How to cut clean recessed screw holes?

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Forum topic by Vaul posted 09-10-2014 01:02 AM 3214 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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22 posts in 775 days

09-10-2014 01:02 AM

Topic tags/keywords: recessed screw tear out skill question

Hi all,
I’m new to woodworking so forgive the beginner question. I’d like to know how to make clean recessed holes without a drill press?

I’m making tool mounts for my shop, and some of them will be mounted with recessed screws, which I may later cap. So far I haven’t been able to keep the recessed holes clean. They either have chipping out of the top grain or the bit wanders and makes a rather ugly, non-circular entry hole.

I do not yet have a drill press, so I’m doing this with my cordless drill.
I’ve tried drilling smaller guide holes first, with no luck.
The bits I have are all metal cutting bits, so is that likely the main problem?
Most of the holes I’m cutting are 1/4” or 3/8”, just large enough for the screw heads.

I have tried searching on this, but all the info I got was on avoiding tear out on the bottom, which isn’t my issue.



-- Jon (aka. Vaul)

22 replies so far

View Loren's profile


8156 posts in 3065 days

#1 posted 09-10-2014 01:11 AM

Regular drill bits are ground to a shape for drilling
in metal. For wood the cleanest holes are drilled
by using scoring on the outside rim.

If I were in your shop I could show you how to
turn a regular twist drill into a “cabinetmaker drill”,
a sort of shop-made brad point. I use a standard
shop grinder wheel corner to freehand grind them
on bits down to about 1/4”. Here’s a video of a
guy making them in a more elaborate and precise
manner, but the idea is the same.

View Ger21's profile


1045 posts in 2548 days

#2 posted 09-10-2014 01:26 AM

View NoThanks's profile


798 posts in 946 days

#3 posted 09-10-2014 01:36 AM

I use forstner bits when I need a clean hole.

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View timbertailor's profile


1591 posts in 841 days

#4 posted 09-10-2014 01:37 AM

I use forstner bits when I need a clean hole.

- Iwud4u

Ditto. Well worth the investment in a set.

-- Brad, Texas,

View TheFridge's profile


5671 posts in 903 days

#5 posted 09-10-2014 01:44 AM

Forstner. I use the hell out of a ryobi set.

Edit: then I use dowel with a cheap flush cut saw to plug the holes if need be. Works great.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1352 days

#6 posted 09-10-2014 02:00 AM

All these guys are right. ^

I use the hell out of a ryobi set too. Just don’t go too fast. if you see smoke, you are going too fast. I burnt up a forstner bit yesterday when I forgot to turn down my drill press speed.

Loren’s video is a good way to do it too.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Vaul's profile


22 posts in 775 days

#7 posted 09-10-2014 03:08 AM

Thank you all for the replies. I guess I always thought of forstner bits as being a drill press only bit, but it makes sense.

Do you use brad point bits very often? I’m thinking I might need to invest in a set of those as well.


-- Jon (aka. Vaul)

View firefighterontheside's profile


13054 posts in 1274 days

#8 posted 09-10-2014 03:13 AM

I’ve tried brad point bits and Forstner bits for shelf pin hols and hands down the Forstner bit made cleaner holes in plywood. I use Forstner bits for screw holes too. I find it better if I locate the center and then go to full speed on the drill instead of going slow and then fast it works better.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View TheFridge's profile


5671 posts in 903 days

#9 posted 09-10-2014 03:35 AM

Not much luck with brad point. I use regular bits with a backer to prevent blowout.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View tyvekboy's profile


1306 posts in 2430 days

#10 posted 02-18-2016 08:56 PM

Jon – I use brad point drill bits a lot. I also use forester bits. These are the sets that I’ve got at Rockler.


Brad point drill set

Go with the big sets. Eventually you’ll need all of them.

Also for plugging holes, another good tool to get are plug cutters. I have all three in my tool collection.

Of course I realize you don’t have a drill press yet but that’s a reason why you need to add that tool to your aresnal. I would recommend a floor model drill press.

As far as plugging holes for tool mounts, I personally wouldn’t do it. Shops are alway evolving and tool mounts will be moved. The tool holders in my tool cabinet have been moved many times.

-- Tyvekboy -- Marietta, GA ………….. one can never be too organized

View clin's profile


485 posts in 413 days

#11 posted 02-19-2016 12:05 AM

Using the drill bits you have, you might try clamping some scrap wood down and drill through that.

A little trickier getting the hole exactly where you want, but maybe you can make it work.

-- Clin

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2390 posts in 2339 days

#12 posted 02-19-2016 02:45 PM

I use a counter bore bit. IT makes the central hole for the screw and cuts a counter bore cleanly like a Forsner bit does. Works easily and quickly in a hand held drill or a drill press.

-- "You may have your PHD but I have my GED and my DD 214"

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2263 posts in 1787 days

#13 posted 02-19-2016 04:38 PM

I’ve been using these DeWalt countersink/counterbore tapered drill bits for maybe two years now, and love them. They’re sharp, and once you set the depth, drill, countersink, and counterbore. The tapered bit is nice, and I find the sharp tapered point on the end makes it much easier to locate the hole than with a regular twist drill bit.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View MrRon's profile


3888 posts in 2660 days

#14 posted 02-19-2016 06:39 PM

Brad point bits. You need speed to produce a clean hole. A cordless drill isn’t fast enough. When I drill holes, especially in soft woods, I use a drill press running at top speed (5000 rpm). I get clean holes.

View JAAune's profile


1614 posts in 1734 days

#15 posted 02-19-2016 07:06 PM

If you’re just doing a few holes and want a perfect fit, use a sharpened screw to do a clean counterbore.

-- See my work at and

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