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Having trouble drilling Aluminum
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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Alternate approach on 04/15/2013 23:32:28 MDT Print View

"Bob, I have used the "commercial" saws and they are a nice toys- they are way too small to make a correct sized block for igloos, you need at least an 18" blade. There is only one on the market now that I've seen that come close and at $55, I'll stay with my MYOG. Plus with the Scouts as the main users, I need something that I don't have to keep an eye on while in use."

You are somewhat correct. The Life-Link saw that I have is 21.5 inches long, and its cost was about $45. It works good and lasts a long time. Maybe your snow is different from California snow.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Alternate approach on 04/16/2013 00:38:58 MDT Print View

> 1/8" aluminum?
Oops! Nope.
1/16" is OK, but I think 1/8" Al would be really stressing the poor thing. Eh, you could try - with long handles on the punch. Could be damaging to the punch though.

Next option - rather like hard work, but it works.
Drill small holes where you want them, while staying just INside the edge.
Then use large rat-tail file to open each one out. You would need to clamp the metal between planks.

Next option - yeah, many ways to skin the cat.
Drill small holes inside edge as above.
Clamp metal to drill press table and open hole with some sort of cone cutter. Or a wood burr. Repeat N times.
Note: clamping down for this method is crucial. You don't want spinning 1/8" aluminium sheet to take your hand off.


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Edge drilling on 04/16/2013 06:37:49 MDT Print View

Yeah, a drill bit only cuts in one direction. It will grab the corner and pull it into the but on an edge cut...hence an extreme bind. Even clamping the thing down won't help a lot. This is more or less the action of the metal and has little to do with the drill press.

You could reduce the distance from the edge to 180 degrees or less, ie, a semicircle. This will put as much or more metal supporting the the cut as is being cut away, but, this may not work too well for a snow saw.

I think you may be going about this a little wrongly. The drill press is probably not the tool you want to use for cutting aluminum. Rather, I would use a router for the task at hand. Generally a wood bit will cut through aluminum, but I would suggest using a good carbide router bit. I believe a regular dovetail jig with half inch fingers and spacing will work producing the squared ended rounded bottom profile you are looking for. A square 1/2" bit, rather than a dovetail bit, will work. Make sure you wear goggles and gloves. Hot, sharp metal shavings are nothing to fool with.

Cutting the actual teeth is a bit of a chore, but can be accomplished with files. Again, aluminum is "sticky", so it may gum up the files. Keep a wire brush handy for cleaning them.

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Re: Edge drilling on 04/17/2013 13:16:22 MDT Print View

I didn't read all these replies, but I'm going to reply anyway.

That piloted cobalt drill you have should be fine, can't comment on the other one, but as mentioned, the issue is edge drilling. You simply can't do that with twist drills.

A bi-metal hole saw, or an annular cutter would work, but it's *much* easier to just drill holes in a line, and then cut through them for this particular task.

It's also important to clamp, and back your work. It'll produce better results, less warp and damage to your work piece, and keep you from cutting your fingers off with a spinning helicopter of aluminum. Luckily, it's a tiny drill press. If you tried to do this with either of my mills or my big Powermatic Floor drill by hand, you'd have been in the hospital.

Drills are made for boring semi-round holes in one axis only. Not half moons, not step milling, nothing else.

As James mentioned, you could *easily* do this task with your work clamped vertically in a vise, and using a *quality* round file, get much better results, in probably half the time.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
Re: Having trouble drilling Aluminum on 04/17/2013 16:02:32 MDT Print View

hi :

Roger C is exactly correctly stunned at thethought of trying to drill something so soft, so near the edge. it's just a recipe for misery.
twist drills and thin material are an iffy combination in all cases regardless. the beast of the twist drill is not something that scales up and up and up very sweetly. yes, i have used them almost 4" across, but it is not pretty.
by the time you get to 3/8" at home, you are well into the range of them being not-that-great.
yes, i know.. they work. i build things for a living. but they are not always the most elagent tool.

helpful hints for folks look;n to make big holes in thin stuff.
the "clamp it between wood (or plastic) technique" works well, and has been mentioned.
for the more annoying tasks, you can employ a step drill, known as a uni-bit, and it can often successfully auger neat holes up to perhaps maybe an inch or so in very thin stuff. you may have to clamp that as well, but then you are getting into shearable thicknesses.

as for Tad's delimma :
get more aluminium, make it twice as wide as you want, drill down the middle, split it in 2, and you now have a nice pair of saw blades.
also, the cutting speed of alloy is quite high. you can in some cases spin the drill to astromnomical speeds with success.


Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Having trouble drilling Aluminum on 04/17/2013 19:50:01 MDT Print View

"get more aluminium, make it twice as wide as you want, drill down the middle, split it in 2, and you now have a nice pair of saw blades."


As usual, a simple solution to a difficult problem given the tools at hand.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re:Commercial snow saw on 04/17/2013 20:10:09 MDT Print View

Just so you know there is this one too

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Having trouble drilling Aluminum on 04/17/2013 20:10:23 MDT Print View

Thanks, everyone for the responses. I think rather than waste 4 saw blanks, I'll try cutting just inside with a complete hole. Now a second question:

Would it be easier to stack all the blanks on top of each other then clamp to save time, cutting 16 holes deeper holes instead of 16 times 4 shallow holes, one blank at a time?

(Yes Peter, I should have not tried to be so aggressive about how many saws I could get out of a small sheet and next time do it the way you suggested- which is how I did it last time. The difference this time is I am making pistol grip saws and the length and width of the sheet made it so I had to stagger the blades)

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Having trouble drilling Aluminum on 04/17/2013 22:30:08 MDT Print View

> Would it be easier to stack all the blanks on top of each other then clamp to save
> time, cutting 16 holes deeper holes instead of 16 times 4 shallow holes, one blank
> at a time?

Provided you clamp the lot properly to the drill table and drill inside the line, bulk drilling should be just fine. 4 sheets of 1/8" = 1/2" = 12.7 mm. I routinely drill 20 or 30 mm deep. That said, use a peck style of drilling: keep pulling the drill bit back out so it can clear the swarf. Doing so does not cost any significant time.


David Bontrager

Locale: Alps
gradually increase hole size on 04/21/2013 11:02:56 MDT Print View

3/8" isn't huge, but it's still quite a chunk of metal to remove all in one go, even for aluminum. One trick (that gets more important as hole size gets bigger and material gets harder) is to start with a small bit - maybe 1/8" - and step up from there. To get to 3/8" you can do 1/8", then 1/4", then 3/8". (A little tedious, but it wears your drill bits less and gives a nicer finish on the hole edge).

Also like someone mentioned - slow it down. Sheet metal has a tendency to let the drill bit take too big of a bite, and the drill bit goes through without keeping the hole round (it doesn't cut metal out of every part of the hole, only enough to grab the sheet) which means it'll rip the metal out of your hands, and probably throw it across the room with the bottom half of your drill bit.

And yeah, like a lot of people have said, drilling holes that fall off the edge doesn't really work on a drill press, regardless of material and whether or not you clamp the sheet down. You need a mill to pull that off.

Hope it turns out well for ya!

Edited by dpbont on 04/21/2013 11:05:10 MDT.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Having trouble drilling Aluminum on 04/21/2013 14:58:44 MDT Print View

"I'm not trying to break up a perfectly good MYOG project, but I guess you know that these aluminum snow saws are commercially available. The teeth even have an alternating crosscut pattern. With the MYOG version, I think you will end up with rip pattern teeth, even if it works.


Bob, I think it depends whether he's making long skinny ice blocks or just trimming ice cores into short lengths.

Lawson Kline
(Mountainfitter) - M

Use Wax on 04/22/2013 13:23:42 MDT Print View

Hi Tad,

Your drill bits are fine. Use something like toilet bowl ring wax. Far best solution for cutting/drilling aluminum. Its dirt cheap and you can buy one of those wax seals about anywhere.. Good Luck.