Tag Archives: drilling pearls

Working to get ready to work

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One of the things I like best about being a jewelry designer is making my own beads. It doesn’t matter whether they are made from silver, copper, bronze, polymer clay, stone, or glass. I find the most satisfaction from using beads I know I can’t get anywhere else. I often combine my own beads with beads and findings made by other crafts people I’ve come to know through blogs and through Etsy.

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Drilling rocks, waxing and then buffing them takes time. So does drilling sea glass, though when the glass pieces are drilled the beads are finished. No waxing or buffing needed. Enlarging the holes in fresh water pearls also takes time, though I’ve learned to speed up that process considerably by using the same drilling technique I use for rocks and glass.

Drilling rocks and glass sounds like tedious business, but I actually really like to do it. A lot. There is great satisfaction when I drill from the opposite side of a stone and connect successfully with the first hole I’ve drilled. I think of how I would like to use each rock as I place it into the dish with the others, waiting to be cleaned up and waxed. So much possibility! I enjoy spending time on the beach looking for specific shapes colors or sizes of rocks, even though I already have boxes and boxes in my studio that would take me years to drill.

I also like to listen to books on CD while I work so I’m able to keep up with my “reading.” (Currently listening to “The Falls” by Joyce Carol Oates. I think it could be a bit of a slog to read but I am enjoying listening to it. A few books that stand out for me as excellent listening are: “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, “The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli, “American Dervish” by Ayad Akhtar, and “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles.)

Factoring in the usual distractions of an island summer, this is what two days of drilling  looks like for me:

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That would be 42 beach rocks, 50 pieces of sea glass, and 75 pearls of assorted size. I can’t wait to start working with them but I will have to. Tomorrow is an off-island day for me. Haircut, visit with Mom, groceries, and time at the Subaru dealer for a catalytic converter recall. But on Friday morning, don’t call me because I’ll be busy at my bench!

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An old dog learns a new trick…

…from herself.

This is my usual method for enlarging the holes in pearls. The jeweler’s saw works well to help hold the pearls and to saw a larger hole in them. (And it’s an easy job to do while watching TV.) But, when I planned to include pearls on a knotted necklace, strung on a  waxed cotton cord, I wanted to find a faster way to make a larger hole.

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I realized I already had the knowledge I needed. I could use the same technique I use to drill rocks. (D’oh! Why didn’t this occur to me sooner?)

Since the pearls are much softer than rocks, I am able to use a regular twist drill bit in my flexible shaft instead of a diamond drill bit. I use a layer of hot glue in the bottom of a glass dish to hold the pearls. Then I  fill the dish with water and drill through the water and pearl to enlarge the hole. I use a pecking motion, moving the drill out of the hole regularly so the water clears the chips from the bit. The water keeps the drill bit cool and contains the pearl dust rather than releasing it into the air.

I have to admit I’ve had a hard time, in the past, getting some of that glue out of the dish to release the stones or pearls after I have drilled them. I  figured out a new trick to make the glue layer easy to take out!  I spray a thin layer of water in the bottom of the dish as a release agent before I add the hot glue. (Again, d’oh! Why didn’t this occur to me sooner?)IMGP4695

I use a thin layer of hot glue for the pearls, and place them with the help of a straight pin to keep the hole oriented at 90° to the base of the glass dish.

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I add water to cover the pearls, and then drill.

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The glue layer comes out easily since I sprayed a mist of water, first, as a release agent.

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I bend the glue to make it easier to take the pearls out.

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Voila! I now have a selection of large-holed pearls in much less time than it would have taken me to use my saw to make holes this size. I’ll still use the saw  when I need to make the pearl holes only slightly larger, but this method is pretty quick when I need a batch of these to knot up with other large hole beads.

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