How to Use a Drill for Jewelry Making: 3 Ideas

Jun 10, 2009

From Furniture to Jewelry

About 20 years ago, I realized I had an unusual fear of power tools. So I decided to stare that monster in the eye and learn how to make furniture. I took a bunch of classes where I conquered wood planers and table saws and all kinds of other beefy machines. I threw down that fear, put my foot on its chest, raised my arms then walked away with a few nice pieces of furniture.

The exercise was good for the psyche, but I can’t say I fell in love with the idea of busting out end tables and chests of drawers all day. What I did fall in love with was the fine handwork required to finish the job. The experience definitely pointed me toward jewelry-making and knowing the ins and outs of power tools has been a godsend in that regard.

3 Ideas on How to Use a Drill for Making Jewelry

The favorite power tool from my furniture-making days that I now regularly use in my jewelry studio? A good old drill. For years I used a rechargeable shop drill, which worked fine for big, simple jewelry projects, but now I have a high-speed craft drill that allows for finer work. It was a fairly low investment for how much I use it. Here are some of my most-common uses:

DIY Findings

Customizing or making my own findings is one of my favorite ways to use a drill for jewelry making. I often drill a hole at the edge of a ring link to create another option for connecting to it. Another idea is to create 3-hole connectors by drilling holes into the sides of a small metal square. 

Rivet Holes

If you plan on creating rivets for metal jewelry, a drill is the most accurate way to get the rivet hole in the place you need it to be. Mark Nelson shows just how to do this with his fun Tape Measure Bracelet how-to on Beads, Baubles, and Jewels series 900 video. He handily uses his drill to make rivet holes for a simple, but very chic cuff bracelet.  

One-of-a-Kind Beads

You can turn just about anything into a bead using a high-speed drill. Be sure to use the proper bit for the material you’re drilling. To drill things like glass and shell, don your safety glasses and drill your item so it’s submerged in water. This keeps the item nice and cool (and potentially dangerous dust soggy) while the drill does its work. I set a hockey puck in the bottom of a metal pan, set the item on top of the puck, fill the pan with water so it slightly covers the item, and drill away. 
 
(Please note how the tip of the drill bit is submerged in the water—not the drill! You won’t get much of anything done ever again if you submerge an electric drill . . . )

What do you use your drill for in your jewelry studio? Got any drilling tips to share? Please let us all know on the website.


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Comments

on Jun 10, 2009 12:11 PM
I've been thinking about trying this, but like you, I have this fear I need to conquer. Just one question, where does one get a hocky puck?
on Jun 10, 2009 12:28 PM
I live in Minnesota, where you trip over them in the alley! But you can find them at most sports stores in the U.S. I just recycle the beat-up ones that my kid's been using. Depending on where you live, you might find other sources for used ones, too, like local schools or clubs. The thing I like about hockey pucks is that they are heavy, waterproof, and drillable, so they're fine for that underwater set-up. If anyone uses a different type of drillable expendable material that won't float, please share!
on Jun 10, 2009 12:52 PM
Several other ideas. I have an old glass dish that I put a silicone piece (formerly a potholder) into, then add water. I also use my extension on my Dremel so I don't accidently drop the tool in the water. Does anyone know a good (less expensive) source for diamond drill bits? I collect shells by the bucketful here in Sarasota FL and so need to find a less expensive bit.
Maria@159 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 12:57 PM
Do you recommend a particular type/model of drill? Maria
LisaH wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 12:59 PM
Hi - I have a Dremmel-like tool (its a Craftsman) and I want to drill shells with. Which exact sort of bit do you use, Mary Phillips (or others). Thanks for any ideas!
CarolV@18 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 1:05 PM
I also want to drill shells. Not sure what drill to buy. Can you use the diamond bits from a Dentist? Find someone at a Dentist office to save some for you. I had a drill once and a friend saved me the bits from the dentist, they worked great. Carol
Ara2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 1:08 PM
I is so amazing that you send this article right now. I just bought a dremmel tool and I want to drill some cool rocks that I collect in the beach, what kind of bit do you recommend? I know that I can´t use the same (661) that is used for shells... some one have an idea of what I need to use?
Ara2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 1:09 PM
I is so amazing that you send this article right now. I just bought a dremmel tool and I want to drill some cool rocks that I collect in the beach, what kind of bit do you recommend? I know that I can´t use the same (661) that is used for shells... some one have an idea of what I need to use?
Ara2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 1:10 PM
I is so amazing that you send this article right now. I just bought a dremmel tool and I want to drill some cool rocks that I collect in the beach, what kind of bit do you recommend? I know that I can´t use the same (661) that is used for shells... some one have an idea of what I need to use? --sorry is the comments show twice, but seems that it wasn't send the first time----
on Jun 10, 2009 1:11 PM
Great idea about the dentist drill. As this article states, be sure to drill underwater. I use a diamond-tip drill. However some of the cheaper attachments will shape the sides of the shell to smooth off "lumpy bits" and give it a cleaner line. I also like to coat with DesignaSeal Clear Gloss to bring out the colors and add strength. I'm getting ready to go on vacation so will experiment with making bails for shells as an alternate to drilling. Dremel is a tried and true brand, as is Craftsman if you're shopping for a craft drill.
JeannetteG2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 1:35 PM
drill bits: http://www.utopiatools.com/-strse-151/61-dsh-80-Diamond--Micro-dsh-Drill/Detail.bok
pwong2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 2:00 PM
If you drill material that has smooth surface, such as glass, you should use a Mini Vise hold on its. That will preventing from slipping and drills your finger. Make a small indentation on the surface by using sharp pointy object before drill and take all the precautions wear all the safety gears. The mini vise, you can purchase from Micro-Mark.com They have real small drill bits that you can purchase to drill small hole. Don’t forget submerge only drill bit, not the drill!!!
GailM@44 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 2:11 PM
I had bought over the last 5 years a few hundred cabochons as i was making jewelry and liked the style but i cn only do so many pieces at a time and so have fallen behind. I have wanted to drill holes through several of these cabochons but was afraid I would crack the gemstone. I know that diamond is the best drill bit to use as it will drill through everything being the hardest gemstone in itself. Thanks for giving me the heads up about submerging the stones that makes a lot of sense now that you have mentioned it.
on Jun 10, 2009 2:11 PM
Thanks Jeannette. I just went on line and ordered a couple sets plus some tools I didn't know I needed - ha!
SusanF@6 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 2:49 PM
I think a bit safer way is to use a shallow pan with just a little water in the bottom and a sponge. That way you are unlikely to put the electric part of the drill in the water and the sponge's rough surface helps hold the object in place (trick I learned from Ken Bova - thanks Ken!) susan
LeeT@4 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 3:00 PM
I have a punch - like a paper punch, but heavier, it can punch holes in metal things up to the thickness of a nickel. It doesn't work for glass, shells and ceramics, so I have a dremel tool for that with diamond bits. Some plastics submit to the punch, some don't, but it is SO much faster than a drill, and it makes a very satisfying noise when it punches.
JanetW@43 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 3:31 PM
I use my Dremel to drill a hole for a jump ring when making bookmarks from sterling silver sheet - after I have curved and hammered it.
on Jun 10, 2009 3:38 PM
I have a Dremel that I asked for Christmas last year, and have been afraid to bust it out. This article makes it less scary. I am definately going to give it a try!
Happibooker wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 3:45 PM
My nephew uses his dad's drill and a rod to make his own jumprings. He uses colored wire and has made some beautiful chain maille with forest green and midnight blue.
Thomasean wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 3:46 PM
What type of Dremel are you all using for jewelry making. Please explain the various types of tools and when to use them. Do I need to buy additional bits for different jobs? I know absolutely nothing about using a drill in jewelry making but I would like to add the skill to my repertoire.
BLONDIE-POP wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 4:39 PM
what a great artical. how funny i have a bunch of shells i would love to put holes in, but never thinking to use my dremel. i have had my dremel for over 10 years & sometime i think it has been overused. lol it has been used on all types of media. i even polish some jewelry with it still. but getting back to the subject.......years ago i had a handful of real beach glass. i search sites with beach glass for days. i feel on this site of how this woman puts holes in her glass pieces. water in pan, stable raised object, thin sponge, glass, covered in water.,,.,.,.,.and drill. i could not believe what i read. told my husband and said "i will frizz my hair playing in water with an electric device". p.s. it work great after i stood and looked for over 2 hours. i just never thought of using that method for my shells. i always make a nice homemade silver bail and glue it on. this would save me monies in the long run. i agree with LEE T. i use a metal punch also, why drill if you don't have 2. the sound of the punch makes me NO all is round and clean & clear. thank you for reasurring what i am doing is correct. D-R-I-L-L O-N U A-L-L
Myalli wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 6:04 PM
I have something to say, and I would never use a drill without a stand and something to keep my hands away from the drill bit. I've made lots of production jewelry, and stands are cheap enough that you can spring for one and not chance an accident. I have a dremel stand, and it's quite nice.
pwong2 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 6:51 PM
Sassy Sean, You can use any Dremel. Some Dremel tool comes in single speed; some come with 4-5 speeds. It’s depending on your preference. The rule of thump is go to hardware store and ask and check around, touch and feel…see this what you want. But when you have one you will have fun with this equipment. It’s easy to use and come with all the attachments (almost). Making sure that the drill is able to hold the small drill bit. If it’s not you have to purchase this tool call Pin Vice holder that can locked into the drill. If the tool you purchase be able to abject speed. You should adjust the speed to the lower speed, and take you time. My own preference is to get Dremel with adjustable speed because I have difference speed to play with. Some Dremel comes codeless, I like codeless but sometime codeless power doesn’t last as long as plug-in because of battery need to be charge all the time. It’s hard to say which one you should buy…..start out cheap one or mid price first.
PiecesofD wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 7:18 PM
I use my Dremel to drill and polish all kinds of things. For glass and rock, I use a diamond bit and submerge the piece under water, on top of a piece of foam. I also use my Dremel Drillpress. I'm not sure if they are available anymore, but this is one tool I wouldn't want to be without.
SandyH@40 wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 7:43 PM
I have drilled many holes in glass and I get my bits from Delphiglass ,they are a little more expensive but for the serious user they are worth the cash. I use a rubber eraser at the bottom of bowl with just enough water to cover the piece of glass, Making sure to put firm pressure on the glass and eraser with my left hand, , I place the bit at an angle on the spot I want to drill the hole and turn the drill on for 30 seconds, after I am happy with the placement I center the drill and finish making sure it has enough water. I fuse glass and not everyone will be going through thick glass , but I this has worked well for me.
AutEv wrote
on Jun 10, 2009 8:58 PM
Drills are awesome for making jump rings and coils. Since there's also discussion of Dremels here, I'd like to mention that I would NOT suggest using a Dremel to do this because if something goes wrong you can't just take your finger off of the trigger ...
bluelapis wrote
on Jun 11, 2009 12:19 AM
I have been using dremel tools for over 10 years now and must have at least one of most of their tools. I use them almost every day. I like the larger corded dremel for drilling, especially in harder items. And I agree that using the drill press rig mentioned by PiecesofD is the way to go to have the most control and to get nice straight holes. I also use this rig for polishing my jewelry because it gives me the use of both hands to hold my piece. I like the flex shaft tool that attaches to the base of my dremel scroll saw for etching and carving as well as drilling holes in softer or thinner materials like plastics or wood. It doesnt weigh as much as the regular Dremel, and is thinner and easier to hold for finer work. As far as bits go I mostly use the standard dremel bits for almost every job. They have one for every application from cutting and drilling to buffing and polishing, and dont cost that much considering the quality. (No I dont work for or own stock in Dremel. I just find for my money they are invaluable tools for any level of crafting.) I do use a regular corded drill to make jump rings and coils though, like AutEv wrote, and much for the same reason. But also because the dremel just goes too fast to suit me for this task, even at the lowest speed. Whichever drill you use though, for whatever task you're working on, always remember the safety glasses!!!
mypearlbox wrote
on Jun 11, 2009 7:50 AM
Re; How to use a drill for jewellery making. When I am stringing pearls I always need to enlarge to holes on the last 4 pearls at each end of a necklace to take a double thickness of silk. I lost a lot of drill bits to start with because of the heat generated, but have found that 1mm titanium tipped bits of engineering quality do the job without the need of a cooling water bath. To hold the pearls in place for drilling I use an old electric drill chuck. I hope this idea might save a few fingers.
Moxie4 wrote
on Jun 11, 2009 10:31 AM
Y'all have got me drooling over this Dremel tool you mention. I've recently taken a class on Cold Connections and my instructor told me to go straight for a drill press and to use a tumbler for polishing. I've been using both for two months. I hope I'm not missing out on anything.
SharonS@94 wrote
on Jun 11, 2009 11:54 AM
I use my Dremel with the extension for finishing and polishing silver and gold jewelry after the soldering is done. There are many different kinds of bits for polishing different materials and there are burnishing brushes and cutting wheels if you need that kind of work.
on Jun 11, 2009 12:28 PM
my earring cards are 1/2 business cards with a small head and small holes in her ears for the earrings. I use my dremel to drill the holes a stack at a time I can get smaller neater holes that way than with a punch.
on Jun 11, 2009 1:03 PM
What great comments! I'm going to look for a Dremel stand. I just ordered some jeweler's tweezers to hang on to the shell with. One other thing to mention. Part of the reason you put the shell under water is that the dust is toxic if you breath it. I don't think anyone has mentioned that before. We are all a bunch of shell fanatics, aren't we! I call going on a beach walk "sea bead shopping" with no checkout line.
Gyspy Mary wrote
on Jun 12, 2009 9:57 AM
Oh! Dear! a new use for my craft drills, I have only two,now I need a vise and stand.etc. Meanwhile, I have drilled an additional hole in some wood,bone & glass beads, so I can use them for bails. (it has holes on all four sides)What fun! and $$ Saving as well. Thanks, Jean.maryb
backrubber90 wrote
on Jun 12, 2009 10:17 AM
I have also been using a couple of different Dremels for a few years. My favorite use is sanding/buffing my polymer clay beads. I use the drill press and screw the bead onto another Dremel bit if I need to. I sometimes have to make my own sandpaper bits to get the finer grades. I just epoxy strips to worn-out regular Dremel sandpaper tubes. You can still get the Dremel drill press at Amazon.com (I just checked). There are also other types of work-station-type stuff for Dremels.
KathleenS@59 wrote
on Jun 12, 2009 1:07 PM
#1. Question to SANDY H. re: directions " I place the bit at an angle on the spot I want to drill the hole and turn the drill on for 30 seconds, after I am happy with the placement I center the drill and finish .." Why do you begin with the drill set on an angle rather than straight down? Wouldn't that make a little gouge? #2. I've read a few other sites mentioning drilling shells and it seems the dust is a major issue and to be avoided at all costs. Even if you're drilling under water it might be a good idea to use protective goggles for your eyes and a mask over your nose and mouth and cover any open cuts on your skin. If you breathe dust in, it gets embedded in your lungs and it won’t come out. It will literally be there forever. The dust isn't merely annoying, it's very TOXIC!!!! as well. This isn't a scare tactic but just passing words of caution I just learned to help safely achieve the best results. Kit