Hand Drills vs. Dremel Tools

Q: I’ve got a Dremel tool, but I was wondering if it would be better to get a traditional-style hand drill with a crank, or one of those bow drills with a rope, for drilling holes for jewelry.

A: Since you already have a Dremel tool, I’d say use it. You can get collets in any size below the 1/8 inch maximum of most Dremels, all the way down to a collet that will hold a #80 drill bit, and the Dremel’s high speed is fine with small drill bits. Use a suitable cutting lube and a light touch.

If you want a manual traditional tool, the hand crank is the easiest for a novice to use, but a bit clumsy to handle for tiny drill bits. The bow drill (your stick and rope) is a very old traditional tool that is very capable and versatile in the hands of someone used to them. They’re still in use in parts of the world lacking more modern (electric) tools for the job, but it takes considerable practice to use well. For beginners, they’re frustrating as hell (but then, so is a hand-crank drill if you’re trying to drill really tiny holes.) For one thing, bow drills are most effective when you make your own drill bits as “spade” point bits that cut in both directions (clockwise and counterclockwise, with one cutting edge active in each direction) Making the appropriate bits is a whole additional skill in itself.

The litle spiral drills are a very slow and gentle tool. Mostly used by watchmakers, more than jewelers. Accurate, but as I said, very slow to use. So again, since you’ve already got a Dremel, I’d suggest it as your best choice. That’s especially true if you’ve got one of the versions that has a speed control on it, rather than just on/off.

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.