How to Use a Core Drill

How to Use a Core Drill

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There are times when you need to drill large holes into concrete. Holes that a regular hammer drill or even a rotary hammer cannot handle. It is in those situations that a core drill might come in handy.

In this article, I’ll take you through what exactly this tool is and how to use it. At the end, I’ll provide you with some extra tips for using a core drill as well as answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this tool.

What Is a Core Drill and What Is It Used For?

A core drill is very similar to a hole saw. It is a large type of power tool used to create a hollow in various materials, or in other words, to remove the core from various materials. The core drill features a large and circular bit with special teeth on the front, with a large hollow center.

This tool drills into various materials, with that core being left inside of the bit and removed from the original piece. If you are using a core drill for metal, these are generally referred to as annular cutters. Core drills can be electrical, pneumatic, or hydraulic powered.

Core drills are generally used for drilling into concrete, cement, rocks, stone, metal, and other such materials. They are also often used when mining and searching for ore and minerals, such as to take core samples for examination. This is generally not a woodworking tool, although it does have some applications in woodworking. In most cases, though, woodworkers can get the job done with a standard hole saw.

You can use a core drill to either drill a large and circular hole into a material, such as for inserting metal poles into concrete slabs, or for drilling out a barrel-shaped piece to use for a project.

Something else to note is that core drills come in all sorts of sizes. There are smaller handheld core drills that can be used around the home, such as for basic construction purposes. There are also much larger and stationary core drills, ones used in large scale construction and mining applications. They can even come in full-scale rigs that can take core samples from potentially hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface, although these massive mining rigs are not really what we are here to talk about today.

I wrote more about core drilling here.

Core Drill

How to Use a Core Drill

Using a core drill does take quite a bit of skill and practice. Right now, we are going to take you through the process, step-by-step.

Step 1: Select the Right Type of Core Drill

First off, you need to be using the right kind of core drill for the job at hand. If you are drilling into something like brick or other fairly soft types of masonry, and the hole doesn’t need to be too large, then a smaller handheld model will do fine. If, however, you are drilling into very solid materials, such as concrete, and you need to create a large hole, then you will likely need a drill rig, or in other words, a core drill with a stand.

Moreover, the type of core drill bit you use is also important. Generally speaking, the two go-to options here include carbide-tipped and diamond-tipped bits, with the latter being the stronger of the two and generally used for concrete drilling.

Step 2: Read the Manual and Do Safety Checks

If you have never used a core drill before, you definitely want to read the manual from front to back, so you know what you are getting into. For one, this means ensuring that none of the components, including the core drill bit, are damaged.

If doing wet core drilling, you also need to ensure that there is nothing electrical nearby which may cause a surge when water comes into contact with it. Never use a core drill that has any sort of damage, as this can be extremely dangerous.

Step 3: Make Your Measurements and Check for Obstacles

Next, you of course need to figure out where you will be drilling out a core, how large that hole is going to be, and more. Therefore, you need to measure how deep you plan on going, so you can be sure that you are using the right drill bit, and so you only drill to the desired depth. More important than that, you need to check for obstacles.

If you are drilling into a concrete foundation, or even into a brick wall, you need to make sure that there is no electrical work or plumbing in the way, or else you will run into some very serious problems.

Some core drills can drill through rebar, but it depends on the model and the bit type, so be sure to do some research on this front. Once have your measurements done and are sure that there are no obstacles in the way, you can move onto the next step.

Step 4: Set Up the Core Drill Properly

The next step here is to set up your drill properly, as well as the material being drilled if need be. If you are drilling through something like a concrete pipe, you need to clamp and support that pipe to stop it from moving during drilling. Moreover, if you are using a drill rig as opposed to a handheld model, you will need to anchor your core drill to the surface.

Next, make sure that the core drill bit is properly attached, secured, and tightened. If you are hand drilling, be sure to use a template for proper positioning.

One of the most important things to keep in mind here is that if you are drilling into cement or concrete, you will need to perform wet drilling, which means that you need to connect your water source to the core drill, as this will prevent the formation of huge clouds of poisonous dust.

Moreover, if you are drilling through a ceiling or floor, and there is another floor underneath, beware that the core will fall out of the bit once you make it all the way through the material, so be sure that there is no one and nothing underneath that can get crushed by the falling debris.

Step 5: Drill the Hole and Finish Up

Now that you have everything set up, you can get to drilling. First, make sure that the water is flowing 100% and coming through the bit before you start. Once the water is flowing, turn the drill on and get it up to full speed. Remember that smaller bits can spin at higher RPMs, so do some research on the ideal drill bit speed and size for the task at hand.

With the water flowing and the drill running, slowly plunge the drill into the material. For handheld drills, start at a slight angle to form a crescent-shaped indent, as this will make things easier, and then straighten it out.

If using a rig, simply use the plunger (if your drill has one), to slowly push the bit through the material. Always let the bit do the work, and never apply too much pressure. To remove the bit from the material, turn the water flow down a bit to low flow, and remove the bit while it is still turning, albeit not at full speed.

The Basics of Core Drill Safety

Now that you know how to use a core drill, let’s go over some of the most important safety tips to follow when doing so:

  • Never stand on a ladder or any unstable surface when using a core drill. These are heavy machines and can easily cause injury.
  • Always wear necessary protective gear including steel toe boots, a hard hat, safety goggles, work gloves, and other such safety gear. You may also want to wear earplugs, as these drills are super loud.
  • It is recommended that you have a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit on hand when using a core drill.
  • When wet core drilling, always make sure that there are no electrical components that may come into contact with the water. Water and electricity don’t mix.
  • Unless you are using a handheld core drill, always make sure that your drill is properly anchored.
  • You need to use the right stance and grip to hold the drill. Remember, these things are heavy and dangerous, and there is a very specific way that these machines need to be operated.
  • It is also recommended that you use a respirator, especially when dry drilling.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Now, let’s go over some little tips and tricks to follow to make your life easier when using a core drill:

  • To get maximum power out of your core drill, use the shortest extension cord possible.
  • Always identify any onsite hazards, and always check to see if you are drilling in the right spot.
  • To make bit changing easier, greasing up the spindle with waterproof grease will help a lot.
  • If using a gas-powered model, always make sure that there is adequate ventilation.
  • Never use these tools in the dark. Adequate lighting is essential.
  • If possible, use a ceiling jack for the best anchoring.
  • Keep in mind that it is recommended that core drills not be used alone. You should have somebody nearby at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions About Core Drilling

Finally, let’s quickly go over a few questions that people often ask about core drills.

Can You Core Drill Without a Water?

Yes, if you are drilling into relatively soft masonry such as sandstone or brick, then water may not be required. However, if you are drilling into concrete, you should use water whenever possible. Doing so will help reduce the amount of dust flying around and it will keep the drill bit cooler as well.

Can You Core Drill Through Rebar?

Yes, as long as you have a diamond core drill bit, it can easily make its way through rebar. That said, drilling through rebar can weaken the structure of the concrete slab you are drilling through, so keep that in mind.

How Deep Can You Core Drill?

This depends on the type of core drill and the bit you have.

Small handheld models can go a couple of feet, large rigs can go several feet, and large mining rigs can go several hundred feet.

Can You Use an SDS Drill for Core Drilling?

Yes, it is technically possible, although many SDS drills won’t be powerful enough for this task, especially if you are going to be drilling large holes.


All in all, core drills are some of the more difficult types of drills to use. Not only are they used for drilling into strong materials but they are also used for drilling oversize holes which adds to the challenge.

That said, with the guide above, a bit of practice, and patience, you should be able to get this task done without many issues!