You’ve probably used step drill bits before, and if not, you should consider giving them a try. Step drill bits are incredibly useful for drilling clean holes in sheet metal, thin plastic, and other such materials.
Much of the time, except when using the largest diameter step drill bits, you don’t even need to pre-drill a pilot hole at all, although a center punch can help to prevent the drill bit from wandering during starting.
The way step drill bits shear the edges of a hole as they cut, they leave clean and nearly bur-free holes. Depending on what the hole is to be used for, you might not even need to debur it.
See Also: Benefits of Unibits and Step Drill Bits
Step drill bits come in different sizes, usually standardized, with different “steps” corresponding to incrementally larger diameter holes.
Years ago, step drill bits were solely designed for use with traditional drill chucks, but that was before cordless impact drivers were as widespread as cordless drill/drivers. It’s no longer unusual for impact drivers to be used for hole-making tasks.
Thus, there are new 1/4″ hex-shank and impact-rated step drill bits to meet those needs and user preferences.
While impact-rated step drill bits aren’t a new idea, many brands have brought improvements to their power tool accessories over the years, and some of the top brands have recently introduced new and improved step drill bit styles.
Here, I want to take a quick look at what top cordless power tool accessory brands have to offer in the area of impact-rated step drill bits.
Personally, I still use cordless drills for a great majority of my drilling and hole-making tasks. Only recently have I been willing to try using impact-rated step drills as they are intended to be used – with an impact driver. The couple of testing and quick project experiences weren’t habit-altering – yet – but could be the start of a process.
I have gradually gotten over my avoidance of using impact drivers with drill bits and other hole-making accessories, but I have not yet found myself requiring a quick-change impact-rated step drill bit. I don’t mind it so far, and haven’t seen any performance downsides yet, but I don’t know if it’d be willing to accommodate the current 38% to 50% bump-up in cost for two of my frequently-used sizes compared to my currently-favored non-impact bits.
That’s what inspired this discussion. Top power tool accessory brands wouldn’t put energy into developing high-performing impact-rated step drill bits if there wasn’t a strong market for them yet. Perhaps one brand would dip their toes into these waters in, but several brands, and at around the same time?
I’m hoping that some of you will talk about your experiences and preferences as far as impact-rated step drill bits are concerned, with these brands or others.
Do you even care about impact-rated step drills, or are you (like me) still using drills for such drilling operations?
Milwaukee Shockwave Impact Step Drill Bits
About a year and a half ago, Milwaukee came out with new Shockwave impact-rated step drill bits, describing them as the longest-lasting and fastest-cutting impact step drill bits available, and they’re made in the USA (with global materials).
These relatively new Milwaukee impact step drill bits have a “titanium aluminum nitride (TiAIN) coating for 5X longer life” and “Rapid Strike Tip” for fast and accurate starts. Milwaukee says the shank has an optimized ShockZone, which presumably means greater resistance to impact energy, and larger laser-engraved markings.
The spiral flute design is said to allow the bits to produce 2X faster holes.
As shown, these Shockwave step bits have a 1/4″ hex shank.
I have NOT used these yet, but I consider their predecessor/non-impact step drills to be the best available.
I have used Milwaukee’s dual-flute step bits for a while, and with zero complaints. They’re designed for cordless drill use and feature 3-flat shanks for reduced slippage.
I still use my older Irwin Unibits from time to time, but I’ve come to rely on Milwaukee’s step drill bits and consider them best of all.
Compared to these step drill bits, the new impact-rated bits are quite a bit pricier. For instance, the smallest size (1/8″ to 1/2″) costs 50% more, and the size I use most frequently after that (#4, 3/16″ to 7/8″) costs 37.5% more.
Is it worth it? Well, do you want to be able to use step drill bits with an impact driver?
So far, user feedback seems positive.
As mentioned, I’m open-minded about using step drills in an impact driver, but is it worth the premium, to be able to use a step drill in either a cordless drill or impact driver? I haven’t pulled the trigger yet – or reached out to Milwaukee to request a test sample even – but given my other experiences, Milwaukee would be my top choice when it comes time to giving impact-rated step drill bits a try.
Milwaukee makes among the best impact-rated screwdrivers bits. Milwaukee makes the best hole saws. Milwaukee makes the best reciprocating saw blades. I don’t use impact-rated drill bits all that often, but when I do, I choose Milwaukee. I also prefer Milwaukee nut driver bits. I have a lot of trust and faith in the brand, and have watched over the years as they gradually expanded and improved their power tool accessory offerings.
I’d be willing to bet that their claim of 5X longer life and best-in-class performance still stands, despite Milwaukee’s launch being earlier than some other brands’ recent releases.
Updated Lenox Vari-Bit Step Drill Bits
Lenox has recently introduced new Vari-bit impact-rated step drill bits. Comparing model numbers, it looks like these new step drill bits will replace *some* of their previous models, which makes things quite a bit confusing short-term but potentially easier and beneficial for users long-term.
Compared to the prior generation bits used in 1/16″ 1008 steel, the new Lenox Vari-Bit step drill bits claim to deliver:
- 2X longer life
- 50% faster starts
These bits are also made in the USA (with global materials).
A PowerDrive tip is designed for “no walking, allowing for aggressive cutting and quick penetration.” They also have a dual-flute cutting edge for clean, round, and burr-free holes.
With Milwaukee, I have to choose between non-impact and impact-compatible step drills at a higher cost. With Lenox looking to have updated part of line of their step drill bits with 1/4″ hex shanks and other new features, you have one choice and can use the same tool with a drill or impact driver without having to order duplicate accessories with different shanks.
Here’s the confusing part:
Select step drill bit sizes feature a 1/4″ Quick Change shank making them ready to use in an impact driver while other bits feature a 3 flat, 3/8″ shank for use with a standard drill.
I used a #4 test sample drill bit the other day, and then again for a quick project. Its model number is 30908VB8, and its product packaging sports the new marketing language indicating it’s a new generation bit.
When you look at product pages – via Lenox or retailers’, some show the older drill-compatible bit with 3 flats, and others also include an image of the new 1/4″ hex version that I’ve been testing.
At this time, Lenox’s Vari-Bit step bit product page doesn’t have any information about which bits have 1/4″ hex bits and which have 3/8″ flats for use in a cordless drill chuck.
I would imagine that all but the largest sizes will have 1/4″ hex shanks.
What gets my attention about Lenox’s bits is that they deliver great performance (so far), and at much lower pricing than Milwaukee’s impact-rated bits. You can get the #4 3/16″ to 7/8″ bit for $40 (via Amazon), which is the same price as Milwauukee’s non-impact bit and quite a bit less than the $55 their 1/4″ shank version sells for.
Update: It appears that Lenox has two different lists of step drill bits. Here are the ones with the 1/4″ hex shank:
- 30881VB1: 1/8″ – 1/2″
- 30883VB3: 1/4″ – 3/4″
- 30884VB4: 3/16″ – 1/2″
- 30887VB7: 7/8″
- 30908VB8: 3/16″ – 7/8″
Diablo Impact-Rated Step Drill Bits
As we reported back in October, Bosch and Diablo came out with new impact-rated step drill bits.
At the time, retailers’ product listings said:
Diablo’s new Step Drill Bits bring exclusive technology to the Electrician, Plumber and HVAC contractor with fast, accurate cuts and increased stability in thin metals, PVC other plastic materials.
From what we can tell, these look to be a rebranding of select sizes of Bosch’s new impact-rated step drill bits.
Wanting to know more, we emailed Diablo for more information, but they never got back to us.
We again expressed interest in press materials after seeing sponsored and paid partner STAFDA coverage in November, but still have not received any media information about their new step drill bits.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the new Diablo step drill bits to comment on them further.
Dewalt Impact-Rated Step Drill Bits
If I recall correctly, Dewalt was first to launch impact-rated step drill bits, way back in 2012.
Not to mince words, a lot has changed in the impact-compatible power tool accessory industry in the 8 years since these launched. These are proven performers with solid reviews and user feedback, but I don’t see how they could compare against modern competition. Maybe I’m wrong, in which case I welcome your opinions and experiences and am open to being convinced otherwise.
I’m satisfied with Milwaukee step drills being the best I can ever remember using, and I hold high expectations for their new Shockwave impact-rated step drill bits. I’m hesitant about the premium pricing, but would be open-minded if I were adamant about impact driver compatibility.
It’s still early, but Lenox is so far proving to be a satisfactory alternative, and continued testing might just get me used to pairing step drill bits with impact drivers.
I was eager to see what Diablo had to say about their new step drill bits, but they have not responded to any of our requests for more information.
What impact-rated step drill bits do YOU prefer?
Or, are you more like me, and still mainly use step drill bits with cordless drills? In that case, which brand(s) do you favor?
Just prior to the final version of this post, I observed a renewed surge of “sponsored” reviews and “paid partner” coverage of the new Diablo step drill bits on social media. I reached out to Diablo and asked about the absence of any official announcement or press materials, and they finally sent us a link to a late-2019 press release on Yahoo Finance.
In that announcement, Diablo emphasizes the benefits of their new step drill bits against “standard” step drill bits, which they describe as wearing out quickly, requiring pre-drilling to prevent walking, jamming during use, not being impact-ready, being hard to read, and being hard on users’ wrists and slow to use.
But does anyone use “standard” step drill bits or such low suggested quality anymore?
Other brands’ impact-rated step drills and even pro brands’ modern non-impact step drills are already designed to answer the shortcomings of “standard” products. For instance, the Milwaukee non-impact step drills I favor using are not slow, they don’t jam, they have very clear and easy to read markings, and they certainly don’t require “the use of multiple drills” just because they’re not impact-ready. Those Milwaukee step drills came out in 2014.
Diablo’s page also says:
These new bits have been designed to be “best in the world” in terms of durability, speed and accuracy, eliminating the problems users have with standard step drill bits.
I find this language to be frustratingly ambiguous. Couldn’t a tool brand claim they designed something to be the ‘best in the world,’ fail at producing a best-in-world product, and still have such a claim be true, whereas “best-in-class” and similar claims typically require demonstrable proof in order to pass legal approval?
With this in mind, I’m simply going to assume that Milwaukee’s “best-in-class” claims are still valid.
I would be interested in exploring how well Diablo’s step drill bits perform and compare to competitors’ industry-leading products, but that won’t be possible at this time, due to an incompatibility between Diablo’s new media sample consideration and approval process and ToolGuyd’s long-standing review and ethics policies.
This update was necessary to answer in advance any questions about the new Diablo products. Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about their new step drills, and this is why.
If YOU have tried these step drills, what are your thoughts?
Probably prefer the Lenox the most, but for price the DeWalt’s are the best deal. You can get the DWA1790IR 3-pk (#1, #2, and #4) for usually around $60. Milwaukee’s similar set, 48-89-9254, is over $100. The Milwaukees may be better, but for my purposes and with a 67% greater cost, not worth it. And have not tried the Diablos yet.
Why would you assume any company claims are valid, let alone Milwaukee’s? Their marketing department are amine the most “creative” in the industry.
I’d assume Diablo before Milwaukee, based on my personal experience with other cutting tools anyway.
Because their non-impact step drills are damn good, and I have yet to see anything better since.
Creative marketing is one thing. When brands use certain language such as “best,” “longest lasting,” “more durable,” and so forth, first such claims often have to pass internal legal review. Then, I’m sure other brands them apart for potential challenging if the stakes are high enough.
For example, Duracell launched new premium batteries somewhat recently, and was almost immediately sued by competitors over the language they said could be misleading to consumers.
If Lenox or Diablo accessories could outlast or outperform Milwaukee’s, don’t you think that Stanley Black & Decker and Diablo would have marketed their respective new step drills accordingly?
Lenox introduced their accessories as an improvement over their current and well-regarded step drills. Diablo compares theirs to “standard” accessories that ignore pretty much all competitive offerings.
Brands use the strongest marketing language they can. And when they don’t, that means something.
I’ve had good experiences with some (but not all) Diablo accessories, but this is also a new category for them.
i am really surprised by your stance on this. i read this earlier and thought it was odd. i came back and read it again and i am still somewhat perplexed by your position . if you say the old step drills were the best because you tested them i tend to believe you and your judgement. in this case if i understand you correctly you are assuming the milwaukee is the best because they were the best. yet you have never used this newer impact version or most of it’s counterparts. yup, i understand the legal speak you talk of but sometimes legal speak talk is cheap or at least open to interpretation.
i always thought you let the performance of the tool speak for itself after you put it through it’s paces for yourself. comparing it to the older version and at least some of it’s current and comparable competitors. even if you feel confident it is the best step bit i would think you would want your own proof rather than rely on a mfg’s release.
as you said, duracell put forth a claim that was found to be invalid. the same exact thing could happen to milwaukee. the old saying is trust but verify.
Here’s the holdup – while open minded I still find myself resistant to the idea of impact-rated step drills, especially at a higher premium.
If there’s reader interest, there’s room for a more in-depth follow-up.
So called “puffer” or “sales” speech is widely recognized from a legal point of view as perfectly legal. So you can claim anything you want as long as you do not make SPECIFIC claims. “5x longer” or “5x longer than ‘standard'” without identifying specifically who you are comparing to is perfectly acceptable in the courts. The problem is of course that all of this is 100% useless as an end user. What specifically are we comparing it to?
As a point of criticism Stu, publishing what amounts to a consolidation of the sales literature is also similarly useless. Side by side comparisons like a lot of Youtubers do is a lot more useful.
In terms of step bits, I have a lot of questions. My machine shop class suggests that optimal cutting speed is a combination of both getting the speed correct (the major factor) and pressure to feed it properly without choking the bit. That’s for standard bits in say a drill press application. The interesting thing about step bits is that you’re eliminating a lot of cutting area by only doing a small area at one time. So is it faster overall in terms of cutting speed to make many small cuts or only a few big ones? That might make the case for step bits on most jobs, not just drilling holes in sheet metal.
Second question…is impact drilling actually superior to standard drilling? My general thought is no for two reasons. First off it was better, every machine shop would have already adopted it. Second thought is no way….the drill is constantly jumping between way too fast and way too slow…no way it can beat standard drilling. This seems an awful lot like abrasive cutoff saws and cold saws. A cold saw is boring. It works pretty much like a wood circular saw and cuts very quickly. In contrast abrasive saws throw sparks everywhere, they light everything flammable on fire, and cover you up in hot molten slag. It LOOKS like it’s doing a lot but it takes material away very slowly because it is wearing it away, not cutting chips off. In practice it is very slow.
Third question is one of the problems with step drills in general is the cost. It’s really not possible to resharpen them from a practical point of view so they’re disposable. So in comparing drills on the market, it would seem like we need to be looking at both speed and longevity. So the ideal situation would be to chuck up a step drill with some sort of controlled pressure. A machine shop automated drill would be best but some DIY rigging could do something similar (hang a brick on the handle??) So the question would be maybe start brand new and time how long it takes to cut a hole at maximum size. Then keep cutting holes until the time needed to cut a hole is a “long time” when we can say they are worn out. Then do the same thing with all the others so we can see how quickly they actually wear out.
Great for video, photos, and reviewers, especially if you are stuck at home due to stay at home orders.
0) Side-by-side comparison is indeed more useful, but it’s difficult to do objectively and fairly. I’m open to the effort, but this is also a category of unclear interest. Everyone uses impact-rated screwdriver bits these days, and impact-rated drill bits have become popular. How much interest is there in impact-rated step drill bits? That’s a big part of the intent for this post.
1) Are step drill bits faster overall in terms of cutting speed to make many small cuts or only a few big ones?
Yes, but keep in mind the step size. Step drill bits work because they’re only cutting a small area, shearing the side walls of thinner materials. When cutting tougher materials close to the maximum allowable thickness, or larger than the step size, cutting effort starts to increase greatly and you start losing efficiency fast.
With thicker materials, you’re basically only just reaming the hole. This can allow for deburring larger holes in a pinch more than it would drilling larger or deeper holes.
2) Is impact drilling actually superior to standard drilling?
Yes, and no. The benefits are to the user, and not to the actual drilling performance, at least in my experience. You get the 1/4″ hex quick-change interface, allowing for easier switching between drilling and driving bits and accessories.
If an impact driver binds, the torsional forces aren’t transferred to the users’ hands, thanks to “reactionless” characteristics. More premium cordless drill/drivers now have adjustable accelerometer and/or current sensors that shut off power when binding or rotational kickback conditions are detected, helping to prevent strain and even injury to users’ wrists and joints. But with an impact driver, you don’t need such features which are only found on select premium drills.
This is a tough one. You can’t just look at speed and longevity, but also at performance.
When considering a handheld tool and thin work materials that might not be as firmly clamped down as they would be in a machine shop setting, step drills provide cleaner and easier results.
With a step drill bit, you can drill a 7/8″ hole in sheet metal easily. You can’t do that easily with a twist drill, even with a series of progressively larger pilot holes. At this size, however, the choice isn’t between a step drill bit and a twist drill bit, but between the step drill, a small hole saw, or even a knockout punch.
I’m still using non impact drills for drilling holes.
I remember seeing Unibits for the first time, back in 1983 / 1984, they cost about a helper’s days pay back then. At least at the electrical supply house, the only place that sold them. I eventually bought one & used it with the utmost care 🙂
Maybe I missed something, but last time I checked, “cobalt” was all the buzz in step bits, and my experiences agreed with that. Cobalt typically isn’t a coating – it is incorporated into the steel itself. Any of the coatings seem to wear off very quickly, be it titanium or black oxide. Once the coating wears off on the cutting edges, they are just varying qualities of HSS which dulls quickly. Without being able to sharpen step bits as you can other HSS drill bits, I’d put a higher priority on the underlying material, especially considering the cost of decent step bits and the amount of use they get. I don’t think I saw a single bit above mention the underlying steel… I just saw varying types of coatings at first glance.
Just as a disclaimer: I am not a machinist, or welder, or anything of the sort. Most of my experiences with step bits involve making brackets for automotive uses and cutting stainless steel for brewing equipment.
Cobalt can be brittle. In my experience, cobalt alloy drill bits are better suited in drill press applications, and not handheld.
Brands don’t usually readily disclose the steel content of their impact-rated accessories, and even when they do, such details are going to be shallow. Today’s impact-rated steels are customized so much to make them strong and tough that it’s almost meaningless towards on-paper comparisons.
I generally don’t pay attention to coatings or surface treatments either, but they DO have impact when considering higher-end tooling. It’s not just for show, but it’s hard to preserve such coatings in handheld tool use.
For what it’s worth, the only bits I use that are cobalt alloys (to my knowledge) are step bits. I’ve never broken or chipped one of those, and I generally use step bits in a hand drill. I understand this would be much more of a concern with impact rated bits, however. Given my experiences with various non-impact step bits, and how much better life I’ve gotten out of my (expensive) cobalt step bits compared to other ones, that may be the main reason I stay to non-impact rated step bits for a while – the ability to use a harder steel in non-impact situations.
In general, I’ll take a coated bit over a non-coated bit, but step bits I’m a bit different on. It’s hard to find a reasonable priced set without a coating anymore, it seems. I have also noticed the titanium coating on my last few Dewalt drill bit sets appears to be holding up significantly better than in the past (or I just haven’t been working on stainless much lately).
I use Drill Hog step bits myself.
Discovered them on Amazon and purchased on a whim because they advertised being made of M7 high-molybdenum HSS and could be resharpened. I was skeptical of the claims, but it turns out they were a damn good buy and I’ve had them for a couple years now. Use a 1000 grit Trend diamond card, 30 seconds later they’re as good as new.
I guess it just depends on the use case but historically I would have grabbed an Irwin or a Lennox. and would still look there first. For other blades I look at Diablo so I figure they at least have decent metallurgy to pull from.
Would argue with various by outs and the like there really is only 3 makers of these things. maybe 4.
Price and Country of Origin would probably be the first indicators I would check today. Name brand doesn’t quite mean as much to me. Impact rated would also be a check mark as I would potentially use them in one. But right under that would be the need for a 3 flat drill shank.
It seems that newer Irwin Unibits are made in China. https://toolguyd.com/irwin-unibit-step-drill-bits-made-in-china/
The Lenox samples I’ve been working with might be converting me over to the impact driver side of things, but it’s still early to tell. I can’t tell if the 1/4″ hex shank and impact rating is important enough to me.
Milwaukee and Lenox make their drills in the USA, Diablo’s look to be made in Switzerland, presumably at a Bosch operation where they also make their jig saw blades and other power tool accessories.
I hear more and more contractors are leaving the cordless drill in the truck and carrying the impact driver on them. For me the cost isn’t worth it as it’s not how I make a living but I could see it for a guy that uses his impact for 90% of his drilling needs like some of the techs and contractors I’ve talked with that only reach for their drill a few times a month these days, especially now with all the modes, speeds, and programability of modern impact drivers. One less tool to carry.
I believe that Irwin makes/sells their Unibit step drills – some HSS and some Cobalt-Steel – some with 1/4 hex shanks for impact driver use. As far as I can tell – Greenlee and Klein step drills do not provide a 1/4 hex shank option. While Irwin makes some 7/17 inch shank step drills – what I’d like to see is a step drill with a 7/16 power drive shank
I am still stuck in the right tool for the job kind of phase, and prefer the finer control of my drills for drilling purposes.
I have seen some other people drill holes with an impact driver … attacking it like a gorilla … loud as heck. Sure, across a large number of holes, rough in work, speed can be a good time saving.
But … when it comes to using step bits to drill new holes to a certain size or enlarge existing ones to a larger size, size matters and to me the risk is too great to butcher the work piece … and then there is absolutely no time or costs savings, when the hole in that metal or plastic box is suddenly a couple sizes too big.
I like precision, control, clean results and I will continue to drill holes with a drill, I think 🙂
I too am old enough to think of myself as a “right tool for the job” sort of guy. For the first batch of timber landscape projects that I built in the 1970’s – trotted out a big corded D-handled drill for clearance holes and lag screw pilot holes – plus a corded 1/2 inch impact gun to drive lags. Flash forward to 2014 – and I decided to buy a Milwaukee 2765-20 cordless 7/16 hex impact driver for the next batch of landscape projects. The result was one tool with a fast-change chuck for all the drilling and lag bolt driving and a much simpler work process.
Now, I would not mind trying to impact drill through landscape timbers and some repetitive rough work, with some of my speedbore bits, provided the impact doesn’t shear off the bit … or my wrist.
I have had some pretty kickback from regular drills binding. How bad does it get with an impact?
But, my comment was primarily aimed at using step bits, that require to stop at the right increment. As sharp as new bits are, and pressure is required to get started … I will just carry two 12v or 18v tools 😀
I’m used to dedicating one for drilling and one for driving. Especially outside and when a ladder is involved. Too easy to lose bits …
The reason for using the impact driver is that torque reaction is low or non-existent – so its altogether easier on your wrists. I use mostly auger/car bits that come with 7/16 hex power-drive shanks. They speed chuck into the driver. I also have a Proto adapter (7/16 hex to 1/2 square drive for impact sockets.
Before there were impact drivers – we’d sometimes mount a Jacobs chuck on a 1/2 inch drive impact gun and use it with HSS bits to drill structural steel. While not as good as a magnetic drill press and rotabroach bit – it was a handheld solution that did not break your wrist from torque reaction upon breakthrough.
My Milwaukee impact driver has a drill feature, and its not loud at all. works perfectly.
I’ve never used anything but Mastercraft step-bits, but they’re not impact rated. Were I to upgrade, I think I would go Diablo. Mastercraft suits me fine right now, sure, but eventually they’ll wear out (Had them 10 years, still going strong. Haven’t even used them all, or every size, and there’s only 3 of them. Mastercraft is usually made by SBD for Canadian Tire, but several other brands also recolour for Mastercraft as well.) I believe, in my heart of hearts, I would go Diablo.
For TOOLS, yeah… I seem to gravitate MOSTLY to the SBD family tools, but I’m also a Dremel Brat. Been using Dremel products since I was 9 years old, with my Mother’s old Dremel 395 Rotary tool. I am under no illusion that SBD makes Bits and Blades better than the Bosch family of brands. Sure, for my DeWALT Screwdriver, Impact, and Drills, I have DeWALT Screwdriver bits. I also “Have” DeWALT blades of all sorts for my saws. Overlapping all of that is Mastercraft and Jobmate from Canadian Tire. These are their House Brands, and they are magnificent for wearing out exactly in the pattern you use most. So, getting a variety pack from the house brand will tell you the exact size, length, and types, of whatever you use most. You can then break them, wear them out all you want, strip them if you must… Then go out and buy a better brand of the identical thing that will actually last.
I have learned, over the years, that without a doubt Bosch makes better Blades for its brands than SBD does for ITS brands. BITS, it’s a tossup. Rotary Bits, Dremel. Screwdrivers… DeWALT seems to match DeWALT… They don’t last QUITE as long, but they really do fit better, and are easier to swap. I don’t know WHY they’re easier to swap, but for some reason, I’ve fumbled less with DeWALT bits than I have with other brands. This isn’t a promotion for DeWALT bits themselves, this is a mystery for me.
When my Step-Drill Bits either wear down, or get lost, I would happily buy a set of Diablos. Made by Bosch, and I do believe Diablo is their Endurance brand, if I’m not mistaken. If they make it in Diablo, it’s made to last longer? If I’m getting that wrong, feel free to correct me. I haven’t actually got past all my testing of my tools to the point of BUYING Diablo yet. As much as I want to, I don’t get to use my tools as often as I want, on the projects I want. Life keeps diverting me, and delaying my progress.
I feel ya brother. I had a few rotten boards on the deck that needed replaced. Ended up tearing out a 6’x9′ section right outside the back door. Due to work, weather, etc. It’s been a hole in the deck for a couple weeks. Finishing this project was my top priority going into the weekend.
At least it was until the wife decided it was time to freeze corn for the winter. Alas, what’s a guy to do? The master had spoken. Besides, it’s corn! Field fresh corn in the middle of winter is a poor man’s treasure, lol!
Spent the last 2 days shucking blanching, stripping, bagging & freezing. Woke up to a garage full of pots and coolers and tables that need washed and stored until next time, (green beans). The wife just asked me, not in a friendly way, if I was ever going to fix the deck… FML!
P.S. Life’s too short for cheap consumables. Better a quality bit in a cheap tool than a cheap bit in a quality tool.
My shop tends to provide champion step bits for us to use in the field. No complaints here – I do like the milwaukee non-quick connect hex bits that I use at home.
What I’ve really been impressed with are the milwaukee shockwave hole saws. Combined with a Milwaukee 12v fuel surge and a 6ah battery, I can cut 1 3/8″ holes in ductwork in seconds.
In regards to the comment above about noise – a hydraulic pulse driver cuts down on that considerably. For 90% of what I do in construction using a step bit: drilling through thin sheet metal studs, ductwork, maybe occasionally a controller enclosure: the impact bits help me power through those without having to carry the extra bulk of a separate drill (as an HVAC tech, my tool bags weigh enough as is.).
Though I agree: for anything that requires precision work, I’ll tend to favor a drill for the increased constant torque and slower speeds.
I bought a Made in china Irwin unitbit for a local hardware store, City Mill, because I needed it right then and there. It costed $50 and after 2 holes in 18 ga sheet metal, it got nicked. After that I avoid all Irwin stuff except quick grip clamps.
I’ve always considered Milwaukee’s regular step bits good, but not the best. Declaring that they make the best hole saws and recip blades is just nonsensical to me. I have never seen a torch blade last half as long as a steel demon in anyone’s tool or hands, and Milwaukee hole saws are basically the generic purchase at all the companies out here and if the guys want the better stuff they buy it themselves, ie greenlee, Diablo, or any kind of carbide cutter for metal. They’re not bad, but hearing them called best is definitely a first. I only see younger guys running any impact drill bits, and all the contractor companies out here mass purchased when they came out, but pretty much everybody dumped em shortly after. Maybe they just didn’t catch on out here, but the slop in an impact and a higher turnout of snapped bits sealed it for me. I can’t help but feel that Milwaukee’s incessant boasting best, first, greatest might finally be so accepted that folks opinions are actually just naturally drifting that route now. If so, kudos to them I guess.
TiAlN is a heck of a good coating for any machine tools. Anytime I’m milling steel I pony up for it on my end mills. Its, hard, generates it’s own lubrication as it heats up and reflects heat into the chip. I didn’t know anybody was making a step bit coated with the stuff so I’ve got to go find some of the Milwaukee
Koko the Talking Ape
Excuse my ignorance, but why oh why would you ever want an impact-rated drill bit?
1/4″ hex shank, quick-change, greater resistance to impact shock?
Koko the Talking Ape
I can see having hex shank drill bits. But why RATED for impact? Do you ever drill using the impact function?
You do when you want the impact function to help you break through the final web of steel, or getting stuck in some tough wood – both without wrist-breaking torque reaction.
Koko the Talking Ape
Final web of steel? As in steel studs? I don’t do construction, so you’ll forgive.
fred is right. Experience tends to trump speculation.
Koko the Talking Ape
I’d agree about that sweeping statement, which is why I was asking. 🙂 If I didn’t, I would yave declared, “THERE’S NO POINT AT ALL TO USING AN IMPACT DRIVER WITH A DRILL BIT.” 🙂
They’re for use in impact drivers. More and more tradesmen only carry an impact, so being able to drill and install fasteners with one much smaller tool is a huge benefit.
Koko the Talking Ape
Hm. But I might carry around only a screwdriver, say. If I needed to drill a hole, should I try to use the screwdriver to drill the hole, or should I instead carry around a drill bit and drill, i.e., the proper tool for the job?
I installed a kitchen recently. My dad and I held a cabinet up, predrilled a hole over the laser marked stud, then switched to the star drive bit and put a #10, 3in spax cabinet screw into the stud. It was lighter and faster to use an impact than have a drill off to the side. The same process happened for attaching trim and finished end panels, but those required a countersunk hole.
Most of the trades at my house will have both drills in the truck. But they’ll grab an impact and bits 9/10 times.
Koko the Talking Ape
I personally like to have two drill/drivers, one to drill a pilot hole and countersink, and the other to drive a screw. I could use the impact driver to drive the fastener, but usually it isn’t necessary (because I drilled the pilot hole.) And with the drill/driver, I can drive the screw so that it is flush or just under flush. With the impact driver, I can accidentally drive the screw entirely through the top work piece. But maybe I’m unskilled.
So why not just use two drill/drivers? Or one drill/driver and a quick/change bit?
ever jam up a step bit into something? Given the option of having a hex shank that is impact rated vs not. If I did jam one, and I couldn’t get it out via drill motor – it’s possible I could get it out via impact driver.
Possible. Given 2 options of similar cost and capacity/ability sitting next to each other on the shelf and one was a round drill shank and the other a 1/4 hex impact rated shank. I personally would reach for the hex.
Now next bit if in my bag I have my drill and a impact drvier or a screw driver. if I have the hex shank I can run it in all 3 tools if I had a need.
Just a thought.
I really like hex shanks regardless of their intended use in an impact. It makes switching sizes so much easier. Or switching from drill to driver bit.
I’m probably alone, but I’d actually like to see a 1/4 hex nose on a normal drill with a clutch. I know you can get it via some tools like the M12 Installation Drill. They even make chuck adapters for those times you need to use something like a forstner bit.
As for the step bits. I tried the Harbor Freight ones and burned one up on the first hole. N of 1, but still sucks. I’ve had the Dewalt set in my cart for a while but just haven’t needed it recently.
There aren’t that many cordless screwdrivers these days, but most brands have 12V – class models at least. Many do away with the 2-speed gearboxes though.
True. I should have specified I’d like to see that in an 18v class tool. I think a clutch is very underrated.
There are some tools, such as the Bosch FlexiClick and Metabo 18V Quick compact drills, but unfortunately there’s not really a lot of selection out there.
I remember discussing this before. IIRC, Makita has an 18V hex driver, but it’s NAINA (not available in North America).
The 18V Flexi-click is probably the most realistic option.
I have been using a Harbor freight step bit for a few years for occasional needs in thin metal and reaming conduct and pipe. But, for daily use, I would definitely go brand name.
High & Mighty
I favor whichever bit is going to bore the hole I want and keep a sharp edge. Brand makes no difference. In my experience with using both standard and hex shank step bits, optimal use is with a drill or drill press. Certain bits are meant to be used at certain speeds and used with certain tools. Just because cordless impact drivers exist certainly doesn’t mean that certain types of drill bits are going to perform well with the tool. If they said that they had an impact rated reamer or end mill, would you believe they made to do what they were intended for? Of course not. Impact drivers were designed to be optimal for fastening applications. Not so much for drilling applications. Case in point – have you ever tried to use a hole saw with an impact? It doesn’t work. The hex shank certainly doesn’t mean that it should be used with an impact either. Although that’s what they’re trying to sell. There isn’t a standard on how to use a step bit nor does the shank make it better or worse. In order to get a reliable opinion on the matter, it would behoove someone to consult with an electrician or hvac tech or better yet someone who is in the sheet metal industry whose job is to drill holes in panels for automobile manufacturers and other areas where sheet metal is widely used. Their opinion would be valued far more than what the manufacturer says. I certainly wouldn’t take the manufacturer’s word for quality assurance nor recommended use. Of course they’re all going to gloat about how theirs is better than the competition which doesn’t give merit to the high cost or quality assurances. Steel content is likely low to medium carbon tool steel (vanadium) with a basic TiN coating and polished to make it shiny. Nothing fancy. Nothing new or special either. The only differences are color and possibly heat treatment processes. Either way they’re still just titanium nitride coated bits that do not contain alloys that would make them superior over anyone else.
Actually, the impacted rated metal hole saws work great on sheet metal, like electrical boxes or steel studs. Have you actually tried them, or these impact step bits for that matter?
And you say that brand doesn’t matter, well it does matter if brand A works to your liking, but brands B-D do not work like you want them to. You are going to buy brand A every time, because you’ve had success with it. That is simply the question that was posed, which brand have you had success with and would recommend.
Ditto on the impact hole saws being very useful. I use greenlee bimetals most times, but if you’ve got a weird spot and no room without modifying or disassembling cabinets, an impact 90 and an impact hole saw is a godsend with the least clearance you can get to punch a hole. The ones I’ve used have all worked very well, DeWalt and Milwaukee’s 7/8- 1 3/8
I always use a drill for drilling applications, and latelyI have started using drills for fastening applications too. I use impact drivers very rarely these days, I hate them so much. Drill gives way better control than an impact, and impacts are not really that much faster than a good drill when driving screws. When it comes to drilling, I find impacts to be way slower than a drill. And then there is the noise, I just can’t stand it. I own three impact drivers and I have been thinking on selling them all.
I’ve been using step drill bits for decades. I use them in sheet metal, aluminum store fronts, and I’ve used them in steel I-beams. I think Lenox is the best. The DeWalt bits aren’t to shabby either. I would say the DeWalt tend to last longer for me than the Milwaukee’s. I’ve tried others over the decades like Klein and Greenlee to varying degrees of success. I would love to try the Diablo/Freud but haven’t seen them.
While I have not tried every step drill bit on the market let alone every new one.
I work for a industrial control panel shop and we go through a lot of step drills.
We do not use them in impact drivers however I quite a bit of experience with them in non impact drills and drivers.
Most of what we use are either Greenlee with some Lenox mixed in. We also use some Hertel branded ones from MSC (rebranded Ruko). In addition I have been using the DeWalt ones for 6-7 years.
The Hertel and Dewalt ones with the spiral flute seem to cut faster with less chatter that any of the straight fluted ones. And if run at the correct speed and kept lubricated can last for a very long time.
I had a 1/2″ 13 step Dewalt last for almost 5 years when run in combination with a Bosch PS-21/PS22 (1300 RPM) and Boelube solid cutting lube. It was used for many thousands of holes in 14-10 ga steel and many hundreds in 16-12 ga 304 stainless. I wouldn’t consider it obsolete just because it has not changed recently, if anything I would consider them well proven bang for the buck.
Peter, I’ve never used the Boelube solid, it would seem to leave less of a mess than using a liquid lubricant, but do you get the same cooling and cutting lubrication you get from a liquid? Also, with the Dewalt lasting years and thousands of cuts, is it safe to assume that includes many sharpenings?
Interesting thought to use the solid Boelube on step drills. I have some which I tried on rotary burrs and it just flew off. Honestly seemed about worthless for preventing aluminum buildup on burrs, but I was probably using it incorrectly. The paste version seems better for my purposes, but of course it is messier.
The solid Boelube is definitely less messy. It does have to be melted on to a hot tool as it is to hard any flaky to just rub on cold like most paste waxes. However at drilling temperatures it melts and flows like cutting oils at room temperature. the advantages are two fold first because it is thicker it seems to provide better cutting lubrication at high tool temperatures. Second because it solidifies after it cools it doesn’t continue to run all over the work after you are done drilling.
The extremely long lived bit was never sharpened. I attribute it long life to several factors. Good lubrication, never run dry. Not run at too fast of speed, the PS22 is an almost perfect match speed and power wise. The sharp and fast cutting nature of the spiral flutes. And lastly I forgot to mention previously I always pre-drill the pilot holes for step drill bits, none of them are as good or fast at starting a hole as a good stubby split point bit.
The most common causes of early retirement for step drills I have seen on our shop are broken tip and burned up steps because of lack of lube or running them too fast. Avoid these failures and most brands will do well.
Sounds like some pretty good ideas. Thank you for the tips !
FWIW, your suggestion of melting the solid Boelube onto the tool is a good one. I rubbed a chunk of solid Boelube “flakey-stuff” onto one of my uni-bits, then hit it with a heat gun. The solid Boelube melted in only a few seconds and coated the bit nicely, with basically no mess.
The spiral ones can’t….well can’t easily be sharpened. I make sure to buy ones that have straight flutes so our blade guy can easily sharpen them. I always drop some off when getting any saw blades sharpened. $1 to get it sharpened is MUCH better than the crazy high prices people charge for them. I always just use a drill still. Last I need is more impact noise pounded into my head.
Milwaukee may have good bits but there drill drivers are crap if you ask me. The last one I purchased was used for a couple of weeks and one of the jaws on the chuck broke so now any thing that is chucked up is not square.
Everyone on here has likely had at least one bad experience with every tool manufacturer. It doesn’t make them junk.
Would love to have some Milwaukee sets, but I rarely use Step Bits, and I like to have a set at my home and at my shop. I just went for a Cheapo Neiko from Amazon, works fine for my needs, would love to see a comparison of some lower priced Step Drills