THe issue of how to drill holes in glass came up in another thread so I thought I'd share this info here in the "How do I?" forum. Folks regularly ask me how to drill holes in rocks, glass, or other items. Nearly all of the little holes in commercial beads are drilled with an ultrasonic drill and an ultrasonic drill costs about $2,000, so I drill with diamond drill bits. I've been professionally drilling holes in stones and glass for over 15 years so I get asked this question a lot. First off one needs a dremel tool or a flex shaft, preferably with a rheostat to adjust the speed. Diamond drill bits are actually SUPPOSED to operate at HIGH speeds, like 5,000-15,000rpms. But you can't argue with success. Africa John has been making his stone beads for years, drilling the holes with nothing more than a pie plate of water, sponge, and diamond bits in a hand held dremel. He rotates the dremel slightly in his hand to take advantage of the diamond on the edge of the bit and this helps extend the life of the drill bits. But it does leave a larger hole. Here's my full, standard explanation of how "I" drill holes in stones and glass with some images of my setup and a schematic at the bottom for more information... For the most part I use Crystalite Triple Ripple 2.1mm bits. I’ve checked every supplier around and I think they are the best bit. The best price I’ve found is through Indian Jewelers Supply in Gallup and Albuquerque, New Mexico. They are $2 each, but if you buy more than 25 at a time you can get them for $1.65 each. If you want new drill bits I highly recommend these bits from this supplier. They’re great and I’ve been dealing with them for years. The bits also come in sizes from .75mm up to 2.1mm, but they are all the same price and the larger ones last significantly longer. So unless you absolutely NEED a small hole, go with the 2.1mm's. I use them in a foredom flex shaft, which I mount in a foredom drill press that I have set up over a plastic shoebox like tub with a drain hose in it. I actually cut up an old plastic toolbox and installed the drain hoses. I have a pump that recirculates water out of a 5-gallon drain bucket and spits it out onto a drilling platform made out of a large, solid chunk of plastic, that sits in the center of the plastic shoebox tub. I use a rheostat for my drill speed instead of the foot pedal. I prefer to have a constant speed of around 10-15,000 rpms. These little diamond bits are designed to work at high speeds and with water as a coolant and to wash away the grindings. The glass will crack if it gets hot or too stressed. An in between solution from having a pump vs. just doing it in a pie plate, is to get a drip kit from Lortone and make a bucket that has a tube that drips out a controlled amount of water. I like the recirculating pump because then I don't have to keep adding water to a drip bucket and emptying the reservoir that it drips into.
So good drill bits, light pressure, high speed, flowing water, patience, and for a beginner-safety equipment. I would use THICK rubber gloves with little grippys on them when drilling glass so that if it breaks while drilling one doesn't cut one's fingers. Those little rubber finger condoms with dots and ridges, the ones you get at the office supply store for counting paper, are great too! Get them in a thumb size and a index finger size. Yes, I hold everything I drill with my fingers of my left hand and use a light up and down pressure with a single FINGER on the drill press of the flex shaft. Eye protection is an essential safety precaution too! Important to remember that one isn't actually DRILLING, in the concept of the way one would drill wood, metal, or plastic. "drilling" in stone of glass is actually more a process of GRINDING with a little, teeeny, tiny grinding wheel. I actually watch the water flow around the drill hole to see the little clouds of grindings come up from the hole with each light touch down If you are touching drill bit to your material and no little clouds of dust come up with the water (and if you hear a slight change in sound) then the drill bit face is probably dead, burned off, GONE. That bit is now useless EXCEPT for the diamond that is still on the sides. If you want to save burned out bits as they can be used as little freehand carving bits for small work. If you keep trying to drill with a burned out bit you will break your material. I also never drill ALL the way THROUGH my object. I drill half way, turn it over, line it up, and then drill the other half way through so that the holes meet. If you drill straight through, you get "break out" on the other side, which is like a big chip. I use a diamond cone burr to bevel edges of my holes. Certain tapered bits can be used to easily enlarge holes. If you want a 3, 4, 5mm or bigger hole, it is much easier (and cheaper) to drill a 2.1mm hole and then ENLARGE it with cone and tapered burs. Again, lots of water, light pressure.
One can either hold the piece one is drilling and use the drill press to go up and down, or one can carefully lift the piece up against the drill and bring the piece itself up and down. Here are some images of my set up along with a schematic and some info I made up over 10 years ago when I taught a class on this for the Society of North American Goldsmiths....
This is my set up in my current studio....
and here's a close up....
and here's a schematic with some parts info...
I hope this helps folks who want to drill holes into glass or stone. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions or problems.
Ecclesiastes 3:5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A big THANKS to you David!!!
Your explanations are a great help and have probably saved me much time and frustration. So before beginning I will contact Lortone in France and start a research for diamond drill bits. (And I thought I could drill Glass with the same sort of drill bit my husband uses to drill enameled tiles)
Greetings from France
Super good directions David, thanks! I love your set up. If I were going to drill just one or two things I'd modify that and use the kitchen sink with the faucet slightly more than dripping onto the stone for coolant. Since this makes a good mess I'd cover the nearby area with some towels or similar to keep everything from getting all wet. What do you think?
I'm not sure what the grind or drilling particles might do to the plumbing system if washed down the kitchen sink.
In the instruction leaflet of my tumbler, they are warning that any grind washed down the sink could form some sort of cement and thus blocking the plumbing system after some time.
On the other hand, the grind of just two beads would probably not be enough to cause irremediable constipation.
Radegunde you made me laugh out loud at you choice of words for a plugged drain. TOO FUNNY!!!!!!
Hi folks, glad to be of help!
Radegunde: Lortone is in Mukilteo, Washington, outside of Seattle, they're not in France. While I didn't see their "drain kit" for a bucket drip system on their website, lortone.com, I'm sure they probably still have them. The drill bit used for ceramic tile wouldn't work very well on glass, as evidenced by how often tiles break when one tries to drill them and tile is a lot softer than glass.
Pam: Good idea on using the kitchen or utility sink for just drilling a few items. One just has to be careful about mixing water and electricity if one is using a dremel, with the electric motor in the hand held part. With a flex shaft, it can get the handpiece wet without worry because the rotor handpiece in your hand is mechanical, not electrical, but if it got really wet one would want to dry it off well so it doesn't rust. The problem with dumping your tumblers content down the sink is the thick sludge of fine silicon carbide grit mixed with ground up rock/glass bits. That stuff can turn to concrete in your pipes if it isn't really thoroughly washed down, but there are at least a tablespoon or two or more in a tumbler. I dump my tumblers through a sieve into a waste water sludge bucket, do a quick spray or rinse of the sieve contents and tumbler barrel into that, then one can go ahead and thoroughly wash out the tumbler barrel and tumbler contents into the sink without worry about what a LITTLE bit of the sludge will do. The small amount of glass or stone grit that would come from drilling in your sink wouldn't affect the plumbing at all.
Good luck and happy drilling or tumbling!
Thanks David for that very thourough and useful info. I'd love to try a little drilling sometime. I'm a bit intimidated by power tools, though. I've barely mastered pliers and a hammer. :-0
of course Lortone is based in the USA - but they have a daughter-company (or perhaps it is just a reseller - is that the way you call it?) in France (and probably other european countries too). That's how I came to own a Lortone tumbling machine without paying horrendous shipping costs.
Thank you David, that's good information. I wasn't thinking of doing a lot of drilling in the sink like that anyway, just one or two things. You're right about getting the Dremel wet, I know that but wasn't thinking about it when I posted. I used to put the Dremel in a plastic bag with a little hole just big enough for the chuck and at one point I had a flex shaft that was meant for the Dremel.
Do you get your tapered diamond bits from the same supplier as the regular diamond bits? I already have some 2mm, but am looking for the tapered to make 'recessed' holes.
Evalie:Do you get your tapered diamond bits from the same supplier as the regular diamond bits?
Hi Evalie, While I get my 2.1mm Triple RIpple bits exclusively from Indian Jewelers Supply in New Mexico, I'll get my tapered diamond bits and burrs from whoever is cheapest. I haven't found extra value in payine more for better diamond burrs for the kinds of work I do. I've even been happy with the collections of diaomond burr sets I got at Harbor Freight for only around $10 for a set of 12 or 20 burrs. There's a lot of variety in shapes and I can try different things.
I'm so happy to be back in the studio after two weeks in Tucson and a week at my Spiritual Retreat recuperating! It's nice to finally be checking back in with the Beading Daily Forums!
Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge as well.!
Blessed are those who can Give, without remembering
and Take with out Forgetting
Nice to have you back my friend. I take it that the show went well since it took a week to recover from it. *laughz* Thanks for the info too. It's nice to know that you don't have to break the bank in order to do some things. your insight is invaluable to all of us. Thanks again.
I yam wut I yam and dats all wut I yam. ~Popeye~
Dragonfly Jewelry Designs - ArtFire Artisan Studio
What great information. Thank you for sharing and in such great detail. You make it sound easy!!!
Tip: To stop metal findings from tarnishing store in a ZIP Lock bag with a chunk of chalk.
If you're still monitoring this thread, can you tell me if an aquarium pump would be suitable for a water-flow drilling system? If not, can you recommend a pump type? Is a pre-filter advised to prolong the pump seals? If so, any ideas on what to purchase or fabricate?