What Drillbits are Best for Wood?

Some woodworking projects feel like riding a bike. I started working on building a chunky photo frame (the kind that rests on its own base) when I found myself pulling out a spade drill bit. I had never thought about the diversity of the drill bits in my toolbox until then. That got me thinking about which one is ideal for woodworking in general.

The best drill bits for wood are carbide-tipped bits with a brad point construction. Even twist drill bits can work, but a brand point is more efficient. High-Speed Steel bits can be used for one-off projects and occasional drilling, while carbide remains the best material option for long-term use.

In this article, we will cover the different things one must consider when getting drill bits for woodworking. These include the material of the bit as well as its drive and construction. In each discussion, we consider the different types of woodworking projects and the ideal aspect for each one. Whether you’re looking for a drillbit to use every day or one for your next project only, you’ll know the right one to buy by the end. But first, let’s define a good drill bit.

Functional Drill Bits vs. Good Drill Bits

To separate the best drill bits from the rest, we must establish the difference between functional bits and good bits. The functional ones do their job but do not preserve their shape and efficiency over the long run. The best drill bits are the ones that can penetrate the hardest wood surfaces without taking serious damage.

Given that most Drill bits are used in woodworking only, and their function is contingent on their ability to cut or penetrate different wood surfaces, one can assume that all drill bits are capable of impacting wood. Any material that cannot cut through wood is not used to make a drill bit. So, what does that mean for your project?

If you’re working on a one-off DIY project that requires drill bits, you can buy any drill bit, and it will do its job. The bit might become too blunt to use by the end of the project or might lose its cutting efficiency after a few passes, which should not be a problem if you don’t plan to use the drill after the project is wrapped.

In case you plan to keep using the drillbits across multiple projects, you must start getting more intentional about the drillbit material. The bits that have the most durable coat or material will last the longest. The hardness of a drill bit also makes it difficult to sharpen, but the bit also takes longer to get blunt. These factors are discussed further later in this post.

The type of woodwork and drill bits

The kind of project you undertake determines the compatibility of a specific drill bit. Since the woodworking tools market is a very competitive one, universally, bad drill bits do not remain on the market. On average, any given bit is good for a specific type of project.

This table covers the broad nature of woodworking projects and the recommended drill bits for each one.

Project TypeRecommended Drill Bit MaterialRationale
A short-term project that requires simple wood-puncturing.High-Speed Steel Drill BitsThese bits have decent durability and can last a few years when used for simple woodworking projects.
Recurring hardwood projectsTitanium or Black Oxide Coated Drill BitsCoated bits are more durable than HSS bits and can last longer. More importantly, they can be used on harder pieces of wood.
Daily-use hardwood project featuring other materials as wellCarbide-Tipped or Solid Carbide Drill BitsWhen you need to puncture wood as well as materials like concrete and metal, carbide-tipped bits can do a better job than HSS and Titanium Coated bits.

Which Material Drill Bits are the best.

The table above broadly categorizes the different types of drill bits for common woodworking use. This section will explore every material option available to drill bit buyers like yourself. By knowing where you get diminishing returns, you’ll be able to save money while getting a drill bit that works well enough for your needs.

High-Speed Steel

HSS is considered the standard for drill bits, and the term “high speed” refers to the velocity at which these bits can cut and penetrate the project area. In the hierarchy of durability, these are the weakest drill bits, and they’re also the easiest to acquire. They have a shinier appearance and work on most softwood and medium-hard surfaces. They require constant sharpening but don’t have to be taken to a professional to get sharpened.

Black oxide coated drill bits

If the woodworking projects aren’t too demanding, and you plan to be in business for a long time, it is wise to get these drill bits. These are as effective as HSS drill bits but, because of their rust-resistant coat, can last much longer. However, if you use the bits regularly, they need to get sharpened, which wears out their coating, reducing them to regular drill bits after a few passes. In short, it is for the one-off user who plans to use the bits occasionally across a long period.

Titanium Coated Drill Bits

Titanium-coating is the first material upgrade that impacts the functional ability of drill bits. Because of their harder-metal coating, these bits can drive deeper into the wood without as much effort. For the average woodworker, getting titanium-coated bits means having to sharpen the bits less often. It also makes drilling and finishing much easier.

Cobalt Drill Bits

This is one of the first solid material swaps in the drill bit category. While the coating does change a bit’s penetrative ability, using a drill bit made from stronger material maintains a higher drilling capacity. A titanium-coated bit wouldn’t be as effective as a solid titanium bit. 

But given the price of titanium, solid bits aren’t as common as cobalt drill bits. You do not need a cobalt drill bit if you work with wood only. Cobalt bits are effective at puncturing hard metals, and getting them for regular woodwork would involve overpaying for a feature you don’t use.

Carbide tipped drill bits

One can rationalize getting these drill bits for woodworking because they make drilling more efficient and can last longer. The major drawback associated with carbide tipped (and solid carbide bits) is that they’re harder to sharpen. Since carbide is harder than most common metals, it can cut through them. 

But the same metals cannot be used to sharpen carbide as they fail to affect the bit’s shape. You’ll need to visit a tool shop whenever you need to get these bits sharpened, and this frequency will be a lot less than HSS bit sharpening.

Bi-metal drill bits

Let’s suppose you’re working with veneers, plywood, and thin sheets of wood. In such cases, you need the drill to be stable. High-Speed Steel bits are predictably unsuitable for such work. And while carbide bits are good enough for the job, they’re not the only ones fit for it. Bi-metal bits drive deep enough into the wood while being relatively stable. This makes bi-metal bits a must-have for those who work with thin sheets and delicate wood structures.

Diamond bits

Diamond bits are made up of material diamond (different from the crystal known to the masses). These bits are usually used for cutting glass and stone and are not ideal for woodwork. They can penetrate through thick sheets of wood but getting them for woodwork is overkill.

Alloy Steel drill bits

These drill bits are never used for woodworking but are the default bits for sheet metal work. Earlier, I mentioned that any drill bit could work for a one-off woodwork project. If there is any drill bit material that should be an exception to that statement, it should be an alloy steel bit. 

While slightly stronger than High-Speed Steel, these bits are not meant for woodwork. They are not good at depth-work, and while wood is not harder than metal, it is thicker than the sheets on which alloy steel bits are used.

Drill bit bodies – a primer

Having covered most of the drill bit materials available to woodworkers, let’s come to the specific bit construction. Simply put, the material of the bit dictates its ability to puncture wood, while its construction decides the efficiency with which it dives into the surface.

Aside from the construction, the drive of the bits can play a role as well. But that’s for you to decide based on your project. A Square drive bit has four edges, while a Torx bit resembles the Mont Blanc logo with six puncturing edges. These aspects of the bit’s construction are referred to as the drive, and as a woodworker, you’ll be able to determine the bit’s relevance to your project. On average, all drive types are good for wood.

With that out of the way, let’s look at different drill bit bodies in the light of project types. Just like the table included at the beginning of this post, the one below explores different types of woodwork and the best drill bits for the respective type.

Project TypeDrill Bit ConstructionRationale
General use, drilling holes in wood and other home-use surfaces.Twist Drill BitsTwist bits are the classic drill-ends. They have a tiny, twisted make that allows you to make holes in wood to lodge screws and nails in.
Specialized WoodworkingBrad-point drill bitsThese drill bits feature a twisted make with a multi-pronged drive, making them efficient at puncturing thicker pieces of wood. Brad-point bits are used in cabinetry, making furniture, and drilling holes in wooden frames.
Larger-than-life woodworkAuger drill bitsIf you have to build large wood installations, then you need to drive a bit much deeper into larger pieces of wood like entire logs. For this, an auger drill bit works best. It has a longer length with a more drawn-out twist that reduces the resistance while making it easier to puncture at depth.
Fine woodworkingSpade drill bitsWhether you want to put together a small frame or want to make a hole in shiplap walls to hang art from, a spade bit is the right fit. This bit reduces the surface area of the drilling action to make tinier holes in wood with comparative ease.
Creating circular, flat holes in woodForstner Drill BitThis bit is great at creating a smooth hole in a flat slab of wood. Whether you have circular wood inserts or plan to use the drilled hole as a cup holder, the Forstner bit will do the job.
Making holes that shrink in depthCountersink drill bitThis is a very specialized drill bit for making pilot holes. It allows you to make room for screws in your project.

How to take care of drill bits

As mentioned in our definition of a good drill bit, the longevity of the bit determines whether it is good. A poorly maintained carbide bit might not last as long as a well-kept HSS bit. So, you cannot rely on the bit material alone for extending its lifespan. You have to take care of your drill bits, so they don’t need to be replaced as often. Here are the best practices to consider:

  • Sharpen the drill bits – Different bits require sharpening at different frequencies. But whenever your drill bit needs to be sharpened, you should not spend any more time deflecting. Sharpening delayed equals a drill bit destroyed.
  • Replace on time – Every good drill bit stops being good once it is past its working lifespan. Do not keep using a bad bit, or it will ruin your projects.
  • Allow the bits to rest – To avoid reaching the bit’s end-of-life, you must let the bit rest when it begins to heat up. Half an hour of drilling broken up into two 15-minute sessions has a lower impact on the drill bits than a single thirty-minute drilling marathon.

Final Thoughts

In general, almost any drill bit can work on wood. But to make sure the bit can work well and give consistent, desirable results, you must opt for the right make and material. On average, carbide tipped bit or a solid carbide bit is durable enough for even the most demanding woodwork. As for the make, a brad point or twist drill bit is the likely candidate for the average woodworking project.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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