How to Use a Spade Bit?

When you need to quickly punch holes through wood you’ll have a hard time beating the speed and convenience of a spade bit. These drill bits have been longtime favorites of electricians, plumbers, and other tradesmen for their ability to rapidly drill holes through wall studs – but they’re also useful for a variety of DIY purposes.

When it comes to drilling holes through wood, you have a number of different options.

Hole saws are a good option but come with their own set of issues – particularly around removing the wood plug after completing a hole. Auger bits are useful for creating precise holes but are expensive and not ideal when you want to drill a hole in a hurry. Forstner bits can bore near perfect holes but are slows and expensive.

Spade bits – also called paddle bits – give you the ability to rapidly drill a hole up to about 1 ½” in diameter. There is no wood plug to deal with after drilling a hole, and they’re about as cheap as it gets.

There are a few tricks to getting the most out of these drill bits, so let’s take a closer look at how to use a spade bit.

Using a Spade Bit – Guide

The design of spade bits means they tend to create more kickback than a typical drill bit. The long shank combined with just three points of contact means you’ll want to have a solid grip on your drill while boring holes.

Spade bits also work best when drilling holes perpendicular to the workpiece. Try to start the hole with the bit positioned completely perpendicular to whatever you’re drilling into.

Step 1: Mark Drilling Location

Before you start drilling, mark the hole location clearly with a pen or carpenters pencil.

marking drilling location

Spade bits have a pilot tip that effectively creates a small pilot hole as you bore a hole, so you want to ensure this pilot tip starts the hole in the location you’ve marked.

Step 2: Drill Pilot Hole (Optional)

This step generally isn’t necessary for most applications, but if you’re trying to make a precise hole in an exact location then a pilot hole will ensure the spade bit follows your pilot hole precisely.

Use a small drill bit to create a small diameter pilot hole on the location you marked in the previous step.

Step 3: Start Drilling Hole

Make sure your spade bit is secured in your drill’s chuck and position it perpendicular to the workpiece. You’ll also want to make sure your workpiece is securely held in place with clamps before you start drilling.

Then, begin at a slow speed and start drilling the hole. As the spade bit works its way into the material, you’ll want to increase the drill’s speed to ensure you’ve got enough momentum to bore all the way through the material.

starting hole with spade bit
Start drilling the hole slowly and then gradually increase the speed as you work through the material.

This will also result in a cleaner hole than drilling at a slow speed.

Spade bits require a good deal of power to work effectively, which is why they generally only work up to about 1 ½ inches in diameter for most cordless drills. If you drill too slowly, you might find that the bit gets stuck halfway through and you’ll need to pull out and start again.

Step 4: Finish the Hole

Spade bits are designed to bore holes through wood quickly. As they tend to leave a rough hole, they’re generally used in areas that won’t be visible – like wall studs.

If this is the case for you, then continue boring the hole until the spade bit works its way through the opposite side of the material. You’ll likely have some ‘tear out’, but as long as the hole is in a non-visible area this shouldn’t matter.

hole with tear out on opposite end
Here’s an example of unsightly tear out on the opposite end.

On the other hand, if you’re planning to use a spade bit somewhere that will remain visible, there are a few tricks to prevent tear out on the opposite end of your hole.

Method 1: Attach Scrap Board to Backside

One method to prevent tear out is to attach a scrap piece of wood to the backside before you drill your hole. The scrap piece of wood will suffer the tear out instead of your workpiece, which you can then remove and discard after completing the hole.

Method 2: Flip & Drill from Opposite End

Another method to bore a clean hole without any tear out is to stop drilling when the pilot tip of your spade bit pokes through the opposite end of your workpiece. At this point, you’ll flip over your workpiece and drill through from the opposite side.

To make sure the hole lines up perfectly, make sure you line up the pilot tip with the small hole you created when the tip poked through the opposite end.

two holes drilled with a spade bit
On the left side is a hole drilled all the way through with obvious tear out. On the right side, the material was flipped over and drilled from the opposite end leaving a nice clean hole.

Both of these methods will work well for creating a clean hole with minimal tear out, which one you choose will probably depend on your hole’s location.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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