Cobalt vs. Titanium Drill Bits – Which is Best?

A collection of titanium and cobalt drill bits with a cobalt drill bit in a drill chuck

When it comes to drilling holes, the choice of high quality bits is almost endless. 

Two of the best materials you can turn to are cobalt and titanium. However there are plenty of pros and cons of cobalt vs. titanium drill bits. 

Knowing these will definitely save you some time in choosing the right drill bits for your next project.

While their performance is fairly similar, there are applications where one is better than the other.

In this article I’ll look at the differences of cobalt and titanium drill bits, including their most suitable uses. Hopefully by the end you’ll know exactly when to use each to get the most out of your next DIY project.

What are Cobalt Drill Bits?

Cobalt drill bits are a combination of a base alloy (usually steel) and a small amount of cobalt. Manufacturers usually add between 5 and 7% cobalt, but this varies by brand.

Adding cobalt to the base alloy makes them incredibly hard and durable. Also, cobalt has a higher melting point than steel. Steel melts at around 2500 degrees F (1370 C), while cobalt melts around 2723 degrees F (1495 C).

Importantly, a higher melting point means the cutting edge is more resistant to the heat generated by cutting. The greater heat resistance means the drill bits will remain sharper for longer. As well as be suitable to take on harder materials without burning out. 

What are Cobalt Bits Used for?

Cobalt bits have a wide range of practical uses compared to standard HSS drill bits. They’re most commonly used to cut through hardened materials that steel alone would struggle with. 

For example, you can use them for:

  • Weld seams
  • Cast Iron
  • Bronze
  • Stainless steel
  • Titanium

Cobalt bits are also quite versatile; you can use them in hand drills, drill presses, lathes, and so on.

What are Cobalt Bits Not Good for?

While you can cobalt bits in softer materials, I wouldn’t recommend using on things such as wood or plastic. 

This doesn’t really have anything to do with performance, but with price. There’s little point using an expensive drill bit for soft materials when a cheaper alternative would do the job as well.

You should save your cobalt drill bits for jobs where they out-perform less expensive alternatives.

One thing to consider is that cobalt bits are quite brittle. You need to care for and store them properly, and be sure not to drop them. While they’re very hard they’re also very brittle and can shatter easily. This can get quite expensive if you’re not careful.

Can You Sharpen Cobalt Bits?

One of the main advantages of cobalt bits is that you can sharpen them, allowing you to get more value for your money.

You can easily sharpen dull drill bits on a bench grinder, but I’d recommend practicing on some old drill bits first so you know what you’re doing.

Also, I recommend taking a look at my guide for how to sharpen drill bits. It contains all the information you might need for a range of types.

Because the cobalt is alloyed with the steel rather than just a coating, you don’t risk losing any of the enhanced material properties by sharpening the drill bit. I think this is a massive bonus considering the price you might pay for a quality set.

What Makes Cobalt Bits Better than Others?

As mentioned, the main advantage of cobalt bits over something like HSS (high speed steel) is the improved heat resistance.

This allows you to work on harder materials, like stainless steel and cast iron, without damaging your equipment. Also, you can drill for longer periods without using cooling fluid. Although I’d always advise using coolant when drilling metal, it’ll always make them last longer. 

Their better quality materials and ability to be sharpened means they’ll last you a lot longer than a standard HSS drill bit.

When it comes to cobalt vs. titanium drill bits, the main advantage is that the cobalt is alloyed into the bit rather than applied as a coating. While titanium drill bits wear more slowly, you can sharpen cobalt drill bits again and again.

The Pros and Cons of Cobalt Bits

That’s pretty much all you need to know about cobalt drill bits, but here’s a summary of the pros and cons just to clarify things.

Pros

  • More durable than HSS bits.
  • Ability to sharpen them extends drill bit’s life.
  • Great for hardened materials.
  • Can be used in both hand and drill presses.

Cons

  • Addition of cobalt makes them brittle – be sure to care for them properly.
  • A good set of bits can be quite expensive.

What are Titanium Drill Bits?

Titanium drill bits are typically made from HHS steel with a titanium coating. Various titanium alloys allow for different uses. The 3 types are:

  • Titanium nitride – high temperature resistance.
  • Titanium aluminum nitride – greater resistance and durability.
  • Titanium carbonitride – the toughest alloy suitable for high mechanical stress.

Using a titanium coating increases surface hardness of the cutting edge as well as reducing friction and adding corrosion protection. However, the melting point isn’t as high as cobalt, so they’re often not as durable.

That said, they’re still more versatile than a standard HSS drill bit. The titanium alloy coating protects the steel core and keeps the bit sharper for longer.

What are Titanium Bits Used for?

Titanium drill bits have a wide range of uses over standard HSS bits. They’re arguably a bit more versatile than cobalt drill bits because you can use them on soft and hard materials.

The most common uses include:

  • Hard wood, particularly if it’s full of knots
  • Plastic and PVC
  • Copper
  • Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Brass

Titanium drill bits are also good in metal cutting machines because they can be used to drill very precise holes.

What are Titanium Bits Not Good for?

You can use titanium bits on harder materials like cast iron, but over time you’ll notice the advantage of cobalt drill bits. Harder materials wear the bit down faster by removing the coating faster.

When choosing the right titanium drill bit, consider the material you’re drilling. For example, you’ll want to use a titanium carbonitride bit for harder materials, but you’ll be fine using titanium nitride for wood or plastic.

Can You Sharpen Titanium Bits?

I consider one of the main disadvantages of titanium bits to be the fact that you can’t sharpen them. 

This is because, unlike cobalt drill bits, titanium bits are only coated. Sharpening them would therefore expose the steel core, rendering them nearly useless.

But this coating will still wear off over time even without sharpening. This will happen much faster if you’re only using the bits on hard materials.

Compared to cobalt drill bits, titanium bits have a much shorter lifespan for this very reason. While they’re initially cheaper, you’ll find you have to replace them more regularly than cobalt drill bits.

What Makes Titanium Bits Better than Others?

The main advantage of titanium bits over high speed steel is their improved heat resistance and durability. This makes them a better choice for softer materials because you’ll get much more use from them.

And the advantage of titanium over cobalt is the initial price. Granted, in the long term you might spend more replacing titanium bits, but it’ll take a while to reach this point.

If you’re just an everyday DIYer who needs a set of fairly resistant and versatile drill bits, titanium will be a good choice. Only using them every now and then for at-home jobs it’ll take quite a while to wear down the coating.

Pros and Cons of Titanium Bits

I’ve covered all the important information about titanium drill bits, but here’s a summary of the pros and cons for convenience.

Pros

  • Better heat resistance and durability than high speed steel bits.
  • Range of coatings means you can use titanium drill bits for both hard and soft materials.
  • Less expensive than cobalt drill bits – good for home DIYers.
  • Similar functionality to cobalt drill bits.

Cons

  • Don’t last as long as cobalt if used regularly.
  • Heat resistance isn’t as high as cobalt.
  • Can’t be sharpened, meaning you’ll have to replace them once coating wears off.

Cobalt vs. Titanium Drill Bits – Which is Best For Me?

So which is better, cobalt or titanium? There isn’t really a single answer because it depends what you need from your drill bits.

If you’ll use them regularly for hard materials, then I’d recommend a good set of cobalt drill bits. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth over time.

But if you’re working with softer materials more often, titanium drill bits will be the better option. 

Overall, cobalt bits offer greater versatility for both professionals and DIY enthusiasts. But titanium is a more cost effective choice for softer materials such as wood and soft metal.

Hopefully this article has helped you narrow down your choice of the best drill bits for your job.

If you’ve got any other advice to help readers make the right selection, leave a comment below so everyone can benefit from your knowledge.

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