Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pebble Drilling Tutorial

I wrote this tutorial with the help of fellow jeweler Victoria Takahashi. It was originally posted on the Etsy Metal blog, but I thought I would share it with my readers as well.

Ashley Akers and Victoria Takahashi are two metalsmiths who utilize pebbles in their jewelry designs. Each artist drills holes in their pebbles, both as a means of connecting the pebble to their metalwork, and as an integral part of their designs.

Ashley and Victoria use similar, but slightly varied pebble drilling techniques, which they will share with you here.

Both artists use a few basic tools.

A means of drilling: Ashley uses a dremel tool and Victoria uses a drill press.

Diamond Coated Drill Bits: Ashley uses hollow core bits and Victoria uses cylinder bits.
*more on this below

Water in a shallow dish: Pebbles need to be drilled under water.


The key factors in drilling pebbles are:
Drill under water

Go slowly

Back your drill bit out often.


Backing your drill bit out of the pebble allows the water to flush out the slag, or debris, that builds up in the hole. Don’t push down too hard, but rather allow the drill bit to do the work. Be patient! As Victoria points out, “if you go to hard or fast you will completely overheat and melt off the tips and they go "squeeeeeeeeee" really loud, oopsy, $ cha-ching!”

Ashley finds it helpful to start out with a small pilot hole that you can drill outside of the water. This helps because the water quickly clouds up and you can’t see your hole, but have to go by feel. The pilot hole will be very shallow, just enough so that your drill bit doesn’t move around on the pebble.
*Ashley uses hollow core drill bits but is not completely satisfied with them. They are more costly than the cylinder type, and the small ones clog up very easily. After trial and error Ashley has decided that starting with a smaller drill bit and working your way up to the size you need the hole to be is quite helpful. The less material you take out at one time the easier this process is, and incremental drill bits allow you to do just that.

Don’t get impatient and push through the pebble on the back side. This will cause a fractured look where the bit breaks out a bigger section of the pebble. Sometimes even if you are patient this can still happen. Trial and error as well as patience are essential parts of this process.

You can expect to go through a lot of the diamond coated drill bits in the beginning. They can break and the coating can wear off, but this lessens with practice. It takes a while to get the feel of drilling pebbles. The denser the pebble the harder drilling will be, and longer it will take.


As always, it is important to take safety precautions when drilling. Be sure to wear safety goggles and keep hair and loose clothing out of the way.

Have fun, and happy drilling!

Here are some Pebble Jewelry Designs by these two artists.

Victoria Takahashi

Ashley Akers
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3 comments:

Nena's Art & Designs said...

Your work is amazing!! Thanks for sharing this information with everyone, it's refreshing to see artists sharing techniques!

lorenzo said...

love your work, very smooth and beautiful. thansk for the tip on drilling, always wanted to know how it was done. great photography too.

Steven González said...

Thanks for the information, awesome work!