When you want to do some serious drilling, you need a serious drill press. Teknatool’s NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press wears that description like a glove. Teknatool is best known for their highly respected NOVA woodturning lathes and lathe accessories. They’ve taken their digitally controlled direct drive motor system and created a floor model drill press unlike any you’ve seen before. They shipped us the one featured in this review. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to put it to the test, let’s take a close look at the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press and see what it’s all about. More importantly, let’s find out what sets this 1.75HP beast apart from other drill presses on the market.
Making A Spec-tacle Of The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press
Before going any further, allow me to throw some key specs at you:
* Motor: 1.75HP, 1250 Watt DVR (switched Digital Variable Reluctance)
* Speed range: 50 – 5,500 RPM
* Electric braking: Comes to a halt in about 2 seconds
* Direct drive: No belts to mess with
* Bi-directional: Forward and reverse
* Power supply: 115V – 240V, 50-60 HZ (pre-wired for 115V, 60 HZ)
* Quill travel: 6”
* Chuck capacity: 1/8” – 5/8” (3-16mm)
* Spindle taper: MT2
* Table size: 16-1/2” x 16-1/2” (419mm x 419mm)
* Throat depth: 9” (18 inch “swing”)
* Table tilt: +/- 45°
* Max spindle to table distance: 28-1/2” (724mm) [OR 23-1/8” (587 mm)]
* Spindle to base distance: 48” (1220 mm) [OR 40-15/16” (1040 mm)]
* Base size: 22-1/4” x 17-1/2” (565mm x 445mm)
A Real Heavyweight
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press can handle all of your ordinary drill press needs with absolutely no problem; it’s a gentle giant with enough power to muscle through tough tasks and make many other drill presses cry uncle. And a top speed that would make others cower in fear.
With all this power comes a lot of mass, 306 pounds worth! A freight company delivered the drill press to my driveway via pallet jack and semi trailer. For contrast, my other floor model drill press – a popular brand 17″ floor model – weighs only 169 pounds. To be fair, it’s an apples to oranges comparison. The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press is bigger and badder; a high end drill press with a price tag to match. So it’s not going to be for every workshop. But those willing and able to take the plunge will be rewarded handsomely.
Drill Press, Bench Press – Tomaytoes, Tomahtoes
Drill press assembly instructions typically recommend having a helper when placing the motor head onto the column. That’s even more so the case when assembling the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press. Not only is there nothing to really grab onto, but the head assembly is especially heavy. My friend and I celebrated with an enthusiastic high five and a cold beer (or 6) after finally managing the task.
Along with the heavy head comes a massive base and table. Compare the large base of the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press to that of a typical home workshop drill press. There are four bolt holes by which to anchor it to the floor, but the base provides a wide enough footprint for excellent stability as is.
18 Inches? Of What?
The Voyager is considered to be an “18 inch” drill press. The spec sheet will tell you it has “18 inches of swing”. But what the heck does that even mean? For some reason, drill presses (like band saws) are classified by a seemingly arbitrary sizing scheme. In this case, a “swing” rating. This cryptic measurement indicates the throat depth – the distance from the center of the spindle to the closest edge of the support column – but not in the way you’d think (because that would make too much sense).
An 18” drill press has a throat depth of 9”. “18 inches” refers to the fact that you can drill a hole anywhere on a workpiece that measures up to 18” across. The 9” gets you all the way to the center point and – by “swinging” the workpiece around – any particular location is accessible.
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press Features Features!
I imagine you’re probably waiting to hear about the things that make this such a unique drill press. We’ve established that it’s brawny. But there exist plenty of brawny drill presses. But how many drill presses do you know of that come with a freaking USB cable? Huh? The Voyager has more brain cells than I! That’s not saying much, really; I just thought you should know.
The Voyager’s DVR motor is controlled using the same motor drive technology that powers Teknatool’s NOVA lathes. The system features variable speed control with the turn of a knob and a highly visible back-lit LCD screen to display real time speed and all sorts of other things. Speed control and all other functions are accessed through the “HMI” (Human Machine Interface) – the control panel.
Direct Drive Motor Power Management – Kind Of Like Upper Management, But With Less Neckties
On the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press, the motor sits directly above the spindle. That and the lack of a belt and pulley train makes the motor head look “unusual”, for lack of a better description. Not that that matters. This allows for some awesome advantages. First of all, in belt driven systems, you have only a set number of speeds to choose from (generally 5-16, depending on the model). The Voyager, however, gives you a huge number of steps to select along its speed range.
The power management system receives constant feedback from the motor. As you load it down, it increases motor torque to maintain rotor speed. Since the controller only feeds the power required to do the task at hand, electrical power consumption is reduced (something worth considering in an industrial environment). Contrast this with belt driven systems, which drive the motor at full power all the time.
Did I mention there are no belts? This may seem trivial at first. But the first time you don’t have to open the hood and mess with belts you’ll understand just how nice of a feature this really is. Most of us drill press owners tend to operate at one speed (you know, the random speed we set to do that one drilling task a couple years ago) and only ever bother to change speeds when switching to a bit having an extreme size difference. Let’s face it; it can be a pain in the posterior to deal with belt systems.
Drill presses have different speeds for a reason. Different bits, different materials and different applications are all best performed within certain speed ranges. Small twist drills, for instance, require a high rotational speed to clear the flutes of waste material. Larger diameter bits require slower speeds (in part, for safety). And metal, wood and plastics all drill best at different bit speeds. And what if you’re using a sanding drum?
A typical 16-speed drill press has a range of around 200-3630 RPM. The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press, however, boasts the much wider range of 50 – 5,500 RPM! Having the variable speed selection at your fingertips means you’ll actually use the proper speed, resulting in safer performance with better results. The speed can even be changed on the fly – while the motor is running – without losing fingers! Try that with a belt driven unit. Actually, don’t: Never try that.
NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press – An Ambitious Self Starter
One nice feature I found to be handy when drilling multiple holes is the “self start” mode. The unit can be set to automatically turn the motor on and off when you lower and raise the quill (or at user specified depths), eliminating the need to press the on/off buttons every time.
User Set Depth – How Low Do You Want To Go?
The NOVA Voyager comes with the standard style mechanical depth stop. Mine included a quick adjust stop collar; press the button and it slides up and down. This is good and bad.
I like the idea of speedy adjustability, but if it’s rotated so that the button is over top of the threads on the rod, it easily slips when you hit bottom, rendering it useless. But some other NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Presses I’ve seen online came with a pair of threaded jam nuts, like you’d typically see on a drill press. So keep in mind that I’m only judging the particular unit that was delivered to me for evaluation. Yours may vary.
There’s also no pointer to indicate your position on the scale. However, considering the fact that the scale on just about every other drill press suffers the same degree of inadequacy, it’s not a big deal. In general, these scales on drill presses just aren’t very useful. The depth stop is the important part.
The digital readout, on the other hand, shows your exact depth (in decimal Imperial or metric) and can be zeroed to the workpiece, making it infinitely more valuable. The yellow stick-on scale is more for nostalgia than function.
The electronic depth stop is the real star of this department. You can zero the digital scale to the top of the work piece. Then dial in the desired hole depth and the motor will stop spinning (if you choose) when you reach your target, giving you blind holes of consistent, accurate depth every time. You can also set it to “stop and reverse” when the target depth is reached. This stops the motor and briefly reverses direction to clear chips and make it easier to extract the bit. Furthermore, there’s a buzzer that warns you as you approach the set depth.
Tilt The Tables
One of the many things I really like about the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press is its large 16-1/2” x 16-1/2” (419 mm x 419 mm) table. Traditionally, drill presses are designed with the metal worker in mind and come with fairly tiny tables. It’s nice to have a large, square table instead of the small, round one found on most drill presses. Teknatool showed us woodworkers some love and now everybody can be happy. To secure your workpiece, you can feed F-style clamps through the slots in the table. I wish the slots were about a 1/4” wider though; they’re a little too narrow for the heads of many F-clamps.
The table can be tilted up to 45° to the left or right for drilling at an angle. A large hand crank makes raising and lowering the table a piece of cake. Or it can be moved completely out of the way.
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press also features some specialty modes: “Pilot hole” and “tapping”.
Pilot hole mode makes it easier to get a hole started when drilling angled holes, round stock and metals; no need for a center punch. It can be tricky to start a hole in metal without the bit wanting to wander around on you. Pilot hole mode starts off slow then kicks into your set run speed when it senses that the bit is sufficiently grabbing into the material.
Tapping mode is a whole other animal. In tapping mode, load sensing is used to tell the motor when to stop and reverse to break and clear the chips.
I noticed that the load required to trigger the stop and reversal cycle seemed to be fairly high and I didn’t want to risk snapping any of my small taps. This mode is probably best suited for larger diameter tapping operations.
However, it should be noted that the unit they sent for test is an early version with tapping mode hidden in the service menu and no way to select the size tap you’re using (which may be why it was hidden at the time). Rest assured that the retail units come with the latest firmware and tapping mode is freely available in the “Advanced Modes” menu. I don’t know if they have or not, but hopefully they’ve added the ability to select your tap size so that it can adjust torque accordingly.
A Chill Drill Quill
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press has a full 6” of spindle travel.
A quill lock allows you to lock the spindle in place at a specific depth. This is useful for operations such as drum sanding, polishing and using the drill press as a wood lathe.
Stirred, Not Shaken
Another pleasant result of the direct drive motor is that vibration is extremely minimal. The picture above was taken while the drill was running at 5,500 RPM! The U.S. Nickle, penny and dime stood on edge exactly like that from before the motor was started, through over 5 minutes of run time and until the motor came to a halt. None of them so much as flinched. And that holds true no matter what speed you select. Try that with your belt driven drill press; it’s not gonna happen.
Yet another nice aspect of a belt-less system is that the chuck rotates freely and effortlessly when the machine is idling. No more fighting to manually rotate the chuck to ensure your fly cutter isn’t positioned partially off the work piece.
The DVR control circuitry uses electric braking to stop the motor and hold it firmly for a few seconds before returning to the freely rotating idle condition. No matter what speed you are running, it comes to a complete, solid stop in about 2 seconds! I did a series of 5 timed stop tests. I used my phone as a stopwatch and my reaction time surely skewed the results. Even so, I clocked an average time of just around 2.20 seconds: Not too shabby at all.
There’s a big red emergency stop button you can slap when you need to stop the drill press in a hurry. It doesn’t halt the motor any sooner than pressing the off button. But it’s easier to activate than the membrane button on the control panel and can be bopped with your chin or forehead if you need to. Once activated, the emergency stop button must be twisted to pop it back out to its reset position.
What Speed Should I Use?
What speed should you use? Don’t ask me; ask the NOVA Voyager! Remember, it’s smarter than me. The control panel has 4 “F” (favorite) buttons that you can program to your 4 most used speeds (or custom functions). But when you aren’t sure what speed to use, simply go to the speed chart.
Once in the speed selection menu, you select the type of bit you are using, bit size and material. Rotating the black knob scrolls through the options and pressing the knob selects (or you can select by pressing the “confirm” button).
Drilling Large Holes – Not Boring At All
With its 1-3/4HP of rock hard muscle, the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press handles hole saws with ease. But I’d like to make an observation with regards to large hole saws and circle cutters (“fly” cutters).
The menu indicates that you can use up to an 8” cutter, but be cautious when doing so. I used a fly cutter to cut a 6” hole and look how close the bar comes to the handles. For a fly/circle cutter of up to 8”, the menu suggests a speed of 250 RPM. At that speed, the cutter can become a visual blur. The three handles aren’t really angled out enough to allow the kind of hand clearance that meets my standards of personal comfort. I made sure to only grab the handles above the plane of the bit.
So watch your knuckles; one whack from a fly cutter can ruin your day. I urge the same caution when using 6-8” hole saws.
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press has several safety features: An emergency stop button that’s easy to press when needed and a main paddle style power switch with the familiar removable lockout key, as found on most stationary power tools. You can also set a 4-digit password to prevent unauthorized use. Another safety feature is that the chuck key has a spring loaded pin in the center to prevent it from accidentally being left in the chuck and becoming a dangerous projectile. And, of course, personal protective equipment should be considered when appropriate.
NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press – Evaluation Unit Considerations
Besides the mechanical depth stop quick release collar vs. jam nut discrepancy mentioned earlier (some units came with a quick adjust stop collar, some came with threaded jam nuts), I’ve noticed another anomaly: Some units I’ve seen online have a shorter column than the one I received. Frankly, I’m not positive which variation is being sold; perhaps both are. So check the specs before buying.
The one I’m reviewing has a maximum spindle to table clearance of 28-1/2” (724 mm) and 48” (1220 mm) from spindle to base. The shorter version has a maximum spindle/table clearance of 23-1/8” (587 mm) and spindle/base distance of 40-15/16” (1040 mm). According to the specs on their website, Home Fixated sponsor Rockler appears to be selling the shorter version at the moment.
Also, the particular NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press I tested has the “tapping mode” hidden in the service menu. But Teknatool assures me that subsequent units have the later firmware and that tapping mode is now openly accessible in the regular “Advanced Modes” menu.
USB On A DP? WTF?
Since the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press is software driven, a USB port allows for firmware updates to be installed by the user. Teknatool says they are working on improvements based on user feedback, so expect more features and functionality to make their way to the HMI.
Poking Some Little Holes
The NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press is a smart machine truly worthy of praise and respect. But, as with any tool, there’s always something that can be improved upon. Along with the few minor issues I’ve already mentioned, let me fire parting buckshot at some more little things that caught my attention:
* What size bit would this bit chuck chuck if this bit chuck did chuck bits? None smaller than 1/8” (3 mm); that’s for sure! Mind you, this goes with the territory of having a chuck that opens to 5/8” (16 mm). It’s a petty obstacle that’s easily overcome by chucking an inexpensive small bits chuck into this chuck. Nothing unusual for a drill press. I’ve even had to use chuck recursion with handheld drills before.
* No chuck key holder? What? One thing that struck me as extremely odd is the fact that there’s nowhere to store the chuck key on the drill press. Hopefully they’ll rectify this in the future; the last thing you want to do is misplace your chuck key. I super glued a small neodymium disc magnet to the column to serve as a key holder. It works great, but I shouldn’t have had to do that on a $1,500 drill press.
* No fractional readout? The digital readout displays your choice of metric or Imperial (in decimal). But trying to convert decimal to fractions in your head is a task I wish upon nobody. Teknatool told me they’re working on some firmware updates so I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that fractions might be coming soon. The good news is, even if the one you buy doesn’t have a given program feature, you can always update to the latest firmware to catch up on anything you missed.
* Insane in the membrane. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of membrane switches. I’d prefer some tactile feedback when I press the various control panel buttons. But, considering NOVA lathes use the same type of membrane keypad with no notable wear or longevity problems, I guess I can’t complain too much.
* Wrench functions not clear. The included stamped wrench serves several functions and it sure would have been nice if the instruction manual would have told me what they are! Instead, I had to spend what felt like forever trying to figure them all out (and I’m not even positive I got them all right). But at least the wrench has a built-in magnet so that you can store it on the column.
Drilling To The Core – The Hard Core
As you can see, the NOVA Voyager DVR Drill Press has power, brains and features to spare; a one-of-a-kind machine. Teknatool’s contribution to the drill press market is genuinely in a class of its own. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to upgrade or just wanting to start off with a high end drill press. At $1,499.99, it’s not cheap. But you get what you pay for.