Metal isn't magic, but it demands good technique, you can't just casually make charcoal like you can with wood drilling.
It hardly needs super-drills -- I use bottom shelf cobalt drills. The titanium drills last longer in a controlled, everything-dialed-in production environment. In hand drills, they can't last long enough for that to matter.
Ideally, "Dialing in" means looking up the species of steel to get the correct feeds and speeds for that material, then looking in the drill-bit table for correct RPM and feed rate, and setting the tool for that. Then chips fly and it's all over in 2 seconds.
With hand drills, we have to settle for trying to get feeds/speeds right, and adjust our technique for the indicators of perfection:
- fast cutting
- big or long chips
- drill bit stays cool
- no squeaking or complaining
For instance a web guide is saying for hardish steel, 80 linear feet per minute speed, and .004 inches per revolution feed.
Speed is one thing we can get right in a hand drill. Say we're drilling a 1/8" hole. We need RPM but we know feet per minute (80). So
RPM = FPM / diameter / 0.2618. Plug in 80 and 1/8", and I get about 2700 RPM.
The biggest problem I see these days is the so-called "drill/driver". I needed a drill urgently last week. My local hardware store had a plethora of drill-drivers from $35 to $120, and every one had a top speed of 450 RPM. My mind flashes to drill bits the size of your finger. These drivers' jaws don't open that wide, and just as well because the torque would break your wrist. So clearly, these drills are incapable of drilling metal. They simply cannot produce an adequate speed. I did find a forlorn orphan for $35 that went 1500 RPM.
I realize drills are trying to be dual-purpose, but I don't drive screws with drills. I use a speed wrench + bit holder for that.
450 RPM when the book says 2700 just can't be effective. When you try to drill metal that slow, you shave it a little, but mostly wou work-harden it, which makes it much harder to punch through.
I like 1/8" starter holes because they fit directly in my 10,000 RPM Dremel moto-tool. That's way too fast, but I can slow the tool down - 4000 RPM is certainly better than 450.
What the metal wants is the tool driven positively into it, at a suitable rate, regardless of the force that is required to do that. That force can vary dramatically due to surface treatments, work-hardening, and drill diameter. Without a mill with an auto-feed, we have to "wing it" by applying force by hand.
Generally, that means applying enough force. Going too limp-wristed, even for a second, will work-harden the metal and make our job harder.
This is where drill diameter is a huge factor. A drill twice as wide has 4 times the surface area/ metal being removed so potentially 4 times the force needed if you can't match up RPMs precisely. A 1/4" hole into steel can be a lot of force!
Another reason I'm a big fan of starting with 1/8" drills. Following with incremental sizes means cutting far less metal per pass.
Even the force going down a 1/8" drill makes me worry about breaking the bit. It's not small.
But once you get the hang of it, and get adjusted to how much force to use, it goes very quickly.