Tuesday , February 20 2018
Home > Lathe Projects > Shop Tip: Free 115 Piece Punch and Die Set for Shim Stock (Seriously)

Shop Tip: Free 115 Piece Punch and Die Set for Shim Stock (Seriously)

Punch an die sets are expensive, and generally limited in the number sizes. But I figured out an easy way to make a complete set of punches and dies for every size in my 115 piece drill index . . . for free. Interested? Read on. 

The trick is to use the drill as the punch, and a piece of scrap from the scrap bin as the die.

DIY Punch and Die Punching Plastic
Punching a 0.316″ (Letter Drill Size O) hole in a sheet of 0.015″ thick plastic.

For example, let’s say you need a 0.316 sized hole punched in a piece of shim stock. Go find the letter O drill from your drill index and use it to drill a hole in a piece of scrap steel from your scrap bin. This piece of scrap is now a makeshift die with a (presumably) 0.316 sized hole in it. Now all you need is a mating punch with the same diameter. But you already have one . . . the drill you just used to make the hole! Swap the drill end-for-end in the tailstock chuck and use the tailstock to press the blunt end of the drill (now acting as a punch) into the die you’ve just made.

If you need a washer-shaped shim simply punch it twice. Once using a die sized for the OD if the shim, and then again using a smaller die for the ID. I needed to shim my tap handle on my keg so that it faced perfectly forward when tightened (yes … it bothered me that it was at an angle).

Keg handle in need of shimming
I needed to make some shims to make my tap handle face perfectly forward when tightened.

So I used a couple of pop can washers as shims to make it face forward . . . and then I discovered during re-attaching the keg handle that there is an adjustment built into the base of the tap. Which meant that the the shims I made were unnecessary . . . sigh.

Anyway, once it occurs to you that you literally have the ability to create any punch size you might need, you start thinking of all the things that you can fix . . . like your keg. Or maybe that’s just me.


  • If the hole in the die comes out over-sized it won’t work well as a die.
    • Check to make sure the drill is properly sharpened and the cutting lips are identical in length.
  • If your drill doesn’t have a sharp edge on the blunt end, you’ll need to grind it flat so that it does.
    • Some of my drills have been chamfered, but most are totally flat on the bottom.
    • If you do have to grind your drill, see if you can get a slight cupped surface (rather than flat) on the bottom of the drill. You’d either need a large diameter drill or a small diameter grinding wheel to make much of a cup, but it’s worth trying.
      • If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look at the punch on a hole punch, they aren’t flat. They’re cupped. This allows for early penetration of a portion of the punch on two adjacent sides rather than the entire diameter of the punch trying to penetrate all at once.
Grinding the bottom of the drill flat
If your drill has a beveled or chamfered edge, you’ll need to grind it flat to use it as a punch.
  • Don’t try to punch anything too thick.
    • So far I’ve punched aluminum from a pop can (0.005″) and a sheet of clear plastic (0.015″). I haven’t tried this method on brass or any other thick shim stock. Mostly because I haven’t needed to yet. If anyone tries this method on some thicker shim stock please let me know how it works.

Once you’re finished with your new die, consider giving it good home. A home where you can find it again easily. Like a tiny parts envelope with the size info neatly written on the outside.

Store your new die in a small parts envelope for later use.
Store your new die in a small parts envelope for later use. Label your envelope with die size info.

If you’re interested in how much you’re saving by making your own punches and dies, the answer might surprise you. Here’s a list of them on Amazon.

Ok, so one caveat. It really isn’t practical to have a 115 piece punch and die set, nor would it be easy to use some of the smallest drills in the index as punches (they may bend or break). But I think it’s reasonable to use this process for any size hole 1/8″ (0.125″) or larger. So yes, the title is slightly misleading, but I didn’t want to count all the sizes in my index that are smaller than 0.125 to come up with a more accurate post title. So I’m sorry if you feel deceived in any way. But in reality, how often (if ever) have you needed to punch a hole smaller than .125 in a piece of shim stock?

Also, these dies aren’t going to last for hundreds of holes before they get dull (although your drills should). I suppose if you wanted to put in the effort you could make yourself a complete set of dies, and then heat treat them. But unless you’re going to be punching hundreds of holes, I think heat treating is unnecessary. Not to mention any dimensional changes the heat treatment process might cause. And besides, if the die gets dull you can always take a facing cut and (as long as it doesn’t kick up a big burr) you’d be back in business. I haven’t tried this approach, but if facing in the normal direction creates a burr maybe facing from ID toward the OD of the die would help prevent this? Or you could simply toss the die and create an entirely new one.

Anyway, I hope you found this shop tip helpful. Just remember, the next time you need a hole punched in shim stock, you’ve got all the tools you need as long as you have a drill of the proper size and a piece of steel scrap from the scrap bin.

If you have any thoughts to share on this process, or anything else to contribute please leave a comment on the forum topic attached to this post (see link below).



[adrotate group="4"]

About Tyler

Tyler is a hobby machinist and 3D printing aficionado. He teaches computer programming and web development at Highline College near Seattle. Tyler founded Projects In Metal in 2008 because he was frustrated by the lack of free plans available for hobby machinists.

Check Also

Creating a Custom Tap for Uncommon or Proprietary Threads

How to Make a Custom Tap for Uncommon or Proprietary Threads

Have you ever needed a special size nut with uncommon or proprietary threads? Recently, I …


  1. this is a good idea but how can we punch a hole that are bigger than the drill bit that we got

  2. I’m not sure if I understand the question. Are you asking how you would punch a hole larger than your largest drill bit?

    That’s a little more work, but not much.

    Basically you’d drill a hole using the largest bit you have (say your largest bit is 0.500, but you need to punch a hole 0.600). Once you’ve drilled your .500 hole, bore it out to .600. That’s your die. Then create a punch by turning the OD of another piece of scrap to 0.598 or 0.599. Make sure both the ID of the die and the OD of the punch are very smooth. Take your time.

    And try to creep up on your measurements taking very light passes as you approach the final size. You’ll need to use HSS tooling for this so you can take light passes (carbide tooling requires a heavy cut to remove metal effectively and doesn’t work well for anything less than a few thou).

    If your tailstock chuck won’t hold a 0.598 diameter punch, turn one end down to 1/2 or 3/8 (to match your chuck capacity) and use it just like you’d use a drill. Your punch would look like a silver and deming drill (because the shank would be smaller in diameter than the punch face).

    Or better yet, modify the design so you can use it with an arbor press so that you’re not trying to punch a large hole using the tailstock ram (you could damage the ram if you try to put excessive force on it why punching anything thick or large in diameter).

  3. I had a chance to make a video of the process. Hopefully this will help make the concept more clear. 

  4. Are you using screw machine drills for this purpose? otherwise the chuck is bearing on the delicate fluted section of the drill. For that reason I would use transfer punches instead of drills.IMG_1993-1.JPGImage Enlarger

  5. I’ve got a set of stubby drills so the flutes get mostly (or entirely) inserted into the chuck past the jaws. But even with the longer drills I haven’t had any chipped or broken flutes. Good thing to watch out for I suppose. Though higher up on the drill the flutes don’t do any cutting (only the portion along the cutting lip is critical, unless I’m mistaken, the rest of the flute functions to provide chip/coolant clearance), so I suppose it’s a moot point unless I were to sharpen the drills so much that I exposed a chipped portion of the flute …