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Hand drilling PCBs on a budget

makes 'handy' holes on PCBs

Do you lack power tools (power drill, dremel, etc)? are you wary to use them? are you unable to get proper drilling precision because  you lack a drill stand? and/or are on a severe budget or el cheap-o mode? And still... you really need to those holes done on your recently homemade PCB? Well, look no further, this tip is for you. Hand drilling resorting to an Archimedes drill.

Pros:

- Very cheap

- Reasonably accurate

Cons:

- Time consuming

- Very easy to break smaller (<0.9 mm) drill bits

 

DISCLAMER: If you're an hand model or otherwise depend on the softness of your hands (fingertips mostly) for a living don't use this method.

Method:

- Buy an Arcuimedes Hand Drill (can be bought cheaply off ebay) and a set of drill bits ( 0.8 mm, 1.0 mm and 1.5 mm should suffice to most PCB applications -- not counting the mounting holes drilling).

- Attach appropriate drill bit on the Archimedes and drill as shown in the video.

Considerations/personal observations:

- As the diameter of drill bits increases you may need to spend some "aiming" time and applying short/slow push down movements until you have a proper indentation that guarantees your bit stays in place and you drill accurately (that's what is happening in the begining of the video).

- Drill bit quality counts a good deal, with a good sharp drill bit (after you make the initial indentation) you can drill through a 1.5 mm PCB with just about half a dozen controlled slow push down movements.

- I don't really recommend drilling with drill bits below 0.8 mm, unless you really have to. That said, I do drill with a 0.7 mm bit but that's because I've manage to break all my drill bits in the 0.75 - 0.85 mm range. Trying to drill below 0.7 is an almost guaranteed insta-drill-bit-break-during-first-push endevour.

- If your drill bits are attached at an angle (different from 180º) in regards to the drill, then you're on your merry way to break your drill bit.

- You don't need and shouldn't push down too strongly on the Archimedes drill, just use the minimum force to keep it in place.

- If your doing a lot of push up/down movements for a long time (more than a few seconds), then your drill isn't that sharp and/or you're doing something wrong. Steady slow (or somewhat faster movements for thinner drill bits) push-down with controlled (spring) ascent movements are preferable to crazy fast push-down movements, althought sometimes those are required. Personally, some of my drill bits have degraded in sharpness very rapidly thus forcing to do just that. 

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You know, I was just looking for my old hand drill for a project the other day. It's not an Archimedes drill, but has a crank on it, like the red one in the image below.

I have a larger Archimedes drill (what my grandfather called a 'Yankee Screwdriver") that I really love.

Another very helpful hand tool for drilling is an automatic spring loaded center punch. I wonder if this would be useful for pre-punching PCBs for hand drilling.

A center punch makes a small indentation, so your drill bit will stay where you want it when you start drilling. Usually, you have to tap the end of the punch with a hammer. With an automated punch, you can do it one handed, which is much easier. Mine (similar to the one pictured above) allows you to adjust the spring tension so you can with with materials of different hardness. 

Do you get much use out of that cross slide gnome? I've considered getting one.

Well the crank one was the one I was initially looking for (as it reminds me of my grandfather tools), but the Archimedes drill turned out to be cheaper and more ubiquitous so I decided to give it a try.

The center punch tool looks really useful, a friend of mine had told me that back in the day he used for sort of "punch drill tool", I though it kind of a violent approach an prone to cracking boards so I haven't perused for it. But given your description of using it just for center punching (and with adjustable pressure) it sounds very useful, although I defeats the really el cheap-o way somewhat (assuming the linked price as standard). Personally, I'm musing thoughts torwards doing a small press drill just for PCB drilling.

A drill press is a very handy tool, and I use mine all the time.

I also have a Dremel with a drill press stand, which is nice for smaller work. If you are looking for a small drill press, consider a Dremel (or a cheaper variant) that is available with a drill press stand. It's a hundred tools in one.

Well, my problem is that my "dremel" isn't an Dremel branded tool (it's actually an Einhell branded) and probably wouldn't fit too well into the Dremel branded drill stand. Besides that, I read around in the internet that the actuall dremel stand has some accuracy issues at least when it comes to the drill stand mode. On top of that it irks me that the just the stand can cost the same or even more than the tool itself. I've looked into some cheaper stands... but even those are more than half the price of the tool and look very very shoddy, and again there's the issue if it is able to properly fit and secure my Einhell. As for the Einhell products I'm yet to find a standalone drill press stand that can fit my dremel-like Einhell branded tool.

Yeah, to be honest I have not used my Dremel stand for precise drilling work, since I do have a drill press.

However, my Dremel rarely leaves its press stand. I keep it rotated 90 degrees, leaving two hands free to manipulate the part I'm cutting against whatever bit I have installed in the Dremel.

So if you can find a stand that fits your Einhell, it may be worth it in any case. Then you can try it out for precision with your PCBs. 

I was lucky enough to pick up a small drill press used from a friend. You can get them pretty cheap from Harbor Freight Tools, though you'll certainly have some hefty shipping costs on top of that.

Though if I had that purchase decision to do over again, I'd get a larger press that would fit my cross slide vise better.

Yeah we also have those drilling stands locally, they are around those same prices, the issue I have with them is that they are too specific and too bulky to have around a 2 bedroom apartment :)

So my personal constrains dictate that I try to buy small, cheap and the most multi-tasks tools possible. Regardless, that "cross slide vise" is looking "yummie"... :)

Wow, that's a fantastic little tool!  Good job!

Thanks a lot. You helped me clear my doubts on reliability of hand drills...