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Drilling silver

Why do I find it so difficult to drill holes in sterling silver? I absolutely hate doing it because every time I do it I go through every single drill bit of mine and my husband’s! No matter where I order them from, I am lucky to get one hole from each drill bit before it’s too blunt to do anything else. I’m making sure the work is braced solidly, but the silver kills the drill bits every time.

Quick checklist for drilling:

  1. Lubricant? Even spit will work.
  2. Drill (flexshaft) in reverse? It will wear away a hole eventually rather than cut it quick and clean.
  3. Holding the drill bit straight up and down at a right angle to the metal?
  4. Drill bit sharp enough?

Another option is cobalt tipped drill bits. I get them in the tiny sizes to drill steel and titanium. They cost more, and you buy them from a machinist tool store.

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Kind of a similar question. I don’t drill a lot of holes, but I am beginning to do more. I have always relied on drill bits that I find at the local hardware store and yes they do wear out quickly, but I have figured out how to re-sharpen them. I understand the desire for all 3/32 shanks as it allows me to easily use my quick change handpiece, but I am not sure what type of bit material to buy (steel vs HHS vs vanadium vs carbide etc.). I could let price drive this decision, but that is not always the best way to go. My need is in the .5 - 1.5 mm hole size range and it is not to set stones, but for cold connections, ear wire eyes, tapped holes etc. in sterling silver and copper. Any help is appreciated…Rob

I have found it easier to punch holes with a hole punch. The basic punch with a threaded punch on each end, one hole greater than the other. I very often use these as pilot holes for drilling holes in greater steps. The punched hole is reamed larger by the drill rather than boring a fresh hole each time. Rio Grande has several punches that may do the job.

Don Meixner

https://www.riogrande.com/searchresults#q=hole%20punch&t=products&sort=relevancy&layout=card&numberOfResults=36

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Don thanks, I have several punches and use them when they will do the job on thinner material, however, I also need the precision of a sized drill bit, regardless of the gauge of the material being drilled, especially when I am tapping a hole…Rob

Bonjour les frères meixner et autres,
I culled this from HowStuffWorks.com:
<< Drilling through steel is not an everyday home repair activity, and drill bits for metals are the most expensive. Regular drill bits can’t cut through steel, so you need a heavy-duty, hard drill bit to do the job. There are two types of drill bits that you can count on for metalworking projects: titanium and cobalt.

Titanium drill bits are high-speed steel drill bits (HSS) that have a titanium oxide coating. They are very hard, and corrosion-resistant. They last much longer than regular HSS drill bits, and they are good for cutting through any metal, including metal sheeting. Titanium drill bits are harder than cobalt, but because they are coated, they can’t be sharpened. Cobalt drill bits are made of cobalt steel, and they can be sharpened. They are also highly resistant to heat and are very hard and abrasive. They are especially good for drilling through stainless steel, cast iron and titanium.>>

To recap, apparently the problem some are experiencing is in using typical drill bits for wood on metal. Get something hard enough for metal and something that can be resharpened if you want best value AND use an oil lube for best results. Also run at a slow enough speed that the bit does not heat up so much that it loses its temper…probably you would see the oil start to smoke first on this…it would be easiest to drill annealed silver…actually, spring hardened sterling is slightly harder than 316 stainless in its annealed state, so hardened sterling could wear drill bits made for metal…-royjohn

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Helen,
I always start with my smallest round ball bur. Go all the way through. Move up another bur size one at a time until you get the hole size you need. I have never broken a bit doing it this way. Twist drills just don’t work for me. Use lots of lubricnat to help keep the bits sharp. Mine are only 8 years old. I have only had to replace the smallest ones as I use them so much.

If you need a bevel at the end as the hole will show, used the largest ball bur you have and LIGHTLY do just the top of the hole. Viola! perfection.

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Thanks royjohn and Helen. Since posting I have done a little research that I have found helpful. My main worry about size is that I want to tap some of these holes. Otherwise, the actual size doesn’t matter a lot. Having 3/32 shanks will be nice so that I can use my quick change handpiece rather than the #30. I have a set of Titanium common bits, but they are all on the larger side of size. I thought I would ask about what kind of steel to buy and then I will buy a set of .5 - 1.5 mm bits and hope that I don’t break them the first time that I use them…Rob

I was taught to always use a smaller, sharp bit, lubricate well and drill slow and with steady even pressure, then after you have drilled that first pilot hole, gradually move to larger drill bits until you get the holes to the size you require.
You should see the drill actually cut into the metal if you watch closely.
I continually re-sharpen even my tiniest drill bits, as soon as it quits cutting, because all a dull drill bit will do is overheat, and burn itself up.
I only replace my jewelry drill bits when there is no fluting left, from continual sharpening, or breaking. If a drill but breaks it can spell either disaster, or a great deal of extra labor, so i try to never break them. I still do break some though. :frowning:

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Lots of good suggestions here. Small pilot hole is necessary. For smallish holes you can step up using successively larger drills. As hole gets bigger, switch to ball burs rather than large drill bits.

Rotate drill at slow speed to be sure drill is not heating up. A hot drill loses its temper (hardness) and becomes dull immediately. I’ve seen a hot drill become useless on one hole. You should be able to see small pieces of metal spiral up out of the hole being drilled.

Drill a little and then pull out of hole, drill a little more and pull out of hole. Think of a pumping action. This allows the hole to be cleared of metal pieces and greatly decreases the chance of a drill breaking off in the hole.

Basically, slow is good. Fast is bad. Hope this helps. vera

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Thanks for all the good advice on how to drill. I have drilled a lot of holes using whatever bits I have on hand or can buy at the hardware store and resharpen them when they get dull or break. My question is more what type of steel to buy to drill in silver and copper. I need to buy a set of small drill bits in progressive sizes from .5 to 1.5 mm. When I look at what the usual places have to offer, I see a lot of options with the material being the main variable. Royjohn has suggested titanium over HHS or cobalt steel. Are there any other options that work well? Thanks…Rob

The biggest mistake made when drilling metal is to drill too fast. Fast drilling produces a lot of heat, which is a killer for drill bits. When drilling soft woods, you go through fast enough so that it’s not a problem. For hard woods and metal, you either have to turn the bit slowly, or drill intermittently in a pulsing manner. In the pre-motorized days, jewelry drilling was done with a hand drill, which doesn’t turn fast enough to make enough heat to ruin a drill bit. Nowadays, though, you just have to go slowly. Or you can just get cheap bits by the gross and consider them to be one-use throwaway items.

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Wintergreen oil works well as a lube and coolant (it evaporates). I use an oil additive used for cars, trucks and heave equipment called MultiTech when drilling steel and , WOW, what a difference. Seems to TOTALLY eliminate the friction that causes
the heat and drill bit dulling. You might give it a try…………

JD

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I buy Busch drills from Rio. I like the ones w/an anodized black finish- they cut down on eye strain.

Invest in some alum. If you break a bit, soak in a strong alum solution and broken bit will corrode out in 4-6 hrs.

I like beeswax or Pro-Cut lube for drilling.

Finally…there are a lot of YT videos on how to resharpen a broken or dull bit. When a bit stops biting…just sharpen it. I use craytex wheels for sharpening drill bits, takes 30 seconds & you’re back in business.

I had some inexpensive carbide drill bits from 0.7 to 1.2 mm holes and they would snap if you just looked at them funny. Makes me deathly afraid of using a more expensive drill bit from a well known company. :wink:

Lots of lubricant and slower speeds especially for thin drills helps make them last longer. In my experience I found silver itself a more difficult material to drill due to its softness compared to gold, so bits will bind, get stuck and break off, or dull quicker.

Dear Hammettt,

I think you have answered my question! I am drilling too fast. Thank you! I will slow it right down.

Other possible solutions mentioned, such as whether the motor is in reverse, lube, bit upright, etc - not my problems. I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m drilling too fast. The first one drills fine, with the swarf chipping or spiralling out as you’d expect, then subsequent holes won’t drill at all.

Thanks Hammettt!

Helen

UK

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I don’t know about sterling silver specifically but it sounds like the metal is in a hardened state. In order to drill into high carbon steel it has to be annealed. If it isn’t it will turn a bit into a nub, no matter how hard the bit or how much lubricant. Perhaps annealing would help.

I use https://www.southerntool.net/ for drill bits. They have a store near me and are willing to answer my questions and give advice.

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Urban Iron, the metal was already annealed. I’ve just been overheating the bits with too high a speed.

Both a lower speed, and altering the cutting angle on the drill bits, so that they are just a bit less aggressive in cutting, as well as continually adding a very good lubrication, can all help lower the tendency toward overheating when drilling through Sterling Silver.