to use it is important to consider the task at hand and evaluate which drill would best accomplish the task. There are a variety of drill styles that each serve a different purpose. The subland drill is capable of drilling more than one diameter. The spade drill is used to drill larger hole sizes. The indexable drill is useful in managing chips.[1]

Spot drilling

The purpose of spot drilling is to drill a hole that will act as a guide for drilling the final hole. The hole is only drilled part way into the workpiece because it is only used to guide the beginning of the next drilling process.

Center drilling

The purpose of center drilling is to drill a hole that will act as a center of rotation for possible following operations. Center drilling is typically performed using a drill with a special shape, known as a center drill.

Deep hole drilling

Deep hole drilling is defined as a hole depth greater than five times the diameter of the hole.[2] These types of holes require special equipment to maintain the straightness and tolerances. Other considerations are roundness and surface finish.

Deep hole drilling is generally achievable with a few tooling methods, usually gun drilling or BTA drilling. These are differentiated due to the coolant entry method (internal or external) and chip removal method (internal or external). Secondary tooling methods include trepanning, skiving and burnishing, pull boring, or bottle boring.

A high tech monitoring system is used to control force, torque, vibrations, and acoustic emission. The vibration is considered a major defect in deep hole drilling which can often cause the drill to break. Special coolant is usually used to aid in this type of drilling.

Gun drilling

Another type of drilling operation is called gun drilling. This method was originally developed to drill out gun barrels and is used commonly for drilling smaller diameter deep holes. This depth-to-diameter ratio can be even more than 300:1. The key feature of gun drilling is that the bits are self-centering; this is what allows for such deep accurate holes. The bits use a rotary motion similar to a twist drill however; the bits are designed with bearing pads that slide along the surface of the hole keeping the drill bit on center. Gun drilling is usually done at high speeds and low feed rates.


Trepanning is commonly used for creating larger diameter holes (up to 915 mm (36.0 in)) where a standard drill bit is not feasible or economical. Trepanning removes the desired diameter by cutting out a solid disk similar to the workings of a drafting compass. Trepanning is performed on flat products such as sheet metal, granite (curling stone), plates, or structural members like I-beams. Trepanning can also be useful to make grooves for inserting seals, such as O-rings.


Microdrilling refers to the drilling of holes less than 0.5 mm (0.020 in). Drilling of holes at this small diameter presents greater problems since coolant fed drills cannot be used and high spindle speeds are required. High spindle speeds that exceed 10,000 RPM also require the use of balanced tool holders.[citation needed]


Drilling in metal

High speed steel twist bit drilling into aluminium with methylated spirits lubricant

Under normal usage, swarf is carried up and away from the tip of the drill bit by the fluting of the drill bit. The cutting edges produce more chips which continue the movement of the chips outwards from the hole. This is successful until the chips pack too tightly, either because of deeper than normal holes or insufficient backing off (removing the drill slightly or totally from the hole while drilling). Cutting fluid is sometimes used to ease this problem and to prolong the tool's life by cooling and lubricating the tip and chip flow. Coolant may be introduced via holes through the drill shank, which is common when using a gun drill. When cutting aluminum in particular, cutting fluid helps ensure a smooth and accurate hole while preventing the metal from grabbing the drill bit in the process of drilling the hole.

For heavy feeds and comparatively deep holes oil-hole drills can be used, with a lubricant pumped to the drill head through a small hole in the bit and flowing out along the fluting. A conventional drill press arrangement can be used in oil-hole drilling, but it is more commonly seen in automatic drilling machinery in which it is the workpiece that rotates rather than the drill bit.

In computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools a process called peck drilling, or interrupted cut drilling, is used to keep swarf from detrimentally building up when drilling deep holes (approximately when the depth of the hole is three times greater than the drill diameter). Peck drilling involves plunging the drill part way through the workpiece, no more than five times the diameter of the drill, and then retracting it to the surface. This is repeated until the hole is finished. A modified form of this process, called high speed peck drilling or chip breaking, only retracts the drill slightly. This process is faster, but is only used in moderately long holes otherwise it will overheat the drill bit. It is also used when drilling stringy material to break the chips.[3][4][5]

Drilling in wood

Wood being softer than most metals, drilling in wood is considerably easier and faster than drilling in metal. Cutting fluids are not used or needed. The main issue in drilling wood is assuring clean entry and exit holes and preventing burning. Avoiding burning is a question of using sharp bits and the appropriate cutting speed. Drill bits can tear out chips of wood around the top and bottom of the hole and this is undesirable in fine woodworking applications.

The ubiquitous twist drill bits used in metalworking also work well in wood, but they tend to chip wood out at the entry and exit of the hole. In some cases, as in rough holes for carpentry, the quality of the hole does not matter, and a number of bits for fast cutting in wood exist, including spade bits and self-feeding auger bits. Many types of specialised drill bits for boring clean holes in wood have been developed, including brad-point bits, Forstner bits and hole saws. Chipping on exit can be minimized by using a piece of wood as backing behind the work piece, and the same technique is sometimes used to keep the hole entry neat.

Holes are easier to start in wood as the drill bit can be accurately positioned by pushing it into the wood and creating a dimple. The bit will thus have little tendency to wander.


Some materials like plastics as well as other non-metals and some metals have a tendency to heat up enough to expand making the hole smaller than desired.

Related processes

The following are some related processes that often accompany drilling:

This process creates a stepped hole in which a larger diameter follows a smaller diameter partially into a hole.
This process is similar to counterboring but the step in the hole is cone-shaped.
Boring precisely enlarges an already existing hole using a single point cutter.
Friction drilling 
drilling holes using plastic deformation of the subject (under heat and pressure) instead of cutting it.


  1. ^ a b c d Todd, Robert H.; Allen, Dell K.; Alting, Leo (1994), Manufacturing Processes Reference Guide, Industrial Press Inc., pp. 43–48, ISBN 0-8311-3049-0, http://books.google.com/books?id=6x1smAf_PAcC. 
  2. ^ Bralla, James G. (1999). Design for manufacturability handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 4‐56. ISBN 9780070071391. http://books.google.com/books?id=tjt481jg4WAC&pg=SA4-PA56. 
  3. ^ Smid, Peter (2003), CNC programming handbook (2nd ed.), Industrial Press, p. 199, ISBN 9780831131586, http://books.google.com/books?id=JNnQ8r5merMC&pg=PA199. 
  4. ^ Hurst, Bryan (2006), The Journeyman's Guide to CNC Machines, Lulu.com, p. 82, ISBN 9781411699212, http://books.google.com/books?id=i1cKWU9FBm4C&pg=PA82. 
  5. ^ Mattson, Mike (2009), CNC Programming: Principles and Applications (2nd ed.), Cengage Learning, p. 233, ISBN 9781418060992, http://books.google.com/books?id=PjTGgpQ-H6oC&pg=PA233. 

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