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How to Drill a Hole in a Metal Plate

Important Note: Whenever you are drilling into any metallic surface, a cutting fluid or similar product will most likely be of great benefit to you.  It decreases friction between the tool and the material which lowers heat build-up. Because there is less friction and heat, tooling life is extended and your profit increases with the more efficient drilling set-up.

Drilling into significantly thick metal plate is not the same as drilling into thin material or soft material such as wood or plastics. When drilling through thin materials, the “drill bit” goes through the material very quickly. This means there is less heat build-up at the tip of the tool. Drilling into a thick metal plate takes longer and as the tooling rotates over and over again through the material, heat builds up. If you do not properly manage the heat build up, you wind up dulling the “drill bit” prematurely. The key is to reduce that heat build up as much as possible.

Basic Manual Drilling Instructions

  1. Place your metal plate flat on your work table surface. Make sure that the area where you will be drilling has clearance below it by either placing the area over a preexisting hole in the table top or by placing the area over the edge of the table a bit.
  2. Secure the metal plate to the work table. Do this by placing C-Clamps or some other similar clamping device on the edge of the plate. NOTE: If the plate is not securely tied to the stable table top, it could spin wildly causing damage or injury! This is a critical step.
  3. If you are drilling a hole 3/8″ or larger, we suggest that you select a “drill bit” that is 40% to 50% smaller than the size of the final hole to be drilled. For example, a 1/2″ diameter hole would likely be drilled 3/16″ or 1/4″ first. This is called a pilot hole.
  4. Put on your safety glasses. Apply cutting fluid to the “drill bit” as well as on the plate at the location where you will be drilling. Place the tip of the “drill bit” on to the surface of the plate.
  5. Apply pressure on the hand drill and pump the trigger of the drill so that the rotational speed of the “drill bit” varies from stopped to running speed. Begin to run the “drill bit” into the metal plate. Keep pumping the trigger of the drill as it will keep the tooling spinning at a slower speed. Slower speeds mean less heat build up. remember that heat is your tool’s enemy! Pause drilling and apply cutting fluid to the drill bit often to keep the drill bit cool. As long as the tip is wet with fluid, you are doing fine.
  6. Take care as you break through the final thin piece of metal when drilling. As the tool starts to break through, let up on the downward pressure. Failure to do this can sometimes make the drill bit “screw” through the material and pulls the drill down rapidly to the surface. It can also greatly increase the size of the “burr” on the back side of the plate.
  7. When you have finished the first hole, exchange the smaller “drill bit” for the properly sized “drill bit” required for the final hole. Again, coat the drill bit liberally with cutting fluid as well as the area around the smaller hole you just drilled. Get some fluid into the smaller hole if possible.
  8. Repeat step 5 above, this time with the larger “drill bit” until the hole is complete. When finished, wipe the excess cutting fluid from the surface of the metal plate using a dry rag and clean up any metal chips, etc. Be careful that you do not cut yourself on the sharp edges or chips that were created during the process.

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