What Are Step Drills?

Step drills can be used to make holes in sheet metal.
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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 25 April 2015
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Step drills are drill bits that are shaped like a cone and are comprised of multiple sizes, or steps, in a single package. These can be anywhere from two to 13 different bit sizes in increments of 1/32 inch to 3/4 inch, or 4 to 12 millimeters. The user simply starts the drill bit into the part to be drilled and pushes the bit in until the desired size hole has been drilled. The benefit is a step drill bit is that most are rated to last up to six times longer than a conventional drill bit.

Step drills are are not intended for use on wood, however. One particular use for these drills is with sheet-metal work. When the need for multiple sized holes would require the user to change drill bits over and over, step drills save time and expense in many cases over conventional drill bits. Use a drill bit with step increments slightly larger than the materials thickness that is to be drilled. By design, these drills are limited to use on thin material.

Beyond being a versatile drill bit, step drills can also serve as a countersink, which allows for screws and fasteners to be drilled below the surface. Counterboring is another use for these bits.


Many custom sheet-metal fabricators have switched to step drills due to reliability and strength. In a fast-paced manufacturing environment, step drills have the potential of lasting much longer than a conventional drill bit. The thickness of the drill bit allows the drill to dissipate heat much better than a conventional drill bit. This allows the stepped bit to keep a much sharper and longer-lasting cutting edge equating to cost savings for the manufacturer in many cases.

Many automobile body shops use the multi-stepped bits in auto-body restoration processes. Jobs such as the installation of chrome trim on exterior body panels often require different sized holes to be drilled into body panels. Using stepped drill bits allows the operator to produce different sized holes without changing bits. This often equates to improved production times.

Step drills are available in high-speed steel models as well as exotic materials such as titanium. The titanium drill bits are best used on stainless steel, copper, brass and aluminum. Titanium is also best used for drilling through thin plastics and laminates. The high-speed steel bits are best used for thin steel and tin. In most cases, the bits are laser-etched as to the different size drill measurements, creating an easy-to-read and easy-to-use tool.



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Post 3

@Viktor13 - I agree with your tool-buying philosophy. I've always been a fan of "buy once, cry once" when it comes to things I'm going to use to earn my living.

Our drill and fabrication setups cost a bunch, but the equipment should last a lifetime, so it was worth it. Also, you can get a lot of it used on eBay and at auctions, and in many cases the lifetime warranty still applies, so you save a bunch of money that way.

Post 2

@bigjim - I know exactly what you mean. I've been a metal fabricator for years, and step drills have made my job so much easier and less annoying. I don't mind doing any kind of work required to get the job done, but I hate repetitive tasks that feel like busy work. Drilling the same hole five different times felt like busy work.

I have to disagree with you a bit on the low cost, though. I think they are definitely worth the price, don't get me wrong. And like you said, I'd buy them pretty much no matter what they cost, but we have a bunch of titanium and carbide bits, and they cost quite a bit. I did save some money by buying only brands with a lifetime guarantee, so even if they are more expensive they only have to be bought once.

Post 1

This is one of those tools that makes you ask, "what did I ever do before they thought this up?" Working with metal can be a real pain if you have to drill into hardened steel or alloy.

You can't just start with the drill bit you need most of the time, it's too big and either the drill wouldn't turn it or it might damage the metal or whatever. So you change bits several times and basically drill the same hole four or five times. Annoying.

The step drill solves all of those problems. You line it up and away you go. Perfect hole every time. I would buy one no matter what they cost. Fortunately, they don't even cost that much.

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