It’s happened to the best of us. You mark where you want to drill your hole with a pencil, drill the hole, and when you pull the drill away the hole is a solid quarter inch away from your mark.
Luckily, there are a couple easy ways to prevent your drill bit from walking.
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Method 1: Make a Dent
Twist drill bits “walk” because when they start twisting, the drill bit takes a moment before gripping the wood to drill. In that moment, the drill bit twists away from your starting mark.
However, if there’s an indentation in the wood, the slight incline will discourage the drill bit from moving away from the dent.
To prevent your drill bit from wandering, place a center punch or nail set in the desired hole location, and hit it firmly with a hammer. This will create a dent in material. Then insert your drill bit into the drill, and drill the hole normally.
This technique works on a variety of material, although you may need to edit the tool used for the dent. A center punch works great for wood and metal, but a chisel may work better for masonry.
Additionally, you don’t always have to use a center punch – I wouldn’t go out and buy one purely for this purpose. A nail set, nail, awl, or other pointy metal instrument should work on wood and metal as well.
In the photo above, I actually used an awl!
Method 2: Drill a Pilot Hole
If you’re working with something particularly smooth and hard to dent, you might be better off with a pilot hole than a dent.
I’m thinking specifically of melamine coatings, which is what you find on many Ikea furniture products, but there are plenty of other materials that fit into this category as well.
In this case, grab a tiny drill bit, and drill a pilot hole in the desired location of the hole.
The drill bit for your pilot hole should be significantly smaller than your actually drill bit, that way, if the pilot hole bit wanders a bit, that should be covered up by your larger hole later.
Pro Tip: Place your pilot hole drill bit as far into the drill chuck as you can. The more space between the tip of the drill bit and the chuck, the more the bit tends to walk. Additionally, with skinny drill bits, this decreases the chance the bit will bend and break when you’re drilling the hole.
Method 3: Use a Drill Press
Admittedly, this requires a specialized tool, but if you have one, it’s a surefire way to make sure the hole is drilled in exactly the right place.
Drill presses work by lowering the drill bit into a piece of wood clamped to the tool. The bit can’t wander because the whole system is stationary.
Anytime I drill larger holes that need to be precisely placed (like in this Pikler Triangle) I pull out the drill press.
Honestly, I have a cheapo hand-me-down Harbor Freight drill press, and it’s still one of my favorite tools in the shop!
Method 4: Get a Better Bit!
This one is a wood-specific tip, unfortunately. But it’s great if you’re drilling into wood!
The typical drill bit is called a “twist” drill bit, and it’s great for a variety of materials, including wood and metal.
But “brad point” drill bits are excellent for wood, and in particular, do a much better job of preventing the bit from walking in wood.
Brad point bits have a sharp tip which basically creates a dent like in Method 1 automatically. This helps prevent the drill bit from walking, and creates a more accurate hole.