Guide to palm drills
Perfect as an introduction to tool use, and for children to practise the skill of drilling.
Age Range: 3+
Duration: less than an hour
Time Of Day: daylight
Category: tool use & traditional crafts
Palm drills are the perfect tools to start and practice the skill of drilling, helping to develop motor skills.
A palm drill is any drill held in the palm – including softwood hand drills.
Palm drills are used one-handed. They have an ergonomic handle and are light and easy to carry around.
Consider the environmental impact of preparing, carrying out & completing this activity. Could this impact be reduced?
Specific considerations could include:
- at the end of your session make sure all tools are removed from an outdoor site
- never drill into living trees
Health & safety considerations
Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments.
Some considerations particular to this activity include:
- skill level of group
- drill bits have sharp edges/points
- consider safe storage of tools
- always drill down onto a hard surface
Softwood hand drills
Softwood hand drills can also be used one-handed and are ideal for drilling smaller holes in wood, conkers, acorns and pith.
Our softwood hand drills come in 2, 3 and 4 mm diameter and are 10, 11 and 12 cm in length respectively. They require greater dexterity to hold and have a more pointed end compared to the palm drill.
Setting up a work area
When using a palm drill it is advisable to drill onto a hard and level surface.
It is likely that the surface will get damaged as the drill goes through the object being drilled, so the surface may need to be protected.
When working outdoors use logs or log rounds (pictured) as individual workstations.
Build up skill level step-by-step
It’s a good idea to gradually build up the skill level when first using a palm drill.
Below we describe the technique of using a palm drill, with a step-by-step skill progression, followed by some examples of simple starter projects.
How to use the palm drill
Hold the wooden handle in the dominant hand and position the bit (metal drill part) vertically down.
Turn the drill in a clockwise direction whilst applying gentle downward pressure.
Tip – you may need to apply more pressure to get started.
As you turn the palm drill you will notice residue coming out of the hole – from time to time you may need to pull out the drill, clean it and clear the hole out – be careful – the edges are sharp (see Cleaning the drill below). You can then begin the drilling process again.
Step 1 – drilling into a large piece of wood
A good starting point is to drill into a large heavy item such as a log round. These are solid and should not move when being drilled, so the focus can be on the drilling action rather than holding the object.
When removing the drill ensure it comes out vertically – a sideways force on the drill torque could cause the drill to snap.
Step 2 – drilling into a wooden disc
A simple progression is to then drill into a wooden disc – these are perfect to use as they are easy to hold steady on a log round. And being thin and flat, the drill doesn’t need to travel too far to finish the job.
To protect the work bench you can overlap the disc, as pictured, or put an old disc underneath the working piece.
Tip – you could drill a bigger hole into the work bench specifically to support this type of drilling.
Step 3 – drilling into other small objects
As children become more confident in using the palm drill, they can then try to hold a non-flat object like a noggin.
If you drill several noggins you can create a threading or counting resource – see our threading blocks & counting rope activity.
How to use a softwood drill
The technique is slightly different then the palm drill – using the fingertips rather than the palm to twist the drill, like twisting a key on a wind-up toy.
Hold the softwood drill in the dominant hand and use the sharp end to pierce the conker/acorn/softwood.
Turn the drill in a clockwise direction.
Because the drill has a screw end it will go into the wood with the turning action and requires minimal downward pressure.
Continue screwing until you get to the required depth or go all the way through.
To remove the softwood drill twist it in the opposite direction until the drill is removed.
If you want the hole to be bigger keep twisting the same way but pull it out as you do so.
Drilling with a conker clamp
When items are a bit too small or slippy to hold try using a conker clamp.
Once the item is clamped in position rest it on the work bench and and drill vertically down.
Although the clamp is designed to be held in the hand we recommend to always have it placed down on a hard surface, allowing the drilling to be vertical. We would be concerned about holding the clamp whilst drilling (as illustrated in this photo) because this encourages a drilling action towards your own wrist or hand. This might lead to other drilling being done in the same way – which is potentially hazardous if the drill slipped.
Cleaning the drill bit
You may have to remove some of the debris from the hole (particularly if the wood is wet) by pulling the drill out of the item you are working on.
Twist as you remove the drill and tap off the wood shavings, or clean them off with a toothbrush.
Don’t be tempted to clean off with your fingers as the groove edges are sharp, as is the end of the softwood drill.
Take it further activities
Check out the following activities on the Outdoor Hub that use a palm drill or softwood hand drill: