Unusual Materials

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Nancy LT Hamilton

Below, are questions related to unusual materials used to make jewelry.

Questions and Answers

What Tool To Use To Drill Small Holes In Sea Shells?


“I just saw your YouTube video on flex shafts.  I want to drill small holes in small seashells.  The shells are thin and delicate.   Do you recommend a Dremel Tool or a Flex Shaft Tool?”


You can use either tool – it just depends if you drill in water or not (read on).  What you need to do is use a series of drill bits (new ones that are not dull).  Start with a 22 or 24 gauge drill bit (see my drill bit charts) and work your way up. This will reduce the chances of chipping and flaking of the shell.

  • Don’t push hard.
  • Use low speeds:  drill slowly and gently. The shell won’t heat up and there’s less chance of damaging it.
  • Keep the drill parallel and don’t wobble it.  Those tiny drill bits snap really easily!
  • Drill in water – here is where the flex shaft is the only tool to use.  I use a plastic jar lid with a little water in it. Of course, there is the possibility of drilling through the top.  You can dip, remove from the water, drill a little.  When dust starts to form, dip again.  The water also helps to keep the hole free of debris so your drill bit works less hard.
  • Don’t use the dipping-in-water method with the Dremel or you may be electrocuted!  Seriously!
  • You can also drill with diamond drill bits. I’ve had success with both types of bit. There are core drills and twist drills.  The core drills are little tubes, coated with diamonds.  The theory is that the debris moves through the center and out.  I use core drills when drilling stones and glass.
  • Tie back long hair, safety goggles on, no dangling sleeves or jewelry.
  • Dry your steel tools well after use, including the flex shaft handpiece and the drill bits.  Rust is not our friend in this situation.

The dust from shells and bones is particularly dangerous for your lungs.  You HAVE to wear a decent particulate mask – especially if using the “dry” method. So, if you’ve got a flex shaft, use it for drilling, as the water will resolve the hazardous dust issue.

For drilling shells, you can use a round ball bur, on a small piece of wood, and create a little cup that approximates the size of the shell being drilled.  When you go to drill, place the shell in the indentation – it will help to keep the shell from being crushed and also help with holding it still.

Watch out for your fingers with these tiny, sharp objects – they like to spin and start thinking that they’re chop saws.  You might want to protect your fingers with Alligator Skin tape.  Try drilling one (using a very slow speed) and see if you can control the spin.

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