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There’s an old saying in mechanical matters, that you don’t need a drill bit, you need a hole. The homely truth of that is threefold. First, how you make the hole is up to you. Second, so long as you go about it efficiently and end up with a smooth-walled and geometrically accurate hole, that’s what counts. Finally, it’s less about the tool and more about the end result. Example: A beautiful-looking drill bit that performs poorly is of no use.

So if you want a hole, you must want a drill bit. And chances are you need more than one drill bit, you need a set, at least a small one. And there are as many drill bit sets as there are holes to drill—which, of course, varies by material.

How To Select a SetThe world of drill bits is a wide one, as our selections below attest. But there’s no sense in getting bogged down in complexities–the fine points belong to industrial users. For the rest of us, all we really need to know are the basics. That’s why we separate out bits for making holes in wood, metal, masonry (concrete or stone), and tile/glass. Some of the drill bits do a pretty good job making holes in more than one material. Keep in mind in selecting a drill bit set that the quality of the hole you’re making may be important. The difference between a perfectly round and smooth-walled hole for furniture making is a lot different than a rough-and-ready hole bored in framing lumber, though both holes are made in wood. So think about the material, the hole itself, and how you want to make it. Choose your set accordingly.

If you’re getting interested in woodworking, this inexpensive brad point bit set is an easy choice. The sharp tip on these bits make it easy to start the bit exactly where you need it, and their geometry—somewhere between a twist drill and an auger bit—makes for good chip ejection.

Spade bits are made for quick-and-rough holes in construction lumber. They don’t leave a particularly clean exit hole, but in most cases that doesn’t matter. Of all the spade bits we’ve tried through the years, we keep coming back to Irwin Speedbor. They’re inexpensive, tough, and can be sharpened with a file. One set will last for years, maybe decades, depending on your use.

If you’re gearing up for your first big wiring or pipe job, or if you’re a seasoned pro looking for faster and cleaner hole-making ability, then self-feed bits are the way to go. The lead screw pulls the bit through the lumber while an interior plane shaves the wood as the bit turns. The result is a fast hole and a clean one. For the sake of longevity, the plane blade is sharpenable and the kit includes two removable, replaceable feed screws, because you’re bound to hit fasteners and chew through knots.

Use: Wood | Type: Forstener | Number of bits: 8 | Size range: ¼ to 1⅜ inchesWhen you need a perfectly round hole in wood with a smoothly machined sidewall, then you want a Forstener bit. These are best used in a drill press, but the smaller-diameter bits can be used in a hand drill.

Use: Wood and steel | Type: Extra-long twist drill | Number of bits: 5 | Size range: ¼ to ½ inchSuppose you need more reach when making a hole, such as when you’re working on an old house or restoring an old car. Or in a modern house, you need a super-long pilot hole for that massive screw you’ll use to hang a ceiling fan. Enter these 18-inch bits. Built from high-speed steel and with geometry to eject metal chips, they work on wood, too (though you will have to back them out repeatedly as you go deeper to eject the wood chips).

And while we’re on this topic of drilling metal (with occasional use in softer materials) these M42 cobalt drills are among the toughest you can by without shopping at a machine shop supply house. M42 is a super high-speed steel that contains 8 percent cobalt. This is an extremely tough, machine shop grade product. The bit maintains its hardness and sharpness even when it gets hot–which can happen drilling cast iron, stainless steel, or hardened tool steel.

Use: Metal, wood | Type: Hex-shank, Impact-rated twist drill | Number of bits: 14 | Size range: 1⁄16 to ½ inch

Okay, by now you might be saying to yourself, “All I want is a basic set of bits for wood and metal. Got any of those?” Yes. For less than $20 you get a high-quality hex shank bit with a highly wear-resistant titanium nitride coating. And if you up your game some day to include working with an impact driver, these bits will work with it.

Use: Thin-gauge steel, aluminum | Type: Impact-rated step drill | Number of bits: 3 | Size range: ⅛ to ⅞ inchThey call these step drills because of their shape. Each step increases the hole diameter. You just stop drilling when you reach the appropriate hole diameter at the step that produces it. Although these bits are designed for sheet metal, they will drill a clean fast hole in heavier gauge materials like electrical boxes and even mild steel channel, and shapes like L, U, and T.

Use: Concrete, brick, mortar, concrete block | Type: Hammer-rated carbide-tip twist drill | Number of bits: 7 | Size range: 3⁄16 to ½ inch

If your drill driver has a hammer setting, chuck in one of these bits and make a clean and fast hole in concrete, brick, concrete block, or mortar. You don’t need an extensive set of masonry bits; a basic carbide-tip kit like this one is a great choice. Its German-made quality should provide years of use, and its slim, vinyl wallet enables it to slip into a crevice in your tool box. Carry this and you’re prepared for tough, masonry drilling jobs without having to make a quick run to a hardware store or home center.

Use: Concrete block, mortar, brick | Type: Rotary (non hammer) carbide-tip twist drill | Number of bits: 14 | Size range: ⅛ to ½ inch

Suppose your drill doesn’t have a hammer function or you lack a dedicated masonry drill, what do you do then? Well, if your masonry hole drilling is confined to brick, concrete block, or mortar, you can use these inexpensive carbide-tip rotary drill bits for masonry. They won’t stand up to use in a hammer drill, but they work perfectly well, if slower, in a standard drill or cordless drill driver. Bonus: Their double-flute design allows better clearing of dust and chips compared to a single-twist type. This way you can use the drill’s high-speed setting to get through the job faster. Note that there are multiples of the smaller diameters, such as the 3⁄16-inch size, which are more frequently used with masonry screws.

Use: Ceramic tile, glass | Type: Carbide-tip spear point | Number of bits: 4| Size range: ⅛ to 5⁄16 inch

Copper Tungsten Electrode

The only sure way to make consistent and clean holes in glass and ceramic tile is with a carbide bit designed for those materials. These simple and inexpensive little bits work great. The carbide tip is diamond ground to a sharp point that enables a fast and sure start, putting the hole right where you need it, instead of the bit skating off and leaving a nasty mark. The three flats ground onto the bit’s shank prevent it from slipping.

Tungsten Alloy, Tungsten Plate, Molybdenum Alloy, Molybdenum Plate - Huacheng,