Up until recently, nearly every piece of jewelry I made featured a rivet somewhere. Drilling holes in metal, glass, stone and other jewelry materials is a way of life for me, so I consider myself a bit of an authority when it comes to drilling holes when making jewelry. After years of teaching hundreds of students the jewelry making basics, I am certain of one drilling fact: the number one mistake most people make is trying to drill a hole at way, way too high a speed for the drill bit to work. This not only results in dull cutting edges on the drill bit, it leads to tremendous frustration because a student will typically keep on pressing down on the pedal and pushing harder on the drill bit to try and force the issue by going faster. This results in a rough, funnel shaped depression with a large burr on the edge instead of a cleanly drilled hole, hot metal from the friction, and a deader-than-dead dull drill bit. Sigh.
There is a better way. When drilling holes in metal, you’ll first need to create a starting point for just the very tip of the drill bit to rest in – either by center punching gently using a very sharp tip or scribing a dot or line with a very sharp steel point to break the metal’s surface – or that bit will just skitter aimlessly instead. I like Gesswein’s Blue Ribbon™ High Speed Twist Drills (1552010) in the set of 12 (sizes 55, 57, 60, 62, 64, 65, 66, 68, 70, 72, 73, and 75) because the American-made steel is very hard, the edges are sharp, and they come in a travel-ready tube of often-used sizes.
The second thing you need for accurate drilling (and burring, sawing, punching or shearing) is a good lubricant for the tool’s cutting edges. I have just started using Kool Lube Paste (8162462) for my drill bits because it’s neater than wax sticks and easy to apply to a running bur or drill. The handy jar also makes it toolbox-friendly for workshops.
The final thing you need for accurate drilling is patience. Go slow. Aim for a clean spiral swarf of metal coming out of the hole as you drill, keep your metal cool, the drill bit vertical, and you’ll always get a nice, clean hole.
Helen is an experienced metalsmith, lapidary and studio jewelry instructor who has appeared in 6 instructional jewelry technique videos. Her latest book, Metal Jewelry Workshop, was published in 2017.
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