Spotting Drill vs. Center Drill: Which to Choose?

Spotting Drill vs. Center Drill: Which to Choose?

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When you are building something, there are a variety of drills that you may use. No, here we are not talking about your average power drill. Here we are talking about spotting drills and center drills.

Today, we want to figure out what both of these tools are. We also want to figure out what makes them similar and different, as well as which one is best used for specific tasks.

Spotting Drills and Center Drills: The Basics

Before we start talking about the similarities and differences between these two, let’s first figure out what both spotting drills and center drills are.

What Is a Spotting Drill?

Spotting Drill To be clear, a spotting drill is actually a specific type of drill bit, not an actual tool or power drill. A spotting drill is a specific type of bit that you can fit into a regular drill driver, hammer drill, and more. There are also larger spotting drill bits that you can use with drill presses.

These spotting drills are usually made out of very high-quality carbide. The main purpose of a spotting drill is to create a very small initial hole or indent into a dense piece of material. The main point is to find the proper center spot for drilling a hole further.

Normal drills aren’t always the best at staying centered. This is why you would first use a spotting drill bit to mark and begin the exact center of a hole that you plan to drill. A spotting drill, therefore, has an extremely acute tip that is very sharp and designed to easily penetrate dense materials. Spot drills can also be used to make small indents so that screws will be flush with the material they are screwed into.

Spot drills are generally used for softer metals, wood, plastic, and other such materials. With that being said, you usually wouldn’t use a spotting drill for extremely hard and dense materials. That said, with a bit of effort, you could use a spotting drill for very dense metals as well.

What Is a Center Drill?

Center Drill We then have the center drill, which just like with the spotting drill, is not actually a tool or drill in and of itself. Just like with a spot drill, a center drill is another specific type of drill bit. These can be used in normal drill drivers, drill presses, and more.

One of the main purposes of a center drill is to create a hole in the center of certain materials. Often, this hole is then used to attach a piece of dense metal to a lathe.

Some people may also use this bit to create starter holes with a perfect center for other drills to follow. It may also be used to make a small indent so that screws will lay flush with the material they are inserted into.

Generally speaking, these drill bits are made out of extremely hard carbide designed to drill into very dense and hard metals. Center drills are almost always used for metalworking. They have the ability to make holes in copper, steel, various alloys, aluminum, and even things as hard as cast iron.

Similarities of Spotting Drills and Center Drills

Now that we know what both spotting and center drills are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. They’re Both Drill Bits

Both center and spotting drills are technically specific types of drill bits that can be fitted onto various types of drills.

2. They’re Accurate Starters

Both of these drill bits are ideal for starting holes in various materials in order to allow for a precise center hole to be drilled.

3. They May Serve the Same Purposes

Although they’re generally not used for the same purposes, both can be used to start an accurate and centered hole, to make screws flush with the material they are drilled into, and just for making holes in general.

Differences Between Spotting Drills and Center Drills

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

1. Shape

One of the primary differences here is that a spotting drill tends to have a much thinner shank than a center drill. Moreover, a center drill also has a very conical end, whereas a spot drill has more of an acutely angled end.

2. Ideal Material Size

Because spotting drill bits are narrower in diameter, they are better used for smaller materials. There is not as much of a risk of cracking the material when using a spotting drill, which is not the case with a center drill.

3. Workable Materials

A spotting bit is generally used for softer metals, and may also be used for woods and plastics. On the other hand, a center drill is generally used for extremely hard and dense metals.

4. Main Purposes

The main purpose of a spotting drill is to start a hole in fairly soft metals and wood, with the aim of producing an extremely centered and accurate hole.

Center drills, on the other hand, are generally designed to start holes in extremely dense materials, usually with the main purpose of then attaching that metal stock to a lathe.

Can a Center Drill be Used as a Spotting Drill?

Technically speaking, you can use a center drill as a spotting drill, and vice versa. With that being said, due to the shape and strength of these bits, you really shouldn’t do this.

Spotting Drill vs. Center Drill: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are working with extremely hard and dense metals, then you probably need a center drill. However, for softer metals and other materials such as wood, a spotting drill should do just fine.

Do keep in mind that a center drill is usually used to make starter holes in dense metals, as well as to make holes in the center to then attach the specific stock to a lathe.

Spotting drills on the other hand are generally just used to make perfectly centered and extremely accurate starter holes for other drills to then follow. While they can be used interchangeably to a certain degree, it’s really not recommended.


Now that you know what the main differences between center drills and spotting drills are, you can choose which one to use for specific tasks.