Lathe or Drill Press?


 I know that some of you may have experience using a drill press or a lathe. I was wondering, which tool do you prefer of the two? I like to do experimenting, which includes cutting metal neatly, and I find it frustrating when I can't build anything precisely. Having only hacksaws, bansaws, tablesaws, and power drills at my disposale extremely limits what i can do. I'm am not particularly skilled in the art of "hand crafting" metal or wood.

  Well, since i can only afford one or the other, I would like to know your opinion on which one i should get. The drill press is cheaper than a mini lathe, but i'm not sure which one to get first. They are both awesome tools. So, which one do you prefer? What is more useful?


I personally would go for a drill press before a lathe. The lathe is great for making round things (or round features on things), but isn’t much use for creating straight lines or working sheet metal. A drill press can be used in a greater variety of ways, though it won’t really help you make round things and it won’t do much with sheet metal other than making holes in it.

If you have the budget for it, you might want to consider stepping up to a mill/drill combo such as the ones Grizzley sells (this one, for instance). I personally have this one and am very happy with it (though it is absurdly heavy). I do not yet have a lathe.

Neither a lathe nor a drill will help you cut sheet metal neatly, though. For that you want something like this. You might be tempted to get one of the mini shear/brake machines on the market (like this or this) but I’ve found them to be not quite up to cutting Vex metal.

Whatever you end up getting, make sure to leave room in your budget for cutters/bits/tooling … In general, good tooling is not very cheap, and cheap tooling is not very good.


  • Dean

That Grizzly drill press looks very nice. What does the mill do? I haven’t ever used one.

Luckily, my dad does have two drill indexes full of good bits, and I have lots of carbide tips, although I don’t know if i will be drill concrete. I have some of the nessescary tools, except I still just can’t imagine a mechanical engineer, my dad, not having some of the right tools to build metal contraptions…

In operation, it works much like a drill press and can be used as one. The main additional feature is the X/Y table mounted on the base. You clamp your workpiece to it, and use the hand-wheels to move the workpiece very precisely along the X or Y axis. When used for drilling, this lets you drill a very precise and consistent hole pattern.

If you take out the drill bit and put in a milling cutter (like a router bit), then you can advance the X or Y axis while the cutter is engaged with the workpiece. This allows you to remove material in a very controlled way and make very interesting and complicated projects.

Some folks have been successful using a regular drill press as a mill, but the main reason you don’t want to do that is that drill presses are not intended to deal with strong sideways forces on the bits. At best this will result in inaccurate cutting. At worst, this will cause wear on the spindle/quill bearings and cause the drill to fail prematurely. Milling machines are designed with this sideways force in mind.

It is really great that you are thinking about this. I know that having tools around when I was a kid was tremendously important to what I am able to accomplish now as an adult.


  • Dean

Thanks for the consent, Quazar. I think I will definatley want a milling machine/drill press combo. I found out that my grandparents do have a drill press, but I don’t think that it is a milling machine. Well, it’s better than nothing…


How much milling you can “get away with doing” on a drill press depends rather strongly on what material you’re looking to mill.

I don’t, for example, suggest you try to mill steel.

At the other end of the spectrum, my Dremel tool (with a hole saw bit and in its drill press holder) works just fine for milling custom shapes into plastic covers for electrical boxes.

Aluminum can be done on a moderate-sized drill press, in small quantities, if you have sharp tools and very low feed rates. (If you need more than one finger to turn the wheel on the table, you’re probably trying to cut too quickly.)

Speaking of tables, there are “milling vises” sold for just this purpose. They attach to drill presses and provide X and Y axes.


Hey guess what? I went searching around my grandpa’s garage and found an old lathe that he doesn’t want anymore. However, it was built by my great grandpa who was a toolmaker in World War 1… and it doesn’t has a motor. For a lathe, would a .14 horespower motor be okay? It was an oil pump from my old furnace (has anyone noticed that i am a pack-rat yet?) It was for a pump so it can’t be that powerful, but then again cordless drills, with much less powerful motors, drill though stuff fine granted you have sharp tools. Thanks!

I would be surprised if that little motor worked. Most stationary power tools are powered by induction motors that are rated at 3/4hp or more. You shouldn’t find too much trouble finding a motor like this for a reasonable price. It’s what powers zillions of table saws and other power tools.

I think it is especially cool that this lathe was built by your great-grandfather. My great-grandfather was a shipyard carpenter and I am SO sorry that his tools went off to relatives that didn’t use them, didn’t appreciate them, and let them go. Have fun!

The only problem is that the gears aren’t shielded, so I could lose a hand, but i’m careful with stuff. I could even build a box around them if i wanted to. Sorry to hear about the tools you didn’t get. What’d they do with them?

My great-grandfather had seven daughters (one of them my grandmother) and no sons. The daughters pretty much fought about everything all the time, and when g-g died, they divided up his tools and they went missing. My father – an engineer and hobbyist woodworker – wanted them, but he was only a grandson.

Building a box over the gears sounds like a GREAT idea to me…

You should see my grandpa’s garage in Florida. He repairs cars. His garage is filled with shelves and shelves of pistons and other things. When I visit, he usually lets me pick out a box of old switches and other things.

1 Like