How to Build a Hand-Powered Drill Press

Enjoy this "how-to" excerpt on the assembly of a hand-powered drill press from 1941, when basic construction materials were scarce.
By Arthur W. Howe
November 28, 2012
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"40 Power Tools You Can Make," originally published in 1941, describes how to build common power tools such as a circular saw and a hand-powered drill press.
Cover Courtesy Linden Publishing
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Originally published by Popular Mechanics in 1941, 40 Power Tools You Can Make (Linden Publishing, 2008) describes how to build a host of machines and power tools by using commonly available materials. Topics include the construction of a 10-inch thickness planer, a tilting arbor circular saw, a power cordwood saw, jigsaws, bending brakes, a wood lathe, drill presses, bandsaws and much more. In the following excerpt, Arthur W. Howe explains how to build a hand-powered drill press. 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: 40 Power Tools You Can Make.  

There’s no need to place work on the floor or climb up on the bench to put enough pressure on the drill press if you have a hand-operated drill press. This particular one, Fig. 1 (see illustration in Image Gallery), is made from a 1/2-in., 2-speed breast drill, although others sizes may be substituted. Either wood or metal is used for the base. The column is a 36-in. length of 1 1/2-in. pipe. One end is threaded for a floor flange and the other end is notched for the operating lever. The pipe should be dressed so the two tees will be a smooth fit. These tees are reamed also and the backs are drilled and tapped for a 1/2-in. thread. Nuts are brazed in place in the following manner: thread them onto 1/2-in. bolts and turn the bolts into the tees until the nuts are flush against the tees. Then braze and remove the bolts. This will align the threads. Bend and thread short lengths of rod to make the adjusting screws.


The drill-press table is assembled as shown in Fig. 2. A short length of 1 1/2-in. pipe is screwed to the tee on the column and an identical tee is fastened to the free end. A short nipple screws to this tee and connects to a floor flange and the table. For the upper assembly, bush the tee down for 3/4-in. pipe. The nipple and tee here should center over the drill-press table. The upper left-hand detail shows how the 3/4-in. tee is assembled with the 5/8-in. rod. If you have a drill with a removable handle, you may be able to insert the rod and lock it with a setscrew, or you may have to braze it to the drill. The lever is a length of flat iron with a wooden handle riveted on. A linkage connecting the lever to the rod is held with locked nuts and washers. Fig. 3 shows an easy way to make a foot-feed drill.


Please note that the projects presented in this book were developed over 50 years ago when safety standards were not comparable to those in force today. The publishers do not suggest you build these machines. This vintage reprint offers its readers examples of Yankee ingenuity. It is a unique look into a period of American history—when materials and labor were stretched thin, and American craftsmen were forced to “bootstrap” solutions out of bare essentials available to them.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from 40 Power Tools You Can Make published by Linden Publishing, 2008. Buy this book from our store: 40 Power Tools You Can Make. 


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