Power drills can be expensive and impractical for a one-time DIY project or if you’re a beginner woodworker. If you need to drill, but without the right tool yet, this article is for you.
In today’s post, our expert woodworkers prepared this comprehensive guide teaching you how to screw into the wood without a drill. So, keep reading!
What is a Pilot Hole? Why is it Important?
Pilot holes are important to guide the screw into the wood, especially if you’re working on hardwood without using a power drill.
Essentially, the pilot hole serves as a starting point necessary to drill screws efficiently. It ensures that the screw gets into the correct position and maintains a good structure of the screwed wood pieces.
Screwing Into the Wood Without Using a Drill: 8 Proven Methods
Method #1: Handheld Screwdrivers/Self-Drilling Screws
A screwdriver and screws are basic tools that woodworkers or any DIYers keep in their workshop. They are practical and the easiest technique to drive screws into the wood as a substitute for a power drill.
Step #1: Creating a Pilot Hole
Making the pilot holes is the most essential step to screwing into wood, but can also be challenging without using a power tool. Alternatively, below are the substitutes for electronic tools in creating a little hole.
Using Hammer and Nails
You can use a hammer and nails, ideally smaller than the self-driving screw you will use. If you will drive a wood screw into the wood, you should use a longer nail in creating a bigger hole and drive it easier.
But if you accidentally make a wider shaft, here’s how you can fix a wood screw hole that’s too big.
- Start by marking the portion of the wood you need to insert screws. Put the nail’s tip on the marked spot, then tap it gently with a hammer.
- Put a scrap piece of wood beside the nail once it is partially inserted. This will help you press the nail into the hole straightly.
- Remove the nail once it sank deep enough into the wood. To do this, place a scrap wood or rag as a cushion for the hammer’s head, then grab the nail with the claws and pull it out gently.
Using a Bow Drill
A bow drill can also be used as an effective alternative to a power drill in creating pilot holes. However, you must first create your bow drill before digging the small holes. Below are the steps on how to create and use a bow drill:
- Choose a stick to use as your drill, then sharpen its tip. Ensure that the sharp tip is the same diameter as the screw. We suggest you wear gloves to avoid any hand injuries and have safety equipment ready.
- Get a string and tie it to one end of two sticks. Use a drill bit to wrap the string around the sticks several times.
- Use a chisel to carve a small hole in the wooden surface where you need to create a tiny hole.
- Place the sharp stick into the hole. Use your less dominant hand to hold the end of the stick, then use your other hand to pull quickly the stick.
When you pull the string repeatedly, it will make the stick spin faster, consequently drilling multiple holes in the wood.
Step #2: Choosing the Right Screwdriver
There are various types of screws and they should match your handheld screwdriver for efficient use. Therefore, you should choose a screwdriver with a tip that fits perfectly into the screw.
We suggest you use longer and stronger wood screws on thick and hard wood pieces to hold the weight and pressure better.
Generally, screwdrivers vary depending on the tip’s head and the shank’s length, which is measured in inches. This will be your basis for choosing the appropriate manual screwdriver that matches the size of the screw head.
Meanwhile, you can use the screwdrivers with assigned numbers. Remember that as the designated number goes higher, it can drive tougher and larger fasteners into the wood without a drill.
Step #3: Drive the Head of the Screw Into the Pilot Hole
Use Self-Drilling Screws
- Choose a screw bigger than the diameter of the pilot hole. This allows the threads to bite into the wood as you push it through to the wood.
- Insert the tip into the pilot hole and use your fingers to turn it to get through the wood.
- Tighten it using a screwdriver. However, avoid tightening it excessively as it can strip the head and it will be difficult to remove it.
Use Handheld Screwdrivers
- Insert the tip of the screw into the small pilot hole. Put the tip of your handheld screwdriver on the screw head’s slot. Apply light pressure and slightly push it while you turn your screwdriver clockwise.
- Align the wood pieces correctly before you install screws deeper into the wood.
- Avoid cranking the handheld screwdriver vigorously as it may break, especially if you’re working on thick hardwood.
Step #4: Clean the Wood
Screwing into the wood can produce too much debris and dust, which can be messy. It is essential to clean and use elbow grease for any stains on the wood surface to achieve a seamless finish.
Use a broom to clear the debris on the surface, then use a clean cloth to wipe the dust. Ensure that the wood surface is thoroughly clean before proceeding to the next step.
Step #5: Hide the Screw by Painting
To achieve a flawless and aesthetic finish, it is important to hide the screws. We suggest you paint the wood to cover them and any imperfections on the wood surface. Ensure to choose the type of wood paint appropriate for your project.
Method #2: Awl
An awl is an effective way to screw into the wood without a drill. Unlike the typical screw heads, an awl is a strong and sharp stick with a flat edge. It can’t create a big hole, but it’s enough to allow you to get through the wood using a screwdriver.
However, using an awl requires precision and strength to achieve a desirable result, so ensure to practice on some scrap wood before you work on your project. You may follow the steps below to create holes as the initial step in installing screws into wood.
- Use a pencil to mark the wood surface where you need to make the pilot hole.
- Put the tip of the awl on the marked spot.
- Use your other hand to hold the hammer, ensuring a firm grip on the handle.
- Gently drive the awl into the wood. Avoid applying too much force on the awl as the wood may have cracks, especially if you’re working on softwoods.
Method #3: Heat and Metal
Combining heat and metal is an old-fashioned but proven effective way to burn a pilot hole into the wood. If you want to do this method, we suggest you do it outside or open space. Though the flame should not be too big, you may still encounter risks in dealing with the fire.
To do this technique efficiently, you need a flame, hardwood, and metal tools. We recommend using an awl when if you want an efficient heat and metal drilling process. Below are the steps you should do to create holes using heat and metal.
- Wear your safety goggles to protect your eyes and a pair of gloves for your hands. The safety gears are important for this method as you are working with flame and hot metals.
- Place the tip of the metal or the awl in flame. You may use a candle or a torch to produce heat.
- Position the tip of the metal or awl on the hardwood where you need to create the hole.
- Gently press the metal and apply enough pressure.
- Reheat the metal and press it again on the wood until it burns and creates a hole through the hardwood.
- Ensure to cool down the awl or the metal you used before replacing it in the storage.
Method #4: Egg Beater Hard Drill
A hand egg beater drill is a preferred tool by woodworkers as an alternative to an electric tool in drilling into the wood. It is affordable and readily available, so we also recommend this for beginners and DIYers.
Using an egg beater hand drill is straightforward. Follow the steps below to create a hole through the wood using this tool as a substitute for an electronic drill.
1. To start, mark the surface of the wood where you need to create a hole.
2. Choose the appropriate diameter of the but that matches the size of the hole you want to create. We recommend you use the auger drill bits as they have various sizes you can choose from.
Also, they have a handy construction that is suitable for creating holes in the wood. Although the standard drill bits can also be used, we suggest you test first which size matches the hole you need.
3. Once you have chosen the appropriate bit, put its end on the marked hole spot and start drilling. You may use different methods in using the hand egg better drill.
The first method is to hold the main handle with your less dominant hand, then put your other hand on the turning handle. To support and balance the drill, you may press your forehead on top of your hand holding the main handle.
Meanwhile, you may also press the egg beater drill against your stomach. This can allow you to use one hand to rotate the handle while your other hand holds the side handle.
4. Keep rotating the handle until it gets through the wood and creates a hole.
Pros of Using Egg Beater Hard Drill
Method #5: Brace and Bit
Brace and bit is an effective method to create a hole through the wood without the use of an electronic tool. Although it requires manual labor, it gives you more control of the depth angle of the hole you want to create.
Below are the steps you should do to make holes into the wood without a drill:
- Mark the wood surface where you want to create a hole.
- Position the bit brace on top of the wood securely and ensure that it’s stable.
- Pick the appropriate rachet setting of the tool according to the size of the hole you need to make.
- Place the brace securely and ensure that it’s on the exact spot.
- Hold the brace tightly with one hand, then use your other hand to grab the sweep handle.
- Slowly turn the handle clockwise until the bit digs through the wood and creates a hole.
Pros of Using Brace and Bit
Method #6: Hand Drill w/ Chuk
Essentially, a hand drill chuck is like a screwdriver, which means you must exert more force to drive through the wood without any assistance from the tool.
However, unlike screwdrivers, a hand drill chuck has a drill bit on the end, which will get through the wood as you rotate the handle. This drilling process requires a lot of effort and time, especially if you’re working on the hardwood without a drill.
We recommend this method for projects with no time constraints and requiring delicate work and precision. Below are the steps to dig through the wood using a hand-drill chuck.
- Mark the surface of the wood where you will create the hole.
- Choose the appropriate drill bit depending on the size of the hole you want to create.
- Hold the drill bit with one hand, then use your other hand to hold the chuck and gently turn it until the teeth connect to the bit.
- Place the tip of the drill bit on the marked spot and turn the crank handle clockwise until the drill bit gets through the wood, creating a hole.
Pros of Using Hand Drill w/ Chuk
Method #7: Semi-Circular Chisel
This method is the most basic and popular among woodworkers due to its simplicity and efficiency.
Since chisels have many types depending on their cutting edge, you should choose a semi-circular cutting tip to make a round hole into the wood without a drill. They also differ in size, so you must select the same diameter as the hole you want to create.
Although this technique requires a lot of work and proficient skill, it helps you create a precise and seamless hole. But you must have a lot of patience as you follow the steps in creating a hole using a semi-circular chisel below.
- To start, you must select the appropriate chisel with the same diameter as the hole you need to create.
- Mark the wood surface where you need to create the hole. We suggest you use a divider caliper wing to trace a circle around the point to get the exact diameter of the hole.
- Position the chisel perpendicular to the marked point, then use a wooden sled to gently hammer the head of the chisel. Reposition and chisel and gently hammer again until you cover the whole circle.
- Once you covered the entire circle, start carving out the hole until you reach the desired depth.
Method #8: Fire Drill Method
This method is an old-fashioned and easy way of creating a hole in wood, but we only recommend this when no other tool can be used. This process takes a long time and requires a lot of manual labor compared to electric drills.
Also, the size of the hole you can make with this method may not be as accurate as you need since you can’t fully control the depth angle.
Nevertheless, this method can help you with your project if other hand tools are not possible. Below is the guide you can follow to create a hole using the fire drill method.
- Choose the right type of wood you can use. As you will burn the wood to create a hole, the wood must be dry. Preferably, you must use a medium-hardness wood, such as cottonwood, cedar, and willow.
- Put the spindle opposite the string and gently twist it until the string completely wraps the spindle. This will give a firm grasp on the spindle and drives the bow efficiently.
- Place the wood on the ground, then put your foot beside the spot where you want to create the hole while your other knee rests on the ground.
- Put the spindle’s tip on the hole spot. Use your left hand to grip the handhold while your other hand grasps the bow.
- Apply pressure to the handhold while you move the bow up and down with full strength until the spindle gets through the wood and creates a hole.
The Best Way to Screw into Wood: Which Method to Opt For?
One of the best ways to screw into the wood without a drill is using an awl. It is the simplest and most efficient method of using a screwdriver as long as you know how to make an effective indent. But can you screw into wood fillers? Find out next.
Unlike other methods, using an awl does not require complex procedures to produce a seamless and accurate hole.
We also recommend the heat and metal technique to create a more accurate hole. This technique is more suitable for those who have enough woodworking experience as it requires precision and skill.
Also, this method involves some risks in dealing with flame, so you must take extra precautions. However, the best option to screw into wood depends on the materials and tools available in your workshop.
You must also consider your level of skill and assess which method is convenient for you.
How Do You Screw in a Stripped Screw?
If you tried to screw into the wood but the screw’s head accidentally stripped off, there are other ways to drive it through the wood without using hand drills. The solution to this is to put a rubber on top of your screw to create friction while you drive it in.
In case the shack is the issue, you can check this guide to fix stripped wood screw holes.
Can You Use Screwdrivers Instead of Drills?
Yes, you can use screwdrivers instead of drills in some cases. However, it can be more challenging to start getting the screw into the wood. But after a few turns and it has settled into the hole, it will be easier to finish your project.
Are Pre-Drill Holes Necessary When Using Screwdrivers?
No, it is not necessary to pre-drill holes when you use a screwdriver. However, it will help to drive the screw into the wood easier and faster, ensuring to finish your project on time.
What Can You Do To Make Bigger Holes Without Using an Electric Drill?
To make bigger holes, we suggest you use the brace bit tool as an alternative to an electric drill. To start, clean your workspace and ensure to remove anything that can hinder your movements. Select the appropriate drill bit according to the size of the hole you need to create.
Put the bit on the marked spot, then grip the hand drill and rotate it gently clockwise until it gets through the wood. Continue rotating until you reach the desired hole size.
Materials You Can Drill Using an Egg Beater Drill and Brace Bits
We recommend using an egg beater drill to create holes in delicate materials and artisan products, such as jewelry, precious stones, and antique furniture. It is also suitable to create smaller holes in metal sheets, soft metal, ceramic, foam, composites, and plastic.
Meanwhile, a bit brace is suitable to create holes in harder materials like hardwoods. But you can also use it on other softer materials like plastic, ice, ceramic, foam, composites, and soft metals.
Do You Need an Impact Driver or Drill When Screwing Into Wood?
A strong impact driver bit set can make your drilling job much easier. Essentially, it is necessary to make any manual screwing technique more efficient.
Impact Drivers and Drills
Impact drivers are typically used for attaching concrete anchors and driving big screws into a huge wood post. Meanwhile, drills are ideal for creating pilot holes in the wood, which requires precision.
Hardwood vs Softwood Screws
Hardwood requires stronger tools and may take a longer time to dig into it. If you are working on hardwood, you will need to create pilot holes to get through the wood easier.
On the other hand, screwing into a softwood is more efficient and you will only need simple tools to drive a single screw through the wood.
Size and Type of Screws
Generally, big screws require more power to drive them through the wood. Also, the screw type determines the method you must follow to insert it into the wood.
They have intricate heads that are suitable for simple screwdrivers to drive them in even without a larger hole. On the other hand, several screws can’t be used without the use of a power drill.
So, before you start, it is important to determine what is the best bet method for the screw you’re going to use.
Precautions and Tips to Consider
Working with drills requires skills and you can perfect them through a lot of practice. Below are some of our few tips to help you finish your project more efficiently.
Can you screw into the wood without a drill?
Yes, you can screw a screw into the wood without a drill and use a manual screwdriver instead. You must only choose the appropriate screwdriver for the type of screws you’re going to use to drive them into the wood efficiently.
Why won’t my screws go into the wood?
Your screw won’t go into the wood because it reached the dense part, which needs more force. Also, the head may have been stripped so you must put a rubber band on it, then place the screwdriver’s tip firmly to create more friction.
Can you hammer a screw into wood?
Yes, it is possible to hammer a screw through the wood using a larger hammer and more force. However, this can make the hole bigger, causing them to fall out or snap and the wood to split.
What is the best screw for very hard wood?
The best screw to use for very hard wood is a fine-threaded screw. The fine threads will help to penetrate the wood even without a pilot hole.
How do you drill in plastic without using a drill?
You may use an egg beater drill or bit brace to drill holes in the plastic. You must use the spur-point bits or dowel bits to create the holes efficiently. You may also use a hand drill with a chuck, which you need to rotate manually to drill into the plastic.
How do you drill in metal without using a drill?
Drilling in metal is more difficult and requires deforming and heating the metal. We suggest you use an egg beater drill or a bit brace with sharper bits to dig through the metal.
How do you drill in ice without using a drill?
You must use a bit brace with ice auger bits to dig into the ice. You may also use a regular ice axe, ice saw, spud bar, and digging iron to create holes in a thick layer of ice.
How do you place the screw in the wood by hand?
To start, create a pilot hole using a hammer  and a small nail. Gently hammer the nail until it gets through the wood, then pull it out to expose the hole. Insert the tip into the hole and drive it through using a screwdriver.
Is it advisable to use nails to make a screw hole?
Yes, it is possible to use a nail to make a screw hole, but you must choose a smaller nail. Hold it steady, then gently hammer it until it sank into the wood. Use the hammer claws to gently pull out the nail, creating a small hole.
It’s important to learn the different drilling methods as they’re basic skills in woodworking and you’ll apply them in most of your projects. However, they can be challenging without the use of power tools.
But now that you know how to screw into the wood without a drill, you can finish your project efficiently and successfully.
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