Tapping v drilling: the differences

On the surface of things, for most people, drilling and tapping seem almost indistinguishable. After all, they both make holes in metal, plastic, or other materials, in order to prepare it to take screws, bolts, or fasteners. However, there are subtle differences in practice and in their application. So let’s examine them.

To Drill or Tap?

A tap will make a threaded hole that your screw or fastener will follow unless you use a self-tapping screw, which, as the name suggests, does create its own thread. A tap requires a smaller drilled pilot hole, followed by a tap of the correct size to make the threaded hole. Tapping can be used to make a pre-existing threaded hole even deeper or larger. A drill, of course, forces its way through the material with no pre-planned path.

Image Credit

Both require the correct type of tip to be used according to the material being worked on, in order to avoid cracking or damage. They also require the correct setting on the tool to be used. If you want to tap holes, you will need the correct tools for the job. Tapping tools are widely available and there is now the added convenience of electric tapping machines for those who regularly undertake the process.

For additional information on the types available, including electric tapping machines, and the various applications in which they can be used and the tools needed,

Real-world applications.

A drill/tap hole is a more convenient way to join pieces of metal together. It can take the place of welding where this is not possible and can be disassembled easily if that is a requirement for maintenance, servicing, or relocation. It can enable a more gradual fitting process if the product has a soft seal too. In an age of assemble-at-home products, shipped around the world, the savings on the packaging, shipping, and handling costs are clear.

Image Credit

In a workshop environment where access is easy, machines are the obvious choice. They reduce the risk of damage to the product and make an easier, less error-prone fit-together process for the end user, meaning better reviews and fewer product returns. Of course, in the real-world environments of on-site construction and engineering, this is not always possible, access can be limited, the pressure of deadlines can be a factor and so drilling by hand will always have its place.