Monday, December 5, 2011

How to drill glass

matts pic of my light

I needed to drill glass to wire these hanging lights that I call Cactus Lights. I couldn’t find a step-by-step guide on how to drill glass; not at the hardware store, the stained glass store or on the Internet. I kept stumbling across vague information that always included diamond bits and water, but no specifics.

I was very nervous about proceeding without directions, because I kept envisioning the glass shattering and scaring my face for life. Needless to say, I am as pretty as ever. My face is fine. I didn't get cut even once.

After many hours of drilling, this is what I learned. I hope this how-to will save you time.

You’ll need:

  • Glass that needs drilling (duh)
  • Sharpie
  • Glass gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Ear plugs
  • Dust mask (Don’t skimp on this. Inhaling glass dust causes very serious health problems.)
  • Eye dropper with water (Label for drilling only. Glass dust will be sucked back into the dropper.)
  • Rag
  • Dremel or drill
  • Diamond drill bits


Using a sharpie, mark where you want to drill the hole. Depending on how much money you spend on your diamond drill bits, determines how quickly they will cut through the glass. I picked up a set of 50 for about $20 on harbor freight, and they take about 15 minutes to drill ¼” of glass. I would like to invest in higher quality bits, so that it will take only a minute or two to drill 1/4”.

The shaft on the diamond drill bits can only handle so many rpm, so set your drill or dremel accordingly. You don’t want to snap off the bit while drilling, hence the importance of safety glasses. At first I also wore a face shield, but then it was too difficult looking through that and safety glasses to keep tabs on where I was drilling.

Put on your gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs and dust mask. I worked at a table in my studio, with a chair that was at a comfortable height, since how I knew I was going to be there 15 plus minutes without moving.

Using the eye dropper, drip some water onto the sharpie mark on the glass. Keeping the bit perpendicular to the glass, start drilling. As the water flies away, add more with the eye dropper. Be sure to label the eye dropper so that it doesn’t get used for anything other than assisting in drilling, because powdered glass will be sucked back into the dropper. When the glass powder starts to build up around the hole use the rag to clean it out of there.

Once you’ve drilled your hole, it’s time for the victory dance! It really is empowering to have the tools and know how to drill a solid and yet fragile material. You’ll start noticing glass everywhere and thinking about how long it would take to drill. Have fun!

glass on floor

This is one of the two Cactus Lights that needed to be drilled so I could wire them and turn them into hanging lights. This wine bottle is a little over 2 feet tall.


One of the many shapes of diamond drill bits. I liked the flat bottomed bits the best versus the conical shaped bits. With the extra surface area, they drilled faster. For just this wine bottle I had about 1 inch of glass to drill, which took an hour with my cheap bits. Have I sold you on the nicer bits yet?


This enormous wine bottle had a conveniently concave shaped bottle to keep the water from flinging away while I was drilling.

For more photos of the glass Cactus Lights, check out these installation photos. The wine bottle strand is the shorty! It’s sister is 7 feet tall.

Post Game Show:

Start off by drilling some tests to take the pressure off from having to make a perfect hole the first time around.

Another set up idea is to use a fish tank to catch the excess water. It was suggested to me to use the fish tank motor to circular the water. I think this would be particularly helpful when there is lots of drilling to do.

I tried a glass/masonry bit that didn’t have any abrasive diamonds attached to it and it shattered several glasses. It seems like diamond bits are the way to go.

If you’re drilling a super thin glass bottle, you can put a wooden support in the inside, right on the other side of where you are drilling. This should help prevent the weight of the drill and bit from breaking the glass.

If you have to drill for a while, be mindful to take breaks when your mind starts to wander. You need to stay completely focused while using the drill. Also, be aware if the motor starts to heat up and give it a rest if that happens.

Even though I used water and drilled glass into a power, it wasn’t very messy drilling glass. I obviously didn’t do this around food, but clean up was simple.


  1. excellent post! i know this will be helpful to others.

  2. Finally!!! Thank you Elizabeth for your straight forward, easy to understand instructions! I want to make a wind chime using washed up pieces of glass but I couldn't find anything that fitted what I wanted to do. So a huge thanks for sharing!

    p.s. your work is stunningly beautiful!