Blog

So now I have a Dremel…what can I work on?

Dremel setWelcome to part two of my series of blog posts based on information collected from Jill Timm‘s class, The Amazing Dremel at the 2009 Focus on Book Arts conference.

As mentioned in my last Dremel post, this post focuses on tips for using a Dremel with specific materials. I took six pages of notes during the workshop. As I reviewed them, I realized just how much I’d forgotten since I took the workshop. I’m glad I’m such a prolific (a.k.a. anal) note taker.

Once again, I’d like to mention that this post is in no way meant to replace the total awesomeness of taking Jill Timm’s class. I benefited so much from hearing Jill’s experiences and seeing her work in person. If I had bought a Dremel and experimented with it on my own, most likely I would have never tried it on the range of materials that we did in class.

Jill recently announced that she’s taking her Dremel class on the road and would love to be scheduled by your group. I highly recommend the class if you have a chance to attend.

And away we go! Please note that this post only focuses on materials I used in the workshop.

Some general tips:

  • Always always always wear eye protection and a dust mask. Things fly in the air. Really. It happened to me.
  • The Dremel should make a purring noise when you turn it on.
  • If the Dremel makes a grinding noise, check your motor brushes. Note: You should check motor brushes after every 50-60 hours of use.
  • Don’t force it – let the bits do the work for you.
  • You can get different results from different bits when you move your Dremel in either direction.
  • When holding a Dremel, be sure to not put your hands over the air vents.
  • If the Dremel gets hot, turn it off and let it cool.
  • Did I mention that you should always wear eye protection and a dust mask?

Wood:

  • Grain affects working with wood. Work with the grain when possible or the tip of your Dremel will skip.
  • The harder the wood, the more detail you can get.
  • Use wide strokes to get an even, smooth finish.
  • Use a saw attachment for any substantial removal of material.
  • With high speed cutters, use bits with smaller heads for thinner lines and/or smaller spaces.
  • Using the Dremel at higher speeds will cut more smoothly.
  • You will get more drawing control if you work at a shallow depth.
  • Use a ball tip to carve out a space for inserting beads.
  • The edge of sandpaper bands can be used to carve out fine lines.

Glass:

  • Smooth out the edges of your glass first to remove sharp edges.
  • Work on glass on a dark surface so you can see your work better.
  • Use a low speed with diamond bits or your glass will chip.
  • Move the Dremel in the direction of the rotation to reduce chipping.
  • To see exactly what your image will look like through the glass, you need to get on top of it and look down. Looking at glass from an angle will cause distortion in viewing the image.
  • Keep the Dremel moving on the glass and don’t keep the tip in one spot or that spot will overheat – give it time to cool off.
  • You can work on both sides of glass to create dimension.
  • The thicker the piece of glass, the greater the depth achieved.
  • Images on the back of glass need to be done in reverse.
  • If the tip of your bit is skipping on the glass, then your speed is too slow.

Mirror:

  • All tips for glass can be applied for use with mirror.
  • The rubber grey disk (looks like stone) takes away the paint and silver from mirror but doesn’t grind the glass

Linoleum:

  • You can cut levels into linoleum because it’s the same material all the way through.
  • Don’t stay in one spot for too long – linoleum will melt and clog up your bits – work for short periods of time.
  • You can cut all the way through linoleum with a Dremel.
  • You can use the Dremel to carve linoleum for printmaking.

Plexiglass:

  • You can use brushes to create a soft frosted finish.
  • Use the bits lightly – only use the tips. Don’t push down.
  • Plexiglass has a low melting point, so work on an area for a short period of time and then let it cool.
  • Pieces of plexiglass that fly off while you’re working can burn your skin – wear protective clothing.
  • You can work through plexiglass if it’s thin enough.
  • You can work on both sides of plexiglass for depth.
  • Be careful while working, the surface of plexiglass can scratch easily.
  • Use low speeds when working with sanders.

Ceramic Tile:

  • Ceramic tile is composed of a glass surface on a clay base. You can take off the glassy surface or work through to the ceramic base, which is softer.
  • Tiles that are made for floors have been fired at a higher temperature and are harder to work with.
  • Tiles made for walls and countertops are softer and easier to work with.
  • Seal any exposed ceramic areas or it could stain.

Aluminum:

  • Because aluminum is a soft metal, you can cut all the way through it.
  • You can work the surface to create reflective values.
  • Metal brushes can be used to clean up burrs.
  • Use a metal circular saw bit for cutting out slots.
  • Alcohol inks can be used on the surface of aluminum.
  • Sand down sharp edges.
  • Before polishing, make sure all burrs have been removed.
  • Polish aluminum by moving in one direction.
  • If you want to keep the surface shiny, you’ll have to seal it or it will oxidize over time.
  • Be aware that aluminum will heat up the longer you work with it.

Polymer Clay:

  • Don’t stay in one spot for too long – polymer clay will melt and clog up your bits. Work for short periods of time.
  • Don’t use diamond bits.
  • You can polish polymer clay to a small degree.
  • You can cut recessed areas in polymer clay, then fill the recesses with a new color of clay and re-bake it to create inlays.
  • Carving polymer clay is messy! Keep this in mind when choosing your workspace.

Steel:

  • Grind down the edges and corners first – it’s sharp!
  • If you apply a layer of rust to the steel (either naturally or by using product), you can carve away the rusted layer to reveal the shiny layer underneath.
  • Steel will spark when you work on it.
  • Use high speeds.

41 Responses to “So now I have a Dremel…what can I work on?”

By dinahmow - 3 August 2009 Reply

Nice, clear information here. I’ll pass this link to some printmaking friends.
Thanks for this.

By elissa - 12 August 2009 Reply

Diane,

If your printmaking friends find any new uses for the Dremel, I’d love to hear about it.

Elissa

By Mary - 29 December 2014 Reply

I know this request for information on printmaking was a few years ago. Was any information shared? I just got a Dremel Micro for Christmas and cutting linoleum or wood for block printing interests me.

By Elissa - 30 December 2014 Reply

Mary –

I haven’t heard anything new about using the Dremel for printmaking. Wish I had better news. 🙁

Elissa

By Jill Timm - 3 August 2009 Reply

Great Job Elissa,

Your notes are better than mine!

By elissa - 12 August 2009 Reply

Jill,

Maybe, but your experiences are better than mine!

I’ve always been a good note taker. Now I just need to become a Dremel Master.

Elissa

By Cathy (Highland ) Reams - 3 August 2009 Reply

Hi! I just wanted to say, “Thank you!” for sharing your notes and pictures of such an amazing class. I found your blog through a link Gerri Newfry posted on her FB page and I am so glad that I did!

I guess I don’t need to mention there’s so very little information on this amazing tool, its accessories, and attachments. I own so many of them, but haven’t yet truly experimented with it yet… but I’m definitely being inspired to. Please keep the info coming…. and if I’m ever in a position to take a class from Jill Timm, I will!

By elissa - 12 August 2009 Reply

Cathy –

Welcome to my little patch of the web. 🙂

It’s funny – for as long as the Dremel has been around, I’m surprised that there aren’t more general resources out there for artists. I found a lot of online stuff on using it with wood and glass, but not much else. It proves just how valuable it is to take a class – you get all of the underground info.

Elissa

By Sara - 3 August 2009 Reply

So many Dremel tools! So many exciting projects! So little time…

[… but I’ll still ask Santa for one at Christmas…]

Thanks for all the tips, which I shall bookmark for future reference. Sara

By elissa - 12 August 2009 Reply

Sara,

I’m glad you found the information useful.

Elissa

By Carol - 4 August 2009 Reply

Thrilled to bits to be getting your notes on the precious Dremel.

By elissa - 12 August 2009 Reply

Carol,

That was the best comment ever.

Elissa

By Lyna Lou - 26 August 2010 Reply

Hi Elissa, Thanks for writing the blog about the Dremel…….. I am hoping to be at the next meeting. Have to get off early from my client & also the reception for the artists at the Fair.
Perhaps I can take the next one!(Dremel workshop form Jill) Am trying to get to the place where I set up an Etsy Shop. Have some items, but haven’t done it yet.

By Elissa - 8 September 2010 Reply

Lyna Lou –

If you need help getting on Etsy, let me know. 🙂

Elissa

By Val G - 15 April 2014 Reply

Thank you for actually mentioning the sparks when working with steel. Many people forget that. I often wear leather gloves while working on steel (and other metals) because there are often a LOT of sparks. Dremel tools are indeed amazing but they also make it rather easy to lose small body parts or sustain other serious injuries if one forgets safety precautions.

By Elissa - 16 April 2014 Reply

Val –

Wearing gloves is a great idea – thanks for the tip!

Elissa

By Jackie - 20 August 2015 Reply

I would never wear gloves when using my dremel – besides getting caught up and ‘tying’ up your fingers and breaking the mechanisms under the sheath, you wouldn’t feel either the traction or vibration you also would feel any overheating potentially too late to stop….

By Elissa - 24 August 2015 Reply

Jackie –

That’s a good point about the gloves. Thanks!

Elissa

By Bill - 14 November 2014 Reply

Why don’t you ever mention engraving stone with a Dremel?

By Elissa - 14 November 2014 Reply

Bill –

Good question! That’s because I’ve never worked with stone before.

Elissa

By Alex - 2 December 2014 Reply

Elissa,
Very appreciative of all the information! Pardon my ignorance but when working with aluminum (engraving more specifically); is it recommended to use higher or lower speeds? Also if it has been anodized do the rules change? thanks!

By Elissa - 3 December 2014 Reply

Alex –

You would use higher speeds with the Dremel when working on metal. I assume that this would be true for use on adodized aluminum, but I don’t know for sure. Give it a try and report back!

Elissa

By jonnah - 3 March 2015 Reply

Thanks for the useful info Elissa. I am just getting into bone carving for pendants and want to use my dremel for shaping the bone. What speed ranges would be appropriate for use with cylindrical cutters and sanding drums working with bone? I’d say bone was similar density and hardness as a hard wood (without the grain).

By Elissa - 4 March 2015 Reply

Jonnah –

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience carving bone.

My recommendation is always to start at the lowest speed you feel comfortable with and work your way up, using a scrap of bone to test on. If you smell burning, back off. And always wear a face mask!

Elissa

By Anonymous - 8 September 2015 Reply

Hi Elissa, I am a jewelry crafter. I have a Dremel 4000. I would like to know what drill bit works best for drilling holes in stainless steel flatware. I intend to drill holes for bracelets. I also have the Dremel Workstation and would like to know if this would be good to use for this craft. Thank you
Shelia

By Elissa - 1 October 2015 Reply

Sheila –

You’ll want to use a Tungsten Carbide Cutter for drilling holes in flatware. I’ve tried the Dremel Workstation and it’s awesome! It’s so much easier to use that than to try to keep your hands steady.

Elissa

By Jane - 19 December 2015 Reply

Do you know if there is a special round (on the tip) sanding attachment that can be used with a Dremel 4000, like a Kirjes bowl sander? Or could a person attach a Kirjes to the Dremel tool? Thanks, Jane

By Elissa - 20 December 2015 Reply

Jane –

I had never heard of the Kirjes before – all I have to say is WOW. That thing is darn cool. The bits manufactured for the Kirjes inflatable sanding system won’t work with a Dremel because it doesn’t have an integrated air pump.

I don’t know what material you’re working on, so I’m going to make an educated guess about what might be of use to you. If you really want something round, you might try a round grinding stone. This listing on eBay includes a batch of 10 for $6.97 – it’s worth a try for that small of an investment. I’d totally go for it. If you do, report back and let me know how it works.

Elissa

By Jane - 20 December 2015 Reply

Thank you for your kind reply. My son has been using hand tools to sand out bowls from some burls he found in the woods here. I actually found DIY instructions on how to make your own sanding balls that you can just attach to any drill. And there is a hand pump that you buy to inflate the Kirjes attachments and then tighten it to hold the air in. It looks like an awesome system for the serious woodworker. We’re not really there yet. Thanks again

By Doreen - 27 December 2015 Reply

With regards to working on polymer clay: I use a plastic storage tub (like Rubbermaid) that I got at a discount store. I lay it on its side (so the bottom is facing me) and do my sanding, cutting, etc. on cured clay so that the dust flies into the tub rather than all over my desk. I also dip the piece into a bit of cool soapy water frequently, so that the water helps to gather the dust. When I am done for the day, I stand the tub on its bottom and let the water evaporate until it is almost gone. Then I can just wipe the sludge out of the tub with paper towel and throw that away. If I get too much water inside the tub (doesn’t happen much because the tub lip slants it backwards) I can sop some up with paper towel as well. Of course, I ALWAYS wear a particulate mask when working on cured polymer clay.

By Elissa - 28 December 2015 Reply

Hi Doreen,

Your setup sounds like a perfect solution for containing most Dremel messes. Thanks so much for sharing!

Elissa

By Wendy - 2 January 2016 Reply

What are the best bits to use to carve limestone?

By Elissa - 5 January 2016 Reply

Wendy –

Based on the quick research I did, it looks like the diamond bits are the way to go. Give them a try and report back!

Elissa

By Michelle - 7 February 2016 Reply

Hi, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I have some lightweight plastic bins that have a lip around the edge. This makes them just a bit too wide to fit in my Expedit bookcase. I used a sanding band to sand off some off the edge and the edge is a bit rough. I saw your list of products and how to work with them. I see plexiglass but not plastic. Do you have any suggestions on how I can sand or grind off the edge and leave it smooth so when I handle them they are not sharp?

By Elissa - 12 February 2016 Reply

Michelle –

I haven’t used my Dremel with plastic, so my suggestion is really just a guess. I’m wondering if you need a sanding band with a finer grit?

It looks like you can get 400 grit sanding bands on eBay (they come in a set). They’re under $10.00, including shipping.

If you try them out, report back – I’d like to hear how it goes!

Elissa

By Melvyn - 13 August 2016 Reply

First Class tutorial, what I have been looking for…
Thank you

By Elissa - 15 August 2016 Reply

Melvyn –

Thanks so much for your kind words. 🙂

Elissa

By Brandi - 26 December 2017 Reply

I am getting back into using dremel after many years of not using it. Things are a bit different or I have forgotten a lot!! I don’t have the “Dremel” per say I hace hyper tough variable speed rotary tool all in all same concept though. Anywho I have 2 bits currently in question (am currently working on a project) and would preferably use one of these as they are smaller. Is there a way to send. A picture or 2?

By Elissa - 27 December 2017 Reply

Brandi –

Sure, feel free to send some photos along. I’ll do my best to help you.

Elissa

By Jackie - 25 February 2018 Reply

I am having a very hard time finding any information on using a rotary tool (like a Dremel) to engrave river stones and rocks. What bits should I use and what are the techniques. I can’t seem to find an introductory book for hobby users. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

Jackie

By Elissa - 26 February 2018 Reply

Jackie –

I’ve never carved stones myself. This blog post recommends using a #84922 Silicon Carbide Grinding Stone for working on river rocks.

Give it a try and report back. 🙂

Good luck!
Elissa

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This