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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 2/19/00

Tool Review: Lee Valley and Fuller Brad Point Drill Bits
by Bob Mastrodonato

In November of 1999 I received from Lee Valley Tools a set of their new HSS Lipped Brad Point drill bits (catalog# 07J01.07, retail cost $34.95 on page 76 of their 99/00 catalog). Along with their bits they sent me a set of bits made by W.L. Fuller (Lee Valley's previous supplier, catalog# 41092007, retail cost 46.95 on page 24 of catalog #23) to do a fair comparison. W.L Fuller does not sell direct unless you can't get it through one of their dealers, so the 46.95 cost is from a local dealer.

They were both packaged in cheap plastic/vinyl pouches. At an average of $5.00-$7.00 a bit, these bits deserve a better home than that, but I guess that's one way of keeping the cost down.

The vinyl pouches are also a pain to use because you can easily cut yourself. The pouches are snug and your fingers may slide on the spiral flutes while inserting or removing the bit. I liked the fact that W.L. Fuller labeled the package with the bit sizes and that they offer metal and wood index boxes.

Lee Valley buys their bits from a reputable American manufacturer as regular point HSS bits and then reshapes them with a "state-of-the-art Swiss CNC grinder". W.L. Fuller is a family owned business that manufacturers all their own bits. When I e-mailed the company to find out about their warranty, I got a reply from David Fuller himself.

The spur angle can be manufactured to either slice the wood (like a knife) or to score/slice. The latter is better for softer woods and if used on harder woods it will tear the wood while entering.

The Fuller bits are manufactured for hard wood drilling. Lee Valley does not specify how their bits are used, but the spurs look like they are similar to the W.L. Fuller bits. Both bits (Fuller/Lee Valley) have a two step grind on the flutes, which helps in the chip removal and cleaner sidewall cuts.

If you look at the close-up pictures of the bits you will notice very subtle differences. On the Lee Valley bits the spurs are longer, the center point has a different cut and the shoulder is cut back further. What does all this mean in actual practice? Well, as careful as I was, the Lee Valley bits heated up faster causing the slightly burned spurs, which you can see in picture. I had to back out the Lee Valley bit more because I was worried about the heat and because the chips did not clear as well. Also, the bottom of the holes that were not drilled all the way through in the Melamine was cleaner with the W.L. Fuller bits.

A few more facts before I get into the testing of the bits.

· Lee Valley offers a 90-day full refund policy on their bits.
· W.L. Fuller has a satisfaction guarantee. Which means they will work with you to find a solution to your problem.

· Lee Valley does not offer it
· W.L. Fuller will sharpen all bits that they sell. Turn around time is about a week and there is a charge on a case by case basis.

Bit length
· Lee Valley's are "Jobber" length (9"'s being the longest) with a 3/8" shank on the bits lager than 3/8".
· W.L. Fuller's are regular size (4" maximum) with a shank of 1/4" on the bits larger than a 1/4".

For the test, I used 4 different kinds of wood: Hard Rock Maple, Soft pine, Red Oak and Melamine. I figured these would be a good variety. I also built a router table out of Melamine, Red Oak and Hard Rock Maple. I tried both sets while building the router table to get a feel for them in daily use.

The holes in the pictures were all done on a drill press, using the correct speed for the bit with reference to the type of wood and the bit size according to the chart from Wood magazine. I backed out the bit when necessary to help in removing the waste wood.

As you can see from the pictures both bits perform almost identically. The holes from both bits have a nice clean entry and the sidewall of the holes is quite clean. Of course the slower the feed, the cleaner the sidewalls will be. The biggest problem with these lipped brad point bits, is the exit hole and heat. Even with a sacrificial backer board, the exit hole from both bits had tear out and since the spurs have very little metal to dissipate the heat, the tips can burn if not fed with care.

As a side note I tried drilling 3 holes in a new phenolic router base and I totally ruined the bit. The base was only 3/16th's" thick, but I did not realize that it would get so hot, so fast. And as far as using them with a hand drill while I was building the router table, they both worked great if I was not drilling all the way through. Because of the nasty exit holes they create without a backer board (in most instances a backer board would have been difficult to place) it was not worth the effort. These bits are more suited for the drill press unless you want to use them to start the hole, need the accuracy of the bit diameter, have a backer board clamped to where the bit exit is going to be, or want to have a nice flat and accurate diameter countersink.

The tables show the accuracy of each bit. Run out for my drill press is .003" under a load. The wood I used for this test was Red Oak and the numbers reflect the drill press' .003" run out already subtracted. I also made sure that the wood was very secure on the drill press table by mounting the wood in a machinist's cross slide vise mounted on the drill press table. I used a dial caliper to measure the holes and the bit size and I used a machinists dial indicator to measure the run out of my drill press. All the measuring devices had .001"gradations.

W.L. Fuller
Bit stamped size Decimal equivalent Bit actual size Hole size
1/8 .125 .125 .125
3/16 .1875 .1875 .1855 (.002 under)
1/4 .25 .251 (.001 over) .251 (.001 over)
5/16 .3125 .3125 .3115 (.001 under)
3/8 .375 .375 .374 (.001 under)
7/16 .4375 .4375 .4365 (.001 under)
1/2 .5 .5 .5

Lee Valley
Bit stamped size Decimal equivalent Bit actual size Hole size
1/8 .125 .125 .125
3/16 .1875 .1875 .1895 (.002 over)
1/4 .25 .25 .25
5/16 .3125 .3125 .3155 (.003 over)
3/8 .375 .376 (.001 over) .377 (.002 over)
7/16 .4375 .4375 .4385 (.001 over)
1/2 .5 .5 .505 (.005 over)

1/64 equals .0156, so .001" - .0078" should be well within all woodworker's tolerances.

These bits are unique because of accuracy in diameter, clean entry, clean sidewalls, accurate centering, they should be used only on wood products and only in a drill press. That puts these high priced bits in the specialty bits category.

In conclusion, the W.L. Fuller bits performed marginally better with cleaner cuts, better chip removal and they did not get as hot. But you get more bit for your money with the Lee Valley bits because of the length and shank width. This means longer life since you can have them sharpened more times before there is no bit left to sharpen and they are less likely to bend at the shank.

My opinion is that these bits are very specialized. Unless you have a specific need for them, these bits will not be the first bits you will grab when you need to drill a hole. My favorite aspect is that you can accurately center the bit on your mark and that they have a very clean entry.

I really respect a company that cares enough about quality to be willing to put their reputation on the line by not only providing their own tools for consumer review but by also providing a highly reputable competitor's tools for fair comparison. I think this says a lot about Lee Valley's commitment to quality.

Bob Mastrodonato

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