Extensively used in building projects, power drills are handy utility tools that have this tendency to spark like nobody’s business. These sparks could scare a first-time user; expert users, on the other hand, would most likely not feel perturbed. However, the big question is: Are power drills supposed to spark?
Power drills are supposed to spark if they have a brushed motor powered by direct current. If the sparks are consistent and limited to the drill’s frame, there’s nothing major. However, intense sparks around the power cord, battery compartment, or motor need immediate attention.
Continue reading to find out why power drills spark, when they are dangerous, how to fix a sparking drill, and more.
Why Do Power Drills Spark?
Power drills tend to spark when:
- Used for the first time
- There are sudden changes in their speed of operation
- The drill brakes are abruptly applied
In all the above cases, friction between moving parts loosens fine carbon particles, which ignite to produce sparks.
The following causes for the sparks, however, have nothing or little to do with friction:
- Worn-out moving parts
- Dust or grime build-up in the unit, hampering normal operations
- Drill bits running into certain metals/composite materials
- Loose or faulty power cord
In the case of cordless power drills, sparks may arise from a battery pack that is either shorting out or needs cleaning/replacement.
How to Differentiate Between Normal Sparks and the Hazardous Ones?
To safely operate a power drill and not get easily rattled by the slightest glimpses of fire, you should know when a power drill spark is normal and when it is not.
Power drills use a brushed motor that runs on direct current (DC) and a commutator. These pieces of hardware work in conjunction to help the drill bit do its thing.
While the commutator is usually made from copper, the brushes on the motor are made of soft carbon.
Starting up a power drill causes the carbon brushes to rub against the commutator, scattering combustible carbon dust into the drill’s electromagnetically charged body. Long story short, sparks generate.
Consistent sparks within the frame of a running drill are quite normal, provided you are not working in a restricted space.
It’s not safe to operate power drills in the vicinity of inflammable gases or airborne debris. As the carbon brushes wear out, the sparking will subside.
However, that also means the brushes will have to be replaced as the drill would then stop working as effectively as it did or should.
Sparks that emanate from the drill bit when it hits metal or composite surfaces are also normal.
This simply means that the drill bit is not suitable or a bit underpowered for the task at hand. If you continue using the drill, you may damage the machine and even injure yourself.
Potentially Dangerous Sparks
Intense, violent sparks from your power drill are sure to catch your eye and you can’t miss or ignore them.
They are often random but could be recurrent and have a reach far beyond those usual sparks limited to the drill’s frame.
Any sparking around the area where the power cord enters the drill or at the power inlet socket is equally dangerous. Such sparks are indicative of a frayed or damaged power cord.
In case your drill throws out intense white sparks or exhibits signs of a damaged power cord, stop using it immediately. Tag it (if you should) and get the unit repaired. If possible, discard it and get a new one.
How to Fix a Sparking Power Drill
If you feel the sparks from your electric drill don’t appear normal, it’s time to troubleshoot and fix the problem.
Start with a diagnosis to learn what’s causing the issue. Knowing the cause can help you save money you may otherwise spend on buying a replacement machine.
A damaged power cord is easy to spot and replace, but power cords are not cheap. It’s better to invest in a new power drill unless you have a high-end tool that you’d rather hold on to.
Battery issues (if any), on the other hand, can be resolved by cleaning out the leads or replacing old ones
The following problems, however, demand some time and effort to resolve:
- Accumulation of dust and grime on the motor/commutator slots
- Wear and tear of commutator or the carbon brushes
- Jammed gears
- Problems with the motor
Fixing the Commutator and Brushes
You’ll need to disassemble the electric drill to visually inspect the internal parts for dust build-up or wear and tear.
Open the drill and check if the brushes are in good shape and of the right length. If the brushes are good, clean the ends with sandpaper. If they’ve been worn down, replace them, and clean the commutator to ensure the unit is fully functional.
Spray an electronic contact cleaner over the commutator and scrub it with a tiny brush to remove dust/grime.
Wrap an abrasive cloth or sandpaper over the unit and rub it along its path of rotation to further sand the unit clean.
Finish by cleaning the commutator slots with a plastic scriber. If you don’t have a scriber already, check out the Tamiya America Plastic Scriber II on Amazon.
Assemble the cleaned/new parts and run the drill. It should most likely not have troublesome sparking issues at this stage.
Fixing Other Affected/Defective Parts
The build-up of carbon dust and grime is not limited to the commutator alone. The motor, armature, or brush holder could also be affected and trigger sparks as a result.
If affected, take them out, clean them with a thinner, and put them in after they are completely dry.
Jammed gears within the transmission, worn/seized bearings, damaged brush holders, or even a completely worn-out commutator could be the reasons behind sparking power drills. Replace these worn parts to get the drill up and running anew.
Once you’ve opened up the drill, inspect the superficial components. Start looking deeper if you have still not found the root cause or problematic component.
Also, take snaps each step of the way so that you can find your way back when reassembling the unit.
If you are not into repairing power tools, get a technician on board.
If you would like a video that explains why power drills spark and what you could do to fix them, watch this:
What’s With the Burning/Smoking Smell Along With Sparking?
Sparking power drills may also heat up or emit smoke. The smoke is not always visible. Quite often, you may be able to smell it.
While any visible smoke is clearly a warning sign, the burning smell indicates your power drill is due for maintenance. The culprit yet again is the accumulated dust and grime within the unit.
With hours of regular use, there’s little space for all the carbon dust from those brushes to escape the drill’s frame. While the speed of the running tool is usually enough to flush out carbon debris through the vents on the frame, moisture and low-speed operations tend to lock in the dust.
Regular maintenance and cleaning are necessary to keep the power drill in perfect working condition.
Proper maintenance also prevents the drill from heating up quickly, which can be a cause for concern if the unit’s frame is plastic.
While metal gets hot quickly, plastic frames succumb easily or literally melt when subjected to extremely high temperatures.
Direct current-based brushed power drills tend to spark, but that doesn’t mean you can completely ignore those embers.
While most problems that cause sparks can be diagnosed and resolved easily, regular maintenance is a must to ensure safe and effective use of power drills, both corded and battery-operated.
If the problem is major and you are not particularly handy around the house, get an expert technician on board.
I hope this article was helpful. Thanks for reading!
Cheers, tools owners!