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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.