What is a pilot hole?

Flatpack furniture often comes with pilot holes, both to show people how to assemble the furniture and to minimize the need for extra tools.

A pilot hole is a small hole created in a surface to act as a guide for drilling, screwing or nailing. There are several reasons to create a pilot hole and several different techniques can be used. One of the most common involves using a drill bit with a small bit to drill the hole, although people can also create a pilot hole by partially driving a small nail and removing the nail, leaving a clean hole behind.

One of the most common reasons to drill a pilot hole is to prevent slippage. When drilling large holes, it is not uncommon for the drill bit to slip or slip, which can damage the material and potentially endanger the drill operator. Small holes are easier to drill, so a pilot hole can be dug first, then the larger bit can be centered over the pilot hole to make it larger. This is much safer than starting with a large bit and can improve accuracy as the bit does not slip and ends up creating a hole in the wrong place.

Drilling pilot holes is often recommended with hardwoods because they can be difficult to work with. Trying to drive a large diameter screw or drill bit into wood without using a hole that has already been started can be a frustrating process. The bit could slip, skidding on the wood and damaging it, and the hole could be uneven or angled.

Another reason to create a pilot hole is to avoid cracking or splitting the surface to be worked. Both wood and plastic tend to crack when large holes are drilled or when a screw is inserted. A pilot hole reduces stress on the material, making cracking less likely. This can be especially critical with delicate or irreplaceable materials; although drilling the pilot hole takes time, it is preferable to cause permanent damage to something that cannot be repaired or replaced.

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Pilot holes are also used as guides. Flatpack furniture often comes with pilot holes, both to show people how to assemble the furniture and to minimize the need for extra tools. The pre-drilled holes also eliminate the risk of cracking, a common concern with cheaper woods and plastics used to make some flatpack furniture products. For projects that people are doing on their own, a pilot hole can improve accuracy, as the hole that has already been started is the one that a screw, drill, or nail will naturally slide into.

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