What type of drill bit do I need for metal?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors  | 
Which drill bits can stand up to hardened metal? 
Metal drill bits are more expensive but worth it if you do a lot of metal work. vitapix / Getty Images

Drilling through steel is not an everyday home repair activity, and drill bits for metals are the most expensive. Regular drill bits can't cut through steel, so you need a heavy-duty, hard drill bit to do the job. But in a market full of options, what are the best drill bits for metal?

There are two choice selections that you can count on to drill hardened steel in any of your metalworking projects: titanium and cobalt. In this article, we'll explore why titanium and cobalt drill bits are essential for metal drilling. We'll also look at how you can leverage these drill bits, and warn you about drill bit sets that cannot stand up to thick metal.


Titanium Bits for Drilling Metal

Titanium drill bits are high-speed steel bits (HSS) that have a titanium black oxide coating. They are very hard, and corrosion-resistant. They last much longer than regular high-speed steel drill bits, and they are good for cutting through any metal, including sheet metal. Titanium drill bits are harder than cobalt, but because they are coated, they can't be sharpened.


Cobalt Bits for Metal Drilling

Cobalt drill bits are made of cobalt high speed steel, and they can be sharpened. They are especially good for drilling hardened steel, cast iron, titanium, and abrasive materials. While these drill bits are very hard, wear resistant, and heat treated, be sure to start slow when using them as they can break at high speeds.

At the end of the day, titanium and cobalt are the best drill bits for metal projects.


Shopping for Drill Bit Material and Drill Presses

When selecting the best drill bits for metal, it's essential to consider jobber length bits, which offer a versatile length suitable for a variety of drilling applications. Among the most effective for metal are carbide drill bits, known for their exceptional durability and resistance to high temperatures. These bits often feature robust cutting edges that ensure precision and efficiency, especially when used with a drill press.

Speaking of which, drill presses provide the stability and power needed for drilling through tough metals, making them an ideal partner for high-quality drill bits. For enhanced performance, look for bits coated with titanium nitride. This coating not only extends the life of the drill bit but also reduces friction and heat build-up, enabling smoother and quicker drilling.


Whether you're working on a professional project or a DIY endeavor, selecting the right combination of drill bit and drill press can significantly impact the quality and ease of your metal drilling tasks. With the right tools, you can cut through everything from heavy duty steel to softer materials.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


Metal Drill Bit FAQ

What is the best drill bit for metal?
Conventional drill bits cannot cut through metal so you need a heavy-duty, hard drill bit. Two types of drill bits are suitable for metalworking jobs: titanium and cobalt.
What is a cobalt drill bit?
As the name suggests, cobalt drill bits are made of cobalt steel. Unlike titanium drill bits, they can be sharpened. Cobalt drill bits are very hard, highly heat-resistant, abrasive and ideal for drilling through cast iron, stainless steel and titanium.
How do you know if a drill bit is for metal?
Usually, drill bits that are for metal can be distinguished by their black color. They are also usually made from tungsten carbide, cobalt or titanium, which should be noted on the packaging if you’re buying new. Another easy way to distinguish these from conventional drill bits is to check if they have a wide-angled point at the end.
Can you use metal drill bits for wood?
Whether you can use metal drill bits for wood or not depends on the wood type and the type of drill bit used. Most metal drill bits increase splintering and tear-out when you use them for wood. However, titanium drill bits tend to be fine for this application.
Which is harder: cobalt or titanium drill bits?
Titanium drill bits are harder than cobalt, but cannot be sharpened as they're coated, not solid titanium,.