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Drill Details

Martha Stewart Living, June 2000

Martha is always looking for new ways to transform tag-sale finds and worn furnishings into functional and attractive pieces. One way of doing this is by drilling decorative holes into solid wood furniture with an electric drill. Aesthetically, decorative cutouts can turn an object into a unique design element by adding airy spirals, linear designs, or natural motifs such as flowers; or they can simply be a way to personalize an item while addressing practical concerns, such as providing needed ventilation.

For this type of project, use a corded electric drill, since drilling multiple holes may drain the battery of a cordless model before the job is complete. Choose a variety of drill bits in several sizes for your design. In addition to standard auger bits, Tom recommends using a countersink bit to produce cone-shaped indentations, a forstner bit to create clean, flat-bottomed holes, and a brad-point bit, which has a central spike for precision. A hole-saw attachment, commonly used to install doorknobs, allows you to create large holes.

Before drilling, experiment with designs on paper, using adhesive dots or a hole punch to work out a pattern that suits the dimensions of the object to be drilled. Tom recommends looking for inspiration in objects with decorative dot patterns, such as colanders, tea strainers, or even slotted spoons. Careful planning is key, since cutout designs cannot be altered or undone once they're in place.

When you're ready, practice on a scrap piece of lumber, testing out designs as well as different drill bits. You'll get a feel for holding the drill steady and for how a particular kind of wood reacts to drilling. Don't discard a practice board on which you have tested various bits, since it can serve as a reference guide.

Piece of wood furniture
Electric drill
Drill bits
Sawhorse or workbench
Precision-drill guide (optional)
Practice boards
Protective goggles
Wooden dowel

1. Sand and prime every surface that will be drilled. (For this project, use only solid wood furniture; plywood and particleboard tend to splinter.)

2. Trace the pattern to be drilled onto the wood. If you are going to drill through the wood, space the holes at least 3/8 inch apart. Place the wood on a stable base, such as a sawhorse or a workbench, where you can operate the drill at a comfortable working height; if possible, set up a precision drill guide.

3. Clamp a board (preferably a piece of scrap lumber at least 1/2 inch thick) behind the wood being drilled. Wearing protective goggles, begin drilling using an electric drill, holding it steady with the bit perpendicular to the board.

4. Apply the first coat of paint; file the insides of the holes with sandpaper wrapped around a wooden dowel, and sand all surfaces; finish with a top coat of paint.

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