Flex Shafts, Dremels and Drilling Tools

Last updated: 5/10/17

Let me state this upfront because, I am asked this question, frequently:  You can use the quick release, hammer handpieces, The Wolf Belt Sander, Jump Ring Cutters, etc.  with THE HARBOR FREIGHT FLEX SHAFT!  You just pull off the handpiece and snap the other tool on.  I know this to be true because I use these attachments with my HF flex shafts!


dremel My Dremel  flex-shafts-dremels-and-drilling-tools/

The biggest difference, to me, between the Dremel and the Flex Shaft system is a comfort.  But, Dremel also has a flex shaft and a flex shaft attachment so, my point is probably moot.  It all comes down to what you have, what you like and where you want to spend your cash!

  • Dremel– This link is to their home page.  You can get Dremels everywhere.  Choose one that has the power needed for metal working. My Foredom SR Series flex shaft has a 1/6 horsepower motor (and runs up to 18,000 RPM – backward and forwards. You’ll want something with at least that much power.  You also want a tool that can run for a while without getting too hot – as you are holding the motor in your hand AND some jobs may require longer running times.

Dremel also makes a Flex Shaft – 23,000 RPMs, 1/5 horsepower motor.  This is a full kit, including the foot pedal.

dremel-flex-shaft Dremel 9100-21 Forti-Flex.

Additional Accessories (Optional)  – Dremel has a zillion attachments that I AM NOT covering on this page.

Dremel 225-01 Flex Shaft Attachment  – Turns your Dremel into a Flex Shaft.

flex-shaft-attach Flex Shaft Attachment for the Dremel

Dremel 220-01 Rotary Tool Work Station.  This setup has a flex shaft holder, drill press and a tool holder. Drill presses are nice to have when you need precision drilling.  The press holds the dremel (or flex shaft) steady and perpendicular for exact hole drilling. It is very difficult to drill by hand as accurately as you can with a drill press.

drill-press-dremel  The Dremel 220-01 Rotary Tool Work Station – see above.

Flex Shafts – Other

The Basic Setup.  Inexpensive.  I have several that are over 10 years old.  Maintenance is key.  Upgrade the foot pedal if you can afford it.  It’s pretty crappy.  No reverse on this machine but, it’s not a big deal.

Flex Shafts – Foredom

There are a bunch of them and some are designed for very specific uses like the  Foredom Power Graverfor engraving only.  I have an SR Series Foredom as well as 3 Harbor Freight flex shafts.  Visit Foredom’s page titled:  “What Foredom is right for me?” 

  • Foredom – Foredom has three motor styles:  1. Hang-Up, 2. Bench, 3. Bench with Built-in Control.  There are also three types of speed controls: 1. Foot operated in a plastic housing, 2. Foot operated in a metal housing, 3. Table-top dial operated in plastic housing. There are a bunch of Handpieces to choose from too.  Usually, for the new purchaser, buying a set can save on money and confusion. Here’s the link to Foredom’s new line of sets and this link is for their jeweler’s line of sets.

2230-SR-Foredom-Motor Foredom 2230 SR Motor and Jeweler’s Kit.

micro-motor  Foredom High-Speed Micromotor Kit 

micro-motor2 Foredom Portable Micromotor Kit

More Information

Additional Accessories For The Flex Shaft (some can also be used with a Dremel or a Drill)

Foot Pedals/Foot Controls/Speed Controls

  1. Lucas Foot Pedal (scroll down their page a bit).  They are made by Lucas Dental. The Lucas is the best pedal that I’ve used.   Any other suggestions for best foot pedal?  Foredom has started making theirs out of plastic and it is a bit sticky.  I think the subtlety of movement is lost.  Don’t love it. But, you can still buy their metal pedals. (Ah, poetry).  Pepe makes one but, haven’t tried it out so, I can’t give my opinion on it. Otto Frei carries Pepe’s foot pedal.

***One note on why foot pedals are important – it’s about the control.  With the Lucas, you can minutely and incrementally adjust your speed.  The Harbor Freight version is more like:  “I’d like to go a little faster but, whoops, I just went from 10 mph to 40 mph.  No subtlety. Once you’ve tried a great pedal, you’ll never be satisfied with a crappy one again!!!!!

foredom-metal-pedal  Foredom metal pedal foredom-plastic-pedal Foredom plastic Pedal lucas-pedal A very dirty Lucas Dental pedal (mine)

Manual Speed Controls

Foredom also makes an EM-1 Manual Dial Speed Control – which I have also not used. Rio Grande recommends: “Recommended for use with model CC, S, and SR (1/6 and 1/8hp) motors”.

speed-control Foredom Speed Controller

This page at Amazon has a bunch of foot pedals (and flex shafts) that I assume would work with a flex shaft too.

Quick Change Handpieces

quick-change Foredom H.18 Quick-Change Handpiece

These handpieces fit only one size of the tool shank.  But, there are collet sets for the Foredom, that adjust to different tool shank sizes.  Check to make sure that they will work with your handpiece or if you can purchase a different handpiece that will work with your motor and accommodate the collets.  I have found,  that all the different Foredom handpieces I own, work with the Harbor Freight Flex Shaft.

Miscellaneous Attachments (just a small sample)

Some of the additional tools that can be used with the flex shaft are:

handle Foredom H.30 Key-Type Chuck Handpiece.  They also come in pink and blue!  Pretty fancy smancy.

Foredom-H.30-Handpiece  The Foredom H.30 in PINK!

chuck-key  The dreaded Chuck Key.  Actually it is called:  The Comfort Handle Chuck Key.

Why do we need a quick change handpiece?  Because it’s much faster than using the uber annoying chuck key that comes with the traditional handpiece. 3/32″ shanked mandrels and drill bits just slide in and out with a click of the release thingy. Remember: I’m the Not-so Lazy here (just a nice way of saying that I’m lazy).

Flex Shaft Holders

Make your own:

paint-roller Mini paint roller frame and extension pole in my studio. Amazon carries the Wooster mini roller frame and extension pole as does Tru-Value Hardware and I’m sure, others.  I used strips of an old belt to hold the pole to my desk. Image below is sideways to take up less space on this page.

flex-leather Leather strips screwed around extension pole and onto my desk.

I’ve also put large hooks in my ceiling and attached bungee cords to hang my flex shaft from (in the old studio).

bungee  Tekton Bungee Set from Amazon  hook National Hardware Hook at Amazon

Here’s an idea at Instructables using a dowel, hook and an exercise bike seat mount.  You could also take a piece of 2X2 wood, drill in at an angle and glue in a dowel or three.

You can purchase flex shaft holders too.  

foredom-double-flex-shaft-stand  Flex Shaft Double Motor Stand.  I like the bur and tool organizers – nice idea.

Here’s another by Foredom:

foredom-MH-1-rotary-tool-motor-hanger- Foredom MH-1 Rotary Tool Motor Hanger (holds two motors).

Hand Drills

Hand drills are great for drilling but, they won’t work with a lot of attachments.  If you live off the grid, just drill and have limited funds, these drills will be fine for basic work.

hand-drill  Trademark Tools 75-5400 Antique-Like Manual Hand Drill.

Buy the sturdiest you can afford.  If they get out of balance, or the gears are shoddy, you’ve just wasted your money!

If you can afford the upgrade and you’ve got power to spare, I’d buy an electric drill, Dremel or flex shaft.  I own a hand drill and find the fact that I must use two hands, annoying.  Also, it’s a bit of work and for a lazy jeweler, like me, that’s not good.

Electric Hand Drills

You probably already have one in your garage, barn or shed.  Seems most people have one.  You can use a drill with jewelry making but, its bulky shape and heavy size make it less than appropriate for fine, detailed work.  I use an old Bosch drill bosch-drill  when I make a ton of jump rings and don’t want to crank my winder.  I also use my drill to twist wire when making fancy wire.  Drills are especially helpful when twisting thick or multiple strands of wire.  You can also use larger buffs, sanders and other attachments with them.  harbor-freight-drill-with-buff  Harbor Freight is demonstrating my point in this image!  The 4″ buffing wheel is available at HF.  Item#:  34743.  Can’t supply HF links anymore as they change their website too much.

vise   (Wilton 11106 Wilton Bench Vise)  Clamp your drill into a large vise and you’ve got a buffing machine.  You can also attach a foot pedal to have more finely tuned control over the speed.  Ensure that the jaws of your vise open enough to permit the insertion of your drill.  Also, ensure that the on/off and “gas pedal” aren’t blocked by the jaws of the vise.  You can wrap your drill in leather or purchase/make vise jaw protectors.

See my video:  How to Make Jump Rings (about 10 minutes into the video) for a demonstration of how I use my vise and drill. jump-ring-making-with-a-drill-and-vise  My jump ring making setup:  Drill in my “Big Girl” vise.  Also see my video:  Fancy Wire for another use for your drill.  Don’t forget to check out the Fancy Wire Web Page too!

WEAR LEATHER GLOVES  when using the drill for jump ring making!!!!!!!  NO LOOSE jewelry, loose, flowing sleeves, etc.  Tie your dreadlocks up (or other types of long hair)!

RadBear at Instructables has just one, of many, methods for creating soft jaws.

I just finished a video in which I demonstrate making magnetic, leather vise covers. Check it out!  It’s called the Weird Movie: Tips, Tricks and Insanity in the Jewelry Studio.

Pin Vises

I have yet to encounter a situation where I needed a pin vise.  I’ve used my spiral hand drill once or twice – out of curiosity.  Perhaps, I’d use it if the power went off but, if it did, I wouldn’t be able to see well enough (without lights), my pickle would be cold and I’d be busy trying to find our candles and camp lanterns.  I think I’d take a Kindle break  (love my Kindle Paperwhite), have a cocktail and pet a cat.

If you don’t have much to drill AND your material is soft, a pin vise is okay.  If drilling thick gauge metal, large holes or twisting wire above 20 gauge,  forget it.  Get a flex shaft instead.

IF you must have a pin vise, I vote for a Spiral Hand Drill spiral-pin-vise  over the Swivel Head Vise  swivel-head-drill.  My reasoning is that the Spiral Vise at least uses some mechanical power.  You push on it and the bit spins.  The Swivel Headed vise is essentially a holder for the wire and then you spin the vise around in your hand.  I think you could just as easily put the wire into a vise and then twist it with a pair of pliers.  I have NEVER used mine.  I have used the Spiral vise once or twice.

Here are two videos on the swivel vises operation: Mantic Moments: Pin Vice (sic) Drill Use (drilling) and Jewelry Supplies: How to Use a Pin Vise (twisting wire).

A video on using the spiral hand drill by FDJ Tool:  European Made Spiral Hand Drill. (Note:  he never drilled through the metal in the video!  A flex shaft would have drilled through that metal in a second.)

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