Micro Drill Pin Vise – Indispensable Tool Series

When you work in any art, craft, or hobby, there are always those certain tools that change everything. Once you get one of these indispensable tools, you’ll wonder how you ever functioned without it! I’ve got a few of these wonderful tools in my studio and today I’m writing about my newest love…a micro drill pin vise.

Pin vise showing micro bits, collet, and collar.

I’ve been working with polymer clay since 2001, and like all new clayers I made lots and lots of beads. Of course beads need a stringing hole. So I used a toothpick to poke a hole through the middle of my polymer clay beads before baking. Well, that didn’t give a very good result. So I started using a large tapestry needle. That gave better results, but the action of piercing a bead created more distortion than I liked. If only there were a way to drill a hole in a bead after curing. So off I went in search of a tiny drill bit.

It turns out that the smallest bit commonly available in drill bit sets is 1/16″ or 0.062 inches (that’s about 1.5mm in metric). That seems small, but it creates a huge hole in your bead that works well if you’re using hemp as a stringing material. But as my skills increased I began to want to create fine art beads with tiny stringing holes that more resembled those of commercial beads. Drilling such a large hole in a tiny bead seriously compromised its strength  When I asked at my local hardware store it seemed that smaller diameter drill bits were not available. But I knew better. I’d seen them online. But that cost money and I just didn’t want to part with my funds!

Pin vise with micro bits and ruler showing size of bits.

Well fast-forward a decade. Recently I’ve been making a new line of Rustic Beads and Components and sometimes I want to drill holes after baking rather than embedding connector wires. So I bit the bullet and spent the money to buy this incredible little Micro Drill set. I couldn’t be happier. In fact, it exceeds my wildest expectations. I’ve been happily drilling tiny holes through the middle of beads with no trouble at all. I can even drill a hole all the way through a flat focal bead, crosswise! And because the drill bits are tiny, the action of drilling doesn’t tear apart the bead around the drilling hole like I’ve had happen with larger bits. Polymer clay is soft, and you don’t need a powered drill. And drilling slowly with the pin vise allows you to have extreme control. Because the drill itself is pen shaped, it’s comfortable in your hand and you will have no trouble using it.

There are a variety of sources for these drill sets. I purchased mine through Polymer Clay Express. Another source is eHobbyTools.com. I paid about $13 for mine. If you’re in Canada, Shades of Clay has it as well.

Micro drill pin vise showing bits stored in handle.

My pin vise is about 5″ long and the bits are conveniently stored inside. To use it, unscrew the knurled collar, remove the brass collet, and dump out the bits. But be careful, some of them are very tiny! The smallest is about the size of a sewing pin. Choose the bit you want, put the rest of the bits back inside the pin vise, put the collet back in the top, and replace the knurled collar. As you begin to tighten the knurled collar, it will put pressure on the collet and begin to tighten down. Put your drill bit into the collet, taking care to center it, and then finish tightening down the collar. You now have a hand-powered micro drill!

Pen shaped pin vice with micro drill bit.

I’ve not tried drilling anything but polymer clay with these drill bits, but I suspect they’d be great for all sorts of materials. They’re not carbide or diamond tipped, though, so I wouldn’t use them on hard tempered steel. But I would think that anything you can drill through with hand power would be soft enough to not harm the bits. I think the greatest danger (aside from simply losing the bits) is to break them off by dropping the pin vise.

Pin vise with collar, collet, and bits in hand to show size.

Not so sure you need so many sizes of drill bit? Did you know that you can make your own hand drill tools? I wrote a mini-tutorial explaining how to make your own hand drill tools with drill bits from the hardware store and polymer clay.

26 thoughts on “Micro Drill Pin Vise – Indispensable Tool Series”

  1. What a cool tool, I’ve been jury-rigging my dremel with a small bit, but as you mentioned, in a small bead it ends up being a BIG hole. I will have to add this to my wish list… 🙂

  2. I mispaced mine several years ago and found it again when I did my studio reorganization this past summer. Like reuniting with an old friend. I think I’ll put some neon orange on it so I don’t misplace it again!

    1. I’m always thinking it’s my X-acto knife when I dig through the drawer because it’s the same shiny aluminum finish. Painting it a different color would be a good idea.

  3. I love my pin vise – need a new one, though. Mine doesn’t have the collet for very small bits – love it!

  4. harbour freight tools sells teeny tiny sets of drill bits (cheap!). now i need to find the pin vise. what an excellent idea! meanwhile, i may just make them into independent tools like in your other post.

    1. Hi Claudio, to drill through glass you need to use a powered drill, a special hard bit (diamond tipped or carbide??), and you’d need to keep it wet to keep it cool and keep the dust down. A hand-powered drill wouldn’t be high speed enough to drill through glass. And because it takes a long time (relatively) to drill through glass, you’d need a drill press to hold the bit steady, too.

  5. I found my pin vise on Amazon but I need something to make a bigger hole (4 mm) in a Pandora type bead. Any suggestions?

      1. Yes, I made three of those. One with the larger drill bit. I used the wire with some liquid polymer clay to help “hold” the bit inside of the clay handle. But, it didn’t work very well. It’s already loose. It was fun making them.

        1. Sometimes it does that. Those drill bits are pretty slippery. Just take a pair of pliers and pull the bit out of the handle. Then put some superglue down in to the hole. Then quickly put the bit back into the hole. With the few of mine that have come loose, this seems to have solved the problem.

  6. Do you have to put the cured bead in something like a vice to hold it in place? Also, do you have to have something under the bead to “catch” the drill bit coming into the bead and coming out the other side of the bead? I’ve never used a drill of any kind on polymer beads just pins. Want to make holes in large and tiny beads (1-2mm holes).

    1. No, the beauty of a hand drill is that you can use your hands and correct the angle of the drill as you’re doing it, making sure the hole is straight and through the center. You can go as slow as you need to. As the drill bit gets most of the way through the bead, you can usually tell where it’s going to pop through the other side because the clay will “swell” a bit. If you watch carefully, you can then mark that spot before the bit actually pops through. Then remove the drill bit from the bead and then come in from the other side where you marked the bead. That way you won’t lose a chunk of bead when the bit pops through. It also helps to go very slowly. I also use bead pins typically and then enlarge the hole with a drill after I remove the bead pin. It helps a lot in getting straight holes, and I can get quite large holes in very small beads that I could never have done by poking holes into raw clay.

      1. This site is so amazing! I’m new to using polymer clay and every time I have a question about it, I come here first because I know you’ll have the answers! Thank you so much!

    1. It doesn’t have any kind of power assist to it. It’s merely a small holder for tiny drill bits. Imagine holding a pencil and using drill motions with it, pushing into a bead. Would that hurt your hands? It doesn’t bother me, as polymer clay is pretty soft. But if I had to do a lot of them, I’d want to use a Dremel or other power tool instead.

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  9. Maureen Knight

    The holder doesn’t tighten enough to hold the bit if I use any pressure. ( Ebay purchase but other seem to manage)

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