Drilling a hole in gold

Has anyone discovered an easy way to drill holes in gold? What burs
do you use? I think I’m doing everything right, but it’s always a
struggle. I always use a new bur, of course bur life, and make an
indentation to start. I’m thinking it’s the burs I’m using. Any
suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


Hi Julia,

If you are not using a drill bit first to make the hole before
fitting it with a bur, that might be why you are struggling. It is
easier to drill the hole through with a normal drill bit and then cut
the shape of the seat for the stone with the correct bur.

Dean Gordon
GOLDesigner Ltd.
Gold casting svcs.

um. Julia, don’t use a bur. Use a drill bit… Most burs are not
"end" cutting very well, while a standard spiral drill bit is
intended for just that use. You can get drill bits made with 3/32
shanks to fit quick release handpieces, or standard drill bits that
fit the adjutable chucks on a #30 handpiece. High speed steel will
hold an edge much better than ordinary carbon or vanadium steels (like
most of those 3/32 shank bits are made from), and it won’t be ruined
if it gets a bit too warm. Use bur life or another good drill/bur
lubricant. If the metal is anything other than quite thin, and you’re
using smaller size bits especially, then drill a little and lift the
drill slightly before pressing down again (lightly.) That allows
chips to clear out and lube to get to the tip, reducing drill
breakage (which is going to happen now and then anyway, especially
with thicker metal or smaller bits. Remove broken drills by soaking
in hot pickling solution (sparex or another sodium bisulphate pickle,
or use grocery store alum, boiling) Breakage is one reason why drill
bits are commonly sold by the dozen, but to an extent, you can
resharpen the points on broken bits by regrinding them on the side of
a fine grit seperating disk or similar tool (or by hand on a fine
whetstone, but that’s hard to do and a PIA…) Your drills will start
slightly better if you make the indentation with an actual center
punch type of tool (make a small one in a few moments from an old
broken bur if you like. The key is that the conical tip gives an
indentation matching the shape of the bit more than say, a round bur,
giving a more accurate start to the drill. Pay close attention as the
drill starts to cut so it stays “on target”. If it wanders to one
side, you can drift it back if you catch it before it’s cut too

Also, when drilling, turn off the loud music or take off the
headphones and listen to what’s happening. When a drill starts to
bind, or cut roughly, you can often hear it do it, as well as feel it.
When that happens, lift the drill out to clear the hole and reapply
the lubricant before proceeding. Doing this will significantly reduce
the number of bits you break. Also, keep in mind that like any
cutting tool, drills get dull. A dull bur just doesn’t cut well, but
a dull drill heats up quickly, stops cutting, and often will figure
out a way to jam and beak in the hold. So when the bit stops cutting
cleanly, inspect the tip to see if it’s dulled. If so, resharpen it or
change to another one. Some metals will dull a bit faster than
others. Platinum, for example, quickly dulls a bit, while golds do it
less quickly, so you’ll get more holes out a bit before it needs
sharpening. On a recent platinum piece I was drilling prior to
setting a bunch of diamonds, the particular batch of drills I was
using yielded only about six decent holes per drill bit before
becoming too dull to cut well. With practice and good magnification,
they’re not that hard to resharpen, but it’s annoying still…

And do note that even with the best of techniques, drilling is
sensative and can be tricky. We often use very small diameter drills,
and put holes though materials significantly thicker than the drill
diameter. That’s a stress on big industrial drills and even more of
one on the small ones we use in jewelry. So if you’ve got it pretty
down pat, but still get frustrated by the occasional broken or dulled
drill bit, then rest assured you’re not alone. Just the way it

Hope that helps.
Peter Rowe

Burs are inefficient in drilling holes. A standard style twist drill
bit is a better option to make the first hole at least. Then
gradually use larger drill bits or even burs to make the hole the
size you want.

A good tip is to drill a little bit, then withdraw to clear out the
shavings, then drill a little bit more, withdraw, etc…until you’ve
drilled all the way through. This helps prevent the drill bit from
catching or “binding” in the hole, and also helps keep it cool.
Forcing through in too big a hit will run the risk of the drill bit
breaking off inside the hole, and that’s a pain in the proverbial.



If you want to “drill” a hole why not use a standard high speed
steel twist drill instead of a bur? Use a center punch to locate
where the hole will be, choose the diameter drill bit you need, and
either use a drill press or your flex shaft. You can continue to use
bur life.


Joel Schwalb


Normally burs are not used to drill holes in metal. Use twist
drills! They are much faster, cleaner and last a long time. Burs are
normally used only to remove excess metal in areas it is not wanted
or to carve/shape metal. Setting burs are used to cut seats in prongs
or tubes but that is about the closest one will come to 'drilling’
with a bur.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry.

Why are you drilling holes with burs? You may find it more
efficient, simple and economical to use standard metal twist drill
–the kind sold at Rio, Otto Frei, etc.-- to drill holes in non
ferrous metals like gold, silver, bronze, brass, copper, etc.

Using a small round or ball bur to “center punch” a pilot mark prior
to drilling is a great idea and allows you to “center punch” a hollow
object without deformation.

Using burs to inititially drill metal is hard on the bur, on you and
on the work. Burs are meant primarily as refining and shaping tools.

Take care, Andy

Use a drill bit to drill holes. Burs are for shaping holes.

Hello Julia,

As usual Peter Rowe gave you excellent I would only add
that using a small drill press makes drilling the hole so much more
controllable than trying to do it solely by hand. I wouldn’t take
for my drill press!! It’s not very expensive - came from the Harbor
Freight - and worth every penny when drilling many holes.

Judy in Kansas, where the snow is falling and the students are
dreading finals next week.

Has anyone discovered an easy way to drill holes in gold? What
burs do you use? I think I'm doing everything right, but it's
always a struggle. I always use a new bur, of course bur life, and
make an indentation to start. 

If I am reading this right, it sounds like you are not starting with
a drill bit? I would make a pilot hole with a drill bit, then a
series of progressions with bud burs to enlarge it from there.
Remember each tool has just a little job, there’ll be another tool to
take it a step further, but you’ll ruin alot of tools asking them to
do what they were not designed to do. Hope this helps…



When you want to drill gold, why on earth wouldn’t you use a drill
rather than a burr. Drills are much cheaper than burrs and available
in any size you would want. If you need a size hole that you do not
have a drill for, just drill the closest smaller size and then
increase the hole size with a burr.

Regards James Miller

A good tip is to drill a little bit, then withdraw to clear out
the shavings, then drill a little bit more, withdraw, etc....until
you've drilled all the way through. 

I agree about the drill bit. I need to remind my students to drill
slowly, not at high speed.

Hello and happy holiday’s,

When I am going to drill a hole in gold or any metal, I use a small
ball burr to make the initial indent in the metal, and then switch to
a drill bit to finish the job.

This makes it easier for me to control the drilling process.
Sometimes if I do not do this the drill starts spinning and skipping
all around creating a mess on the metal.

Picture yourself hammering or screwing a nail into a hard surface.
It makes it so much easier if you tap the nail first into the surface
creating a dented surface to “grab” your nail or screw. I learned
this trick from my dad who was a carpenter his whole life.

Good Luck,

A good tip is to drill a little bit, then withdraw to clear out the
shavings, then drill a little bit more, withdraw, etc…until
you’ve drilled all the way through.

I agree about the drill bit. I need to remind my students to drill
slowly, not at high speed. 

Not TOO slowly. it’s a delicate balance. Push down too hard and the
drill will grab and break. not hard enough, and nothing happens, or
with some metals, it just dulls the bit if it’s not properly biting
into the metal. And rotational speed should not be too slow either.
Really high speed may not be controllable, and may overheat the
drill. But if the drill is turning too slowly, and you’re still
pressing down the same amount, then you’re asking that bit to take a
larger bite per revolution, which can break the bit too. So a decent
medium to medium fast speed and a gentle touch is usually best. If you
wish to slow down the drill (slower rotation), then also back off on
hard you press too.


Please forgive, I used the wrong term in my message(early in the
morning before coffee). Of course I use drill bits, not burs to drill
a hole. I’m guessing that my problem (judging from all of the helpful
messages) is I go too fast and press too hard. Thanks to everyone for
the help.


Make a drill starter dimple at the spot where you wish to drill.

By the way. You can buy a tool from a local hardware store that will
dimple the metal before drilling. The one I have is spring loaded.
The tip is placed against the metal at the location of the desired
home. Press the tool down against the metal. At the correct pressure
the tool will cause the tip to snap against the metal leaving a
perfect drill starter dimple. The tool requires quite a bit of
pressure so it will not work in all cases. In those cases a small ball
burr will work great to grind a small starting dimple. Hold the
grinding tool steady so it does not walk on the metal leaving a

Use a smaller drill to drill a starter hole.

Use bur life to lubricate the drill bit.

Remove the drill from the hole many many times. The drill shavings
can cause a small drill to bind in the hole thereby causing the drill
to break.

Enlarge the hole with a drill a couple of sizes larger that the
previous drill.

Use a burr once the hole is large enough to fit the burr. Never
force the drilling. Just be patient and work slowly. Drilling silver
is a difficult task also.

Lee Epperson
Hope to see you in Tucson

When you want to drill gold, why on earth wouldn't you use a drill
rather than a burr. 

By using a bur you are in better control of the direction of the
hole, that is you can correct for drift. First drill a pilot hole
with a small twist drill then finish with ball or bud burs. Blaine
Lewis demonstrated this technique at Rio’s Catalog in motion last
year in Tucson. Try it. It works great.

Jerry in Kodiak

Julia, try the new gold cobalt twist drills

Andy " The Tool Guy" Kroungold
Tool Sales / Technical
Stuller Inc

I agree about the drill bit. I need to remind my students to drill
slowly, not at high speed. 

I got a one speed drill press for the art center where I teach. At
least, that’s what they think. It’s possible to change belts to
change the speed but it would not be convenient. At any rate, the
little drill press has worked well for about fifteen years and all at
one slow speed.


This is a tip for anyone that might be interested, I use cheap wax
candles for lubrication when I am drilling and piercing, I find it
cleaner than using oils on the drill, I just drill the candle before
I drill the gold and also when I am piercing I rub the candle down
the back of the saw blade every now and then for ease of cutting,
especially when I am cutting thicker materials, rub the back of the
blade with wax otherwise you will not be able to see your cutting
line. This is just a tip for anyone that might not know this method.
I have been piercing and drilling this way for 44 years now so it is
a well tried method. One other tip for amateur piercers, always hold
the sawframe sideways when possible so that you can see where you
are cutting. My master who trained me always used to say it is
better to see where the blade is going rather than where it has
been. Too many piercers seem to hold the saw frame straight with the
blade cutting away from their eyeline so they see more of the back
of the sawblade than where it is cutting. Here ends the lesson.

Peace and happiness to you all at this festive season.

James Miller FIPG