Harbor Freight Heads Up

The Rocketry Forum

Help Support The Rocketry Forum:

This site may earn a commission from merchant affiliate links, including eBay, Amazon, and others.


Well-Known Member
Jan 18, 2009
Reaction score
Harbor Freight's got a drill press for $40. No idea what the quality is.
I just bought one of those drill presses and had to take it back.

The reason? The chuck is pressed fitted to the tapered drive shaft without any type of arbor key insert or shaft assembly to prevent a rotational friction failure. The manual with the drill clearly states no circle cutters are to be used with this drill. My major need for a drill press is to make centering rings and bulkheads, therefore this was a major deal-killer. I understand that this seems to be common practice, but without an arbor key to keep the chuck from rotating off if you hit a knot or bind…Pass.

Now this drill press seems to have an arbor key on the main driveshaft. I still do not like the idea of pressed-on drill chucks, but the drilling action would keep pressing the chuck on the shaft. Plus when I returned the little drill press I was unable to remove the chuck, even using 2 flat-blade screwdrivers as prybars...

Check the PDF downloads of the presses in question...
Karl, Karl, Karl!

The tapered press fit is called a Morse taper and all good drill presses and lathes use this type. Actually this particular one is a #1 Morse taper fitting.

It allows for the quick interchangability of different chucks.

It also acts like a "clutch" in case you hit something bad while drilling.

Actually the Harbor Freight drill press chuck arbor fits my Harbor Freight lathe and lets me use the drill chuck in my lathe or in the tailstock (the back end of the lathe) so I can drill into something on the lathe.

If they have trouble holding they just need to be cleaned.

All you need to properly seat the chuck is a well placed blow with a rubber mallet.

I believe there is a through hole at the top for removal with a drift.
pardon me but that makes absolutly no sense to me
there is a reason that the spindle is tapered and not keyed

BTW I have the one thats on sale , have used it regularly for over 2 years in my home shop
among other things,I have cut over 100 centering rings on it, with a circle cutter .( I cut a quantity when I do them) no problems. I have jammed it more than once and the chuck or shaft has never been damaged.

most quality drill presses are a non keyed, taper shaft
you WANT something to give if the arbor is jammed or you will permantly damage the drill press.

take it from a 25 yr machinist, it's a great deal
I too have this model, purchased at the same sale price. It's a pretty rugged little workhorse, even if the slowest speed is 620rpm (I prefer a slower speed when using a fly-cutter, around 500 rpm). I've also had the chuck spring loose when I put too much stress on it. Frustrating to put back in, yes, but worth it to know that it's not sending things breaking and flying around my rocket lab.

For a cheap drill press, it's a very good choice. Adjusting the plate on it can be cumbersome at times, but you get used to it.
Most recently, I was even able to use it with a dremel sanding drum with the plate angled to make a perfect beveled edge for my Fliskits Drake's wings. It's also greatly assisted in making some homegrown nosecones, both balsa and foam.

D’oh! My tool inexperience is showing!

“Turns around and corrects his wardrobe malfunction”

Thanks for the comments guys on drill press chucks. I am just used to hand drills, therefore the mounting style was different. Unfortunately, the manual for the 40.00 press did have a warning about not using circle cutters, therefore I bought the step-up unit.

Not as good of a deal, but bigger, heaver, and speeds down to 250 rpm.

If one of the machining/woodworking experts could look at the pdf for me and comment, I would appreciate it.

Here is the link to the pdf.

Comments please.
I too have had mine for 2 years, and it makes great CR's BH's...the fly cutter I have is junk though, as I have to keep sharpening those tips :mad:

When it comes to tools, you get what you pay for.

The $40 drill press has a 1/3 HP motor, an 8" swing and only 5 speed with no real low speed. It apparently has smaller #1 Morse taper chuck.

The $80 drill press has a 1/2 HP motor, a 10" swing and 12 speeds with reasonably low speeds circle cutters, and big drill bits. It has a larger #2 Morse taper chuck.

A larger taper takes more power and is less likely to slip with a fly cutter so that's a good thing. You're less likely to get in trouble with a fly cutter with the lower speed of the larger drill press, however as with any cutting tool the trick to keep the cutting tool sharp. It think the extra money was worth it.

I don't like the cheaper flycutters for wood, and if given a choice, I would turn centering rings on a lathe or by using a rotary table on a milling machine. The trick with the flycutter is to use a good one and don't go too fast or take too large a bite. Easy and slow, and make sure the wood is clamped so it won't jump out at you if the cutter jams. A way to do this is to clamp a piece of sacrifical plywood to the drill table and use machinists double face to attach the the centering ring plywood to the base plywood. Cover one entire side completely with tape. The turn the ring i.d. and o.d, unclamp the base wood and pry off the centering ring. That way nothing goes flying. Once you get the hang of it, you can make several rings at once this way by stacking several sheet of ring stock together and machining the stack.

Bob Krech
Sounds like a plan Bob,

I Agree about getting a good circle cutter. the one at Harbor Freight look very cheap at $6.00...The one I bought is the Sears for $21.00. Just one cutter, reversable, and very heavy. Looks like a good one.

I would love to have the options you describe, but alas, space and fundage are not available for such machines. I am new to machine shop so the comments on this board are helpful.

Wish I had taken shop in HS...But I was an AVA head...Projectors, tape recorders, etc...

What is machinists double face? Is that some kind of uber double sided tape?

I "assume" I can use my Dremel to keet the tool bit sharp

Boy, do I have a long journey ahead of me...!

Thanks for the info.

Karl Dust
Oh you definitely wouldn't want to have a rigidly coupled chuck on a drill press or lathe!

One thing, I got a drill press a few years back with a rather poorly machined Morse taper. The chuck would pop off every few minutes of use. Very frustrating. So I REALLY cleaned the mating surfaces, chilled the male piece and heated up the female piece, and WHACKED them smartly together (with a piece of plywood to protect the chuck, naturally). Hasn't come apart since!
Yeah, they match the price. if not, pick up one of the flyers they WILL have at the store or print out the page on the internet with the price.
glad I saw this thread!

I have an old Black and Decker bench top drill press with variable speed so you can really slow it down. Problem with it is, somewhere along the line I managed to bend the shaft so it wobbles a bit. Last week I decide dit was time for a new drill press.

Our local farm & home store (Bomgaar's , for those of you in the Iowa, Nebraska area) had a sale on Clarke tools and I picked a drill press very similar to the Harbor Freight press. Paid about $55 for it.

Took it home, set it up and proceeded to put my circle cutter in it.
I cut one centering ring with no problem (but i wish I could slow it down some tho - slowest speed is 640rpm)

on the second ring the knife caught something and the chuck came right off the thing. Kinda scared me.

I was thinking the same thing KarlD was and figured I oughta take it back - now I understand why it is designed this way.

learned something new today!!
KarlD - on that 79.00 dril press you linked to - it gives a spec for Spindle Taper - doesn't that mean it uses the same chuck attachment method as the smaller one?

the advantage I see on the 79.00 unit is that it has a 250rpm speed - much better for fly cutters than 620rpm

As Sandman said, Morse tapers are a standard way that chucks are attached to shafts. There are different sized tapers depending on machine size and hp. If the tool jams, the chuck slips and you don't bend the machine shaft. This should be a rare occurance. If it's happening a lot you are not using the machine correctly.

Tapers have a large surface area and hold the chuck tightly, so you shouldn't have any problem with them. If the chuck fall out, there is dirt or junk in the taper, or it is deeply scored by consant over abuse but to improper use of the machine.


Machinist tape is simply a high quality double faced tape used for positioning and holding objects that can readily be clamped. You should be able to get it from any supply house that sell machine tools and cutting tools. I personally like the Permacel brand but there are other good brands out there.

Bob Krech
Thanks for the tip Bob. I will keep an eye out for it.

Looking forward to teaching myself about how to cut bulkheads and centering rings.

Do you know of any good books on the subject?

I'm not sure about books but if you do some Googling and websurfing you'll find a number of hints.

For large rings, a rototool or router and circle cutting jig is a simple alternative. This is what the use to make the hole in speaker cabinets. Try searchin this forum for older threads.

Bob Krech