As part of my ongoing Indispensable Tool Series, I recently talked about a micro drill and pin vise. It’s a fantastic tool and I strongly suggest that you add one to your polymer clay tool kit. If you haven’t been able to buy one yet, here’s a fun and easy solution to help you drill holes in baked polymer clay beads. Here’s a simple tutorial showing how to make your own hand drill tools with an ordinary drill bit from the hardware store and some scrap polymer clay.
Drill bits are available from any hardware store as small as 1/16″ (1.6mm) in diameter. Drill bits of this size are perfect for making holes in larger polymer clay beads. At my local Lowe’s store there were several kinds of single packaged drill bits and I purchased 2-pks of the least expensive black oxide metal drill bits. I bought the 1/16″ (1.6mm) and the 1/8″ (3.2mm) sizes.
You can use these bits in a standard electric drill, but that’s much too powerful for making holes in polymer clay. Because polymer clay is quite soft, drilling slowly and with control, by hand, is the best approach. In order to do that, you’re going to need to create a handle for your drill bit. Here’s how to make decorative Natasha Beads handles for your polymer clay hand drills. What are Natasha Beads? They’re a classic style of polymer clay bead made from scrap clay where each face of the bead features a mirror image pattern, much like a classic Ink Blot.
- drill bit
- thin craft wire
- wire cutters
- liquid polymer clay
- heat gun
- scrap polymer clay
- clay cutting blade
- small piece of plexiglass (aka lucite or perspex) (mine’s 3″x3″ or 7.5 cm square)
- knitting needle or other tool to smooth the clay
- Varathane, Renaissance wax, or other finish, if desired
1. To keep the drill bit from spinning in the handle, we need to create something for the polymer clay to grip onto. Tightly wrap a piece of craft wire around the shaft end of the drill bit.
2. Dab on some liquid polymer clay and cure with a heat gun until clear. Set aside.
3. Take several colors of scrap clay and condition them. Roll each of them into a snake. Various sizes are good. Try to pick several different colors with good light/dark contrast. If your colors are too similar your finished bead won’t be as pretty. Smoosh all the little snakes together into a log.
4. Now twist the log, fold it on itself, and maybe twist it again. There’s really no wrong way of doing this except don’t mix too much or the clay will blend together too much and not give a design with good definition.
5. Shape the log into a long rectangular block. Use the piece of plexiglass to press down evenly and help create flat sides. Keeping your plexiglass parallel to the surface, press down gently but firmly. Lift up, turn the block to the next face and repeat. The block will likely get longer and longer, so make sure to press on the ends as well to shorten the block back down to the size that would make a good handle for your drill bit. Really work to get all four sides parallel to each other with good crisp square edges. It won’t be perfect, but the better you do this step, the better your final Natasha bead will be.
6. Once you get a nice, squared off block, it’s time to begin cutting your Natasha Bead. Cut the block lengthwise, exactly in the center, creating two halves.
7. Now cut each of those halves, again, lengthwise. This will divide the block into four quarters.
8. Now is time for the Natasha Bead magic. This is one of those things that’s easy to do once you “get” it, but can be really hard to visualize. So take your time. Look at the picture above. Notice that the piece directly above the blade is a mirror image of the piece above it? And the piece at the bottom is a mirror image of the one at the top? What you’re going to do is match up all the pieces with their mirror image twin. Essentially each piece will be turned around so the former outside is now inside. At first, just lightly set them together until you get all four quarters arranged the way you want. Then very carefully align the mirror image sections along the cut edge. You are basically turning your block inside out.
9. When you align your edges, make sure you get the seam as level as possible. You can’t sand Natasha Beads after curing because doing so will erode the matching pattern. You have to get them lined up at this point.
10. You will likely notice that one of the seams isn’t as crisp as the others. This is where you made your first cut into the block and depending on how much drag your blade had, you might have a fair bit of distortion. I find it’s best to align all the other seams first and leave this one til last.
11. Now set your prepared drill bit into the center of your clay block. Carefully close the last seam, lining it up as best you can.
12. Use a knitting needle or similar tool to smooth the seams so there is no sign of the join. Don’t rub back and forth, instead roll the tool toward and over the seam repeatedly, from all directions, working to get it as smooth as possible. Make sure to smooth all four seams.
13. Taking care to maintain the square log shape, squeeze the clay block from all four sides so that the clay inside will smoosh around the drill bit. You want to make sure you don’t leave air gaps inside or the clay handle won’t hold the bit.
14. Use the plexiglass once again to re-establish the square shape of the clay block.
15. Use your clay blade to trim the ends of the block. To trim around the drill bit, just push the blade in until it hits the bit, then rotate the blade around the bit, cutting off the clay. Discard the extra bits or save them for another Natasha Bead handle.
16. Bake at the clay manufacturer’s recommended temperature for 1 hour. Yes, a full hour. The longer bake time will give a stronger clay and that means your hand tool will be stronger, too.
Using Your Hand Drill Tools
I first made myself a set of these hand drill tools in 2002 and have used them ever since. I use the 1/16″ (1.6mm) size for drilling holes in beads after baking. I don’t use the 1/8″ (3.2mm) size very often, but I have used it for sculpting and distressing baked clay beads. Polymer clay is soft enough that you can easily drill through any thickness of cured clay without any difficulty. I’ve also used my hand drills for drilling through soft wood and plastic for other hobbies and crafts. They’re just really great tools to have on hand.
***Note: Those drill bits are slippery little suckers at the best of times. If you still end up with your drill bit slipping inside of the handle, try this. Use a pair of pliers to pull the bit out of the handle. Take some two-part epoxy glue, mix it together, and daub it on the end of the drill bit. Then put the drill bit back into the handle, twisting as you go. Let cure thoroughly.
Using this same process, you can create your own needle tools using metal tapestry needles in a variety of sizes. I think that’s a wonderful use for scrap clay!