Holey Stones, Or: So You Want to Drill a Hole in a Rock

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About: I work as a musical instrument repair technician. Outside of work hours I bury myself in art projects, work out at the gym, waste time on the Internet, play French horn in a band, play trombone in another ba...

So you've got a pretty stone and you want to hang it on a necklace, but alas it has no hole for a cord or jump-ring from which to hang.

What do?

Follow along and I'll show you.

Time: Varies. Depends on hardness and thickness of stone, and abrasiveness of burrs (read: new burrs fast, old burrs slow).

Skill: Some

Caution: Basic power tool precautions. Tie long hair back, don't wear super loose clothing that can get tangled around a burr spinning at several thousand RPM, and wear safety glasses/goggles.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Need

  • The stone(s) you want to drill a hole in.
  • Dremel, Foredom or similar rotary tool, preferably with a flex-shaft attachment (can be done without the flex-shaft, but will be much easier with).
  • Diamond engraving burrs (or coring bits, but they make holes much larger than I wanted, and also I would have had to special order them)
  • Container deep enough for the stone being drilled, but not so deep you can't comfortably hold the stone in place. I used an old Philadelphia cream cheese container.
  • Piece of craft foam, or leather or other thick, tough fabric.
  • Contact cement, or any other adhesive that can glue foam/fabric to plastic, and won't dissolve in water.
  • Water, either right from the faucet or in a bottle
  • Safety glasses

Recommended

  • Towel
  • Permanent marker
  • Ear protection

Optional

  • Flashlight
  • Another larger container
  • Dust mask

Step 2: Water Tray Preparation

"What do I even need this for? Can't I just start drilling through the rocks as-is?"

Well, yes, you could, but that would a) take a lot longer, b) get a lot hotter, and c) shorten the life of the burrs. The water bath acts as both lubricant and heat-sink, keeping the burrs from getting gunked up, and pulling the heat out of the stone so no burning of fingers happens. Yes, the friction of burr against stone can heat things up that much. (Have I drilled holes in rocks without using water? You bet I have. Not doing it that way ever again if I can avoid it.)

Trim the piece of craft foam (or whatever you're using) to size if need be, place it in the container and mark off where you want it to sit. Follow the directions for the adhesive you're using to glue it down. The foam or leather will help hold the stone in place while it's being drilled, and add an extra layer of protection to keep the burr from punching through the container once it breaks through the back of the stone, though unless you chose a very thin-walled container or you're super-aggressive with your drilling, that isn't likely to happen with or without the foam.

Step 3: Stone Preparation

Grab the stone you want to drill, and mark where you want the hole. Why mark the hole? Because refraction. And waves. The vibrations from the rotating burr often makes some really neat interference patterns on the surface of the water, and that coupled with the way water refracts light means that once the stone is under water it can be finicky getting the burr properly lined up. Marking the position of the hole provides a target to aim for.

Or don't mark anything and just jump right in, refraction be damned, if that's how you roll.

Step 4: Choose Your Weapon

Select a burr. The narrower cylindrical or tapered ones are what I prefer. Coring bits are another option, but they're too big for what I'm usually working on. Secure the chosen burr in the Dremel chuck.

I have a bunch of carabiner clips suspended from my workshop's ceiling, which I'll clip the Dremel to when I'm working. Having it hanging freely makes it much easier to use and control, since the extra weight of the flex-shaft isn't pulling on the hand-piece.

Step 5: Fill 'Er Up

Spread the towel over your workspace. Not required, but recommended. At least a little bit of water will probably end up splashing outside of the container at some point, plus it's convenient to be able to just wipe your hands right on the table.

Place the container on the towel, place the stone in the container, and fill the container with enough water to completely submerge the stone.

Step 6: Engraving GO

Grab the Dremel and let's go.

The water traps all the rock dust so I don't always bother with a dust mask, but if you want to wear one, go ahead.

Starting with the burr almost vertical makes it much more prone to slipping out of position as there is no pilot hole yet. It's much easier to begin at a shallow angle to engrave a little pit, and raise to vertical once the hole is deep enough to keep the burr from wandering.

Once the burr is vertical, move it in very small circles (watch the video for a better visual on what I mean), and pretty much just keep on doing that. Some other how-tos on drilling stones I've seen suggest pulsing it up and down, but those were all for coring bits instead of engraving burrs, and in my own experiments I've found that a slight rotational wiggle does a faster job.

Pause every now and then to check the bore depth so you have some idea of how soon the burr will punch through the other side. Pressing too hard at the end could make it chip out the back, and/or punch through the bottom of the container, so back off a little on the pressure when you think you're getting close. There might be a very slight change in the sound or feel of the drill right before it breaks through.

The stone I drilled through for this is an opaque piece of black jasper, but if you've got a more translucent stone, you can check your progress from the reverse by shining a bright light through the stone. I have a small LED flashlight that does a good job at this, though sometimes just an overhead light will do if the stone is very translucent or the hole far enough through. Marking where the hole is and then drilling from the reverse to meet in the middle is a good way to prevent chip-out.

Step 7: Touch-Up and Finishing

It's difficult to completely avoid all chipping, so once the hole is completely drilled I lightly chamfer the edges with a round burr. This cleans up any existing chips and prevents future ones.

Rinse off and dry the stone. Now it's ready to string on a necklace, either by adding a jump-ring or threading a cord right through the hole.

Enjoy your new shiny.

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    21 Discussions

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    Willyd57

    4 weeks ago on Step 7

    I need to drill a hole near the tip of both pieces of Bumblebee Jasper in the photo below. Have you ever drilled anything like this? They are 3mm thick, and I fear they will crack while being drilled. I understand you cannot give me a guarantee they won't break, I'm just interested in you opinion.

    Thanks
    Bill

    Jasper.jpg
    1 reply
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    Chimera DragonfangWillyd57

    Reply 4 weeks ago

    I once drilled a hole through a piece of snowflake obsidian that was maybe ⅓ the size of those. There was some minor chipping and I'm not that confident in how it might handle stresses over the long term, but the hole drilling itself went fine. Bumblebee jasper is lower on the Mohs scale and doesn't do the conchoidal fracture thing obsidian is known for, so if you take your time and don't force the burr through too fast or drill too close to the edge -- I usually leave at least 2-3mm of rock around the sides of the finished hole; more if it's a delicate stone -- I think you could do it. But as you say there is no guarantee that they absolutely won't crack. (Also, bumblebee jasper does contain sulphur and traces of arsenic, so take appropriate precautions when drilling/cutting it.)

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    TaylerF1

    9 months ago

    what rock shiner do you use? your stones have the wet, shiny, texture I'm after!

    1 reply
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    Chimera DragonfangTaylerF1

    Reply 9 months ago

    I bought them already polished, so I'm not sure what was used on these stones specifically. Probably some form of rock tumbler or vibrating polisher, working through various grits of polishing medium. Searching "lapidary supplies" might turn up something.

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    ChristineG102

    1 year ago

    Hello Chimera
    I have bought my Dremel on a tool webshop and burrs (same as in your picture) on Aliexpress. I love drilling pebbles and glass. Thank you so much for your instructions and replies.
    Greetings from Belgium
    Christine

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    DebH65

    1 year ago

    Thanks for posting a simple, easy instruction for those of us who don't want to invest in expensive equipment! I'm just in experimental stages of creating my own, and this is PERFECT for me to get started. KUDOS!

    1 reply
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    Chimera DragonfangDebH65

    Reply 1 year ago

    You're welcome, and thank you. When I first started stone engraving I didn't find any really informative beginner tutorials anywhere, so once I got my techniques down, I figured I'd share what I've picked up. Trial and error is a great way to learn, but sometimes you just don't want to go through that mess.

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    ChristineG102

    1 year ago

    Hello, I am planning to buy a Dremel 4000. Can you please tell me what brand diamond burrs you use? I cannot order the Dremel diamond burrs/drills in Europe. I have just bought diamond micro drills (by Proxxon) in the DIY. What's the difference with burrs? Thank you

    2 replies

    I'm not sure what brand they are, and all of my various shapes and
    sizes of burrs are probably not the same brand. I buy them in 30-packs
    of each size off aliexpress or amazon. Way cheaper than buying
    Dremel-brand burrs, and the quality is just as good. Here
    is an example of the burrs I buy. I think the micro drills are fluted (they spiral like a
    drill bit), while burrs are not. The solid burrs feel less prone to breakage than a fluted bit, but that's just personal thoughts and not anything I've tested.

    I guess Instructables just dislikes Aliexpress links in general, because now they don't go anywhere for me either. Below is a picture of the kind of burr I usually use for drilling through rocks. Attempted amazon.com link to product. ← Don't have to buy these exact ones; anything like this should do the job just fine.

    81ZgNnfAgKL._SL1500_.jpg
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    AmandaA120

    1 year ago

    I love this, I can't wait to do it. Thanks!

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    GlynP

    3 years ago

    Brilliantly explained and so easy to follow. Please, some more. ?

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    NathanSellers

    3 years ago

    Great idea with the water tray, I've never tried that before. You have done a really good job with this.

    1 reply

    Everything goes so much easier with the water. When working dry it would take me about four times longer to drill through a stone, and was absolute murder on my burrs.

    Hey I like this! Voted! I was just starting to work with stone, and this is very helpful. Side note: in the upper left-hand corner, what's the small black-and-white stone called? One of my kid's has one, and I didn't have a clue.

    1 reply
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    jpayne21

    3 years ago

    Nice work