How to Drill a Hole without a Drill (9 Methods)

You don’t always need a drill to make holes in some materials like wood, plastics, plywood, and more.

Some projects do not require a drill, especially if it is a one-off situation. There are several alternative ways of cutting out holes using various materials without using the drill. Being a craftsman for years, I have come into a few situations where I didn’t have a drill on hand and got the job done. Knowing the alternative ways of making holes without a drill will help you when you’re stuck in a pinch.

To drill a hole without a drill you can use one of these methods:

  • Hammer an awl into the material
  • Hammer a nail into the wood, plastic, or other material
  • Drive a self-driving screw with a screwdriver into the material
  • Use a red-hot metal rod
  • Use a chisel and a hammer
  • Use a Bow Drill
  • Rotate Bit & Brace into the material
  • Strike a hollow metal punch into a soft material
  • Use a sturdy knife to make a hole in a material

Below I will cover all these methods in detail.

Method 1: Using an Awl

The method is straightforward, fetch an Awl and position it where you want the hole. Then, hammer the awl through a wood.

using an awl

The major downside of using Awls to drill holes is that they cannot make large holes owing to their small sizes.

The type of material you are drilling also matters a lot. Drywall and softwood are easy to drill, but hardwoods may give you problems.

Method 2: Using a Nail

Nails are affordable, so if you cannot get an Awl, you can easily use a nail to drill holes.

Using a nail to make holes is advantageous because there are a variety of nail sizes and types. That enables you to make holes of different sizes.

Still, you can use stronger steel nails to drive holes through tough surfaces like plastered walls.

However, you might have problems pulling out the nails. So, I strongly advise you to pick nails with larger heads to make your work easier when pulling the nail out. But if you have small-headed nails, you can use another nail to drive it through the material.

To make the hole with a nail, proceed as follows:

Step 1. Make pilot holes or define the part you want to drill on the wood or plywood with a pencil.

Step 2. Position the nail perpendicularly above the surface or pilot hole and hammer it with a wooden sled or hammer. You may need to protect your hand with gloves because the vibrations due to the impact may harm your hand if the wood or the material you are drilling is hard and the nail slips.

using nail

Step 3. Do not bother hammering the nail further if it breaks through the other side of the material; pull the nail with the hammer.

Step 4. Remove all shavings from the hole. That’s it.

Method 3: Use a Self-Driving Screw

You can use self-driving screws to make holes in various materials.

But first, you need to know if your screw is self-driving. To do that, check the threads on the screw. If it has a notch, it is a self-driving screw. You can also make a notch with a file on a non-self-drive screw. Though the process is harder, it is still an option.

self-driving screw

So, how do you make a hole with a self-driving screw?

 Step 1. Again, identify or mark the location you want to drill.                                                                                                                

Step 2. Place the screw at the marked position on the material you want to drill. Get a screwdriver and drive the screw into the material.

Step 3. After the screw gets into the wood or plastic, remove the screwdriver by turning it in the opposite direction — if you drilled the material clockwise, remove the screw by turning it counterclockwise.

Step 4. If the screw went deep into the wood and it is impossible to remove it with the screwdriver, use an awl to remove it.

Note: Using a self-drive screw creates smaller holes when compared to the use of an awl and nail. That is because the hole section is entirely the shank diameter of the self-drive screw and not the whole diameter of the screw threads. So, if you want a larger hole, you should consider using awls or nails to make holes —in the absence of a drill.

Method 4: Use Metal and Heat

We can summarize this method as burning through the wood.

I recommend trying this technique outside the house and away from places with inflammable substances to prevent a fire incident. Additionally, you can wear a safety mask and glasses to protect yourself from the smoke if you are reactive to particular scents. That way, you will have a good experience.

The steps below will guide you through:

Step 1: Find a Metal Rod

Depending on the size of the hole you want, choose an appropriate metal rod with the correct diameter.

Step 2: Sharpen the Terminal of The Metal Rod

Get a sharp and pointed edge. Use a file to create just that at the rod’s tip for proper penetration.

Step 3: Heat the Rod

heating rod

First, put on safety equipment like gloves. Then heat the metal rod until it becomes red-hot. Sufficient heat is necessary for deeper and easy penetration.

Step 4: Make the Hole

Drive the red-hot pointed tip onto wood or any other material. Be careful not to touch the red-hot section of the metal rod with your bare hands. You may sustain injury.

You can use a candle or any other means at your disposal to heat the metal rod. Take your time, and don’t get burnt. For that matter, make sure the metal rod has an insulating or wooden handle.

Step 5: Rotate and Wiggle the Rod

Spin the rod while pushing it into the material you are drilling increases the burning speed. Do it both clockwise and anticlockwise interchangeably. You will need to apply considerable effort to realize better results.

Step 6: Reheat the Rod

The rod will cool down after some time and agitation. When you notice that, pull it out and reheat.

Step 7: Carefully Scrape Off the Charred Surface

Be cautious not to widen the hole while removing the burned debris to encourage proper drilling. For the job, you can use a relevant brush with tough bristles or a sensible metallic surface. Again, you need your safety gear on you.

Step 8: Repeat Steps 1 Through 7

Redo the entire process until you achieve the required depth.

Note: You can still use an awl as your metal rod if there are no other options. It will work just as well. Besides, its pointed tip makes your work easier though you won’t use a hammer this time. A wire or half of the needlenose pliers’ end will have a similar effect; feel free to use them if they are within reach.

Use a hotter heat source to quicken the process; otherwise, you will waste time. (1)

Caution: It is unsafe to try this trick on drywall. You may trigger a fire. I recommend using this method to burn out holes in fresh woods, plastics, and other materials that the heated rod can penetrate without inflicting collateral damage. There are a variety of plastics, so don’t use this method on frail plastic that can melt on exposure to the rod’s heat.

Method 5: Using a Chisel

Chisels are very effective when drilling out large size holes.

Step 1: Find a Sturdy Wooden Sled

You need a strong wooden sled to use to strike the chisel’s head.

Step 2: Orient the Chisel Perpendicularly Above the Surface of The Material

Align the chisel right above the surface that you want to drill.

It is usually good to draw a circle with a caliper around a pilot hole to avoid striking the wrong section. It will force you to replace the material and help you to make a pilot hole.

Step 3: Start Drilling

drilling the wood

Strike the chisel’s head with a wooden sled to create a cut on the material. You may use a hammer if the material is too strong; you will need a pair of gloves to avoid hurting your hands.

Step 4: Remove Debris

Continuously wipe out the shavings to ensure progress. Chisel the circle’s center until you attain the desired depth and width.

Method 6: Using a Bow Drill – Make Holes without Using Electric Drills

A Bow Drill is an improved version of a Palm Drill. A Bow Drill utilizes a small bow (made of stick and leather thong) as the motor for the drill.

using bow drill

How to make holes with a Bow Drill:

  • Loop the thong around the drill’s rod
  • Hold a bearing block (a piece of wood) in one hand, pressing it on the drill to get positive control of the drill. That also generates sufficient pressure for drilling the material in question.
  • Keep doing that until you have a nice hole – no electric drill used.

Method 7: Using a Brace and Bit to Drill Holes

You can also use a Bit and Brace to drill holes in the material as follows:

Step 1. Make a pilot hole on the material and get hold of the Bit & Brace correctly. Hold the handle with a hand and push the head of the bit with your belly.

brace and bit

Step 2. Ensure the tip of the bit is above the pilot hole you made in step 1. Drill until you achieve the required depth.

Step 3. Removing all the shavings around the hole. That’s it.

Method 8: Using a Hollow Metal Punch

Metal punch is a great tool that you can use to make holes if you don’t have a drill. However, it is best on soft and thin woods such as plywood. Also, it’s best to use a small diameter punch due to the force of the hammer.

hollow metal punch

To make a hole:

Step 1. Erect the metal punch above the pilot hole

Step 2. Strike the hollow metal punch into the plywood or soft material with a hammer.

Step 3. Remove the shavings and carry on until you have a nice hole suiting your specifications.

Method 9: Use a Knife

using knife

The knife is a popular kitchen tool. And you can utilize it to make holes in some materials like plastics or pieces of wood if you do not have a drill.

Here is how you drill a hole with a knife:

Step 1. Make a pilot hole.

Step 2. Depending on your knife-handling skills, cut a hole through the material. If it is a piece of wood, first remove the bark. Then carefully make the pilot hole and approach it with the knife from all sides to make a hole. (2)

Step 3. As for plastics, you can heat the knife’s tip and drive it through the plastic material.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.

(1) waste time –
(2) knife-handling skills –

About Sam Orlovsky

b1d87d2ee85af3e51479df87928bdc88?s=90&d=mm&r=gI realized early on carpentry was a huge passion for me and I’ve stayed in the industry for over 20 years now. This gives me a unique ability to really be able to tell you what the best tools and recommendations are. I’m not only a carpenter but I also like machinery and anything to do with electrics. One of my career paths starting off was as an apprentice electrician so I also have a lot of experience with electrical products and anything related.