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Tools to Make Holes in Clay

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There are many methods of making holes in your clay, such as punching holes through the clay for fruit bowls, teapots, colanders, and so that you can easily hang the piece later, whether it is a delicate pendant or a robust wall hanging.

Generally speaking, it is easier (and better for the pieces integrity, if holes are punched through while the clay is still soft or while it is at soft leather-hard. As in many aspects of handcrafting, the tools can make a huge difference.

Making Holes in Soft Clay

Drinking straws make good tools for making holes in soft clay.
Photo © Beth Peterson

The best tool I have found for the times I want to punch a hole into soft clay is the simple drinking straw. I keep a collection of different sized straws in my studio, from the very narrow coffee straws to the really large bore red plastic drinking straws I collect form those who eat at a certain local restaurant.

A couple of notes about using straws:

  • When they get filled up with clay or they've bent too many times, it is easy to snip off full, bent, or otherwise damaged ends.
  • It works best to have the clay supported on the side away from the straw (the straw will move through the clay to the support). This reduces the propensity for the clay to bend under pressure as well as making the exit much cleaner.

Clay Hole Cutters

Kemper hole cutter tools are great for making holes in soft to leather-hard clay.
Photo © Beth Peterson

When working with pieces that need to be stiffer when the holes are made, I suggest using metal clay hole cutters, such as these brass ones made by Kemper Tools. The cutters are sharp, so be careful not to have your fingers in the way when the tool goes through the clay; they can get badly cut.

In my own experience, hole cutters work best on clay that is between soft and stiff leather-hard. Other potters, however, have found them very useful with wet clay as well.

To clean out cutters with hardwood or plastic handles, I find that wooden skewers and tiny bottle brushes work very well. Both cleaning tools are long enough that I don't poke holes in myself, and they won't damage the cutter, either.

Ceramic Drill Bits

Ceramic drill bits such as this one are used to make holes in fired clay.
Photo © Beth Peterson

Every once in a while, we find that we want to make a hole in a piece of clay that has already been fired. For this, you will need a ceramic (also known as a tile) drill bit. The bit itself is metal, as you can see. They are called ceramic drill bits because that is their purpose.

Unlike other drill bits, ceramic bits are actually more of a grinder than a spiraling drill. Do not try to use a regular wood or metal drill bit on fired clay; the bit will simply skitter across the surface of the clay rather than digging in and through.

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