BEADS --Holes

Holes before baking for making holes
making holes exactly where desired, making straight holes
......from 2 sides, jigs for hole placement

...(tube holes)
Holes after baking
...drill bits in clay handles or pin vises
...push-pull drills (for flat beads or othe clay)
Dremel, or regular electric drill


(all other info on making beads is on the main Beads page)

(..for making tube "holes" on the exterior of a clay piece to hold cording, see Pendants >Tube holes)

Generally, making holes in raw clay beads will result in a slightly flattened bead with slightly indented holes ...many people like this look because it nestles nicely next to other beads, or because it resembles most historical or hand-made beads.

Let the bead cool down ! before trying to make holes in raw clay (especially if the clay is somewhat soft), or refrigerate it briefly.
...If you can, let your beads sit for a day or more before putting in the holes. I know, I know, you can't stand to wait! But the clay will be firmed up more and won't get out of shape nearly as much as they do when you put them in right after making them. Dotty

tools for making holes

You can use a wood toothpick (round, pointed kind), or a needle tool, or a small or larger pointed rod, to make the hole by twisting it back and forth as it enters the center of the bead, holding the bead as lightly as possible with your other hand.
..."drill" through a little more than half way through from one side, then remove the tooth pick and drill in from the other side, beginning where you want the other end of the hole to be. .... miraculously, the holes will meet!
.....(if you simply twist the toothpick all the way through in one step, the hole on the back side will pooch out and look ragged (carlierae26 calls this an "exit wound"). . . if that ever happens, simply twist the toothpick back into the hole at the exit end and that will push the poochy clay back in for a nice smooth hole ).
...toothpicks have a slight roughness to them compared to metal needles, etc., so they seem easier to drill with and don't slip around, though some people prefer metal (see below)

a "needle tool" for making holes can be purchased (or made)
...all-metal Pro Needle Tool.... this one is all-metal, very stiff and preferred... it's usually referred to as just the "needle tool" by clayers... long, pointed rod embedded in an aluminum handle, made by Kemper (orig. created for earth clay)
...(Kemper also makes a cheaper, light-weight needle tool with a thin-diameter wood handle called the PCN Needle Tool--less desirable but okay)
...can purchase Pro Needle Tool (or the wood-handle one) at craft/hobby/art supply stores near the pottery clay tools, or online (some with bulk discounts):

http://www.polymerclayexpress > Tools ...or ....

a pin vise can be used to hold any type/size of needle ridigly (it's intended to hold a drill bit) but it's a bit awkward to use with raw clay because of its size and shape... better for baked clay

Or you can make your own "needle tool" by embedding a needle into a raw polymer clay handle
.....All kinds of needles (blunt tapesty, small quilting, etc.) and other items like hat pin heads, etc. can be used.
....The trickiest part of embedding a needle for a drilling tool is getting the darn thing exactly parallel to the handle. I roll mine on the table and keep futzing with it till it looks straight when rolled.
...skygrazer's lesson on making a needle tool with a polymer handle
tubes (aluminum or copper) can also be used to make strong handles ...covered with clay or not?; can use a tube cutter or perhaps just a strong, sharp blade to shorten metal tubes
...Gail suggests filling the tube with liquid clay to make handles
(for using a needle tool --or even better, a disposable dental tool -- for cutting a sheet or slab of clay freehand, see Tools > Miscellaneous)

wooden skewers are good for making holes in beads, as are toothpicks and various sizes and types of knitting needles (especially the tiny ones) . Pattern Works sells double ended needles which are nice . . . I think that they have a website. Jan V.
..very small knitting needles from PolymerClayExpress:
...Don't forget to try asking for *weaving* needles too. They are used for tapestry weaving and have points much much sharper than the point on a knitting needle.

I use some talc or constarch on my tool when making the holes no matter what tool I use. Patzee

...making holes exactly where desired
...making straight holes (from 2 sides)
...jigs for hole placement

some clayers like to mark the spots for their holes in beads with small dimples, etc., to use as guides later
(.....a good idea even if the bead will be drilled after baking, because the dimple keeps the drill bit from skipping around)
... use a pointed tool...or Klew likes to make a small flat spot by pressing the back of her fingernail against the clay where she wants a hole
....this can be done to both sides of a bead too (entry mark and exit mark... then drill from each end to the middle)
....I make holes on both sides of a bead at once... I made myself a pair of adapted forceps. I sharpened both points and thinned the ends with a file (cheap stainless steel is quite soft). .. I bent the shafts by 90 degrees about 1cm from the tips so that the points meet when the forceps are closed (they remind me of 'Backhaus' surgical towel forceps
...then I simply put one point on either side of the bead to be holed and close the forceps....since the pressure comes equally from both sides, the distortion on the bead is minimal. Alan

Nancy Banks often makes jigs (from wire or clay) to make the holes in her unusually-shaped beads
....these allow her to put the holes (or dimples) in a number of beads in exactly the same places for each bead, and/or exactly where she wants them: wire jig might be shaped ike a candy cane... after shaping, the wire is placed over each bead in the same place, then drawn back slightly till the end of the hook slightly pierces the clay bead, leaving a dimple
.......a clay jig is created with an L-shaped strip of clay (bent like a shelf bracket), with a tall thin spike of clay attached (point up) to bottom leg of L exactly where the hole is wanted (then baked) ... each raw bead is then placed in the L shape, over the spike, with its side touching the inner vertical wall of the L... when the bead is lowered, it leaves a dimple from touching the spike

(Nancy's method or someone else's too?) for making a straight hole which starts where you want it to:
......2 needles (or head pins, etc) (smaller than the desired size of the hole)
..... 1 wood or metal skewer or wire the size of the finished hole
...insert one needle halfway through the bead
...starting on the opposite side, insert the second needle into the bead in a straight visual line with the first needle (the needle tips will meet in the center of the bead)
..(for round or tube beads)... to check if the holes are off-center, hold the needles horizontally and rotate the bead ...any wobble of the bead means that the hole is off center, or the needles aren't aligned.... if nec., make minor adjustments on the positions of the needles until the weight of the bead is centered (it should rotate evenly as you turn the needles)
..Then enlarge the hole to the size you want... remove one needle and pierce the bead halfway with the skewer...remove the skewer
.....then remove the remaining needle and press the skewer into its hole, exiting the bead through the other side.

another way to test if the first hole in your round or tube bead will be off center
.... stick your needle or toothpick, etc., halfway through the bead and then hold it vertical (with the unpierced end facing up) and twirl the bead ....if you are looking slightly down on it, you will see where it will come out.

If you are using a needle to pierce your beads, you can make your job alot easier by sanding your needle in the lengthwise direction. It cuts down on the surface friction [contact] between the bead and needle so that the bead does not deform as you push the needle through.

...Some people like to bake their beads threaded on wires or skewers, etc., and suspend them above a baking surface with a makeshift or purchased bead rack (esp. helpful if the beads have sealer on them)
Some people bake their beads by simply setting them on paper on a baking sheet, etc. (on one of their holes)
.... .you won't get a *shiny* spot on your bead during baking unless you bake your bead directly on something very smooth like a metal baking sheet, aluminum foil, glass, or a smooth tile
.... (instead, use a matte surface like regular paper, manila folder, a tissue, cardboard, or fiberfill under the bead to prevent this).
..... yYou *could* get a tiny flattening any place you put the bead down, but frankly I've never been able to see it, so I don't worry about it.
.....some people even lay their beads in accordion-folded paper (which has a bit of give) . If you have hot hands (letting beads sit for awhile or refrigerating them may help) or are somewhat heavy handed, this method could be a problem though.
(see much more in Beads > Baking)

Nancy Banks will sometimes cut off the tip ends of her beads (often odd-shaped ones) after baking (while still warm) rather than doing it while raw so the cuts will be very straight and not deformed

(tube holes)

a small prebaked tube of clay can function as a rigid interior "hole" for various types of beads
...then raw clay can be added around or on either side of the baked tube, in any shape desirable
.......for example, Pier Voulkos' lantern beads...(she placed same-shape-size pieces of clay --e.g., rectangular cane slices, or half-round cane slices-- vertically on 4 sides of a clay tube...(with the slices thick enough that the tube is completely hidden)
...for tube "holes placed on the exterior of a clay piece to hold cording, see Pendants >Tube holes



drill bits are usually used to make holes in clay after baking
.... these can be held in a homemade handle, a pin vise/etc., or in a powered drill.

Some beads do best if the hole is drilled afterwards, especially in cases where the design can be messed up with too much handling of the raw clay..... Mike B's twist beads are a good example (because of the sharp edges, which would be flattened).. JAN

marking just a small dent into the soft raw clay where you'll want the hole can be helpful after baking
... you can use a toothpick for this... then after the clay is baked, you can easily center a very small drill bit in the dent, and turn it by rubbing the drill bit between your thumb and finger (and it won't slip around). James
...this should work for power drills too

Always use a screwing in action with an unpowered drill bit, never try to push it through.
. . .also be careful of the hand that's holding the bead secure. Dawn
(however) I hold the (unpowered) bit still ...and then I swirl the bead itself. ..Jeannine

Drilling the hole afterward does give you one special advantage and that is that you can make the hole any size you want *later*
...You can always redrill holes bigger later--though it's an extra hassle-- but you can't make the holes smaller if you want them hanging snugly, e.g. . . . (I guess you could always futz it if you need to by adding extra clay to the hole before repiercing and baking, or maybe gluing a tiny bead into the hole which you could string through . . . probably other ways too, but that's all more work.) Irene NC

If you want to have a large hole, start with a small hole and work up (for the best result). Dawn

A different way to increase the hole size later on is to heat the tip of a nail or pin, or needle of the desired diameter in a flame (holding with bent-nose pliers preferably) until it's red hot, then quickly press through the smaller hole. There is a tiny puff of smoke (which you don't want to inhale particularly) and then a tiny corkscrew of clay will come out of the top by the nail; you can then pick this little bit off. I wouldn't want to do this with a whole bunch of beads though. . . Diane B.

But sometimes, drilling after baking is difficult (disadvantages):
.....if the bead is (too long for the bit)
....or if the hole is at the apex of the point . .(actually for this you can put a starter hole in before baking and hand drill the rest). .. or I like to prepoke my canes for cane slice beads. Dawn

drilling thick disk beads on the sides. . . I have success marking canes with a Marxit tool before baking (to create future cutting lines), then slicing them while warm.... I drill the holes when cool. You get very round beads with perfect holes. Judy

I made a number of my own hand drills:
. . . I embed a drill bit into a poly-clay handle ... bake ...and then pull out the bit, put a dab of Zap-a-gap (superglue) on it and reinsert it..
I have several sizes of these (homemade drill bits in handles). These are especially handy when I travel.
Underlying my polymer clay handles are aluminum tubes. A tube cutter, available at hobby shops that cater to the miniature modelers (trains, planes) is a device made for cutting small metal tubes and works just like a pipe cutter. At Arrowmont, Christopher Hentz introduced a tube cutting method that required no special device, simply a strong, sharp blade. Katherine Dewey
I was buying those 12 inch copper tubes at the hardware store, then cutting them in pieces . . . I will fill them with liquid polymer and make handles to tools with them. The copper tubes are pretty and I think will cover just fine (will this work?). Gail

Another small hand tool is called a pin vise. It holds small drill bits down to a #80, which is about half the thickness of most human hair!!. I have one and a set of those drills.
.... (pin vise, and tiny drill bits, and set of bits at PolymerClayExpress... theirs *stores the extra bits*)
.....I got a pin vise at the local railroad hobby store and they had a huge selection of bits to go with it. Irene can also purchase a "pin vise" at Home Depot ( which is basically what the jewelry hand drill at PC Express is, although Kathy's vise also stores the extra bits!) . . .but then I had to purchase the tiny bits separately (Dremel doesn't have a large variety at my most convienient store). The super-fine bits at the hobby store are VERY expensive! Pat

Mike Buesseler a ball-ended pin vise, which seats nicely in the palm of his hand, putting his hand's strength directly behind the bit and making it easier to guide through the bead... . . I tried one of these, however, and found that my small hands with their shorter fingers made a ball-end vice difficult to use . . .Bonnie

I found a regular old standard replacement drill chuck (not the newer keyless kind) for about $8 at Home Depot, and it fits my hand just fine and works the same way as a ball-ended pin vise... In the one I have (a Jacobs Multi-Craft 3/8" replacement drill chuck), the end that rests against my palm is pretty much flush, with a small hole where the shaft of the drill would attach. It is quite comfortable to hold. The chuck itself is just under 2" long, making it easy for my hand to grip it as I would a small ball -- with the drill bit sticking out between my fingers. (There are other ways to hold it, of course.) It gives me the same sort of control and strength that a corkscrew does.. Bonnie

tiny Finger Drills...set of 4 short tools, each with a permanently embedded tiny drill bit (1/64 - 1/16" ) ...item 60935 ($10.50)

You can also use an Xacto knife handle to hold tiny drill bits. JAN

PolymerClayExpress also sells a set of 3 diamond-coated bead reamers in different shapes
... (these are not drill bits, but more like grinding bits with very rough surfaces... for enlarging previous holes?)

push drills... (mechanized)
(for flat clay)

"Push drills" (also called push-pull drills, hand drills, etc.) hold regular drill bits in a chuck (like a pin vise or regular drill), which are interchangeable
.....the whole tool is long and slender, but may be any size
.....when the handle of the tool is pressed downward, it causes the drill bit to rotate (it's spring-loadeded), which creates a hole (most of the tool stays stationary though)
.....depending on the thickness of the item being drilled through, it may take several presses (up-and-downs) to drill all the way through
(..."Japanese screw punches" have a similar action, though they use hollow punches in their chucks rather than regular drill bits to make their holes
(....larger push drills with the same action are often called "Yankee drills," or something similar)

Micro Hand Drill ...(very small)
...small (4" long), slender push drill with steel chuck which clamps around bits no. 61-80... (about $8 )
...drill holes in wood, plastic and thin brass...swivel head polymerclayexpress
.. (search for item no. 60348)
..or try a hobby or hardware store?

other mini push drills:
...Forster...I bought a small hand drill (push?) from Walmart. It was located near the leather and wood crafts. It does great making holes into used books for altered books. Was only about $3-4 . MsB in SC

Rio Grande, 800-545-6566 . It's called a small spiral hand drill in the Tools catalog on page 245, item J, order #117-015 . . . If you buy one it's $9.25, 2-5=$8.50, 6-11=$7.25. So if you get together with other guild members & buy them in bulk you'd save ...You'll love it!'s a real good size for working on beads & I understand you can use it on Precious Metal Clay too. Joanie

longer (7"), slender "Spiral Push Drill" from Micromark, $14.95 ... steel... collet takes sizes from 0 to .039 inch (#61) bits (search for Item Number: 26101)

I love my regular Yankee drill !. . .though it's probably too big for beads...
...Stanley makes Yankee drills and also Yankee screwdrivers... look online, or at Ace Hardware for "Yankee" Handyman Push Drill . . .10 1/2" long ...includes 5/64", 7/64", 9/64",11/64" bits ...plastic handle stores 8 bits ... the all-metal one is much more expensive

I'll probably get a small push drill and then use a jig to hold most beads (probably similar to the one I made for our Dremel drill press, which is just a concave depression in the wood). Though for drilling other shapes like pendants, etc., I might resort to making a few more jigs from just clay. Diane B.

(...for hollow-bit punches used to make small holes in baked clay, see Cutters > Punches:
....."Japanese screw punch" (book screw punch), leather punches, and regular punches )

(small) DREMELS... or regular-size ELECTRIC drills

by hand

pad a pair of adjustable* pliers with foam or tape... then use them to hold a bead for drillling (the adjustable ones will hold it equally from the middle of both sides)

I hold the beads. I do (sometimes, when I'm feeling guilty about being careless) wear a pair of gardening gloves - the kind with the rubber grippy dots all over them.

make a starter hole (shallow) in the raw clay so your drill bit has something to grab.

or buy a drill press to hold your Dremel

a ragged exit hole would be from drilling too fast and without a 'backing' material.
...If you place the area where the exit hole on a soft board and drill into the board as well, you will reduce the ragged edge. Lysle

In a former life I had a drill press that was *wonderful* for drilling cured beads. I could start the pilot hole on round ones and let go of them to make sure they were spinning right. This told me if I had a straight hole. Then I'd push them up onto the drill bit, pull them off, and on to the next. Julia

I do not lower the drill onto the bead when using the press, but simply use it to hold the drill steady while I finesse the bead up and onto the bit, using "bead karma" to help me find the exact center. For some reason, doing it by hand this way works the best
...Jenny had a corded Dremel on slow speed, held in the drill press and took the bead up to the drill using her fingers....
...first she drilled one side, turned the bead over and did the other side. ... made it look sooooo easy.
...she also did it without the drill press (with the Dremel on slow speed in one hand, and a bead in the other)... made me cringe watching her, I just imagined a slip, but she said she could 'feel' where the drill was. Shelley

jigs for holding beads when using drill press steady and to center them
...I found some different-size washers and tried them over the drill press hole and they work great for holding the smaller beads. Rita
..I drilled a rounded depression in a wood block, then attached the block to the bed of my drill press
.....I centered the depression under the bit exactly before attaching it so that all beads would have holes that were exactly centered
.....all size round or rounded beads fit into the depression use it, I hold the bead down firmly to the depression, then lower the bit almost to the bead to make sure it will begin in the exact center
.... when the bit exits the other end of the bead, it makes a different sound and I know to raise it at that point (this leaves a short hole in the center of my depression, which the bit goes into for every bead)..... Might try some made of clay as well. Diane B.
...especially difficult bicone or lentil beads, heres a trick i learned (originally learned about for rocks)
…....use a blob of modeling clay on the platform (like a donut shape)… then drill the bead 1/2 way or most way through (do this stage in bunches?} … (remove it and) insert a short nail or tack in center about 1/4 the length of the first drilling …it will hold your bead so the drill will go in at the same angle as the drill …I can feel it hit air (lack of push needed} and then pull up before you feel the ping of hitting the nail. Faun
...Desiree's lesson on making a jig to hold a lentil bicone bead shape (under a drill press) so that a hole can be drilled it in from side to side: she pokes a needle just smaller than her drill bit into a flat block of wood, then glues down two short segments of a solid plastic quarter-round molding strip so that their flat sides are on the bottom and to the outside and their curved sides facing each other forming a narrowing "trough" in between them to hold the bicone (they're placed tight to both sides of the needle)... the Dremel and it's bit are mounted in the press so that it's exactly in line with the upright needle, and when in the bottommost position won't quite reach the needle... she notches the first spot, puts the notch on the needle, then drills (halfway through)... turns bead over, threads the first hole onto the needle ... and drills from other side

....I set the item to be drilled down on the jig... .hold the Dremel near the drill bit end like you would a pencil (this may feel awkward at first but it actually gives you more control
......then hold the piece you are drilling tightly against the board. Dotty
...for more ideas on putting holes in this shape of bead, see Beads > Rollers > Bicones

clay jigs for holding beads while drilling
....using scrap clay which is at least 1/4" wider and thicker than your baked bead, press the bead half way down into the clay and spin it a bit to "wallow" out the hole slightly ..use a release on the bead
........for multiple bead sizes, a strip of clay about 2" wide x 6" long x 1" deep could easily accommodate holes of different sizes the next size bead, repeat the steps and continue until you no longer had room for another.
...I suggest leaving about 1/2" on each end free so that a C clamp or Quik clamp could be used. Patty B.

I don't try to go through the whole bead in one pass
....... just drill a little way into it, pull it up... then back down again and let it go a little deeper... pull out again, and repeat this until you've drilled through
...then turn the piece over and repeat this... this will give you a nice even hole. Dotty

I am thinking I could work out a slide system where I could just slide the Dremel (or a strip with various beads?) along to each bead, and go straight in. Jean

You can avoid drilling too far through the jig by placing a piece of masking tape around the drill bit at the height necessary to pierce the bead and just slightly past it. Patty B.

I have a corded Dremel and when I (tried to drill the hole in my bead, the drill bit bent!) and this was on the lowest speed of my 5-speed which is 5,000 rpm. Thankfully I always wear my goggles when I work with the dremel.....Corgi
...Ah, but it was an electric dremel, I believe that that has too much power and that's why it probably did that
... I use a rechargeable Dremel with only two speeds, and it never gets going that fast and doesn't have the same power behind it. Leigh


Cut the ends of cords at an angle, then dip in Future and let dry. This will give you a slightly stiff point to go into beads or pendants and helps keep the cord (or tassels, other materials) from raveling. Kim K.

Cindy P's lesson on using rubber cording as a needle (poke a hole across one end for an "eye," then insert a doubled length of wire through it) to thread wire through a bead (then making an eye loop with the wire and wrapping the wire tail underneath) in order to finish cord ends so they will be able to accept a hook/etc. finding

Aaaah a band saw to the rescue for slicing baked beads in half. I have tried Rotory engravers (I.e. Dremals) jig saws, table saws, miter saws (with and without the box), scroll saws and others but my favorite is the 3 wheeled 10" variable speed table top band I have in the shop fitted with a 60 tooth per inch 1/4" blade.

(information on boiling or microwave-boiling items of polymer has been moved to the Baking page.)

(see also Beads ... Baking )