Known in the 19th century as a “drilling machine,” today’s modern drill press is a power tool designed for drilling or boring through a variety of materials. Where did the drill press come from, though? And did a single inventor create the machine or was it the result of evolution?
A Centuries-Long History
The drill press itself evolved from hand tools once used to drill and bore, including the brace and bit, with its familiar U-shaped design. That tool is still in use today. Other facts about this fascinating industrial and home workshop implement:
- The drill press is one of the oldest of the machine tools.
- Drill presses themselves go back centuries, with the use of a simple human-powered press cited in works back to 1683 and earlier.
- Until the beginning of the 19th century, the human-powered drill press was one of the most important tools available to craftsmen and mechanics because it was so versatile.
Who Invented the Drill Press?
No single person invented the drill press as it’s known today, and it’s more of a revolutionary development of the traditional drill-based hand tool. However, technological advances that included the advent of electricity gave a powerful impetus to the press’s development.
- 19th-century drill presses were mainly powered by line-shafts and pulleys, sometimes using steam and then, as the 20th century neared, crude electrical energy.
- An 1876 description of a mechanical power drill found in Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary shows “radial drilling machines” and “horizontal drilling machines.”
- Once AC power and individual electric motors became widely available in the early 20th century, the drill press came into full bloom.
- By the 1930s, companies such as Delta, JD Wallace, Sears and Montgomery Ward were offering drill presses for home workshop use.
The Press Today
Power drill-based presses today come in many different sizes and are also equipped with attachments for routing, sanding, shaping, and mortising wood, for example. Variable speed motors on even home workshop drill presses are also in common use.
Other modern features of today’s drill press include the T-track miter slot employed in the table saw. The T-track is used to mount vises as well as hold-downs and clamping blocks. The great versatility of the drill press is no doubt due to its history of common development.