Art! Now with heavy machinery! (But preferably not.)
August 1, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Drilling holes in glass. Little ones. How do you do that?

I have about 10lbs of scrap stained glass. I'd like to use it for art projects, but for some of the ideas I have I'll need to be able to put 1/32" to 1/8" holes in the glass. The only suggestions I've found online are for water cooled drill presses, which cost more than I was hoping to lay out.

Is there any way to do this with a Dremel? What is the best way to do this that doesn't require heavy shop equipment?
posted by elfgirl to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If it's scrap, experiment! Wearing the correct safety equipment (gloves, safety glasses), put a piece underwater in your sink and drill it with your dremel. Turn the dremel speed up all the way and use very light pressure. Don't get the dremel body wet, of course.
posted by fritley at 7:58 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You may have better luck drilling slowly - very slight pressure. clamp the glass down so it doesn't move and set up an arrangement to drip a small stream of water - fishtank hose w/clamp from resesvoir maybe - for cooling. It's easier to do this kind of drilling if the thing you're putting holes in can't move hence the clamp. You can also get inexpensive rigs to convert a handheld drill into a drillpress - I don't know what they cost these days since mine is ancient but it's another option to consider - check out Sears or Lowe's or the like.

1/8" holes are really big though - I think you'll have trouble with glass breaking with that kind of size. Another option might be to see if there are any glass companies near you that you could hire to do it....
posted by leslies at 8:03 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd use a dish pan with some water and a flat wooden plank in it, then use an abrasive bit to cut through the glass as Fritley suggests. Don't push, just let the weight of the tool provide all the force.

Note: this is going to get water, abrasive and powdered glass everywhere. Outside, goggles.
posted by Orb2069 at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2009

Best answer: This previous AskMe might give you some guidance.
posted by davey_darling at 8:11 AM on August 1, 2009

Doing it underwater seems to be a good idea, as apparently it dampens the "resonation" of the glass.

Other than that, you can buy a special ceramic drill bit. It's shaped sort of like an arrow head. I make no guarantees, but it seems to me that you could use it to drill glass too.
posted by Solomon at 8:53 AM on August 1, 2009

Best answer: Daniel Lopacki has what you need
posted by hortense at 8:54 AM on August 1, 2009

If you find a good method, could you post your solution? I'm curious to see what will work.
posted by gt2 at 9:15 AM on August 1, 2009

I have done this -- and I am not saying it's a good idea to do it the way I did it; it was a "Gee, I wonder if this will work?" one-off -- with a Dremel, a Dremel drill press, and a block of plasticine with a little well in it to (1) hold the glass, (2) pool water in. It was slow, tedious work and some of the holes were not the neatest, but it did the trick. I believe I used both the arrowhead-shaped bit Solomon mentioned and a regular one and had no notable success with the special one. On the plus side, it was not particularly messy.
posted by kmennie at 9:20 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Use the highest speed setting you have. Don't start too slow or you could crack the whole thing
posted by meta_eli at 9:36 AM on August 1, 2009

Best answer: The best way to do this is with a diamond drill, such as the ones from hortense's link. You put the glass in a pan with just enough water to cover it, not for damping, but for cooling the drill bit and removing the ground-up bits of glass from the hole.

Drill with very little pressure and for no more than one second at a time. Then withdraw the bit from the hole to let more water in. These drills last a long time used this way, but let it dry out while drilling and the diamonds come off instantly.

You can get these drill bits for hand-held dremel tools and this will work. A drill press makes it a little easier but is not required. I helped a friend do this for an art project some years ago. We read the above procedure somewhere on the Internet and it worked well.
posted by FishBike at 9:38 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had to drill holes in glass a few times now for work and bar none the fastest way I know of goes like this:

Clamp the piece tightly & evenly but be careful about cracking the glass. I usually use a piece of wood as substrate. Build what is called a Tinker's dam around the piece. This is just a dam to hold water and keep the piece submerged. I use a polymer clay available at art stores. Take the time to make sure it's water tight & make the walls taller then you think you need. Even better is to have a pump flowing water, but I don't think it is absolutely necessary.

To cut, use a piece of thin wall copper tube in a drill press. We've made custom bits for larger holes with copper tube essentially soldered to a post for gripping in the chuck. The speed setting on the drill has a lot to do with your patience level & cutting medium. Carborundum works well, but diamond paste works over ten times faster. I've spent an unfortunate 45 minutes trying to cut through 1/4" glass with aluminum oxide. Put almost no pressure on when you start the cut to make sure the bit doesn't wander.

Once you've solidly entered the piece, medium pressure is fine. You can let up if you like, to keep things as cool as possible but with the diamond paste I don't bother. The water will get cloudy with glass powder. If you are paranoid about where you are in the cutting process you can stop drilling & feel with your finger or change the water so you can see. As you get close to punching through the back of the glass you need a feather light touch. Punching through with too much pressure will take extra glass with it & make your hole look like it has a countersink to it. The deeper the cut the more friction there is & the hotter things get.

Copper is great at cooling but if your water gets too hot you may have to take a break or replace your water. Remember patience pays off & that the tendency is to get impatient and press harder and harder until *snap* you crack something.

Good luck!
posted by Dmenet at 10:06 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have drilled holes in beer bottles with a diamond core drill and a hand held drill motor. I got the drills from a local industrial tool supplier. The arrow head shaped ceramic drills haven't been useful to me for glass.
posted by llc at 10:59 AM on August 1, 2009

Best answer: If you use a dremel to drill the holes, I recommend having a friend there to hold a wet sponge up against the drill bit as you are drilling. It makes drilling holes much quicker, helps preserve your drill bit, and allows you to focus on keeping your drill at the right pressure (if you don't mind a slightly rounded-edge hole, try drilling on an angle, rotating the angle around).

Because this is not really how it was intended to be used, it's going to be a bit tricky, and take longer than - say - if you borrowed some time on a glass grinder from a stained glass artist.

My Inland glass grinder has a drill bit that is awesome and much faster than trying with the dremel (and is done easily by 1 person!). Plus, the grinder part will help grind down and shape your edges, and with glass that is important. I paid $160 (including shipping from across the country) for an upper tier model on ebay (the best prices I could find), but there are many cheaper models that will grind and drill.
posted by julen at 3:31 PM on August 1, 2009

If you have compressed air available, you can get a cheap air spindle, which will give you very high speeds. Combined with a diamond bit and submerging (I like to use glycerol, but water is OK), it can be quick and easy.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:31 PM on August 1, 2009

When I say "cheap air spindle": this is what I use.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:03 PM on August 1, 2009

I saw something cool on TV just yesterday, and am wondering if this could work for you.

A character applied a strip of blue duct tape (color isn't a factor, but it might have been a different kind of tape) to a window, and used a drill on that piece of tape. At the end, there was a perfect hole going through the tape and the window.

I don't know how it works, but it seemed legit to me.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:50 PM on August 2, 2009

There are tutorials about this on YT.
posted by Muirwylde at 6:38 PM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys! I've marked all the ones I'm considering trying. I'll come back and revise once I've given them a go.

julen -- I'm considering a field trip to a glass art store to get a look at grinder in person. I don't do stained glass myself, so I've never used one, but it sounds like a grinder may be the best solution. Are there a variety of drill attachments for different size holes or is there a standard size? It looks like there are different grinding attachments (by grit, maybe?) but without a familiarity with the equipment it was hard to figure out what I should be looking for.

Dmenet -- I'm assuming we're not talking standard copper water pipe? Where do you guys get the copper tubing from? I kind of like the idea of using pipe and paste, if for no other reason than cutting a new piece of pipe is likely to be cheaper than replacing diamond bits.

leslies -- The Dremel drill press may be the first thing I try, mainly because I can argue that it's a purchase both my husband and I will use. :) Thanks for reminding me they were out there!

davey_darling -- Thanks for the pointer to the old AskMe. I did search before posting this, but for whatever reason that one didn't pop up.
posted by elfgirl at 5:49 AM on August 4, 2009

The grinder will come with 2 kinds of bits. The first is a plain grinder bit/base. You push the edges of the glass against it, and it grinds away the sharpness and smooths out the edges. The grinder drill bits fit into that base and poke up into the air. The drill bits come in a few sizes (not as much variety as the dremels). My grinder came with 3/4 and 1/4 bits, and I also bought a 3/8 drill bit. Cheapest place for bits is ebay, I've found, even with shipping.

Make sure you buy/use a grinder that uses water. Mine uses a sponge to transfer water to the item being ground down. I press an old sponge up against the drill bit while I'm drilling holes. It'll preserve the life of the bit and be far more effective in drilling the holes.

If you are going to make mobiles, in which lots of glass hangs from lots of glass, I recommend reinforcing the structure holding everything up with a strong invisible line, like fishing wire, rather than relying on rope or wire alone.
posted by julen at 8:02 AM on August 4, 2009

Yes standard copper water pipe, plus valve grinding paste,preferably water base, it helps to cut a slot in the end to help feed abrasive to the cut . Diamond drills,if not abused will last for hundreds of holes.
posted by hortense at 10:15 AM on August 4, 2009

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