Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Drilling holes in pearls


#1

Yesterday I was in full flow, making my mother a rose quartz and
fresh water pearl necklace for her birthday. Everything was going
fine until I tried to drill bigger holes in the pearls as I wanted to
make links using silver rather than string them on thread (the rose
quartz will be bezel set in sterling so I wanted to make a sort of
pearl chain to go up both sides from the bezel set rose quartz pieces
to the clasp). I broke about six very pointy diamond burrs and of
course ruined the same number of pearls as the bits of burr were then
stuck in the holes.

I had sixty pearls to drill and had only managed to do seven and
only had one suitable burr left. I was tearing my hair out when I
suddenly remembered someone said to do it under water!!! Doh! Doh!
Doh! Boy did I feel stupid. I managed to do the remaining 53 pearls
with no problems whatsoever and still have a burr left to fight
another day. It was much easier, less messy and in any case, I wasn’t
too keen on the smell of powdered nacre!

I won’t be so stupid next time, that’s for sure.

Helen
UK


#2

Huh, never heard of drilling pearls under water. I’ll have to give
that a whirl. What I did last time was start with a small bit and
work my way up to the size I wanted, otherwise it seemed that the
drill wouldn’t go all the way through if I started with the bigger
size. How do you hold your pearls so your fingers don’t go numb?

Rachel


#3

Helen,

The next time, you might actually want to get a set of pearl bits.
Instead of being diamond bits (which are ideal for harder stones), a
pearl bit is actually shaped a lot like a “spade” bit… imagine an
inverted chevron shape with a little point in the center of the flat
part.

The key with pearls is to go slow, use water, and use the right kind
of bit. The spades are designed to push the nacre up and out of the
hole as it’s being drilled, which also reduces friction and reduces
your chance of burning up the pearl. Also gives a very smooth-sided
hole on the inside, which doesn’t catch your silk.

I think you’ll like the result…

Karen Goeller
No Limitations Designs
Hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry


#4

Hi Helen,

Are you sure you were drilling into PEARLS? They are one of the
easiest things to drill into, you don’t need a diamond burr to drill
them, just a regular drill bit does the trick. I’ve never needed
water to drill pearl holes bigger, although I’m sure the water does
keep the mess at bay.

Lisa
Designs by Lisa Gallagher
www.lisagallagher.com


#5

Hi Lisa,

Are you sure you were drilling into PEARLS? They are one of the
easiest things to drill into, you don't need a diamond burr to
drill them, just a regular drill bit does the trick. 

Yes they’re very real fresh water pearls. The diamond bits I was
using are just very cheap bits and before using water, they were
just getting too hot and the tips broke off inside the pearls. I ran
out of ordinary drill bits, hence using what I had lying around.

I've never needed water to drill pearl holes bigger, although I'm
sure the water does keep the mess at bay. 

It was a blessed relief not to be breathing in the smell which I
didn’t much like. And it was a natural smell rather than a hot
plastic smell. The pearls were guaranteed natural, cultured fresh
water pearls and I don’t think I’ve seen artificial pearls in that
sort of odd shape that the fresh water pearls come in (although I’m
sure someone will correct me if they do exist).

All in all, considering I didn’t have the right tools for the job
(story of my life!), it worked out really well. Next time I plan to
do it, I’ll make sure I’ve got the right tools but I certainly found
that doing it under water kept everything cool and kept the mess at
bay as you say.

Helen
UK


#6

Hi Karen,

The next time, you might actually want to get a set of pearl bits.
Instead of being diamond bits (which are ideal for harder stones),
a pearl bit is actually shaped a lot like a "spade" bit... imagine
an inverted chevron shape with a little point in the center of the
flat part. 

Unfortunately I’ve run out of very small ordinary drill bits and
have never bought the type you prescribe so I just used what I had at
hand.

The key with pearls is to go slow, use water, and use the right
kind of bit. 

I discovered that the key was to go slow, by trial and error and
because I was using a diamond bit which didn’t push the nacre out of
the way, I used an in and out sort of drilling action so that the
bit would pull out the nacre.

Also gives a very smooth-sided hole on the inside, which doesn't
catch your silk. 

I did achieve lovely smooth holes but I wasn’t using silk, I was
using silver wire as I wanted pearl links rather than a string of
pearls. It worked well in the end but I will look into the pearl
drill bits for next time.

Helen
UK


#7

Hi Rachel,

How do you hold your pearls so your fingers don't go numb? 

I just held the pearl just under the surface as well as the bit and
it worked a treat. I no longer have problems with numb fingers now
that I have bought a Foredom flexshaft machine. I used to have that
problem with the Dremel, but the Foredom is so smooth it’s not a
problem.

Helen
UK


#8
How do you hold your pearls so your fingers don't go numb? 

Try one of these… http://tinyurl.com/ynvaqe

just in case the link doesn’t work its item #113-475 page 117 in the
2007 Rio tools catalog. The advantage to this gizmo is you can drill
perfectly aligned from both sides. If you need to you could even
drill a secondary hole perpendicular to the main hole. Its also great
for drilling out a broken peg, just sight the peg thru the hole in
the jig meant for the drill. But first grind a smoother surface on
the edge of the broken peg. If you need a blind hole of an exact
depth you can do that too.

Use drills with 3/32" shanks. I found that you need to lubricate the
shaft of the drill in addition to the tip.


#9

I’ve always thought that the spade type of pearl bit was used to
seat half pearls (cabochons, if you will) in settings such as around
cameos,etc. That explained to me the relatively large size the bits
range up to: much larger than a hole you would need in a pearl.

The bits left a "hole’ with walls perpendicular to a flat floor.
When I’ve dismantled old jewelry with these half pearls, the floor of
the hole had a little pilot mark at the center left, in my eyes, by
the center guide on the spade bit.

Andy


#10

Hi Helen,

I have been reading your comments about drilling pearls. Have you
ever made your own drills? One of the first things I was taught as
an apprentice was how to make spade drills, which is what we used for
drilling pearls and many other easy drilling purposes. First buy
some packets of various size hand sewing needles. Then to make the
drills. secure a needle in some pin tongs then using some pliers,
snap the needle squarely at the centre of the eye. This leaves a
section with two points that is flat either side. Then on an oilstone
you square off the end and flatten each side of the brohen eye, this
gives the appearance of a watch screwdriver. Then by holding the
needle at right angles to the oilstone, and slightly leaning it to
the right and backwards, you grind the point on the needle, ( easier
to show than explain ). Needles are slightly wider at the eye, so
this gives you the clearance when drilling. Then you have a spade
drill. Good needles are hardened and tempered so they keep their
sharpness well, and they don’t break easy. One of my jobs as an
apprentice was drilling holes in KBE stars, each star was 1.5 mm.
thick and had 360 holes to be drilled, then after drilling the stars
were stuck on a pitch block and I had to chase lines of lozenge
shapes in the drill holes. I used to buy packets of needles size
"eight sharps" from a tailors supply shop, needles which were less
than 1mm in diameter, and I was drilling these holes for hours as we
used to make at least 60 KBEs each year. One other tip, I use cheap
white candles as a lubricant for drilling, saw piercing and wire
drawing, they are clean and ready to hand when needed. I hope this
all makes sense. I am busy compiling a book at the moment, I have a
publisher interested in producing a book showing a selection of my
work over the past 40 years. I must say that I would find it easier
producing a Faberge Egg, rather than writing this book, so I am
hoping that this book will be full of photos rather than too much of
my biography writing. My interested publisher produced the Oppi
Untracht Jewellery and Metal Techniques for Craftsmen books, so I am
confident they know what is needed.

Best regards James Miller
https://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/jmdesign.htm


#11
I've always thought that the spade type of pearl bit was used to
seat half pearls (cabochons, if you will) in settings such as
around 

Well, ya learn something every day. I never used pearl drills,
though we have some knocking around, and I always wondered about the
size of them, as Andy points out. That operation is called
"counterboring" in machinery, done with counterbores, of course.
When you look at some machine and it has a rounded case or body, and
all the bolts have a nice flat, round seat cut for them, that’s
counterboring - countersinking is for a tapered screw head. And
counterbores look like pearl drills, too, in general. Maybe Andy is
actually wrong, but it answers a lot of questions, like why would
you want a 3mm pearl drill? Flattening pearl bottoms is not really
the same, but the action of the tool is - key into the hole and then
cut a flat spot around it…TYVM…

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#12
like why would you want a 3mm pearl drill 

well I’ve used 3mm cause i wanted to thread the pearls on
neoprene…

cheers, Christine in Sth Australia


#13

Hi James,

It hadn’t even occurred to me that you could make your own drill
bits! It amazes me how good at tool making a lot of seasoned
jewellers seem to be. But I guess it’s out of necessity with the
prices charged by jewellery supply companies.

I think I understand your explanation of the process of turning
sewing needles into spade drill bits. If you (or anyone else) have
any pictures of such a process or finished bit, it’d be great to see
them.

Regards,
Helen


#14

Andy,

I always chalked the availability of the larger sizes to the need to
use it on larger blister and mabe-type pearls. I was taught to drill
pearls with pearl bits because the nacre can get “clumpy” and needs
to get channeled back out of the hole before heat can build up - it’s
quite easy to “burn” a pearl by drilling it to fast or allowing too
much nacre to collect in the hole.

BUT… your explanation of an alternate use of the bits also makes
sense. So maybe they were designed for both uses. How cool!

Karen Goeller

No Limitations Designs
Hand-made, one-of-a-kind jewelry


#15

Hey James,

drilling holes in KBE stars, each star was 1.5 mm. thick and had
360 holes to be drilled, then after drilling the stars were stuck
on a pitch block and I had to chase lines of lozenge shapes in the
drill holes. 

How many drills did you get through on one of those! Makes me feel
faint just thinking about it. Thanks for reminding me that it is
possible to make drills, I was taught to do this but it had been
mislaid in the folds of my memory.

I am busy compiling a book at the moment 

Oh yes! Now that is GOOD news. Can’t wait to see it.

Cheers, Ruth.


#16
drilling holes in KBE stars, each star was 1.5 mm. thick and had
360 holes to be drilled 

What is a KBE star?

Janet


#17
But I guess it's out of necessity with the prices charged by
jewellery supply companies. 

Often it’s not the price, it’s that the tool in need isn’t for sale
at all - either it’s a custom situation or it’s just not out there.
I make a rotary hammer out of a bent bur for taking out porosity,
for instance. I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere. You can buy a
"roller burnisher" or something, but it’s not the same thing.
Toolmaking is fun, too.

http://www.donivanandmaggiora.com


#18

Hi John,

I’m still at that stage of frustration because a lot of the tools I
bought were inexpensive ones as I wanted to get started. For example,
my favourite hammer, which was sold as a repousse hammer is now
falling apart. The next time I use it, the head will probably fly
across the room! I need to save up for some decent hammers or learn
to make/repair tools.

Helen
UK