Reamer vs. Drill Bit: Which to Choose?

Reamer vs. Drill Bit: Which to Choose?

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Reamers and drill bits may look fairly similar, but they do serve different tasks. Let’s get to it and figure out what both reamers and drill bits are, what makes them similar and different, and what they are both generally used for.

Reamers and Drill Bits: The Basics

Before we talk about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what both of these tools are.

What Is a Reamer?

Reamers A reamer is a special type of rotary cutting tool that is most often used when working with metal. The main point of a reamer is to enlarge a hole in metal that has already been made.

They are also designed to leave the sides of the holes very smooth. Enlarging a hole is known as reaming.

There are various types of reamers out there, including reamer bits that you can put in a normal drill, larger ones for drill presses, and even for milling machines too.

Reamers may also be hand-operated tools. That said, hand-operated reamers are fairly old school, and they require a good deal of physical effort to use.

What Is a Drill Bit?

Drill Bits We then have the drill bit, which as you can probably tell, is a specific type of bit that you put into a power drill. Drill bits tend to be quite a bit smaller than reamer and reamer bits.

Drill bits are used to drill holes into wood and other such materials. That said, there are also drill bits designed for other materials, such as metal and plastic.

I wrote more about the different types of drill bits that exist here.

Similarities of Reamers and Drill Bits

Let’s figure out what makes reamers and drill bits similar.

1. They’re Both Bits

Both of these things aren’t their own tools, but rather are bits or heads that you put into a variety of power tools. Both reamers and drill bits can be fit into handheld power drills, milling machines, drill presses, and more.

2. The Same Basic Shape

Both the reamer and the drill bit feature are a similar shape. They’re both long and thin, with shafts made out of very durable metal.

3. They’re Designed for Making Holes

Although a reamer is designed for enlarging holes, whereas a drill bit is designed for making them in the first place, they do both have to do with making holes.

Using a Reamer

Differences Between Reamers and Drill Bits

Now that we know what makes reamers and drill bits similar, let’s figure out what makes them different.

1. Main Purpose

The main difference between these two things is that reamers are designed to enlarge existing holes and smooth out the sides, whereas drill bits are designed to drill holes in the first place.

2. Materials

Reamers are most often used for working with metal, although they can be used for different materials too.

On the other hand, drill bits are generally designed to work with wood, although there are also specially designed drill bits for metal, plastic, and more.

3. Size and Thread Shape

Because drill bits are designed to drill an initial hole, they tend to be fairly small in diameter. The main shank of a reamer on the other hand tends to be a bit thicker, as it is designed to enlarge a hole.

However, a drill bit tends to have more of an acute tip, whereas a reamer has a lighter slope so that the tip can fit into a hole, and then enlarge the hole as it moves down into it.

4. Material Removal

Another main difference here is that drill bits are designed to remove a lot of material at once, whereas reamers only remove a little bit of material at a time.

Drill Bit in Use

Can You Use a Drill Bit as a Reamer?

Although technically speaking it may be possible, it’s certainly not the ideal way to go. For one, a metal drill bit generally won’t leave the sides as smooth as a reamer will. Moreover, reamers are designed to make a hole bigger, so they are usually a bit larger than regular drill bits.

Drill bits are made for drilling holes, and reamers are made for enlarging them. The shape of the front of a reamer allows it to fit into a smaller hole because the tip is slightly smaller than the rest of the shaft. This then allows it to make a smaller hole a larger, something that a regular drill bit really just can’t do.

Reamer vs. Drill Bit: Which of the Two Should You Use?

When it all comes down to is what your main purpose is. For making initial holes in wood, metal, plastic, and other materials, it is a drill bit that you need. However, if you are enlarging a hole, particularly in metal, then it is a reamer that you need.


As you can see, although these two things may look similar, they do actually serve fundamentally different purposes. Now that you know the main differences between them, you can make an informed decision as to which one to use for specific tasks.