How to Choose and Use a Pin Vise or Mini Drill for Miniatures

A set of miniature drills in a drill index, along with a revolving head pin vice and a mini drill.

Lesley Shepherd

A pin vise (or pin vice in the UK) is a miniature drill or twist drill that is a useful, fairly inexpensive specialized hand tool used a lot in miniature woodwork. Pin vises, as the name suggest, hold thin, long cylindrical objects (like a pin or wire) by one end. This means it can also hold very thin, narrow drill bits. This tool would come in handy for anyone who works with small-scale miniatures, models, or dollhouse miniatures or with wire for jewelry or small parts like in wristwatch repair.

How Does It Work?

This vise comes in the form of a long pen-like handle with an adjustable throat or collet (the vise part). Think of a pen that has an adjustable ring or collar on top that can be tightened or loosened to fit very small manual drill bits at one end.

Highly adaptable, a pin vise can be used to hold small wood or metal parts still for operations like sanding or will hold any bit head that will fit in its adjustable chuck collet (another name for the adjustable collar that tightens at the tip to hold the tool in place).

For example, with this tool, you can manually drill an insertion hole for piercing saws or fret saws for jewelry and wood. Also, this tool can be used to hold square or half-round wire to create a decorative twisted wire, or to hold small diamond bits, files, or reamers for sanding or working on carvings in both metal and wood.

Pin Vise Varieties

Pin vises come in a range of styles that can be used in slightly different ways.

  • Ball-handled pin vises: These are pin vises with a swivel head that are designed to be held with the handle of the pin vise in the palm of the hand, while you twist the chuck contents using your thumb and index finger while drilling. These are useful for drilling larger holes in soft stock. They are almost all designed to fit the palm of a man's hand and may be too large for many women to operate comfortably single-handed. If you have small hands, test a revolving or ball-headed pin vise for fit before you buy it.
  • Mini drills: These are pin vises without revolving heads that are more difficult to use one-handed, but two-handed, you can get better control over the straightness of the drill for use with smaller bits. Simple mini drill styles of pin vices often have a single collet fitting the mid-range of drill bits, which can be stored inside the handle.
  • Double-ended pin vises: These are pin vises with replaceable collets that come with a choice of two or four collets. With more collets that fit your vise, you have a wider range of tools. If you want to use a pin vise to hold burs, reamers, and files, try to find one with collets that allow the use of tools up to 1/8 inch in diameter.
  • Variety in body shape: Pin vises come in hexagonal, square, or long and narrow shapes. The long and narrow vises are available for use as blade or needle tip holders and the pin vise can be used to scribe. For situations where you don't want the vise to roll off a work surface, the square or hexagonal shape comes in handy.

Specialized Pin Vices

A number of special use pin vices are available from jewelry suppliers. Usually, they are adapted to hold particular jewelry parts, such as the mounting arms for gemstones.

An Archimedes drill is another specialized form of pin vise, designed to be a miniature spiral push drill for drilling or reaming operations. It is ideal when you need to drill delicate holes and precision drilling of less than 1 millimeter. The tool was named after the ancient Greek mathematician and inventor, who was famous for the Archimedes screw concept, but he did not invent this tool.