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How to Tell Power Drill Bits Apart: A Guide to Identifying Different Types of Drill Bits

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Written By John Gibbs




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If you are looking to learn how to tell drill bits apart quickly and easily, you are in the right place! This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to distinguish between different types of drill bits and make the right choice for the job. We will discuss the differences between common drill bit types, how to measure drill bit sizes, as well as some tips for choosing the best drill bit for the job. With this guide, you will be able to quickly and easily identify the right drill bit for any project.

Types of Drill Bits

Types Of Drill Bits

Drill bits can be broadly divided into two categories based on their material: metal and carbide. Metal drill bits are the most common type and are made of high-speed steel (HSS) or cobalt steel. HSS bits are economical and work well in a variety of materials, while cobalt steel bits are more expensive but are more durable and last longer.

Carbide drill bits are the most durable and are ideal for drilling into hard surfaces such as steel, ceramic, and concrete. They are also more expensive than HSS bits and require more power to use. To tell if a drill bit is carbide, look for a golden or black color and an “S” or “K” stamped on the shank of the bit.

Material Durability Color Stamped Letter
Metal Medium Silver None
Carbide High Golden/Black “S” or “K”

High-Speed Steel (HSS) Bits

High-Speed Steel (Hss) Bits

Name High-Speed Steel (HSS) Bits
Type Twist and Masonry
Characteristics Tough and heat-resistant steel bits.
Uses Drilling into tough materials such as hardwood, metal, and masonry.

High-Speed Steel (HSS) Bits are twist and masonry drill bits made of tough and heat-resistant steel. They are used for drilling into tough materials such as hardwood, metal, and masonry. They are most commonly used in industrial applications, but they can also be used for home DIY projects.

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Cobalt Bits

Cobalt Bits

Cobalt Drill Bits are made from a combination of high-speed steel and cobalt. They are designed to offer superior performance in tough metals, such as stainless steel and titanium, as well as hardwood and soft plastics. Cobalt drill bits have increased wear resistance and a higher heat tolerance than standard drill bits. They are often used for drilling through hardened steel and stainless steel, and are ideal for applications where high-speed and accuracy are essential. They are typically more expensive than standard drill bits, but their performance and longevity make them worthwhile investments.

Carbide Bits

Carbide Bits

Carbide bits are among the most durable and long-lasting drill bits available. They are made of extremely hard tungsten carbide, and are often used in industrial applications. They are also typically more expensive than other types of drill bits.


Durability Carbide bits are the most durable and long-lasting drill bits available.
Versatility Carbide bits are suitable for drilling into most materials, including wood, metal, plastic, and others.
Strength Carbide bits are made of tungsten carbide and are much stronger than standard drill bits.


Cost Carbide bits are typically more expensive than other types of drill bits.
Maintenance Carbide bits require more frequent sharpening and need to be replaced more often.

Identifying the Drill Bit Material

Identifying The Drill Bit Material

The material of a drill bit is an important factor when deciding which bit to use. To identify the material of a drill bit, examine the bit for markings or a stamp. Common materials include steel, cobalt, and titanium. A table of the most common drill bit materials and their characteristics is provided below.

Material Characteristics
Steel Low cost, prone to wear, used for soft metals and plastics
Cobalt High heat tolerance, used for drilling hard metals such as stainless steel and titanium
Titanium High strength and durability, used for softer metals and plastics

The material of a drill bit can also be determined by examining the color of the bit. Steel bits are usually black or silver, cobalt bits are usually blue, and titanium bits are usually gold.

In some cases, the manufacturer may include a label on the drill bit that identifies the material. If there is no label, it is best to contact the manufacturer to determine the material of the bit.

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Identifying Carbide Drill Bits

Identifying Carbide Drill Bits

  • Material: Carbide drill bits are made of a combination of tungsten carbide and cobalt. The combination is designed to be able to drill through hard materials like steel and concrete.
  • Size: Carbide drill bits are available in a range of sizes, from very small to very large.
  • Shape: Carbide drill bits have a unique shape, with a tapered end and a flat point.
  • Color: The color of carbide drill bits is typically silver or gray.
  • Label: The label on a carbide drill bit will usually include the words “carbide” or “tungsten carbide”.

Visual Inspection

Visual Inspection

The most reliable way to differentiate between drill bits is to conduct a visual inspection. Here are the characteristics to look out for:

Drill Bit Visual Inspection
Twist Drill Cylindrical body with a conical point.
Spade Drill Flat body with a conical point.
Masonry Drill Cylindrical body with a chisel-edged point.
Brad Point Drill Cylindrical body with a pointed tip and two spurs.
Countersink Drill Cylindrical body with a conical point and two flutes.

In addition, the drill bit should also be checked for the manufacturer’s logo and size markings on the body.

Magnetic Test

Magnetic Test

The magnetic test is an easy way to tell if a drill bit is high-speed steel (HSS) or carbide. An HSS drill bit is made of magnetic material and will be attracted to a magnet, while a carbide bit is not.

To perform this test, hold a magnet close to the drill bit and see if it is pulled towards it. If the bit is attracted to the magnet, it is HSS. If it is not attracted, it is likely a carbide bit.

Material Magnetic Test Result
High-Speed Steel (HSS) Attracted to Magnet
Carbide Not Attracted to Magnet

Other Tests to Distinguish Drill Bits

Other Tests To Distinguish Drill Bits

Sparks – The spark test is a simple method for identifying drill bits. If you grind a drill bit against a grinding wheel, the sparks generated can be used to indicate the material. A spray of orange-red sparks indicates high-speed steel, while a yellow-white spray indicates cobalt.

Magnetism – High-speed steel is magnetic, while cobalt and carbide drill bits are not. You can use a magnet to see if the bit attracts to it.

Sharpness – High-speed steel drill bits are typically sharper than their counterparts, and therefore have a tendency to have a more accurate hole diameter than cobalt and carbide bits.

Durability – Cobalt and carbide drill bits are typically more durable than high-speed steel. They can often cut through hard materials like stainless steel, titanium and hardwood without becoming worn or damaged.

Price – Cobalt and carbide drill bits are usually more expensive than high-speed steel. For most DIY applications, high-speed steel is usually sufficient, so unless you need a bit with superior durability or cutting power, high-speed steel is the most economical option.

Testing the Hardness

Testing The Hardness

A simple way to test the hardness of a drill bit is to use a file. If the drill bit leaves scratches on the file, then it is made of a softer metal, such as HSS. If the file does not leave a mark on the drill bit, then it is made of a harder metal, such as carbide. To test the drill bit further, use a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the drill bit, then it is made of HSS. If the magnet does not stick, then the drill bit is made of carbide.

To further differentiate the two, you can use a product such as a Rockwell Hardness Tester. This is a device used to measure the hardness of metals, and is more accurate than the methods listed above. By using the Rockwell Hardness Tester, you can accurately determine if the drill bit is made of HSS or carbide.

In summary, by testing the hardness of a drill bit, you can easily differentiate between HSS and carbide drill bits and make sure you have the right drill bit for the job.

Testing the Heat Resistance

Testing The Heat Resistance

Drill bits are made from different materials and have varying levels of heat resistance. Testing the heat resistance of a drill bit is an effective way to identify the material it is made from. By doing this, it is possible to determine if it is a carbide or a less expensive high-speed steel bit.

  • Step 1: Heat the drill bit with a propane torch until the metal starts to change color.
  • Step 2: Observe the color of the drill bit and compare it to the colors of other drill bits made from the same material.
  • Step 3: Carbide drill bits will turn a yellowish-brown color and stay that color even after cooling. High-speed steel drill bits will turn a blueish-purple color and then quickly cool to a silver-gray color.

By testing the heat resistance, it is possible to easily determine if the drill bit is a carbide or high-speed steel bit. Knowing the material of the bit helps to determine the type of drilling application it is suitable for and its life expectancy.

Maintenance of Drill Bits

Drill bits should be regularly maintained to ensure they are functioning properly. To keep drill bits in optimal condition, they should be regularly checked for wear and tear and replaced when necessary. When not in use, drill bits should be stored in a dry, dark place, away from moisture and extreme temperatures.

To sharpen drill bits, use a sharpening stone or a diamond grinding wheel designed specifically for sharpening drill bits. If a drill bit is made of HSS (High-Speed Steel), it can be sharpened with a standard grinding wheel.

When choosing drill bits, it is important to distinguish between carbide and HSS drill bits. Carbide drill bits are more durable and resistant to heat and wear, making them ideal for heavy-duty drilling. HSS drill bits are cheaper and more convenient for smaller tasks.

In general, using the right drill bit for the job is the best way to make sure it will last longer and perform better. Regular maintenance and storage of drill bits is essential for proper functioning and safety.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of drill bits are best for the type of project I am doing?

The type of drill bit you need depends on the material you are drilling. For instance, a masonry bit is designed for drilling into bricks and concrete, while a twist bit is best for drilling into wood. If you are drilling into metal, a cobalt bit is your best choice. To ensure your project is successful, it is best to select the drill bit that is specifically made for the material you are drilling.

How can I ensure that I am using the correct drill bit for my project?

It is important to select the correct drill bit for your project. The size and type of the bit should match the material, hole size, and type of project you are doing. Check the manufacturer’s instructions, which should include the recommended drill bit size for the material you are working with. Use the correct drill speed and feed rate for the material and drill bit. To avoid damaging the material, start with a small drill bit and gradually increase the size until you reach the desired hole size. Always wear safety glasses and use the appropriate safety equipment when working with power tools.

Are There Any Special Tools I Need to Tell Drill Bits Apart?

No, there are no special tools needed to tell drill bits apart. It is possible to differentiate between different types of drill bits with the naked eye. To do this, you will need to closely examine the bit in order to identify the cutting edge and shape, the head shape, and the fluting on the surface of the bit. Additionally, the material that a bit is made from may help to identify it.

Is There a Way to Organize My Drill Bits to Avoid Confusion?

  • Label Your Drill Bits: Assign each drill bit with a specific label. This could be the size or the type of material it is meant for. This way, you can easily identify each drill bit and avoid confusion.
  • Group Them Together: Sort your drill bits based on size and material. For example, group all the flat bits together, or all the large-sized bits together. This way, you can quickly find the drill bit you need without having to sort through all of them.
  • Invest in a Drill Bit Organizer: There are organizers available in the market that are specifically designed for storing drill bits. These organizers come with compartments and slots for different sizes and types of drill bits. This allows you to easily store and organize your drill bits in one place.
  • Use a Magnetized Tray: You can also opt for a magnetized tray to store your drill bits. A magnetized tray will keep the drill bits in place and make it easier to access them.

Are there any safety precautions I should take when using different types of drill bits?

Yes! When using drill bits, it is important to take the following safety precautions:

  • Always wear eye protection, such as safety goggles, to protect your eyes from flying debris.
  • Wear hearing protection, such as ear plugs, to protect your ears from loud noises.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edges of the drill bits.
  • Make sure you are using the right drill bit for the job. Using the wrong type of drill bit can cause it to break or become stuck in the material.
  • Ensure the drill bit is properly secured in the drill before turning it on.
  • Keep the drill bit sharp and in good condition to ensure it operates correctly.
  • Start the drill at a slow speed and increase the speed gradually.
  • When drilling, keep the drill bit perpendicular to the surface to prevent the bit from slipping and causing damage.

It is also important to read the instructions that come with your drill bit and follow any safety guidelines outlined in the manual. Following these safety precautions will help ensure that you are using the drill bit correctly and safely.


Drill bits come in a variety of sizes and shapes, each designed to perform a specific task. Knowing how to identify drill bits can help you choose the right bit for the job. By taking into account the material the bit is made of, the type of cutting edge, and the shank size and shape, you can easily determine which drill bit to use for a particular task.



About John Gibbs

Hello everyone! My name is John Gibbs. I am 60 years old and have been in the family construction business all my adult life. Construction is not only my profession but also my passion. I know everything about building and repair materials, tools, advanced methods, techniques, and approaches. I will share the same knowledge with you in my articles.

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