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Drill Bit preferences

Please share your favorite drill bit brand.

@Jewelry_Girl Perhaps you could be a bit more specific.

What application?
What type of project?
What problem are you trying to solve?
What are you doing currently?


For general jewelry work, in other words, sizes from 55 up to 80, I like the Blue Ribbon bits from Gesswein. they stay sharp longer and are more resistant to breaking than other brands.



General jewelry work. I’m doing some pave work and it seems that the bits are dull fresh out of the box. Then when I finally did find one that wasn’t, the tip chipped off. I’ve tried a few brands and this seems to be an issue. I realize bits break and get dull, but I want to know the best brands out there.

I was going to start this topic myself, so glad to see it. I do quite a bit (pun intended) of piercing. I use the size 78 for the finer lines the most often. It seems the bits I used to get from Rio Grande, by the dozen were a much better quality than the current ones they are carrying. These do not seem to be as well tempered. I did read the article on here about re sharpening the bits, and I do that, but not too happy that I have to spend time doing it. One day I was in a time crunch and needed a bit right away, and stopped in Grainger, on the off chance they might have a small enough one. Surprisingly they did have a fairly small one, that I managed to make work.
It was quite a lot, I think like $10, for 1 bit. But… it was made of a different type of metal, and that one bit stayed sharp and I used it for over a year. Their bits did not go down as small as the 78 I like. In the larger sizes I buy the multi pack from Dremel which you can pick up anywhere (home depot) and they last forever, but not small enough for fine details. I am really looking forward to hearing favorite brands and where you get them. I love having a good drill bit and when I find one it gets its own private plastic bag marked “good”. It seems when you buy the dozen pack there can be one in the batch that is superior to the others??

Don’t you hate when one breaks off in a delicate spot? Tricks for getting them out will have to be a new topic!

Had to replace some small bits from my large set of boxed drills and stopped by a welding shop that had a supply store
attached. They had all the sizes and the bits worked fine. Small drills cost $1.10 apiece and I drilled 20 holes in 1/16 copper
and the drill is still sharp and did not break like others that came with the set. Possibly the welding supply stores have a better quality bit. Unfortunately I do not know the manufacturer. However I did use cutting oil which really made drilling so much easier rather than the waxy lubricant sold by Rio.

I figured out that the real difference in drill bits are American made ones vs imported.

We order drill bits regularly from McMaster Carr.
You have to understand what you are ordering -
we order the “General Purpose High-Speed Steel Jobbers’ Drill Bits” usually the 118 degree point. If you are drilling something harder, you might want the 135 degree point .
We found they are American made, very good quality at a very good price.
Works for me .

Live Oak Studios

Hi Susan, the best way I’ve found to remove broken drill bits is to throw the piece in the pickle pot for a while. It will get plated by copper, especially around the bit, but after a little while longer the majority of the copper will dissolve off again. That’s how I can tell that the bit is completely dissolved.

Depending on the size and with a little help from the ultrasonic and steamer, it can take anywhere from about fifteen minutes to dissolve a small piece of a #72, to several hours to dissolve a large chunk of say a #65.

I’ve tried the alum method that I’m sure someone will chime in with. It works and the piece doesn’t get the copper plating, but I hope you’re not in any kind of hurry.

Lots of little bitty holes in this one. Around eighty if I remember right. Aquamarine center. 18K white gold.

Try those Blue Ribbons. They are excellent for pave’ work, which is what I use them for specifically. A heck of a lot cheaper than $10 a piece too, a dozen #78’s are about $25. Made in the USA. Ordering from Gesswein is easy, no hoops to jump through.

Be sure to use lube of some kind, especially with smaller bits. I use Rio’s Bur Life. When it starts to stick, stop right now and re-lube. That’s when they’ll break on you, about three seconds after the first indication of sticking, a lot of the time just as it’s breaking through. The best approach is to not wait until it starts grabbing. Just hit the lube every now and then. I do it every time I turn the piece to maintain perpendicular orientation, or about every ten seconds or so.



Drilling and drill bits is a subject on its own, so for this forum can we please try and use either imperial or international metric? sizes in quotes?
Yes we can all look up the number equivalent size that seems to be the norm here, but the rest of the world uses imperial and metric.
Next, using small as in 1mm or less size dia drills really need a mini drill press to run them, preferably at a high as in 3000 rpm speed, into work thats properly held in a jig or some champ or other with a precision feed.
It seems that theres only a few of us here who have had any engineering/tool room/workshop/ production experience which we can bring to bear on this basic function.
Also small as above drills are regularly too long for hand use, a much better option is using the smallest sizes of center drills, look them up! they have a short as in say 3mm length at I mm then increase up to 3mm dia for some 25mm, with the same drill end on its other end, so youve 2 drills in one. SO much easier to use in any hand piece or drill. also there always in HSS and DORMER are now offering them in these small sizes in solid Tungsten carbide.
Drilling gold and silver is relatively easy, try it in these small sizes in 316 ssteel or titanium.!!
As for buying drills go to a proper engineering tool supplier. They cater for the aero space industry and do know what there at.
Do you also properly center punch the start detent? it helps!

Note From Ganoksin Staff:
Looking for a small drill press tool for your jewelry projects? We recommend:

I seem to come up with the same reply on every subject,. Why don’t jewelers use their heads and buy their drills from watch parts houses? I’ve said this about buffing compounds, but drills are in the same category. No watch maker would accept the problems you are describing. So, the drills carried by watch parts houses tend to be expensive, but of uniformly high quality. Another excellent source of high quality drills are gun repair parts houses. This is another resource entirely ignored by jewelers. What they offer in the way of engraving tools, drills and files will come as a real surprise to anyone accustomed to jewelry parts houses.

This is my first point. My second point is, I wonder why people don’t look up drills on the Internet and spend a few hours studying .Them they will know what they’re buying and why. This is your profession folks, and you need to know everything necessary to do it in the fastest and best way possible. I like to start at Wikipedia (despite its’ faults) and then go from there. For anyone else who thinks this might be a good idea, here’s a starting place


Thank you, Bill.Tokyo! great link!

I found the below section very helpful:

Many different materials are used for or on drill bits, depending on the required application. Many hard materials, such as carbides, are much more brittle than steel, and are far more subject to breaking, particularly if the drill is not held at a very constant angle to the workpiece; e.g., when hand-held.

Soft low-carbon steel bits are inexpensive, but do not hold an edge well and require frequent sharpening. They are used only for drilling wood; even working with hardwoods rather than softwoods can noticeably shorten their lifespan.

Bits made from high-carbon steel are more durable than low-carbon steel bits due to the properties conferred by hardening and tempering the material. If they are overheated (e.g., by frictional heating while drilling) they lose their temper, resulting in a soft cutting edge. These bits can be used on wood or metal.

High-speed steel (HSS) is a form of tool steel; HSS bits are hard and much more resistant to heat than high-carbon steel. They can be used to drill metal, hardwood, and most other materials at greater cutting speeds than carbon-steel bits, and have largely replaced carbon steels.

Cobalt steel alloys are variations on high-speed steel that contain more cobalt. They hold their hardness at much higher temperatures and are used to drill stainless steel and other hard materials. The main disadvantage of cobalt steels is that they are more brittle than standard HSS.

Tungsten carbide and other carbides are extremely hard and can drill virtually all materials, while holding an edge longer than other bits. The material is expensive and much more brittle than steels; consequently they are mainly used for drill-bit tips, small pieces of hard material fixed or brazed onto the tip of a bit made of less hard metal. However, it is becoming common in job shops to use solid carbide bits. In very small sizes it is difficult to fit carbide tips; in some industries, most notably PCB manufacturing, requiring many holes with diameters less than 1 mm, solid carbide bits are used.

Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) is among the hardest of all tool materials and is therefore extremely resistant to wear. It consists of a layer of diamond particles, typically about 0.5 mm (0.020 in) thick, bonded as a sintered mass to a tungsten-carbide support. Bits are fabricated using this material by either brazing small segments to the tip of the tool to form the cutting edges or by sintering PCD into a vein in the tungsten-carbide “nib”. The nib can later be brazed to a carbide shaft; it can then be ground to complex geometries that would otherwise cause braze failure in the smaller “segments”. PCD bits are typically used in the automotive, aerospace, and other industries to drill abrasive aluminum alloys, carbon-fiber reinforced plastics, and other abrasive materials, and in applications where machine downtime to replace or sharpen worn bits is exceptionally costly. It should be noted that PCD is not used on ferrous metals due to excess wear resulting from a reaction between the carbon in the PCD and the iron in the metal.



Hi gang,

I’m on my personal account at the moment, but I’m the poor bugger who deals with the CNC’s that make all the Knew Concepts saws. All those little holes in the swivel clamps? I’m the guy who had to figure out which drills to use, and worse, the guy who had to change them when they broke. So I got pretty good at finding drills that’d last.
One of our old setups had us drilling through 1/2" of steel rod with a 1/16" drill, in about 10 seconds. And we found a drill that’d let us do that thousands of times before it died. So there are good micro drills out there, they’re just pricey.
($30 each, for that particular super drill. Most aren’t near that bad.)

That said, for jewelry work, the first thing you want to find are “screw machine drills”. They’re shorter than standard jobber drills. Which makes them less flexible, and less likely to break. (and also more accurate, but that’s just a perk.)
The thing that blows little bits most often is when they get bent, or take pressure (from pushing) off axis. Having them shorter makes that less likely. But for true accuracy and survival, as Ted pointed out, you must have a decent micro drill press. It guarantees that with proper clamping of the piece, all the force will be on-axis, and no bending. Which will make your drills last much longer. Drilling in jewelry metals, a good drill should be able to give you at very least hundreds of holes, if not thousands.
Other critical things are to make sure you make a center-mark to start the hole, and keep the RPM’s of the drill up. Run the drill at what will seem like insane speeds. (4-10+K rpm isn’t unusual.) Teeny little drills aren’t actually getting much surface speed, as they’re so small. So you need to get the speed up to get them cutting efficiently. Which generates heat. Which means you need to use burr-life, and remember to peck through the hole before the heat fries your bit. Pecking is just what it sounds like: push in a bit, pull out for a sec, push back in some more, pull out, etc. The idea is to cut a little bit then pull out to clear the chips out of the drill and give it a second to cool down. The only metal you don’t do that with is stainless. Or titanium, now that I think on it. Ti needs LOTS of lube/coolant, but both of them react badly to pecking. It causes workhardening of the contact area, which makes a bad job suddenly almost impossible.
Standard jewelry metals don’t care.
Another thing to remember is that jewelry metals are almost all what a machinist would classify as ‘gummy’. Which means they like to form sticky (for a metal) chips, and clog up flutes. So you need to remember to peck to clear the flutes. (the spirals on the drill. They’re channels to get the cut material up and out of the hole. Hard to do that if they’re jammed full of chips.)

Anyway, you’re only going to find screw machine drills at serious industrial suppliers. Get 118 degree split point (aka center cutting) drills. I tend to like cobalts, but I’m running in heavy equipment that can deal with the brittleness. For jewelry stuff, don’t waste money on all the funny TiAln, TiN, etc coatings. Simple HSS or cobalt will work fine. Do NOT get carbide drills unless you have the gear to run them. They’re as brittle as glass at this scale. You will break them if you try to do it by hand.

For favorite brand, I’ve had very good luck with Precision Twist drill, and Hertel’s are very good. Avoid MSC’s “Interstate” like the plague. For online ordering, look at MCSDIRECT.COM. They’re the industrial supply equivalent of Rio. They can be beat for price, but if you want it now, and you don’t want to fuss with it, they have it in stock, and they ship right now. Otherwise, there are a whole slew of other industrial suppliers out there, just look. (or google.)

For whatever that was all worth.


Hi Julie,

What I use exclusively for most steel and brass are HSS drills. This is the type of drill you find being used 99% of the time in machine shops. The other types are for much more rare or extreme conditions. another great thing about HSS drills is that they are very widely available at reasonable prices. I don’t see why the average jeweler needs anything else.

Sorry to leave out the rest of the world, a #70 drill bit is 0.028 inch or 0.71mm, a #75 is 0.021" or about 0.54mm and a #78, the size mentioned by Susan, is 0.016" or 0.41mm. Jobber’s length of these sizes of bits is such that the smaller ones can be chucked up to extend very short lengths in most handpieces. .

I’m not disagreeing with anybody, but the use of a drill press when drilling many very small holes (less than 0.5mm) in a piece of jewelry that consists of gummy metal and multiple compound curves usually isn’t very practical. The use of industrial type tools can be overkill when working with small objet d’ art. They certainly have their place, but so do hands and eyeballs, and in my experience, most of the time, human hands coupled with good optics are superior tools for pave’ work…



Great replies, and right on the same page with Dave, creator of the very lovely aquamarine ring, with the multiple drill holes on the undulating surface. I rarely break a bit, drilling by hand with a drill bit set deep into the chuck, but if I do, now I have a brilliant way to remove it! Can’t wait to try it/ hope I never have to. I also agree that magnification (good optics) and good lighting are your friend when precisely drilling/piercing very small holes, often close together.

I will be following the recommendations on the type of drill bits, and where to purchase them, and looking forward to removing that stress from my work!

In response to why don’t you Google these type of questions. This forum is absolutely one of the best sources of pertinent knowledge and experience available. I do Google extensively and use YouTube for furthering my education. But I could have spent hours looking and not getting the valuable input that I am able to gain here. I am truly thankful the administrators have taken their time to preserve this treasured resource.


Hi David,

Yeah, believe it or not, I agree with you about the heavy equipment being massive, insane overkill for 99% of what most jewelers do. For punching a few holes through a silver sheet, especially if it’s curved, I’ll whip out the flex shaft too. I can be done and gone before I’d even finish warming up the big boy toys.
On the other hand, knowing the details of how to get a drill to give top performance, and most accurate hole location is useful to me, even if I am winging it by hand. Knowing how to do it right, even if I’m not going to all the trouble, it still lets me bring much of that knowledge to bear, which improves the hand work. And frequently, it doesn’t take as much fussing as you’d think to get things jigged up properly for at least a drill press. Once you’ve got a certain minimum kit of tooling, you can get set up surprisingly quickly. It’s just getting to that point, and getting familiar enough with the system that you can do it fast that takes time. It seems like it’ll never go right, but eventually, as with anything, your skill level gets high enough that it all suddenly clicks. After that, it’s easy.

The funny thing is that as I was writing my lamentably disjointed treatise above, I was thinking about some of the guys who trained me, and some of their answers to my questions, once upon a time.
Drills and drilling should be simple. I certainly thought so. And to a degree, I still do. They are simpler than a lot of things. But that just means I’ve found deeper rabbit holes to fall down, not that drilling is actually just point & shoot.

What I was remembering was some of my ‘simple’ questions, the answers to which turned into these recursive loops of “oh crap, I have to go back and explain (X) before telling you to do (y) makes sense, but that means I also need to explain (Q) and (F) as well…” I remember both my frustration in hearing answers like that, and their frustration in needing to give an answer structured like a backwards summersault. Now the shoe’s on the other foot, and I just watched myself give that sort of answer. Somewhere, there are a great many people whose shades are deeply amused.


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Brian, Did you just say that your boss said to do it this way " because I said so" ? I think this is the thing a boss always wants to say because it saves so much time. tom

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Brian I found your backward somersault answer informative and engaging. It
is nice to know the names of what I have figured out by trial and error,
like “pecking” and “clearing the flute” I can’t imagine trying to drill
without a center punch, but I have not been using burr-life, even though I
am aware of it, and not really sure why I haven’t used it. Adding it to the
order list

I really appreciate your adding the link to MCS Direct. And Patty’s
suggestion of McMaster Carr. This is really helpful, and the type of
information this forum is great for. When you search the internet for
general titles like Watch makers tools and supplies, the first thing you
get is ads, followed by Amazon, ebay etc. then the suppliers most jewelers
are familiar with (all good) like Stuller, Rio Grande, Gesswein, Ofrei,
Contenti etc. So, this doesn’t really help find a good drill brand.

Now I will know and I can try the suggested;

“Blue Ribbon” brand available at Gesswein
Precision Twist drill, and Hertel’s at MCS Direct
General Purpose High-Speed Steel Jobbers’ Drill Bits" 118 degree point at
McMaster Carr

trying all these, finding which works best for me, saving me time and money

Apologizes and thanks to the original poster Amy for hijacking her post

BTW the $10 drill bit I got at Grainger was designed for the aero space
industry and looking further on their website I see they do offer the 78
(.016) but it must have not been in stock at the store I went to. Grainger
is an industrial tool and supply store.

Did I mention I love tools

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