Drill presses, machines that have a drill head moving up and down in a straight line to drill accurate holes, are a staple in many workshops. That’s because they have many useful applications and can not only improve the accuracy of your holes compared to a hand drill but also speed up your work.
When getting yourself one of the machines, you will have to consider a number of different factors. One of the main questions you’ll have to answer, though, is whether you will be getting yourself a floor drill press or a bench drill press.
Below, I’ll help you answer that question. First, though, here’s my favorite for each of the two types of drill presses.
A 20-inch floor drill press with a 1.5 horsepower motor.
A 12-inch benchtop drill press with variable speed.
Floor vs. Benchtop Drill Press: What Are the Differences?
The differences between a floor unit and a benchtop drill press mostly revolve around size, but at a higher level, that leads to differences beyond just the occupied floor space.
The first and most obvious difference between a benchtop drill press and a floor unit is, as mentioned above, size.
As implied, benchtop drill presses are small enough to fit on top of a benchtop. They range between 9 x 13 x 20 inches (L x W x H) up to around 17 x 23 x 51 inches. Overall dimensions for a typical floor drill press will be around 18 x 29 x 68 inches, but they can get as large as 29 x 41 x 93 inches.
Not only are floor drill presses larger than benchtop units, but they’re also much heavier.
Many benchtop drill presses can be moved by one person – often the press is less than 100 pounds.
Lifting a floor drill press is a much more challenging task. In some cases, a floor unit can even weigh thousands of pounds. With something that heavy, you need heavy machinery to move it around or have it delivered to you.
Swing size is used to describe the largest diameter piece that a drill press can handle. For example, a 16-inch drill press has a swing size of 16 inches, which means the head is 8 inches away from the framework of the drill press, allowing you to cut 16-inch diameter material.
Floor drill presses can have swing sizes of up to 33 inches. Benchtop drill presses have swing sizes starting at 6 inches, going up to around 18 inches.
Besides cutting area, spindle speed is the next most important thing when it comes to selecting a drill press.
Bench drill presses range from around 400 to 4,000 revolutions per minute (RPM). Floor drill presses range from around 40 to 5,000 RPM.
Depending on what material you need to drill into, the speed could be an important factor to consider.
Akin to speed, horsepower is another deciding factor when you’re picking out which type of drill press to go with.
Tougher materials, thicker materials, and bigger drill bits need more power. Most benchtop drill presses have less than 1/2 horsepower. Most floor drill presses have over 1 horsepower and can get up to 5 horsepower.
Since benchtop drill presses and floor drill presses have different horsepower and spindle speed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they also have different operating voltage. Voltage is how much electrical power is required to operate the machine, and people can typically get 120 volts from their house’s wall outlet.
Nearly every benchtop drill press operates at 120 volts. Floor drill presses, however, can operate at voltages up to 480. This means that the everyday person can’t operate this without a serious electrical upgrade ahead of time.
In other words, to operate some floor drill presses, you might need a special outlet.
Some projects require you to cut at an angle.
For a drill press manufacturer to add tilting spindle as an option costs more money and makes the mechanism more complex. For that reason, a lot of benchtop units do not have any spindle tilt capabilities.
Meanwhile, floor units’ spindle can tilt up to 90 degrees and still be operational. If spindle tilt is a deciding factor, floor drill presses are often the tool of choice.
The chuck is the part of the drill press where the cutting tool is inserted.
A bigger chuck size means bigger cutting tools can be used on the unit. Benchtop chuck sizes vary but are typically less than 1/2 inch. Floor drill presses can accommodate chucks up to 5/8 inch and sometimes larger for special units.
The above differences in functionality are, of course, reflected in the two tools’ price.
For a benchtop unit, you might spend anywhere between $100 for an entry-level unit like the WEN 4208 all the way to $1,000 or more for higher-end models.
While there are lower-end floor drill presses being sold for prices in the hundreds of dollars, for a quality one, it’s not uncommon to spend up to $20,000 and even beyond depending on the brand and type of machine you are getting.
Should You Get a Benchtop or a Floor Drill Press?
As you can probably guess based on the cost, operating swing size, and overall size, the big difference between a benchtop drill press and a floor unit is the application that the user is looking for.
For a hobbyist machinist who is working in his garage or shed, it might be hard to find the real estate, additional cash, or need to buy a floor drill press. If woodworking is a hobby or a passion and you can get away with using a benchtop drill press (see my recommendations for the best ones) for your projects, it is the better option.
As long as you don’t need extremely high precision, high repeatability, ability to cut large pieces, or any other features that a professional shop might need, a benchtop unit makes more sense.
On the other hand, if you do a lot of professional work and have a dedicated workshop with enough space, you might want to consider a floor drill press.
The main difference between a floor and a benchtop drill press is obvious – one is a standalone machine standing on the floor and the other one is designed to be attached to a workbench. With that, the former is also larger than the latter.
What that results in is more power, stability, and precision for floor drill presses. However, it also comes at a much higher cost compared to benchtop drill presses.
As such, unless you are a professional looking for the maximum possible precision or doing a lot of metalwork that a benchtop drill press might not be powerful enough for, I recommend going with the cheaper but in most cases more than sufficient option.