Using a Bow Drill

June 13, 2013 , In: Favorite Posts, Studio, Tutorials

A couple of weeks ago I showed you some of my favourite things, some of my favourite and most used tools, all of which are older than I am and that I inherited when I first started my addiction to silversmithing. One of them, the one that people commented on, is my bowline (or bow) drill. One of the things that I love most about my craft is that I am using skills and techniques that have been used for, in many cases, thousand of years, and this type of drill has been around for thousands of years too. If you visit this page you will, along with a lot more detail about the history of drills that I am going to write about here, pictures of bow drills dating from the Romans. In that article the bow drill is referred to as a pump drill as to work it you pump the horizontal wooden handle up and down to spin the drill bit. Apart from the fact that my drill uses a drill bit rather than a sharpened stone the design has hardly changed at all!

So, I thought that this week I’d explain how one of these beautiful tools actually works! It can take a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the rhythm it really is like riding a bike – once you’ve got it you never forget! One of the reasons that I like this drill so much is that you only need one hand to work it, the other is free to hold your work still.

  1. Firstly, no matter what type of drill you use it is always good to mark where you want the hole with a centre punch so that the drill bit doesn’t slip.
  2. Place the drill bit in the mark, hold onto the metal shaft and spin the wooden handle to wind the string around the shaft – it doesn’t matter which direction.
  3. Place two fingers on the wooden handle either
    side of the shaft so that they are also holding the shaft still. Move the other hand to hold you work.
  4. Push the wooden handle down gently and the drill shaft will spin. When the handle reaches the bottom it
    will begin to rise back up the shaft, so allow your hand to rise with it
    before pushing back down when the handle has returned to the top. You want to let your hand “bounce” back up – if you put too much pressure on the handle it will stop once it reaches the bottom. This
    is the bit that takes the practice, but you will soon find a smooth flowing action and the drill will build up speed
    as you work.

I tried to take some photo to go with the steps above, but although the drill only needs one hand to operate it I still couldn’t take the photos at the right angle, so I’ve found you a video instead – I hope it helps! It’s very short, and the jeweller spins the drill slightly differently at the start than I do, but you can see how smooth the rhythm is.

I’d love to know – what is the oldest tool that you have? 

Jo Tinley

I am a jewellery designer and tutor, and a regular contributor to Beads and Beyond magazine. I am also mother to two beautiful boys, so you may see a bit about them on here as well! You can email me at [email protected]
  1. Reply

    Very interesting! Makes me want to try it!

  2. Reply

    That is so cool!! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Reply

    How cool I just watched a video and noticed one of those being used just very quickly but it caught my attention.
    I had to go find it for you 🙂 I'm not sure how far in it is but it's a fun and inspiring watch.

    • Reply

      Wow! That is an amazing video, thank you for sharing it! So fantastic to see so many tools that I use – but my stone setting is no where near as good as theirs! The precision of the specialist stone setters is wonderful.

  4. Reply

    That is cool!! I would so love to be in your studio with you to watch you use these awesome tools!

  5. Reply

    Thanx Jo that was interesting to see.

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