Using a Pin Vise, Miniature Drill or Twist Drill

A set of miniature drills in a drill index, along with a revolving head pin vice and a mini drill.
Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to Inc.

A pin vise (pin vice in the UK), miniature drill or twist drill, is a useful, fairly inexpensive tool from the specialized hand tools for miniature woodwork for anyone who works with small-scale miniatures, models or dollhouse miniatures or with wire for jewelry. The vises are really a form of a handle with an adjustable throat or collet (the vise part) most often used as miniature drills, holding very small drill bits in their adjustable collets, for use drilling insertion hole for piercing saws or fret saws for jewelry and wood.

They can also 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. 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 chuck collets (the sections that tighten down at the tip to hold the tool in place.

Which Features Should I Choose?

Pin vices come in a range of styles, used in slightly different ways.

  • Ball handled pin vises, or pin vises with a swivel head, 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 or pin vises without revolving heads are more difficult to use one-handed, but two-handed use usually gives better control over the straightness of the drill for use with smaller bits.
  • Double ended pin vises or pin vises with replaceable collets come with a choice of two or four collets. Having more collets that fit your vise, gives you a wider range of tools which will fit in the vise. 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.
  • 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. These tools do not have the extended use of multiple collet pin vices.
  • Variety in body shape. Hexagonal, square or long and narrow pin vises are available for use as blade or needle tip holders where the pin vise is used to scribe, and extra length, similar to a pen is, or for situations where you don't want the vise to roll off a work surface, and a square or hexagonal shape stops the vise from rolling.

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 push drill for drilling or reaming operations.