Hole Drilling (Part One)

in Aircraft Metal Structural Repair

Drilling holes is a common operation in the airframe repair shop. Once the fundamentals of drills and their uses are learned, drilling holes for rivets and bolts on light metal is not difficult. While a small portable power drill is usually the most practical tool for this common operation in airframe metalwork, sometimes a drill press may prove to be the better piece of equipment for the job.

Portable Power Drills


Portable power drills operate by electricity or compressed air. Pneumatic drill motors are recommended for use on repairs around flammable materials where potential sparks from an electric drill motor might become a fire hazard.

When using the portable power drill, hold it firmly with both hands. Before drilling, be sure to place a backup block of wood under the hole to be drilled to add support to the metal structure. The drill bit should be inserted in the chuck and tested for trueness or vibration. This may be visibly checked by running the motor freely. A drill bit that wobbles or is slightly bent should not be used since such a condition causes enlarged holes. The drill should always be held at right angles to the work regardless of the position or curvatures. Tilting the drill at any time when drilling into or withdrawing from the material may cause elongation (egg shape) of the hole. When drilling through sheet metal, small burrs are formed around the edge of the hole. Burrs must be removed to allow rivets or bolts to fit snugly and to prevent scratching. Burrs may be removed with a bearing scraper, a countersink, or a drill bit larger than the hole. If a drill bit or countersink is used, it should be rotated by hand. Always wear safety goggles while drilling.

Pneumatic Drill Motors

Pneumatic drill motors are the most common type of drill motor for aircraft repair work. [Figure 4-39] They are light weight and have sufficient power and good speed control. Drill motors are available in many different sizes and models. Most drill motors used for aircraft sheet metal work are rated at 3,000 rpm, but if drilling deep holes or drilling in hard materials, such as corrosion resistant steel or titanium, a drill motor with more torque and lower rpm should be selected to prevent damage to tools and materials.

Figure 4-39. Drill motors.

Figure 4-39. Drill motors.

Right Angle and 45° Drill Motors

Right angle and 45° drill motors are used for positions that are not accessible with a pistol grip drill motor. Most right angle drill motors use threaded drill bits that are available in several lengths. Heavy-duty right angle drills are equipped with a chuck similar to the pistol grip drill motor. [Figure 4-40]

Figure 4-40. Angle drill motors.

Figure 4-40. Angle drill motors.

Two Hole

Special drill motors that drill two holes at the same time are used for the installation of nutplates. By drilling two holes at the same time, the distance between the holes is fixed and the holes line up perfectly with the holes in the nutplate. [Figure 4-41]

Figure 4-41. Nutplate drill.

Figure 4-41. Nutplate drill.

Drill Press

The drill press is a precision machine used for drilling holes that require a high degree of accuracy. It serves as an accurate means of locating and maintaining the direction of a hole that is to be drilled and provides the operator with a feed lever that makes the task of feeding the drill into the work easier. The upright drill press is the most common of the variety of drill presses available. [Figure 4-42]

Figure 4-42. Drill press.

Figure 4-42. Drill press.

When using a drill press, the height of the drill press table is adjusted to accommodate the height of the part to be drilled. When the height of the part is greater than the distance between the drill and the table, the table is lowered. When the height of the part is less than the distance between the drill and the table, the table is raised.

After the table is properly adjusted, the part is placed on the table and the drill is brought down to aid in positioning the metal so that the hole to be drilled is directly beneath the point of the drill. The part is then clamped to the drill press table to prevent it from slipping during the drilling operation. Parts not properly clamped may bind on the drill and start spinning, causing serious cuts on the operator’s arms or body, or loss of fingers or hands. Always make sure the part to be drilled is properly clamped to the drill press table before starting the drilling operation.

The degree of accuracy that it is possible to attain when using the drill press depends to a certain extent on the condition of the spindle hole, sleeves, and drill shank. Therefore, special care must be exercised to keep these parts clean and free from nicks, dents, and warpage. Always be sure that the sleeve is securely pressed into the spindle hole. Never insert a broken drill in a sleeve or spindle hole. Be careful never to use the sleeve-clamping vise to remove a drill since this may cause the sleeve to warp.

The drill speed on a drill press is adjustable. Always select the optimum drill speed for the material to be drilled. Technically, the speed of a drill bit means its speed at the circumference, in surface feet per minute (sfm). The recommended speed for drilling aluminum alloy is from 200 to 300 sfm, and for mild steel is 30 to 50 sfm. In practice, this must be converted into rpm for each size drill. Machinist and mechanic handbooks include drill rpm charts or drill rpm may be computed by use of the formula:

CS = The recommended cutting speed in sfm
D = The diameter of the drill bit in inches

Example: At what rpm should a 1⁄8-inch drill turn to drill aluminum at 300 sfm?

Drill Extensions and Adapters

When access to a place where drilling is difficult or impossible with a straight drill motor, various types of drill extensions and adapters are used.

Extension Drill Bits

Extension drill bits are widely used for drilling holes in locations that require reaching through small openings or past projections. These drill bits, which come in 6- to 12- inch lengths, are high speed with spring-tempered shanks. Extension drill bits are ground to a special notched point, which reduces end thrust to a minimum. When using extension drill bits always:

  1. Select the shortest drill bit that will do the job. It is easier to control.
  2. Check the drill bit for straightness. A bent drill bit makes an oversized hole and may whip, making it difficult to control.
  3. Keep the drill bit under control. Extension drills smaller than 1⁄4-inch must be supported by a drill guard made from a piece of tubing or spring to prevent whipping.

Straight Extension

A straight extension for a drill can be made from an ordinary piece of drill rod. The drill bit is attached to the drill rod by shrink fitting, brazing, or silver soldering.

Angle Adapters

Angle adapters can be attached to an electric or pneumatic drill when the location of the hole is inaccessible to a straight drill. Angle adapters have an extended shank fastened to the chuck of the drill. The drill is held in one hand and the adapter in the other to prevent the adapter from spinning around the drill chuck.

Snake Attachment

The snake attachment is a flexible extension used for drilling in places inaccessible to ordinary drills. Available for electric and pneumatic drill motors, its flexibility permits drilling around obstructions with minimum effort. [Figure 4-43]

Figure 4-43. Snake attachment.

Figure 4-43. Snake attachment.