When and How To Drill a Pilot Hole

Updated: Jul. 21, 2023

Should you drill a pilot hole or not? Learn what a pilot hole is, when they're necessary and how to determine adequate hole size.

There’s nothing worse for a DIYer than throwing away a perfectly good piece of wood because you made a drilling mistake. Pilot holes help prevent that. Pilot holes are drilled into a piece of material before fastening that material with a screw. There are a few reasons why it’s smart to drill a pilot hole.

When To Drill a Pilot Hole

Three common reasons to drill a pilot hole are:

  1. When screwing though the edge or end of material. A pilot hole allows the screw threads to cut directly into the hole, which reduces the risk of splitting wood near an end or edge.
  2. When you need precise screw locations. Tips of screws don’t always enter material accurately. It’s much easier to drill precise locations with a drill bit than the tip of a screw. Create a pilot hole before inserting the screws for a more reliably accurate screw location.
  3. When screwing through dense materials, such as hardwood and laminate. Screwing directly into wood and other dense materials requires a lot of force. Drilling a pilot hole reduces the pressure to drive a screw through the material. Drilling a pilot hole into softwoods like pine and spruce typically isn’t required unless it falls under the other categories listed above.

How To Drill a Pilot Hole

Use a drill bit that’s the same diameter as the shank of the screw. Then drill a pilot hole into the material that’s the same depth as the screw you’ll be fastening.