If your drill seems like it’s taking longer and longer to bore holes lately, it’s probably an issue with your drill bits. If you notice that you’re unable to drill even into wood without making smoke or squealing shrieks, then your bits are going dull. A new set of drill bits can be pricey, and if you use your drill regularly, you’re going to find that they go dull quickly. Instead of biting the bullet (or the bit) and purchasing a new set, you’re better off learning how to use a drill bit sharpener.
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A drill bit sharpener spins at high speeds and can cause serious injury. It is not recommended that you wear gloves while working with this machine as they can actually snag in the wheel and pull your fingers towards it.
Like any project in your shop, you need to wear safety goggles while sharpening your drill bits. Sharpening anything can cause unexpected shrapnel to fly, and it only takes one injury to your eyes to change your life permanently.
Understanding Your Drill Bit
Your drill bit is a marvel of engineering, but we’re primarily concerned with three parts of it. The lip is the part of the bit that actually cuts. There are two lips that should always be symmetrical, meaning that if they wear down unevenly, your drill bit won’t cut properly.
The land (or landing) behind the lip helps hold the lips firmly in place as you drill. If the landing is angled incorrectly, it creates too much space between the drill bit and what you’re cutting, causing the drill to skip or chip wood.
The chisel is the line you see where the landing on each side intersects. This isn’t part of the cutting action, but instead, it helps feed the wood into the lips to be cut. As a result, the chisel is a small component that needs to be aligned rather specifically.
When to Sharpen Your Drill Bit
When your drill isn’t drilling properly, it’s almost always a problem with the bits themselves. The first step after you understand the parts of your drill bit is to inspect it to see if you can identify any of the incongruencies discussed above. If anything is slightly out of alignment, the bit won’t cut correctly or efficiently.
If the bit itself is chipped or badly warped, then you need to replace it. However, if it’s just starting to become misshapen, you can typically sharpen it to get it back into the proper shape and sharpness to cut with ease again.
Setting Up Your Bit for Sharpening
First, you want to file the outer surface of the bit to be nice and smooth before you begin sharpening. If there are any jagged or rough edges, they could catch your fingers and cause injury while you’re sharpening. You can use a straight file to work around the bit to make sure it’s smooth and even.
Which Drill Bit Sharpener to Use
While there are some commercial products specifically available that call themselves drill bit sharpeners, they’re often expensive or impractical to buy. You’re welcome to try them, by all means, if you can spare the expense and space in your shop. But it’s much more practical to use your existing setup if you can.
You can choose one of two tools to use as your drill bit sharpener. A belt sander is a popular choice, or you can use a bench grinder to sharpen your drill bits. You just need your machine to have guards that can rest within ⅛” from the wheel or belt, or else the bit can get caught in the guard.
How to Hold the Drill Bit
Rest your hand against the support for the machine to keep it steady and hold the drill bit with both hands (don’t do this one-handed even if you’ve done it before just for safety reasons). You want to hold the drill bit at about a sixty-degree angle from the face of the wheel with the end of the landing placed against the belt.
Cutting and Shaping the Landing and Chisel
Raise and lower your rear hand while using your forward hand to carefully control the pressure against the wheel or belt. While you don’t want to get your fingers any closer to the wheel than they need to be, you need to be relatively close in order to maintain fine-tuned control over the sharpening. At the same time, move your rear hand left and right in order to shape the chisel. Keep your forward hand in place while guiding the drill bit only with your rear hand.
This dual motion will help sharpen each component of the drill bit. You may need to practice on a few old bits before you get the hang of it, as it requires careful attention to detail and fine motor control to do it right. You want to get the chisel to a perfect 45-degree angle to the lip.
You’ll repeat these motions as you move the bit along the wheel or belt to sharpen the whole thing. There isn’t much difference at all between the dull bit and the sharpened bit (except that the latter is sharp, of course). You won’t be able to see the sharpness so much as you’ll see the alignment and angle of the lips, landing, and chisel.
Practice Makes Perfect
Not only is this a skill that takes a lot of granular control and attention to detail, but it takes some practice to get it right. Fortunately, the very act of doing it properly is repetitive and forces you to practice regularly.
Sharpen your whole drill bit set at once to get a lot of practice and to keep them all in tip-top shape. If you have an old set lying around, they’re the perfect bits to practice on so you don’t have to take risks with your good ones. Like any difficult skill in the workshop, drill bit sharpening is something you can even learn as a marketable skill to help your friends or even make some pocket money on the side. A good drill bit sharpening isn’t easy to learn, but once you do, it’s easy to repeat and it’s a skill you won’t lose for the rest of your life.
Some Tips for Keeping Your Drill Bit Sharp
Sharpening is a great skill, but it’s very time-consuming. The best thing you can do for your drill bits is to drill properly so they stay sharp for as long as possible. Every inch you drill, you should stop, pull the bit out, and blow off any chips and flakes. These can compact inside your drill bit and build friction causing the bit to get hot and become dull faster. This technique is particularly important when drilling into hardwoods.
Additionally, you should alternate between two sets of bits to keep each one fresh and useful for even longer. These techniques combined with lots of practicing at the drill bit sharpener will save you tons of money and make your drilling jobs easier and more successful every time.