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I was looking for a thin 2mm drill bit. When I asked a manufacturer why their thinnest drill bit was 3mm, they said because drill bits are fragile if you make them too thin.

With that in mind, can you use 2mm drill bits without the risk of them breaking too frequently? Could it be that below a certain diameter bits would snap too easily?

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    Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Safety is a relative term. What's safe for one person is not safe for another. So put that way this is subjective and open to debate, and subjective questions aren't a good fit for StackExchange, see What types of questions should I avoid asking?. So I've slightly edited one of the sentences to make this something more easily answered objectively.
    – Graphus
    Aug 17 at 3:52
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    Just for interest. I ccasionally drill holes dowm to 0.3mm in fibreglass printed circuit boards. The drill must be kept at 90 degrees to the work and have absolutely no applied side force. Some drills last quite a while. Others "just vanish" rather too quickly. Aug 17 at 11:00
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    I'm surprised no one has mentioned using a pin vise, which is pretty important when doing any work with small drills or reamers.
    – jdv
    Aug 17 at 15:35
  • Pin vice! That's the term I was looking for...
    – FreeMan
    Aug 17 at 17:06
  • @jdv, I'm actually a big fan of pin vices, or to be more accurate I was, since although I own four or five I haven't used them in years. So I, um, didn't think of them. But TBH I wouldn't use one as a drill any more, except for the very tiniest holes, given any viable alternative (and I have a couple now that I didn't back then).
    – Graphus
    Aug 17 at 18:58
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I was looking for a thin 2mm drill bit. When I asked a manufacturer why their thinnest drill bit was 3mm, they said because drill bits are fragile if you make them too thin.

To me 2mm isn't actually very thin. I commonly drill holes smaller than this and both of the HSS bit sets that I own (bought many years apart) go down to 1.5mm. And twist drills much smaller than this are made.

can you use 2mm drill bits without the risk of them breaking too frequently?

Yes.

You will break a few — broken drill bits are inevitable for all users drilling in any material — but you might expect the breaks to be spaced by years if you are careful.

Last time I snapped a drill bit while drilling wood was about 18 months ago and I'm sure it was more my fault than the bit's (probably leant too much to one side accidentally after the bit was engaged in the material). The break before that was about a year previously; I remember because it was that break that prompted the purchase of a set of multiple bits in various sizes (10 x 1mm-3mm in half-mil increments) one of which was the bit I snapped 18 months back.

Usage obviously matters1. As does the diameter and quality of the bit — while cheap bits can be decent these days, they're rarely the match of quality bits that cost more (sometimes lots more) not just in straight-from-the-box sharpness but also in material2.

And then of course there's bit type. Do bear in mind that only the lip-and-spur or brad-point type is really a dedicated wood bit. The twist drill design, despite being the most used for smaller holes in wood, is actually designed for drilling metals including mild steel and annealed tool steel. So to a degree woodworking puts a lot less stress on these bits than the design is intended to withstand, IF you clear the flutes3 regularly.

Sharpness is still important even in wood, so resharpening bits that have dulled is important to drilling performance and reduced risk of breakage.

What if you find you break skinny bits too often?
Although they're very much considered obsolete awls can still be used today. In many contexts in woodworking a starter hole is sufficient, and these can be created using a bradawl or birdcage awl just as in the past.

Where you want a deeper hole than is conveniently made with an awl you can make a rudimentary bit by clipping the head off a nail of suitable diameter. This is an old, old trick that gets repeated in different forms down through the years in various books and magazines:

Nail as drill bit

Various sources: Popular Science, Apr 1919; Popular Mechanics, May 1953; Popular Science, Jan 1960; American Woodworker, Jan-Feb 1993; Trim Carpentry and Built-ins: Expert Advice from Start to Finish, 2002.

You can use the clipped end as-is to do the drilling, or using a file sharpen it to a chisel tip (like a bradawl) or sharpen the pointed end to a pyramid shape (like a birdcage awl). You'll be surprised at just how well these work, including a much reduced tendency to chip out the entry hole compared to real drill bits! While this type of 'drill' has no flutes of course and therefore no clearance for swarf you can successfully drill holes even in harder hardwoods with these using power drills as well as hand drills of the 'eggbeater' type.

You might like to also investigate some older styles of hand drills, including the gimlets (kiri) used in traditional Japanese woodworking.

Could it be that below a certain diameter these would snap too easily?

Although they do make bits much smaller than this the thinnest ones I've actually used myself were 0.2 or 0.3mm. They were very short as you'd expect, and while I did break one or two (over many years, drilling disparate materials including wood, resin and soft metals) they weren't that fragile that you'd constantly worry about a break, although you were of course on the lookout for it and you had to be careful.


1 The species being drilled, whether you're going into side grain or end grain, drill speed and feed rate, any sideways motion on the bit.

2 HSS for example is not one material but a class of alloys, and better grades of HSS are far stronger than lesser grades.

3 Wood swarf can pack tightly into the flutes of drills in a way that metals can't, because hot wood dust will naturally bind together (even in non-resinous woods, because heated lignin is sticky).

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Most US drill indexes go down to 1/16" (1.5875mm). It is best to keep the RPM's high and the feed speed low with those and smaller bits. The use of a drill press is highly recommended. Most smaller drill bits will be intended for working with metal, but will work fine in wood.

Wear safety glasses (always in the shop), and expect to break a few. Most industrial supply stores will sell you quantities of one size. A few years ago I was helping a guy build a model steam engine, and we drilled about 400 #60 (1.016mm) holes in some stainless steel sheeting. We'd average about 50 holes per drill bit before we broke them.

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  • Drilling stainless! You guys must have had your technique down to a T.
    – Graphus
    Aug 17 at 6:28
  • I've had a couple of sets of numbered drill bits from my modeling/railroading days. Of course, I also only ever used them in a hand brace and only on plastic or the occasional thin sheet of balsa. I can't imagine drilling stainless by twisting the bit by hand!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 17 at 11:08
  • @Graphus Technique is important, but so are good bits. All the technique in the world won't push a low carbon steel bit through SS - you need good, sharp cobalt or carbide bits, ideally with a generous amount of coolant, or at least some type of cutting fluid. Split points are also critical for the pilot hole.
    – J...
    Aug 17 at 17:00
  • @J... I didn't know they made low-carbon bits ^_^ Your point is well taken, better bits are very desirable if you want if you need to drill stainless, and I certainly wouldn't want to attempt to do it repeatedly without them. But from experience and all I've heard and read the thing is technique — I don't know about carbide since I've never used a carbide drill bit (I am presuming it's a game-changer for this) but with any steel bits you can apparently fail spectacularly if you have your speeds and feeds wrong, or make the blunder of lingering accidentally...... been there, have the T-shirt!
    – Graphus
    Aug 17 at 18:44
  • @Graphus Yes, that's my sly pejorative for HCS bits, lol. And yes, cobalt and carbide bits are game changers for stainless. Cobalt alloy bits are like extra-hard HSS, carbide is another step up again. You can make a hole with HSS and good technique, but it's slow and you burn bits quickly. If you need to do a lot of stainless there's no contest with the harder bits - it's 100% the way to go. Naturally, technique still counts - you don't get anywhere but trouble without good feeds and speeds, but good bits go a long way to making an easier job of it.
    – J...
    Aug 17 at 22:24
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The claims are ridiculous.

In electronics, much smaller holes are drilled in circuit boards, automatically by CNC machines in production.

I have a set of drill bits for that purpose which includes drills 25 mils (0.025") and narrower.

These are used in certain hobbies also, like jewelry making and whatnot.

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  • In mold-making, you also have very tiny cutters like this one (not just tiny drills)... and those are cutting steel, not wood. One needs a rather epically sized milling machine, though, to use them :-)
    – Haukinger
    Aug 18 at 10:45
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If properly used , drill bits do not break. Not that I have not broken many myself; be sure to use glasses. As I told my sons ; "anyone can break a wooden shovel handle , the idea is to make a hole and not break the tool". Always keep the bit perpendicular to the work, and you need to check from more than one position. Of the many bits I have broken, a shard never hurt me. So I would say they are safe - wear glasses! I happen to have some very small bits 0.012" ( 0.3 mm). Small bits would not be made and sold if they were not used. Today, I expect many very small holes are made with lasers. And I expect the demand for analogue watches with tiny holes for shafts is all but gone.

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    Breaking the shovel handle is "digging yourself out of digging a hole" ;)
    – Caius Jard
    Aug 18 at 13:15
  • The point is anyone can break a tool , the goal is not to break it. Aug 18 at 20:19

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