Twist Drill Bits Selection: Your Ultimate How-to Guide

Twist drill bits are indispensable tools in any craftsman’s toolkit, known for their versatility in drilling a myriad of materials including wood, plastic, and hard metals like steel 1. These tools, primarily crafted from M2 high-speed steel, are acclaimed for their efficiency and performance across various applications 1. As the most universally utilized type of drill bit, understanding the nuances of twist drill bits, from their material composition to critical features such as point angle and flute design, is essential for achieving optimal results in drilling tasks 1.

When embarking on the selection process for twist drill bits, it is crucial to consider a range of features and standards that influence their performance. These include the point angle, cutting edge, and the specific spiral flute profile, among others 1. Additionally, the vast array of materials such as high-speed steel (HSS), titanium, cobalt, and black oxide, each offer distinct advantages tailored to different drilling requirements 2. This guide will navigate the considerations necessary for choosing the right twist drill bit, focusing on aspects like material, size, type, and the application-specific standards defined by DIN classifications 3.

Understanding Twist Drill Bits

Twist drill bits, known for their versatility, are the cornerstone of drilling operations across various materials. Their design and material composition make them suitable for a wide range of applications, from home DIY projects to professional manufacturing tasks. Understanding the key features and best practices for using twist drill bits will enhance drilling efficiency and extend the lifespan of these essential tools.

  • Material and Design:
    • Made primarily from M2 high-speed steel, twist drill bits are engineered for cutting through materials like wood, plastic, and metal, including hard steel 46.
    • The body of the twist drill bit, running from underneath the shank to the cutting point, along with the drill point itself, are crucial for effective drilling. The drill point includes the flank face and cutting lips, which are the primary cutting surfaces 6.
    • Their diameters range from 1/64 inch to 1/2 inch, available in fractional, number, and letter sizes, accommodating a variety of drilling needs 4.
  • Functionality and Usage:
    • The helical flutes around the body are characteristic of twist drill bits, providing a channel for waste material to exit the hole, thus preventing clogging and ensuring a clean drilling process 79.
    • While they are not suitable for materials like concrete, tile, or glass, they excel in drilling through wood, plastic, and metal 9.
    • Best practices include maintaining plenty of speed when drilling wood, center punching for accurate hole location, and being mindful of angle and pressure to avoid breaking the bit, especially with thinner or longer drill bits 489.
  • Care and Maintenance:
    • To prolong the life of twist drill bits, it’s recommended to knock the sawdust out of the grooves after use and to not leave them exposed to the elements, such as rain, which could cause rust and degradation 89.
    • Sharpening twist drill bits can be challenging and typically requires a jig or a dedicated machine to ensure accuracy, underscoring the importance of proper care to avoid frequent sharpening 4.

In conclusion, twist drill bits are indispensable tools for drilling operations, with their design tailored for a wide range of materials. Understanding their material composition, design features, and best practices for use and maintenance can significantly impact their performance and longevity.

Material Considerations for Drill Bits

When selecting twist drill bits, the material they are made from is a crucial factor to consider, as it directly impacts their performance, durability, and suitability for specific applications. Here’s a breakdown of common materials and their characteristics:

  • High-Speed Steel (HSS):
    • General Use: Ideal for drilling wood, fiberglass, PVC, and soft metals like aluminum 13.
    • Features: Offers a balance between hardness and resistance to heat. Standard HSS twist drill bits have a polished finish and a silver appearance, making them a versatile choice for general-purpose drilling 217.
  • Coatings and Treatments:
    • Black Oxide: Increases durability and reduces friction between the bit and the workpiece, extending the life of the bit by 50% compared to uncoated HSS bits. It also provides some corrosion resistance 21417.
    • Titanium Nitride (TiN): This coating is applied to HSS bits to reduce friction and increase hardness, allowing them to stay sharp longer and perform better in tougher materials. TiN-coated bits are easily identifiable by their gold color 1417.
    • Cobalt (HSCO): Not a coating, but a material blend of HSS with added cobalt, enhancing the bit’s ability to withstand high temperatures and making it suitable for drilling through hard, abrasive materials like stainless steel and titanium 21415.
  • Specialized Materials:
    • Carbide-Tipped: Known for maintaining sharpness significantly longer than steel, HSS, or titanium bits. These are especially effective for drilling through hard materials such as tile, masonry, and metals. However, they can be brittle and expensive 1415.
    • Titanium Aluminum Nitride (TiALN): Offers superior heat resistance compared to TiN and TiCN, making it ideal for high-temperature drilling applications. This coating is typically used on bits intended for drilling through hard-to-machine materials 17.

Understanding the advantages and limitations of each material and coating helps in selecting the right twist drill bit for the job. For instance, titanium twist drill bits coated with titanium nitride provide high surface hardness for drilling tough materials and high corrosion resistance, making them an excellent choice for heavy-duty metal drilling 2. Meanwhile, for applications generating a lot of heat, such as drilling through stainless steel or titanium, parabolic flute twist bits are recommended due to their efficient chip removal and heat dissipation capabilities 12.

Determining the Correct Size and Type

Determining the correct size and type of twist drill bits involves understanding various aspects of their design and functionality. Here’s a breakdown to guide the selection process:

Key Features to Consider:

  • Point Angle and Cutting Edges: The point angle, cutting edge, cutting chisel edge, point cuts & point thinning, spiral flute profile, the core of the drill bit, secondary cutting edge, and guiding chamfers, as well as the helix or spiral angle, are critical features that influence the drill bit’s performance in different materials 1.
  • Web Thickness and Margin Width: The web thickness is vital for the drill bit’s stability, with thicker webs offering more stability. Meanwhile, the margin width impacts the drill bit’s sharpness and the surface finish of the holes; a narrower edge line results in higher sharpness 19.
  • Helix Angle: A larger helix angle is more suitable for soft materials that produce long chips, facilitating efficient chip removal 19.

Determining Drill Bit Size:

  1. For Screws and Bolts: The primary consideration is the diameter of the hole needed, which should match the screw’s central core diameter or be slightly smaller. This ensures a snug fit for the screw or bolt 20.
  2. Pilot Hole Sizes:
    • Hardwoods: #1: 3/64″, #2: 3/64″, #3: 1/16″, #4: 1/16″, #5: 5/64″, #6: 3/32″, #7: 3/32″, #8: 1/8″, #9: 1/8″, #10: 1/8″ 20.
    • Softwoods: #1: 1/32″, #2: 3/32″, #3: 3/64″, #4: 3/64″, #5: 1/16″, #6: 5/64″, #7: 5/64″, #8: 3/32″, #9: 3/32″, #10: 7/64″ 20.
  3. Alignment Method: To ensure accuracy, align the screw with the drill bits; the screw’s threads should be just visible behind the drill bit. This method helps in selecting the correct size for a precise fit 21.

Selecting the Right Type:

  • Point Angles: 118-degree point twist drill bits are mainly for wood or plastic, requiring a center punch for metal. On the other hand, 135-degree split point twist drill bits start quickly and reduce drill walking, eliminating the need for a center punch 2.
  • Material and Application: For enlarging a hole in a steel workpiece, consider brands like Drill Hog, Norseman, and Astro. M7 “Hi-Molybdenum” bits and M42 “Cobalt” bits are recommended for their durability and performance. Using cutting oil and maintaining a slow speed with continuous drilling are best practices for these tasks 24.

By considering these key features and following the guidelines for determining the correct size and type, one can select the most suitable twist drill bit for their specific application, ensuring efficiency and longevity of the tool.

Point Angle and Its Impact

The point angle of twist drill bits significantly influences their drilling performance, dictating the ease of material penetration, the required thrust force, and the amount of heat generated during the drilling process. Understanding the impact of point angle can guide users in selecting the appropriate drill bit for their specific material and application needs.

  • Point Angle Variations and Material Compatibility:
    • 118° Point Angle: Ideal for softer materials such as aluminum. This angle allows for easier material penetration with less force and is generally recommended for general-purpose drilling tasks 26.
    • 135° Point Angle: Best suited for drilling through harder materials like stainless steel. The flatter angle reduces the effort required for material penetration and is designed to handle the toughness of hardened metals 2616.
    • Specialized Point Configurations: Includes notched points, helical points, Racon® points, and Bickford™ points, each tailored for specific drilling applications, offering versatility in drilling performance across various materials 26.
  • Impact on Drilling Performance:
    • Thrust Force and Heat Generation: A higher point angle (135°) decreases the thrust force required for drilling, which in turn reduces the heat generated. This makes it suitable for materials that are sensitive to high temperatures 25.
    • Cutting Edge Length and Drilling Efficiency: The point angle directly affects the length of the cutting edge. A smaller point angle provides a longer cutting edge, enhancing drilling efficiency but requiring more precise centering to avoid “walking” 2711.
    • Surface Roughness and Chip Formation: Optimal drilling performance, characterized by lower surface roughness and effective chip formation, is achieved at lower cutting speeds and feed rates. The choice of point angle plays a crucial role in balancing these factors 25.
  • Choosing the Right Point Angle:
    • For General Steel: Twist drill bits with a 118° point angle are recommended for their ease of use and versatility 19.
    • For Hard-Cutting Materials: A 135° point angle is advised for materials that are more challenging to drill through, such as hard metals. This angle offers a balance between drilling pressure and centering ease 1916.
    • Low Thrust Design: Self-centering split point designs provide easier penetration and are particularly useful for materials that require a delicate approach 28.

In summary, the selection of the point angle in twist drill bits is a critical consideration that affects drilling efficiency, material compatibility, and overall performance. By understanding the implications of different point angles and their suitability for various materials, users can make informed decisions that optimize their drilling operations.

The Role of Drill Bit Coatings

Drill bit coatings play a pivotal role in enhancing the performance and longevity of twist drill bits. Each coating type offers unique benefits tailored to specific drilling needs and materials. Here’s a breakdown of common coatings and their characteristics:

  • Common Coatings:
    • Bright Finish: This uncoated option is budget-friendly and effective for drilling into low-carbon steel and aluminum. It indicates better chip flow due to polishing 2930.
    • Black Oxide: Known for its increase in lubricity and resistance to heat and corrosion, it extends tool life by up to 50% compared to uncoated HSS bits. It’s a cost-effective choice for ferrous metals 2930.
    • TiN (Titanium Nitride): Recognizable by its gold color, TiN coating extends drill life by reducing friction and is suitable for a wide range of machining needs. However, the coating will be ground off after the first sharpening 2930.
    • AlTiN (Aluminum Titanium Nitride): Offering superior performance and extended life, this coating is a step up from TiN but is not recommended for aluminum due to performance issues 30.
  • Specialized Coatings:
    • Black and Gold: This coating combines corrosion and breakage resistance with increased lubricity. It does not chip or flake, making it an ideal choice for tougher drilling applications 30.
    • TiAlN (Titanium Aluminium Nitride): Harder than TiN, it forms a thin film of AL203 (Aluminium Oxide) on the surface, significantly increasing the service life of the drill bit 33.
    • Thermal Spray Coatings: These protect the drill bit from corrosion, wear, and friction, thus enhancing its lifespan and efficiency. Common materials for thermal spray coatings include Cobalt, Zirconium, and Titanium 31.
  • Considerations for Coating Selection:
    • Material Compatibility: It’s crucial to select a coating that is compatible with the material being drilled. For instance, certain coatings cannot be used with specific materials as they will dissolve 29.
    • Heat Generation: Coatings are primarily applied where heat is generated, just back from the cutting edge on the inside of the flute. This helps in reducing surface temperature and increasing the life of the drill bit 29.
    • Lubricity and Chip Welding: Black oxide and bronze oxide coatings are less likely to encounter aluminum chip welding troubles due to their lubricity properties, making them suitable for drilling aluminum 2933.

Selecting the right coating for twist drill bits can significantly impact their cutting performance, tool life, and efficiency in specific applications. By understanding the benefits and limitations of each coating type, users can make informed decisions to optimize their drilling operations.

Flute Design and Chip Removal

In the realm of twist drill bits, the design of the flutes plays a crucial role in the efficiency of chip removal and overall performance during drilling. Here’s a closer look at how different flute designs impact chip removal and drilling outcomes:

Flute Designs:

  • Standard Flute Twist Bits:
    • Helix Angle: Typically feature a shallower helix angle, making them suitable for a wide range of materials but with slower chip removal capabilities 12.
    • Heat Buildup: The slower removal of chips can lead to increased heat, potentially damaging both the bit and the workpiece 12.
  • Spiral Flute Bits:
    • Aggressive Helix Angle: These bits have a more aggressive helix angle, aiding in faster chip removal, which is beneficial for drilling in materials that produce a lot of swarf 12.
    • Application: Ideal for applications requiring quick drilling and efficient chip evacuation 12.
  • Parabolic Flute Twist Bits:
    • Design: Feature grooves along the length of the bit for enhanced chip removal and heat dissipation, preventing chips from getting stuck 12.
    • Performance: Offer improved heat dissipation properties, reducing the risk of heat buildup and bit annealing. However, their aggressive cutting action may not be suitable for softer materials 1219.

Key Considerations for Chip Removal:

  • Wider Flutes: Provide better chip removal performance. This design prevents chips from getting stuck in the bit, which is crucial for maintaining drilling efficiency and preventing heat generation that could lead to bit failure 1912.
  • Helix Angle Importance: The helix angle plays a significant role in chip clearance. A typical angle in the 30-degree range is used for general-purpose drilling, balancing the need for efficient chip removal with the structural integrity of the bit 17.
  • Material Impact: The effectiveness of chip removal also depends on the material being drilled. Materials that produce long, continuous chips benefit from bits with fast spiral flutes, facilitating large amounts of swarf removal at lower drill speeds 18.

Understanding the intricacies of flute design and how it affects chip removal and heat generation is essential for selecting the right twist drill bit. Whether it’s the general-purpose application of standard flute bits, the quick drilling capabilities of spiral flute bits, or the enhanced chip removal and heat dissipation of parabolic flute bits, each design has its place in ensuring drilling efficiency and bit longevity.

Shank Types and Their Compatibility

Selecting the right shank type for twist drill bits is essential for compatibility with the drill’s chuck and for the specific task at hand. Here’s a breakdown of common shank types and their unique features:

  • Straight Shank:
    • Shape: Cylindrical tip that inserts flush into the chuck.
    • Compatibility: Widely used due to compatibility with various chuck sizes.
    • Common Use: Often used on Jobber Twist Drill Bits for DIY drilling and general construction processes 343537.
  • Hex Shank:
    • Shape: Hexagonal shaped shank resembling a screwdriver bit.
    • Compatibility: Can be used in both special drill mandrel chucks and screwdriver bit chucks.
    • Features: Offers high torque transmission without a need for tightening the shank into the chuck due to the HEX shape. However, may result in decentering 343537.
  • SDS Shank:
    • Shape: Circular design with square slots at the end.
    • Compatibility: Best suited for Hammer Drills, does not require tightening.
    • Specific Use: Designed for concrete drills and demolition bits, working specifically with SDS-Plus and SDS-Max rotary hammer drills 343537.
  • Specialized Shank Types:
    • Brace Shank: Tapered tip for angular dispensation, more old-fashioned grasp with no specific design for clamping into the chuck 3437.
    • Triangle Shank: Three flats machined into the round bar stock, providing a triangular shape for higher torque transmission with limited slippage 3437.
    • Morse Taper Shank: Mounted directly into the spindle of a drill, lathe tailstock, or milling machines, generally used in metalwork activities 3437.
    • Square Shank: Ideal for larger ratchet drills, strong ability to drill large holes and into thick plates 34.
    • Threaded Shank: Suited for tight hard-to-reach applications, used for pushing into the insides of a pipe or creating holes for flush rivets 34.

Understanding the specifics of each shank type, including shape, compatibility, and common uses, aids in selecting the most appropriate twist drill bit for a given project. Whether drilling into softwood with a Straight Shank bit or tackling masonry with an SDS Shank drill bit, knowing the strengths and limitations of each shank type ensures efficient and effective drilling.

Maintenance and Care Tips

Maintaining twist drill bits is essential for ensuring their longevity and performance. Here are some tips on how to properly care for and maintain your drill bits:

Cleaning Drill Bits

  • Routine Cleaning: After each use, remove debris and shavings using a dry cloth or soft brush to prevent buildup 23.
  • Deep Cleaning: For stubborn debris stuck in the flutes or on the bit’s surface, use a toothpick or needle to gently remove it without damaging the bit 23.

Inspecting Drill Bits

  • Visual Inspection: Regularly check your drill bits for visible damage or wear. Pay special attention to the cutting edges and flutes 23.
  • Detailed Examination: Use a magnifying glass to inspect for small cracks or chips that could affect the bit’s performance 23.

Sharpening Drill Bits

  • Sharpening Tools: Utilize a bench grinder, drill bit sharpener, or sharpening stone. Choose the tool that best fits the type of drill bit you are sharpening 23.
  • Technique: Follow specific sharpening techniques that are suitable for the drill bit type. Sharpening after prolonged usage ensures fewer mistakes, cleaner cuts, and extends the drill bit’s life 2338.

Proper Handling and Usage

  • Tool Selection: Always select the correct drill bit for the material you are working with 23.
  • Speed and Torque: Set the appropriate speed and torque for the material to prevent overheating and wear 23.
  • Pressure Application: Apply steady and moderate pressure, and use both hands to hold the drill for better control and safety 23.
  • Cooling Periods: Allow the drill bit to cool down between tasks to prevent overheating and potential damage 23.

Storing Drill Bits

  • Storage Solutions: Use drill bit cases, magnetic holders, or toolboxes/drawers to keep your drill bits organized and protected 23.
  • Moisture Prevention: Store drill bits in a dry, clean place to avoid moist environments that could lead to corrosion 2339.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Ensure drill bits are not overcrowded in their storage space to prevent them from rubbing against each other and causing damage 23.

By adhering to these maintenance and care tips, you can significantly enhance the life and performance of your twist drill bits. Regular cleaning, inspection, proper usage, and correct storage are key to maintaining the quality and efficiency of your drill bits.

Selecting Drill Bits for Special Applications

Selecting the right twist drill bit for special applications requires a detailed understanding of the material, design, and intended use. Here’s a guide to making informed choices based on various factors:

  • Material and Design Considerations:
    • Flute Profile and Helix Angle: Essential for chip removal efficiency. A larger helix angle is recommended for soft materials with long chips, while a smaller angle suits hard cutting materials with short chips 19.
    • Web Thickness and Margin Width: Opt for thicker web twist drills for higher stability in harder materials and higher torques. A narrower edge line, while less strong, offers higher sharpness, making it ideal for materials requiring a high surface finish 19.
  • Coating and Composition:
    • For Ferrous Metals: Black oxide is suggested for its durability and heat resistance 40.
    • Aluminium Drilling: TiN (Titanium Nitride) coating is preferred for reducing friction and extending bit life 40.
    • Steel Applications: Cobalt drill bits are recommended for steel under 1/2″ thickness due to their strength and heat resistance. Uncoated cobalt bits are especially favored for stainless steel 40.
  • Drill Bit Type Selection:
    • General Purpose: Twist drill bits are versatile for various materials including steel, aluminium, and titanium. A 118 piece set of uncoated cobalt drill bits is recommended for its wide material compatibility 40.
    • Specialized Drilling Needs:
      • Step Drill Bits: Ideal for drilling holes in thin materials or enlarging existing holes 14.
      • Hole Saws: Best for making large diameter holes 14.
      • Countersink Drill Bits: Used to create a conical top on a hole for countersunk screws 14.
  • Drill Bit Lengths:
    • Jobber Length: Most common, suitable for general-purpose drilling 18.
    • Mechanics Length: Shorter and less prone to breaking, better for harder materials 18.
    • Extra Length: For drilling deeper holes 18.

In summary, the selection of twist drill bits for special applications hinges on understanding the interplay between material composition, design features such as flute profile and helix angle, and the specific requirements of the drilling task. By considering these factors, along with recommendations from experienced users 40, one can choose the most appropriate drill bit for optimal performance and longevity.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we have navigated the critical aspects of selecting twist drill bits, emphasizing their material composition, design nuances, and the significance of choosing the right type for specific applications. The discussion illuminated the importance of considering point angle, shank types, and flute designs, in addition to the role of coatings in enhancing performance and longevity. Through understanding these parameters, users are equipped with the knowledge to make informed choices, fundamentally impacting the efficiency and outcome of their drilling tasks.

The selection process, while complex, is vital for maximizing drill bit effectiveness and ensuring the longevity of these indispensable tools. By carefully considering each drill bit’s characteristics and how they align with the material and application at hand, craftsman and DIY enthusiasts alike can achieve optimal drilling results. This guide serves not only as a comprehensive overview but also as a testament to the intricate world of twist drill bits, encouraging further exploration and appreciation for the precision engineering behind each piece.


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