An automatic center punch is a useful tool to make a dimple on a surface such as metal, wood, plastic, ceramic, stone, and even leather. The dimple is not only meant to be as a mark but also functions to guide the drill bit. Expectedly, the bit drills in stably; not wander all over the place again.
Getting the best automatic center punch is crucial especially when you are going to work on metals. It’s also important to consider how big the dimple it creates. Furthermore, it should be able to support multiple punches in a row.
Thanks to the improvement that scientists do over the old-style center punch. No need for two hands to use the hammer anymore. By means of the automatic center punch, all the components are merged into one and allow you to operate it single-handed. It gets quicker and more importantly more accurate.
Commonly, an automatic center punch consists of these parts: 2 springs, 1 mini hammer, and 1 punching bit. However, the spring and punching bit are the most highlighted. The spring determines how strong the striking force, whereas the punching bit determines how able it is to penetrates the surface being punched.
The price varies based on the quality. An entry-level could be about $20. This price point works well on soft metal. If you are in search of the excellent one; it’s reliable to hit tough metal such as stainless steel, you may have to spend about $50.
In general, the standard model of an automatic center punch has an entire length of about 5inch and a diameter of 1/2inch. Today’s model also features an adjustable striking force. This allows the users to suit the impact to the surface hardness. In addition, the punching tip should be replaceable.
On the following table, we cover some of our selection for the best automatic center punch. We mainly compiled them from their capability to hit hard metals. For the complete guide on how to buy an auto center punch, please keep reading after the list. There is also extra coverage of how an auto center punch works.
Top 10 Best Automatic Center Punches
1. Starrett 18C Heavy Duty Automatic Center Punch
Starrett 18C is the heaviest automatic center punch that we enlist on this page. Although its length is only 5-1/4 inch, the body thickness is considerably the fattest here 11/16 inch (1.7cm). In addition, its punching bit is extremely made of hardened tempered steel. And the bit size is like your finger. That would be a total monster. In comparison with its family series 18B, 18A, and 18AA, the Starrett 18C is considered as the toughest one which is designed exclusively for punching hard metal.
However, it’s supposed to be versatile. That means suitable for wood and aluminum as well. The adjustable impact force will allow you to use it for anything. You just have to unscrew out the knurled end grip to reduce and screw in again to maximize the force. But, many people said it’s useless. The force remains the same; too strong for a soft surface.
As usual, the Starrett brand always releases high-quality products. Like other typical high-quality products, they also provide the spare parts for sale. You could purchase the bit replacement separately for substitution in case it’s dull or anything else. So you can save money without buying the new one.
There are a huge number of buyers who are satisfied with this American-made automatic center punch. Some of them found it last for a lifetime. They buy again just because it’s lost. Starrett 18C is extremely an incredible tool you can use for repetitively daily use. Its durability is great to use for engineers, metalworkers, woodworkers, so on.
- Recommended for stainless steel, other hard surfaces.
- Bigger and deeper dimple than other conventional center punch
- Durable, long last
- Replacement bit is available
- The dimple is too large for a small drill bit
- May rust for a so long time of use
2. Rennsteig Adjustable Hand Guard Automatic Center Punch
Renssteig 430 231 RT made-in-Germany auto center punch is the best automatic center punch for the budget. If you are looking for a lower price than Starrett for marking most of the steel surfaces, then Renssteig will fulfill that expectation.
As we could see from the official page, the highest force it can provide is 250 N while the lowest is 180 N. For this range, it’s supposed to be able to create a strong mark on structural steel. If we check out from the real reviews, we found it work on aluminum, mild steel, stainless, and steel. But a customer reported that it’s not reliable to punch HSLA steel. Perhaps, this could give you some clear idea of how capable this center punch is.
Another outstanding feature of this Rennsteig center punch is the nice red handle that will provide a comfortable push in the palm of your hand. This will allow you to make repeatable punches in a day without ending up being a pain at your hand’s palm.
Compared to its other series of Rennsteig automatic center punch, this largest model is our best choice for you to handle just for anything. Even though said it’s not for wood, it’s surely not always the truth. You could adjust the striking power by unscrewing the red end grip intuitively to get an appropriate setting for wood or plastic.
- Capable to punch steel
- The nice option for the budget
- Comfortable push knob rather than the plain one
- Not for all types of steel
Shank diameter: 0.67 inch
3. Fowler 52-500-290 Heavy Duty Automatic Center Punch
This Fowler is another heavy-duty automatic center punch that deserves to share with you. Amazingly, its overall length is 6 inch which is the longest one on this page. Along with that, the diameter shank is fairly fat 10/16 inch (0.625inch).
Aside from that, the piercing bit, two springs inside the body, and internal small hammer are made of hardened steel. While the outer body is made of steel. All of that construction would make it feel solid in your grip. Additionally, like other high-quality center punch, you could replace the bit for replacement and other purposes. So, you don’t have to buy a new one.
Fowler 52-500-290 spring-loaded punch will suffice your punching need. It will leave your left hand free because it’s operatable by one hand. This one is a mid-priced automatic center punch. It provides sufficient quality work. We recommend using it for mild metal or wood.
- Nice for mild metal and wood
- Not for super hard metal even though it seems well built.
4. Spring Tools 28R45-1 High-Speed Steel Center Punch
When the majority of automatic center punch relies on the spring mechanism inside the body, this one applies the same spring but no pressure is needed. The spring mechanism is very simple. And what just needs to do is pull up the spring and release. When the spring turns back to its initial position, the potential energy from the extending spring becomes the force to punch the surface you are going to dimple. This tool allows you to create dimples much easier, more fun, and accurate.
The Spring Tools 28R45-1 was specifically crafted to mark extremely solid materials. The tip is smooth enough and can be sharpened without losing rc65 hardness. Its hammerless action ability ensures accuracy and precision control to only give excellent results. The striking force for this can be measured at a whopping 3,500 pounds.
- Burst power (High force)
- Easy to use
- Simple working mechanism
- Not easy to fall apart
- Need two hands to operate
5. Starrett 18AA Small Dimple Automatic Center Punch
Starrett 18AA is considered as the smallest automatic center punch. Its body length is only 4 inch but the 7/16 inch thickness remains solid. In spite of small size, it’s remarkably reliable to finish works that require highly precise and tiny indentation.
Compared to 18C, Starret 18AA only generates a small dimple. However, that is the value. If you want to dimple jewelry stone or the components, this will go perfect for you. The probe bit which is hardened tempered steel will be great for any surface. Also, it’s replaceable. So when you need to make a smaller dimple, you could sharpen it. Similarly, if it becomes dull, you can change it.
The benefit of using Starrett 18AA is really obvious. It acts softly and requires relatively small power to depress. As a result, the narrow force it generates will not deflect the area around the marks when there is no base behind. Especially when you are working with a thin metal sheet, this lovely tool will not ruin the even surface.
In case you have to use it for a tough job, you could still use it but you have to punch a few times until you get the appropriate depth and width that you want. Nevertheless, we don’t recommend to do that.
This cool stuff is also ideal to be one of your car emergency toolkits. Because of its compact size and lightweight, it will fit whether saved in your vehicle storage box or travel bag. Moreover, your kids would easily use it as it doesn’t need too much power to activate the punch.
- Great to prepare a dent for jewelry drilling purpose
- For light purposes
- Kids emergency punch
- Not for heavy-duty work
6. Lisle 30280 Pocket Clip Automatic Center Punch
Lisle 30280 is a slim, pencil-like design, lightweight, and pocket clip built-in automatic center punch. It also has a sharp punching bit which is good to make accurately dimple marks. Moreover, it’s also made from hardened steel which means able to use for many applications.
However, this one is actually a light-duty center punch. It works pretty well when tempting to mark on hard metals but only fires a tiny dimple. You might want a hammer and center punch again to widen the dimple. We also encourage you to use it not too frequently.
The downside comes from the production quality. As we read through the reviews, the internal parts seem not really well-made. Some products sometimes don’t reset automatically. It may not totally fail, but it could be very annoying. Our suggestion is to disassemble and lubricate the spring and other components before using it.
Overall, Lisle 30280 is no reason to give it a try. If you are lucky enough, you’ll get the money shot for your light works. Many people have used it and find it last for years. In addition, it has the possibility to replace the punching tip. If it wears, you could buy the new one Lisle 30290.
- Lightweight, slim, pocket clip
- Many users complained that the reset doesn’t run smoothly.
7. General Tools 89 Stainless Steel Automatic Center Punch
Another auto center punch on the list that you have to consider is General Tools 89. What makes it great is the hardened steel bit which is good to confidently hit hard metal such as steel. And the solid stainless steel material on the body is aimed to protect the tool from rusting.
It actually works and more accurate than the traditional way using a hammer and center punch. But the mark it produces on certain metal such as stainless steel is not really satisfying. You still need the hammer and center punch to enlarge the dimple in order to create a sufficient diameter for drilling. However, it will work well for soft metal or wood.
Does the size matter with you? It has 5.25 inch in length and 9/16 inch in thickness. You could estimate whether the dimple it generates will fit your drill bit or not. The dimple it creates is about 1.8mm (0.07 inch) in diameter. You could set up the impact by turning around the knurled grip end intuitively.
The drawback addresses the bit which seems not replaceable. You cannot sharpen it or substitute it with the new one in a case being dull. But the punching power is like the others which are adjustable.
- Good to use for wood and soft metals
- Not a replaceable bit
8. Starrett 819 Self-Centering Automatic Center Punch
When installing the door hinge, you’ll have to mark the place where the screws will be drilled in. If the surface is metal, you’ll punch it to contrast the mark and easily guide the drill. The chance is you may not mark it right at the center. Plus, using the manual center punch makes things even get worse. The hinge ends up being installed inaccurately.
By using this center punch, all the tasks can very straightforward. Its self-centering punching bit will accurately dimple right at the center. Even you just need one hand to punch. Imagine if you’ll have to install a fair number of hinges in a day. Using this Starrett 819 will be very effective and saves your time.
The aluminum body will feel lightweight in your hands. But the replaceable punching bit is made of high carbon steel that is able to deliver 5.5 lb in maximum force. You could set it to the lowest force into 1.5 lb by adjusting the end knurled barrel. Like other standard automatic center punches, it has a 5-inch overall length and 5/8 inch diameter.
- Installing hinge screws becomes so much faster
- Only for a specific application; not versatile
9. Neiko 02638A Automatic Center Punch for Wood
Neiko 02638A features a punching bit made from S2 steel. This steel consists of extra vanadium and manganese. These will definitely add hardness and wear, plus at the same time minimize brittleness. However, despite it’s okay to use for metal such as mild steel, we prefer to use it for wood. If you keep going, you might find it less powerful and end up repeating several punches to get a bigger and deeper dimple.
For this kind of price point, finding the bit made from S2 steel is considerably very affordable. You certainly understand not to expect it’s from carbide. Hence, if you are going to use this for wood, that would be more than decent. Especially if there are loads of dimples need to be punched, the plastic red ball handle which is ergonomic in the palm of your hand will allow you to make a lot of dimples without having hurt feeling to your hand’s palm.
Moreover, this item comes with a 5-inch total body length. So, it’s neither too big nor too small. The body shank is coated with chrome which is good to counter corrosion. Aside from that, the striking force is adjustable by either screw or unscrewing the red ball.
- Very comfortable in the palm of your hand
- Support a lot of punches in a day.
- Great for wood
- Good quality
- Need more than one punches to put the dimple at steel, even mild steel
- The replacement bit is not available for sale
- You have to buy this center punch again if the bit is dull or missing
10. Tekton 6580 Brass Automatic Center Punch
There is no hesitation to carry around brass automatic center punch due to its lightweight as an emergency escape tool. Simply put it inside your leather bag, then you don’t feel it’s there.
Don’t worry about its capability to destroy the vehicle window. Most automatic center punch provides sufficient force to do it especially this one.
- Brass body, resistant against rust
- Not recommended for metal
How Does It Work?
Before the invention of the automatic center punch, people call it just the center punch. The difference is found at the spring-loaded feature. Therefore, to use it, you need a hammer to make a tiny dimple.
People then created the more simple one. The force from the hammer was substituted. The tool then employs the spring because it can store energy. In such a way, when you push the punch, the mechanism happens, and at a certain condition, the spring will release the force to the pin and it makes a hole.
The force released by the pin is like the force done with the hammer. Therefore, this tool can be used to break the car window in case something bad happens. So, you don’t need to carry around your hammer. It’s not simple and disturbing.
The best explanation video about this mechanism can be seen from the two videos below. They would be very helpful to watch.
and also this one from Wikipedia.
Many areas rely on this automatic center punch. Its simplicity and reliability can make your drilling work accurate and quick. Screwing can be fun as well. It is perfect to dimple your steel plate and other metal workpieces.
Buyer’s Guide Automatic Center Punch
Bit Material. It convinces you how capable it is to mark the surface that is made of hard material. Besides, good material will help make it last longer and resistant to wear. However, as the quality becomes improved, the price rises.
Bit Sharpness. If the bit is narrow enough, the chance it points accurately is great. However, if the punch bit is dull, it could move when you press it. After a long period of time, the bit can be dull. You may want to sharpen it or replace it.
Replaceable Bit. When the bit is dull, you may want to sharpen it or purchase the replacement. It’s better off to buy the replacement bit rather than buying the entire center punch. Spend some money upfront, then save a lot of money at the end.
Comfortable Knob. There are some models that feature this knob. It allows you to create a lot of marks with ease. That said, it will not really pain your hand despite too many tasks to be done.
Conclusion: Which One Do I Have to Buy?
Well, it’s not a difficult question. There are a lot of options but you could narrow down your choices to these three brand options: Starrett, Neiko, and Renssteig. We actually prefer Starrett 18C because it’s ideal for professionals. However, the cost might not effective for your needs. Hence, the economical option is Neiko. For more comfort and reliability, the Renssteig is a great choice.
In addition, if you find that the automatic punch is not as accurate as you want, you might want to check out optical center punch (Fowler 52-500-075 Optical Center Punch; look at the video advertising to see how it is really nice working on the job). An optical center punch allows you to look at the point you are going to punch accurately through the magnifying optic. After you spot at which place you exactly want the dimple is created, you can punch it with a hammer. All the decision is up to you.