Is is safe to drill natural pearls? I need to enlarge holes to
accommodate 20-22 gauge wire. I thought they had a toxic reaction
when getting overheated. If so, do they need to be drilled under
water? How would I accomplish this? Can I just drill slower? I have
no idea. Help!
Drill slowly with a drill press and hold the pearl with a pearl
holder. [I have a pearl drill and it’s worth splurging for if you
drill a lot.] Stop if it gets too hot. I wouldn’t drill in the hand
because you won’t get a nice straight line for a post or a stringing
Just be careful. The toxic reaction is with abalone shells. Pearls
just are calcium carbide, which clogs up your lungs in large
quantities, but it’s not truly toxic. Abalone is truly toxic if
inhaled. The biggest problem is with the pearls - if overheated,
they’ll chip and flake, so use a sharp drill, and either dip both
(pearl and drill) in water, or submerge them in a bowl (I like
something like a cool-whip container - large enough, with flexible
walls). Don’t drill slower, drill faster - just pop a hole in it
quickly, and move on. It’s really not a big production - sharp
drill, keep it cool, watch out for vibration, and work quickly - the
speed is that the longer it takes and the slower you go, the more
vibration (your enemy), you will have.
I don’t know of any toxic fumes released from drilling pearls, but I
expect the dust would be bad to breathe. Abolone shell dust is NOT
good to breathe (microscopic cuts in your lung tissue) and pearl
can’t be that far different.
I’d try to keep the drilling operation slightly damp. Or better yet,
get a good mask - they only cost $25ish and they’re more comfortable
that you might think.
It is a simple matter to enlarge holes in pearls, and the thing to
keep in mind is not to overheat them. I have no experience with
burning them, but do suggest that you take your time in completing
the process. Medium speed is okay, but frequently remove the bit and
the debris which will help to keep them cool. Working under water is
also a good idea as it keeps the pearl and the bit cooler, and also
serves to capture the dust generated by the process, which like other
organics, is just not good for you.
Be cautious in re-drilling valuable pearls. As a precaution drill
from both ends to the center, as you can blow out the far end if you
attempt to drill all the way through from one side. Practice on an
inexpensive pearl to build your confidence in the process.
There are special drill bits for drilling pearls not necessary but if
you are new to it this might help they usually cost about $5 to $6 at
any jewelry supply places drill on medium speed little at a time and
you must find a way to hold the pearl firmly without scratching it you
could also purchase a pearl clam
Sorry, both pearls and abalone shells are primarily calcium
carbonate, certainly not "carbide". It's the dust.
Dust is almost always bad to breathe in. It does not matter if it’s
dust from abalone, pearls, quartz, asbestos, polishing compound or
whatever. I believe OSHA has regulations about using good tight
fitting masks to prevent the inhalation of dust. There are a series
of lung inflammation diseases caused by inhaling anything from
quartz (silicosis) to lambs wool and feather dust. Protect yourself,
and wear a mask.