By Marylou Forrest
Drill beach glass, stones, and shells to create pendants, beads, and more.
- Variable-speed corded rotary drill
- Optional: Drill press workstation stand
- Variable-speed foot pedal
- Diamond drill bits
- Burr stick lubricant
- Dish to hold drilling surface and water
- Rubber 3-inch floor protector cups or small piece of wood to use as drilling surface
- Fine point permanent marker and/or pencil
- Eye protection
- Flat-backed sea glass, pottery, soft stones, or shells
- Set up drill with diamond bit in drill stand. Set on low to medium speed.
- Put floor protector or wood in bottom of glass dish and fill with water until water line is 1/2 inch above the floor protector.
- Lube the drill bit with burr stick
- Mark the glass where you want the hole using the marker or pencil.
- Place glass on drilling surface (floor protector or wood). Make sure the glass is fully covered with water. With drill turned off, move drill down gently until the drill bit touches the hole marking. Check from the front and from the side to make sure the drill bit is hitting directly on the mark.
- Hold the piece of glass firmly, keeping fingers away from drill bit and turn on drill or press the foot pedal.
- Begin drilling gently, pressing lightly with the drill press handle or pressing the drill lightly onto the glass. You should see a bit of white powder spinning out of the hole. This is from the glass. Don’t press too hard or you can break the glass—let the drill do the work!
- Drill for 15 seconds then let up on the pressure on the drill, and let the water fill the hole and cool the glass.
- Repeat until you have drilled about 2/3 of the way through the glass.
- Remove the glass and dry it off. If you are drilling a dark-colored piece of glass, rub burr lube over the hole until it is filled. If you are drilling a light-colored piece of glass, rub a pencil in the hole. This will let you see where the hole is when you flip it over to drill from the second side. You can also mark where to drill on the second side with a pencil or sharpie by holding the glass up to the light and placing your mark on the second side of the glass opposite the hole.
- Replace the water if it has gotten cloudy from drilling the first side of the glass. Put the glass back on the drilling surface with the drilled sided on the bottom. Repeat step 5 to center the drill bit over the mark on the glass, checking from the front and the side.
- Repeat steps 7 and 8, being careful to use very little pressure. Again, let the drill do the work. Eventually, the drill bit will make it all the way through and you’ll feel the glass give way. Take care to press lightly when you think you are almost through to the hole on the first side.
- Check to make sure the edges of the hole didn’t shatter when the drill went through, which can often happen if you apply too much pressure.
- Don’t skimp on the diamond drill bits. Quality drill bits last longer and cause less glass breakage.
- Match the size of the drill bit to the size of the material you will be using to string your glass. For example, use a small bit for stringing beads on earrings. Use a large bit to create a bigger hole for stringing on cord or leather. Drill bits are available in packs of a single size and in packs with a variety of sizes.
- Always use diamond drill bits underwater. The drilling can cause the item you’re working on to get very hot, and the dust created by drilling can be dangerous to breathe.
- Practice on glass that isn’t perfect before you try drilling your favorite finds. Drilling takes lots of practice!
- Keep cords away from water.
- Use safety goggles or other eye protection.
- Make sure you have plenty of light.
- Start slow and increase the drill speed once you are comfortable with the equipment.
- You can use the same drill bits to drill holes in shells and soft beach stones. If you are drilling shells, you should also use a respiratory mask as heavy metals can get concentrated in shells and the dust can cause serious illness. Always drill glass, shells, and stones underwater.
Your glass is now ready for stringing on a cord, adding a jump ring, or hanging from earrings or other jewelry finding. Make beads by drilling in the center of round, flat pieces of sea glass or make pendants by drilling near the edge of other shapes.
There are endless uses for drilled sea glass. You can make pendants by buying or making jewelry bails, add beads and charms to your designs, and mix and match your glass with shells and stones. Have fun, and get your creative juices flowing!
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2020 issue
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