Workshop Mishaps: Cordless Drills Gone Wild

We use hand-held drills so frequently that we hardly give them notice as potentially dangerous tools—but watch out! 

Story #1

I was putting the final trim on a three-section bookcase when I decided to make installation easier by fastening the cases together with KD hardware. Using a 2x4 as a backer block to eliminate tear-out, I started to drill the needed holes with a brad point bit and cordless drill. Working over my head, eyeballing the depth, and thinking that my hand was well out of harm’s way, I drilled through the backer block and into my palm. After nursing what I first thought was a minor wound for two days, I visited a hand surgeon. I had cut two tendons and a nerve, all of which required surgery. After three months of physical therapy and $35,000 in hospital bills, I came away with most of the use of my hand and a lesson I’ll never forget.

Story # 2

I had completed a new fence for my mitersaw and was in the process of attaching an aluminum T-track to the fence. I needed to drill and countersink the aluminum rail before mounting it. I admit to being tired at the time, but I thought I took all the proper precautions. I clamped a 6/4 block beneath the rail, and, using a cordless drill, began drilling the holes. Even though everything was tightly clamped, I unconsciously relied on my left hand to hold the stock. After a few holes, the drill bit jammed, snapped, and skittered over to drill through my thumb. The broken bit end went in near the cuticle and came out through the pad. It hurt plenty, and was ugly, but fortunately no permanent damage was done. You might say I got the point.

The Victims

Brian, a 50-year-old self-taught woodworker from Chicago, Illinois, has been in business for more than 10 years.

Garner, a 35-year-old (woodworking for over eight years) of Cumming, Georgia, classifies himself as a semi-professional.

What Happened

Brian was in over his head, literally. Reaching up, in an awkward position, without a depth stop and a hand-held block, he was courting trouble. What he was attempting to do with the KD hardware was a good idea, but should have been executed before assembly. When he drilled the holes for the shelf pins he could just as easily have drilled the KD fastener holes at the same time.

Garner is still not sure why his bit broke. It may have been old or dull.  He may have leaned on the bit too much, trying to muscle it through the aluminum. Also, drilling at the wrong speed or changing the bit angle can cause the cutting edge to dig in and catch. The usual result of this is a sore wrist as the drill keeps moving when the bit stops. Too, a small diameter bit is likely to snap when subjected to sudden torque.

Shop-Smart Strategies

Both Brian and Garner would have benefited in speed, accuracy, and safety, if they set up and used a drill press instead of a hand-held drill. When working with a hand-held drill, use these tips for safe boring:

• Use sharp bits. A dull bit will burn or catch. Files are available for sharpening Forstner and brad point bits. Your grinder probably already has a twist bit groove cast in the tool rest. Use it to sharpen bits in seconds. Aftermarket attachments even offer greater accuracy if you sharpen a lot of bits.

• Always secure your work with clamps, not hands.

• Back stock with scrap (not your hand) to eliminate tear-out on the back side.

• Centerpunch your holes with a machinist’s center punch or a scratch awl prior to drilling. Your bit will automatically center itself in the punch mark and not drift away.

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