So, you don’t have a drill. Or maybe you’re halfway through a project, and your drill dies (permanently, or until you charge it again.) What do you do?
Honestly, your best bet is probably to go buy a drill. But if for whatever reason, that’s not an option, I tested a bunch of ways to drill a hole without a drill. Spoiler alert:
The best way to drill a hole without a drill is to take a nail or an awl, and hammer it into the material. Then pull the awl or nail out of the material, and use the hole as intended.
(And, FYI, if money is the reason you can’t buy a drill, might I recommend Harbor Freight’s DrillMaster drill? I had it for years, and it’s straight up awful, but it does drill holes and at $15 the price can’t be beat.)
Note: This blog contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive compensation (at no additional cost to you.)
Method 1: Use an Awl
Grab an awl, and place it where you want your hole to be. Then take a hammer and hammer the awl through the wood.
Awls are small, so this hole won’t be terribly large, but you’ll have a hole!
Recognize that the ease of this method (and all the other methods) is directly related to the material you’re working with. Drywall? Easy-peasy. Softwood? Not so bad. Hardwood? You’re in for some work. Masonry? Go buy a drill.
I tested this method on 1/2″ plywood, and it was pretty easy. 4 stars; minus one primarily for the fact your hole is only as large as your awl (although I have some methods later in the article for making the hole bigger!)
Method 2: Use a Nail
This method is almost identical to the awl method, except use a nail instead of an awl. This has the advantage that if you have a variety of nails to choose from, you can pick a nail that’s the size of the hole you’re looking for.
However, you have the extra step of pulling the nail out of the material at the end.
Be sure to pick a nail with a large head, otherwise you might just get the nail stuck in the material. Alternatively, if you only have nails with small heads, grab a nail set, and hammer the nail all the way through the material.
To make the hole, hammer your nail into the wood.
(If you’re wondering about the splint and the weird way I’m holding things… I cut my thumb off with a table saw. It was oodles of fun (not) and you can hear the whole story in this (not-graphic) Youtube video.)
If your nail breaks through the other side before it’s all the way in the wood, awesome! Don’t bother hammering any further; just pull the nail out with the other side of your hammer.
If you have to hammer the nail all the way into the wood, bummer. It’s harder to get out that way, but not impossible by any means. Get the claw side of the hammer underneath the head of the nail, and remove the nail from the wood.
Now you have a hole!
This was also pretty easy. I’ll give it 4 stars; minus one for having to pull the nail back out at the end.
Method 3: Self-Driving Screws
If you have self-driving screws around, you can use those to make a hole. To tell if your screws are self-driving, look at the threads of the screw. Does it have a notch in it like the picture below? If so, it’s a self-driving screw.
And if you’re super desperate, you can take a normal screw and try to make a notch in it with a file. This is probably more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s an option.
To actually “drill” the hole, place the self driving screw at the location you wish to make the hole. Drive the screw into the material using a screwdriver. Once it goes all the way through the material (or as deep as it will go,) back the screw out by turning the screwdriver the other direction.
If the screw went all the way through the hole, awesome! If not, you can use an awl (or other long pointy thing) and a hammer to complete the hole.
I tested this method on 1/2″ plywood, and once the hole is started, it’s pretty easy. Starting the hole was the toughest part, but even that only took 30 seconds or so.
It is worth noting that this created a smaller hole than the awl and nail, since the hole part is the shank diameter of the screw, not the whole diameter of the threads. 3 stars.
Method 4: Metal and Heat
This next method can be summarized as “burn through the wood.” I did this one outside, because setting off the fire alarm is a real concern.
I used an awl again, basically because a pointy end makes things easier, but skipped the hammer this time (since this method should be different from method one!)
But any hot metal thing should work – a wire or half the end of needlenoise pliers should have the same effect.
To make the hole, heat your metal in a heat source. I used a candle.
Push the heated end of the metal into the wood*. The wood should burn, creating a hole.
Repeat until you’ve reached the other side of the wood.
*Note that I keep talking about wood here – I wouldn’t try this method on drywall. The last thing you need is to burn down your house.
It is an excellent method for plastic, however, since the heat will melt the plastic fairly effortlessly.
You can’t really tell because of all the burnt wood and soot, but I swear the hole went all the way through!
As for how well the process actually went – this was easy, but was by far the most time-consuming method. It probably took 5 minutes or so for me to burn all the way through the wood. Maybe it would’ve gone faster with a hotter heat-source, I don’t know, but I’d probably only go with this method if it was the only one I could use. 2 stars.
Method 5: Chisel
The nice thing about the chisel method is that it can be used to make larger holes than the other methods listed here.
Sketch a circle on your wood to give you a good idea of what size circle you’re looking to make.
Then take your chisel and place it perpendicular to the wood on your sketched circle. Hammer down, creating a dent in the wood.
Rotate your way around the circle, making a bunch of little dents.
Then chisel out the center of the circle, picking away at the wood until you’ve finished the hole.
This was easy enough, but the hole I created was really messy. I don’t have a lot of chisel practice, though, so maybe with a bit more skill it would’ve looked neater. It did create a larger hole, though, so that was nice. 3 stars.
Bonus: The Method I Didn’t Try
So, back before power tools were a thing, people used something called a “bow drill” to make holes. If you have a hacksaw, you could make one of these fairly easily by replacing the blade with some string, and wrapping an awl or other pointy thing in the string.
(Can you tell I’m a big fan of the awl?)
But, I didn’t try this one, frankly because it looked like a giant pain to both make and use, and I’m trying to write a post about ways to drill a hole without a drill that are actually easy.
So I skipped it. But know that it’s an option if you couldn’t find something that worked here!
Power Tool Methods
Maybe you don’t have a drill at the moment, but you still have other power tools at your disposal. Awesome! Here are some other less-obvious tools that can also drill a hole for you:
If you have a Dremel (or similar tool) available, they can drill holes with the correct attachment. The size of the hole is pretty restricted to drill bits that fit in the Dremel, but it’s certainly better than nothing!
Attach a twist drill bit made for a Dremel to your tool, and hold the tool perpendicular to the wood you’re trying to cut. Then start the machine, and drill the hole.
If there’s a certain depth you’d like your hole to be, you can also use the cutting depth attachment to create that.
Plunge routers are really easy to transform into mini drill presses (which can also drill holes, but I thought that was so obvious that I didn’t do a section on them.)
The big downside of this method is that you may struggle to get the depth you need, since you can only get as deep as your router bit will reach.
Now, unfortunately a jigsaw isn’t going to drill a hole on its own. However, it’s great for enlarging holes that are too small. Many of the hole-making methods above will produce a small hole, but you may need a larger one.
The chisel method in particular would be good to use with this.
Sketch the hole you wish you had on your material.
Then insert the jigsaw blade into the small hole you’ve already made, and cut out the hole you sketched.
I use this technique all the time (although usually with an actual drill first) to cut holes of all shapes and sizes. The above hole, as you might be able to guess, is for a junction box.