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Punching vs. Drilling -- Holes And How We Make Them

March 2004
by David Spiel

A customer calls and says that he wants to buy a three-hole punch, but I tell him that he really does not. To avoid the risk of falling into an Abbott-and-Costello routine, I explain to him that a drill uses rotating drill bits to drill through paper and a punch uses reciprocating male and female dies to push through paper. A solid punch pin pushes paper through a female hole and the waste exits below. A drill cuts the paper while spinning and the waste is ejected up through its hollow shaft and exits through the top.

What's the difference? Speed, accuracy, versatility and cost.

Let's start with speed. The most common misconception in this end of our industry is that an automatic punch is faster than a drill. It most certainly is not. In fact, the slowest three-hole drill is faster than the fastest automatic punch. The slowest three-hole drill can drill through a 2˝ lift every stroke.

How many strokes can you do in a minute? The fastest punch can only punch 7˝ of stock per minute. If you can drill four lifts of stock per minute you are already ahead of the game. A good operator can drill six or seven lifts per minute. Since many drills can drill through 2˝ or 3˝ lifts, it becomes even more apparent that drilling is faster.

Talking Stock

The only stock that is clearly better to punch than drill is plastic and vinyl. While both can be drilled (with quick strokes and slow spindle speeds), ideally, they should be punched. Heat and friction tends to melt these stocks and causes a mess within the drill bit. If the plastic hardens within the drill bit, you might as well throw it away. Some operators prefer to punch heavily varnished stock, rather than to drill it.

This is a toss up. It also depends on how sharp your bits or dies are. Drill bits should be sharpened every three to four hours of use. Punching dies need only be sharpened two or three times per year.

Many customers ask: "How many sheets of paper can it punch at a time?" This is not a very good question. If you always punch the maximum amount of paper that the punch will allow, the more likely it is that the center sheets will have ragged holes and you will be replacing your dies often. Dies are not cheap. A die in a heavy-duty automatic punch should last more than 10 years. A better question to ask: "How many strokes a minute can it punch?" A fast punch can punch over 100 strokes per minute. If you average 10 to 15 sheets per stroke (this will not beat up your die), that's 75,000 sheets per hour. Of course, a good operator will be able to even better these numbers.

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