Odds are you have already heard talk about Drill Doctor, the superbly clever gizmo designed to sharpen drill bits quickly, effortlessly and flawlessly. If you are lucky enough to get one in your Christmas stocking this year, I have two sage pieces of advice for you. First, throw away the box after you unpack it, because trust me, once you use it you will never pack it away again. This tool is that good.
“One customer told us that his wife got mad at him,” said Gary Dunn, Marketing Communications Manager, “because after she gave him a Drill Doctor for Christmas, he spent the rest of the day in the shop sharpening bits.” Having gotten my hands on one, I can absolutely understand that.
The second bit of advice is to watch the free DVD. Along with its requisite manual, that printed matter most of us feel disinclined to read except in an emergency, Drill Doctor includes an absolutely wonderful DVD in each box. Watch it first, and you’ll get perfect bits in minutes without ever cracking open the user’s guide. I did, and 30 seconds later had a perfectly shaped and sharpened drill bit on my very first try. The combination of the DVD and this virtually foolproof tool makes you an instant sharpening genius.
Kevin Blodgett, the Director of Marketing, was quick to confirm what I had already discovered. “Regardless of which model you choose,” he said, “they are fast and easy to use. They all feature a diamond sharpening wheel that never changes shape or diameter, and employ a dual cam alignment system that consistently creates the proper bit tip geometry.
“Even the smallest, the 350X, will handle up to half-inch bits. Other models add extras like the ability to handle larger bits, create a split tip or create different grind angles.” Splitting the tip, a technique Drill Doctor calls Back-Cut®, creates a self-centering point that helps prevent bit drift. “Depending on which combination of variables you need, you can choose from models that range from $80 to $180. Every model comes with both a user’s guide and the DVD, which is playable in three languages.”
For some woodworkers, this whole concept is an eye-opener. “Lots of people either don’t know you can sharpen bits or simply don’t bother,” Kevin maintained. “Instead, they choose to buy new ones. We find that most woodworkers already own a lifetime supply of drill bits. If they sharpened those, they might never have to buy another drill bit. Sharp bits mean less wear and tear on you and your drill, and they give you a cleaner, better quality hole with less fracturing and blowout. In other words, you won’t blow out your arm, the drill, or the hole.
“With Drill Doctor, everyone can sharpen to perfection almost instantly, and save a ton of money over buying new bits. The knowledge and skill of sharpening has been put into the technology of the machine, which makes short shrift of the learning process and guarantees a wonderfully precise repeatability to boot. We have sharpened bits as many as 200 times, and the bit still cuts beautifully.”
Sharpening is nothing new to these folks; in fact, the parent company, Darex, predates the name Drill Doctor by more than two decades. It was founded in 1973 by Richard Bernard, the father of the current company owner Dave Bernard. “Their initials, along with Dave’s grandfather Arthur’s, make up the D, A and R in the company name,” Kevin explained. “The ‘ex’ was appended because it sounded exciting. Darex did, and still does, produce high-end industrial drill bit sharpeners, ranging from fairly small to complex CNC-controlled sharpening tools.
“In 1978, we relocated to Ashland, Oregon, and eventually became the most recognized name in the cutting tool sharpening industry. We addressed the professional first, establishing credibility with them before going to the mass market. As the technology progressed, it got simple enough and inexpensive enough to be offered to the consumer, and in 1996, Darex introduced the first Drill Doctor 500 Tradesman. The next year, Snap-On started selling Drill Doctor through its distribution network, and in December of that year we were recognized by Do It Yourself Retailingmagazine as one of the top new products of the year. New models also snagged awards at the National Hardware show in 1999 and again in 2001.
“Around 1998, the two companies split, with Darex focusing on the industrial side and Drill Doctor on the consumer. The idea was to give Drill Doctor the support structure it needed to find and secure its own distribution network. Ironically, two years ago, the companies rejoined and are once again under one mantle. Once distribution had been secured, it no longer needed autonomy, and the two companies could benefit from sharing resources.”
Their distribution is indeed enviable. You can find Drill Doctor at just about every woodworking specialty store, home improvement store or hardware store chain in the country, as well as in Europe and beyond. About 75 full-time employees, with many extras added for the holiday season, produce four different Drill Doctor models, targeted for everyone from the home hobby worker to the professional.
Equally admirable is the company’s softer side. Under their “Work Smart, Work Sharp” program, they are donating hundreds of Drill Doctor sharpeners to high school shops nationwide. “We’re pleased that we can help high school students learn workshop skills while educating them about the importance of keeping those tools sharp and in good condition,” said Kevin. “In addition to providing them a tool they otherwise couldn’t afford, having a Drill Doctor saves schools hundreds of dollars a year in drill bit purchases.
“We’d like to become the company known for sharpening,” Kevin pointed out, hinting at what may come, “and future products might just delve into other areas of sharpening woodworking tools. For now, Drill Doctor doesn’t have any serious competition; our real competition is a woodworker’s inclination to buy new bits.” But for those of us who already have enough things to buy, this might be the cheapest way to start saving.
“If you do any drilling at all,” Kevin pointed out, “a Drill Doctor will not only save you time and money, it will make hole boring less boring and vastly more satisfying.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.