How to Sharpen Drill Bits

A wise worker or DIY enthusiast knows the value of keeping their tools in top condition. And that extends to drill bits.

Without a sharp drill bit, your drill is useless. It’s the drill bit that takes all the punishment. Brick, wood, and metal take their toll on that little drill bit.

Want to know how to sharpen drill bits? Check out this guide for a better drilling experience.

How To: Sharpen Drill Bits

  1. Examine your dull bits.
  2. Use safety goggles or a face shield.
  3. Turn on the grinder and hold the bit at the correct angle.
  4. Work in five-second bursts, holding the bit steady.
  5. Dip the drill bit in cold water. Check if sharp by testing on scrap wood.

Table of Contents

    Is it Worth Sharpening Drill Bits?

    If you want a clean, efficient drill that delivers the required results, the answer is a resounding yes!

    Drill bit sharpening is a crucial part of responsible tool ownership. Replacing dull drill bits can be expensive. Also, there is a safety aspect to consider — a blunt drill bit could cause injury.

    Finally, think about the time factor too. Why take twice as long to complete the job with a blunt drill bit?

    How Can You Tell if a Drill Bit Is Sharp?

    When a sharp drill bit turns, you can feel when it cuts through the material. There is a degree of resistance. You will see lots of debris as the bit turns, and it will make the hole with minimal pressure.

    However, when the bit is dull, it spins quicker because it lacks purchase. As this happens, the drill bit heats up and further dulls. You also notice a lack of debris falling out of the hole.

    And finally, when the bit heats with the friction, especially when you drill into wood, you will see smoke or smell burning. If this happens, stop what you are doing immediately or risk a fire.

    Best Ways to Sharpen Drill Bits

    Bench Grinder

    Bench grinders are excellent for sharpening drill bits. Switch it on, don some eye protection, and away you go. That said, not all drill bits are suitable for this method.

    You can sharpen flat wood, twist bits, masonry, and spur point bits on a grinder. Most grinders come with a coarse and fine wheel so that you can achieve a satisfactory finish. That said, grinders take some practice to get the technique right.

    All you do is hold the drill bit so the cutting surface is in contact with the wheel. Then you can work the angles freehand until you get the result you want.

    PROS:
    • Fast results.
    • Fixes broken bits.
    • Grinders last forever.
    • Little set-up time.
    • Lots of uses.
    CONS:
    • Difficult to master.
    • Not suitable for all drill bits.
    • Not as accurate.

    Drill Doctor

    Photo by: Drill Doctor

    Drill bit sharpening tools like the Drill Doctor are an easier way to get your drill bits sharp. Be prepared to spend, because these tools aren’t cheap.

    They are suitable for masonry and twist drill bits, but may not cater for flat wood, spur point, or wood auger drill bits.

    The Drill Doctor works by allowing you to clamp the bit in a chuck, select the angles you require, and locking the bit to the grinding block. With the machine on, you make half turns to rotate the bit, so both blades get sharpened (1).

    Every even number you count represents a full turn. Make between 20 and 40 turns until your drill bit is sharp. The Drill Doctor also cuts split and flat surfaces.

    PROS:
    • Easier to use.
    • Allows you to split the surface.
    • Faster.
    • Customized angle sharpening.
    CONS:
    • Expensive.
    • Limited on types of drill bit.

    Diamond File

    Using the old-fashioned method of a diamond file will take a little longer, but the result will be more precise. It is the only way you can sharpen auger bits and pilot screws, as well as countersink bits. Also, spur points sharpen better this way too.

    And because diamond files don’t have teeth, you can work them in any direction. Plus, diamond files cut on the push as well as the pull motion. The tapered end of the file is ideal for getting into the hard-to-reach places.

    PROS:
    • Cheap to buy.
    • Easy to use.
    • Sharpens every type of drill bit.
    • Gives a precision finish.
    • Lasts forever.
    • Easy to transport when needed.
    CONS:
    • Takes slightly longer.
    • Requires a precise eye.

    Drill-powered Bit Sharpening Tool

    These drill attachments are cheap to buy but effective at transforming your drill into a bit sharpening tool. It is an excellent alternative to the more expensive Drill Doctor and achieves satisfactory results. That said, it lacks precision.

    It works by attaching your drill to a small grinding wheel mounted in a special frame. The bit is inserted into a slot and held in place by hand as the wheel sharpens the cutting edge. This method is only suitable for twist drill bits.

    PROS:
    • Cheap.
    • Compact.
    • Lightweight.
    • Easy to carry.
    • Easy to set up.
    CONS:
    • Not precise.
    • Fiddly to use.
    • Angles take guesswork.
    • Limited to drill bit types.
    • Limited on drill bit size.

    Dremel Tool

    Dremels have multiple uses, including sharpening your drill bits. Think of it as a mini grinder. You can sharpen drill bits like the twist, flat wood, and masonry varieties, but the Dremel would struggle with more specialized drill bits.

    Sharpening a drill bit with a Dremel is a bit like using a grinder. You clamp the Dremel to a workbench and move the drill bit across the abrasive surface of the Dremel.

    PROS:
    • Easy to use.
    • Faster results.
    • Can make adjustments to the angles.
    CONS:
    • Not precise.
    • Relies on guesswork for the angles.
    • Drill bit gets hot.

    How to Sharpen Drill Bits by Hand

    For anyone considering sharpening their drill bits by hand, here is a handy guide to help you achieve the best results.

    What You Need

    • A bench grinder with a coarse and fine grinding wheel. If you don’t own a grinder, then a belt sander will work equally well.
    • Safety goggles are essential when working with anything that gives off sparks or thin slithers of metal (2). You will be close to the action, so you need to protect your eyes.
    • Gloves are an optional choice. Some people don’t like that gloves reduce your grip, and if they are loose-fitting, they may get snagged on the grinding wheel.
    • A bucket of water keeps your drill bit from overheating, which causes further dulling of the cutting edge.
    • Some scrap wood to test your drill bit is sharp.

    1. Separate the Blunt Bits

    Once you’ve decided which drill bits need attention, separate them from the sharp drill bits. What you are looking to do is remove the minimum amount of surface metal to achieve the sharpest result.

    Grind the worst drill bits over the coarse wheel first and then graduate to the finer wheel.

    2. Grind the Edges

    Put your goggles on for this part. Switch on the grinder and place your drill bit to the grinding wheel so that the blade is parallel to the grinder. Press gently and allow the grinder to smooth away unwanted metal.

    Keep it still, and don’t rotate it. You should be aiming to replicate the factory setting of 60 degrees.

    3. Don’t Overdo It

    The drill bit should be in contact with the grinder for no more than five seconds. To get the best angle, try to sharpen where the twisted shaft meets the tip.

    4. Dip the Bit in Cold Water

    Now would be an ideal time to dip the drill bit in the bucket of cold water. If you don’t, the drill bit will heat up and could burn your hands. Also, when it heats up, it loses sharpness.

    Take it out of the water and check for a well-honed cutting edge.

    5. Do the Other Side

    If you are satisfied with the first face, turn the drill bit 180 degrees and repeat the same process on the other side. You should be aiming for a centralized point where both cutting surfaces meet in the middle of the bit.

    To achieve a more accurate result, try swapping the sides of the drill bit every few seconds to balance up the honing. Think of the way you sharpen a knife on a block, working one side then the other to balance the blade. It’s the same process with a drill bit.

    You should also aim for a 60-degree angle for the best results.

    6. Give the Bit a Dry Run by Hand-Turning

    Once you are happy, it’s time to give the bit a dry run to check the sharpness and balance. Hand-turn the bit into that piece of scrap wood. If the bit cuts into the wood with the slightest pressure, you have a sharp instrument.

    If not, get back to it and keep going on the grinder until you do achieve the finish you want.

    7. Use Your Drill to Test It

    Now it’s time to test the drill bit properly. Insert it into your drill and press it onto the scrap wood. If you feel the drill bit biting straight away, you have succeeded.

    Top Tips for Keeping Drill Bits Sharp

    Tip #1: Use the Right Drill Bit

    It’s an easy mistake to make. A spur point drill bit isn’t going to last long if you insist on using it to drill into a brick wall. Likewise, masonry drill bits will overheat if you try to drill holes in wood.

    Know what your drill bits are for to save them from wearing out.

    Tip #2: Store in a Dry Place

    Nothing rusts a drill bit like moisture. Make sure you keep them sealed away from the wet, or you will find over time that rust will dull the drill bit.

    Tip #3: Practice Your Drilling Technique

    Every time you drill, stop halfway and retract the drill bit. Make sure you blow away the debris. This prevents material from clogging the recesses of the bit and getting hot.

    As it heats, the bit will dull. It also clears a path into the hole, giving the drill bit less work to do.

    Tip #4: Keep the Bit Cool

    Keep a jug of cold water by your side when you drill. After each hole gets drilled, dowse the drill bit in the water to keep it cool. This preserves the bit from overheating.

    Tip #5: Keep Spares

    By keeping spares, you always have a sharp set to use when one set dulls. It means you don’t have to stop immediately to sharpen the drill bits, and the job is completed faster.


    Now We Have the Bit Between Our Teeth

    Maintaining your tools, whatever they are, is crucial if you want efficient, safe, and effective outcomes. You would never hammer a nail in with a shoe, nor should you try to drill a hole with a blunt drill bit. It doesn’t make sense.

    So keep on top of your drill bits and sharpen them every couple of uses. That way, you save money and effort.

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