Missing a Chuck Key? You can Change the Drill Bit Without It

how to change drill bit without chuck key
“Drill Chucks” by Nottinghack is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are here reading this article, chances are you are the owner of either a drill press, a large drill, or one of those old drills that never stop working. And I’m also going to guess that you either lost your chuck key, or you have broken it after using it many years (those things are damn breakable, am I right?). Fortunately, you found this post, and I’m going to prevent you from throwing your drill out of the window (good luck with that if you have a drill press!). Now, let’s stop wasting your time and get to it.

If you are in a hurry, here’s a quick guide on how to change your drill bit if you don’t have the chuck key:

  1. Put a proper sized drill bit (not the drilling end) inside one of the holes of the drill chuck;
  2. While holding the drill bit in position, use a pair of pliers to grip the chuck;
  3. Rotate the chuck with the pliers counterclockwise, unlock and remove your drill bit;
  4. Put the new bit in place and lock the chuck by hand, so the bit doesn’t fall out;
  5. Tighten the bit by using the drill bit and the pliers (same as before, but you need to rotate the chuck the other way.)

If you want to learn more, or you want to hear about other ways to get the job done, don’t miss the rest of the article!

How to Change a Drill Bit without a Chuck Key (1st solution)

This is one possible approach. I have done it many times with success. You are going to need:

  • A pair of pliers. These could either be slip joint, tongue and groove, interlocking or locking pliers. Whatever you have available that is big enough to grip the drill chuck. You could also use a strap wrench if you have one.
  • A drill bit that fits the holes where you would usually place the chuck key. Other things that would work also, but I found out that the shank of the bit usually fits very nicely in the chuck’s hole.

That’s it. Now let’s get to it. I made the procedure into a list, so it’s easier to read for you.

1. Unlock the chuck and remove the bit

  • Put the drill bit (not the drilling end, but the shank) inside one of the chuck key holes. Use a glove or a cloth to wrap around the bit so you don’t risk slicing your hand.
  • While holding the bit in position, grab the pliers and use them to grip the chuck. If you are worried about the jaws ruining the appearance of the chuck, wrap it with a cloth, a piece of leather, or whatever you have available.
  • Hold the bit still, and rotate the chuck counterclockwise to unlock the bit. You could also move them at the same time if you feel better that way.
  • The chuck is going to get loose, and you will be able to remove the bit without problems.

2. Set up the new bit

  • Put the new bit in place, and lock it by hand. Just rotate the chuck while holding the drill bit. This way the bit isn’t going to fall out.
  • Same as before: put the drill bit in one of the chuck holes, and use the pliers clockwise to tighten the drill chuck.
  • One hole should be enough, but especially if you have an old drill, you should check that also the other holes are tightened up properly.

3. Check the drill bit

  • Before getting to work, you need to check that your bit is centered properly. To do this, set your drill in motion, and check if there is any wobbling. If not, you are good to go.

This approach is perfectly fine in my opinion (I’ve done this multiple times). Some people though may warn you that you could damage the chuck drill this way. If you are using a strap wrench, then your chuck is going to be perfectly fine. If you wanna be absolutely safe, in the following paragraph I’m going to present you another solution.

How to Change a Drill Bit without a Chuck Key (2nd solution)

In this case, you are gonna need:

  • A flat head screwdriver. It should be big enough to fit properly into the teeth of the chuck drill.
  • Same as before, a drill bit that fits the chuck key.

1. Unlock the chuck and remove the bit

  • Put the shank of the drill bit inside one of the chuck key holes. Again, for your own safety, use a glove or a cloth to wrap around the bit.
  • While holding the bit in position, use the screwdriver to rotate the gear. To do this, use the drill bit as leverage. Take a look at the picture at the top of the paragraph. It should be pretty self-explanatory. A quick hit should be enough to unlock the chuck.
  • Once the chuck is loose, you can remove the bit easily.

2. Set up the new bit

  • Follow the same procedure as described in solution 1. In this case, to tighten the chuck, you are going to put the screwdriver on the other side of the drill bit, as use it as leverage. Just be careful when you apply force on the screwdriver because it could easily slip out of position.

3. Check the drill bit

  • Same as before, you definitely need to verify that your bit is properly placed inside the chuck’s jaws. To do this, set your drill in motion, and check if there is any wobbling. If not, you are good to go.

How to Change a Drill Bit if you have a keyless chuck

If you have a keyless chuck, changing your drill bit should be a piece of cake. These chucks are made of 2 parts. You can open them by hand, by rotating those parts in the opposite direction. Usually, there’s also an indication on which way to rotate it (like “unlock” and “close” written on the smooth metal part).

Once you have unlocked it, you can open it by hand until the drill bit comes out, or you can rotate the drill counterclockwise to open the jaws faster.

To put up a new bit, insert the bit inside the jaws, and lock it in place by rotating the drill clockwise. Hold the chuck still while doing this. To be safer, you can rotate the chuck manually.

What Chuck Key do I need?

“Chuck Key – Steel, circa 1950-1970” is licensed under CC BY 4.0

If you are missing the chuck key or you broke it, and you don’t feel comfortable with the solution I suggested before to change your drill bit without it, you should consider getting a new chuck key.

There’s a key thing you need to consider: your chuck key should match your drill chuck. There are different chuck key sizes on the market. In fact, you need to match the post and the angle and teeth count. If you can, you should get in touch with your drill manufacturer and get a new key from them. If you can’t get one from them, your local store may have stock keys. Make sure to match it to your chuck as best as you can. You don’t wanna damage your chuck drill gear.

If you own a bunch of drills that come with different chuck sizes, you should consider getting one of those multiple chuck keys. They come in multiple sizes for different chucks. I really like this model: it comes with a magnet in the center, so you won’t lose it as easily.

Another thing you should consider is changing your chuck to a keyless drill chuck. I would not treat this as an available option (a chuck key is worth much less than a keyless chuck), but I heard people doing it, so I thought that I should let you know. Again, make sure to get the appropriate chuck size. Also, if you have an old drill or a drill press, you might not find a keyless chuck that is right for your machine. Here’s a list of available keyless chucks on Amazon.


So, after reading this article, you should be able to change your drill bit, even if you are missing your beloved chuck key. I presented a couple of solutions, that required tools that you should have available. If you are worried about damaging your drill chuck, you should definitely get a new matching chuck key. But if you are in a hurry of finishing your current project, your drill is going to be fine even if you use a pair of pliers on it. I’ve been doing it for years after I borrowed my chuck key to a friend and never got it back (yeah, you read it right), and my drill is perfectly fine.

One last thing: When you need to hold the drill bits firmly, you should always wear gloves or wrap them with something to avoid slicing my hand. I know I’m being finicky, but I sliced my hand once by doing this, so I want to avoid you unpleasant surprises.

Another thing (this is the last one, I promise). after you put your new bit up, never forget to check that the drill bit is placed properly. Always rotate the drill a couple of times before getting to work, to check if there are any fluctuations. This way you are going to prevent many accidents.

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