I recently bought an Axminster ED16B2 pillar drill and I thought I would bang out a quick review for anyone else interested in getting one of these drills. It seems since I wrote this article Axminster have stopped selling this exact model but it’s a fair bet that the Axminster Trade pillar drills are identical other than the colour and the name – from the pictures and specs the AT2801DP is as good as identical.

I think I’ll start by saying that I’m generally pleased with the pillar drill, it’s not the greatest piece of equipment I have but it drills straight holes and has enough power to easily cope with drilling in mild steel which is the hardest material I’m every likely to work with. There are a few rough edges, both actual and metaphorical, but for a Chinese made piece of kit that’s to be expected.

When I read a review I always want the author to tell me the bad bits first so I know whether there’s any show stoppers so here goes – please read the whole review though, I think the good out weighs the bad with this pillar drill.

The rack and pinion table lifting system is quite frankly terrible; it’s the typical garbage you see on Chinese knock-offs of western equipment. It’s as if the person who built it only got to see a blurry picture of what he was trying to copy and then machined it with a particularly blunt spoon.

On opening the box I found the worm gear was rattling around loose, it seems they just slide the gear into place but there’s nothing to hold it in place other than a dab of grease. One of the early steps for putting the machine together is to push in and test the worm drive which I did. To my dismay the drive bound up on almost every turn. I wanted to get cracking so I slipped the worm gear out, whipped off the grease and found the problem was staring me in the face. Either during manufacture or shipping the worm gear had taken a knock and the start of the thread had become slightly rounded over. By necessity the start of the thread is very thin so if anything is going to get damaged this will. The rounding over was catching on the edge of the pinion gear each turn, in fact with an inspection light it was possible to see it happening.

One quick filing later and I’d provided a better lead in for the screw and I had a working mechanism. Note, it’s your call whether you try to fix something like this or just ask for a replacement part. I was confident that I could make a repair that would last as long as the machine so it wasn’t worth getting a replacement.

The machine comes in a multitude of parts which you need to put together yourself. You’ll need a friend to help you put the head in place as it’s heavy and you’ve got to lift it high up and with a good degree of accuracy. The instructions aren’t bad, they are written by someone who has a sense of humour which makes a nice change. They could do with being spit up into bullet points though as at the moment they are just a big pile of text.

The instructions tell you to lift the head into place on the column which, if you have a strong friend or two to help, is probably the correct way to do it. I only had a heavily pregnant wife to help so that wasn’t going to happen. If you lay the machine on its side your friend / wife / person grabbed from the street can slide the column into the head. Then all you have to do is stand the machine upright which I was able to do on my own – although it was damned heavy. Lie the machine on the side that has the head lever as it has fewer things to get in the way and make sure that the column is pushed all the way in before you try the lift – the last thing you want is the head dropping as you lift.

Once I’d got everything together the only other niggle I’ve really found is that the table rise and fall mechanism jumped a couple of teeth as the table was lowered one time. It seems the pinion and the rack only just mesh and if the rack is slightly twisted the pinion can skip steps.

The castings are all ground nicely flat where they should be but the edges haven’t been broken so they are razor-sharp, nothing a bit of sand paper can’t fix. The bulb supplied is the cheapest and nastiest money can buy but light comes out of it so I can’t complain too much. One problem is that it uses a screw fitting rather than the much more common (in the UK) bayonet so finding a replacement might be tricky. I’d have liked to have seen an array of white LED’s – perhaps I’ll make that modification one day, it should be easy.

So far I’ve drilled a little wood and a good bit of steel. The biggest hole I’ve drilled in steel is 8mm at about 450rpm. The machine has more than enough torque to do this so on lower speed settings I’d guess a 20mm hole in steel would be easily possible. The chuck is absolutely gorgeous, one of the nicest pieces of engineering I’ve seen. The guard is a tick box affair and it’s touch and go whether I’ll just remove it. At the moment I use it to guard the chuck but I keep forgetting to put it down and I think it’ll break soon anyway (it was removed for good shortly after writing this article).

The depth stop mechanism is adequate but not great. It does the job but I’d have liked something a bit more robust. The speed changing mechanism is quite good, two belts joined by a transfer pulley in the middle, and gives a wide selection of speeds. The box containing the belts is secured with a screw which is irritating as you need to keep a screw driver handy, this will be replaced with a bolt with a knob pretty soon – I think some nutty European legislation is why they don’t provide a knob.

Would I recommend this drill, absolutely, for the wood worked there’s more than enough power and accuracy. For metal work it gets the job done, I can see that a profession engineer would want more but for  hobby or light trade metal work it’s spot on.