Making Nail Holes for String Art Signs – 3 Easy Ways How We Do It!

When venturing into string art, one common question arises: How do you create nail holes in the wood base?

In this blog post, we will explore three different techniques for making nail holes and discuss their advantages and disadvantages. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned string art enthusiast, there’s a method that suits your needs.

Interesting Fact: Did you know that string art has roots dating back to the late 19th century? It was initially used as a teaching tool for mathematics and geometry.

string art tree silhouette
sun, moon, starts string art sign

I firmly believe that if you want to try making your first or even second string art sign, you don’t need fancy tools. Just a basic set including a hammer and pliers will be enough to get you started.


However, if you have developed a passion for string art and are considering turning it into a business, I would like to share some insights into my own approach.


The technique for creating holes for string art signs has evolved alongside our company, GoodStrings, since 2015. We have experimented with three different methods, and I will explain each of them to you.

1. Hammer Hole aka The Classic: Hammering Over the Pattern

The classic technique involves printing out a paper pattern, aligning it on your chosen wood base, and securing it with adhesive. Once the preparation steps are done, you can start hammering nails into the dots marked on the pattern, creating the nail holes along with already hammering in the nails. One major advantage of this approach is that you don’t need any extra tools other than a hammer and pliers. However, a disadvantage is the small pieces of paper that could be stuck under some nails, requiring the use of tweezers or a sharp paper knife to remove them.

making string art nail holes - hammering over pattern
making string art nail holes - hammering over pattern

2. Poke Hole aka The Long-Forgotten Tool: The Awl

The awl, a sharp-pointed tool commonly used in leatherwork, can also serve to create nail holes in string art signs. After attaching the pattern to the wood base, you can puncture holes at the pattern’s dots using the awl. These holes should be sufficiently firm to leave noticeable indents in the wood. Once you’ve punctured all the holes, you can remove the paper from the wood base and use the indents as guides for hammering in the nails. This method has the advantage of eliminating paper fragments and enables pattern reuse for other signs. However, it demands an additional tool (which is not expensive at all) and can be more time-consuming, especially for intricate designs.

In conclusion, if you wish to avoid spending a substantial amount on an upgrade and have some extra time for hole-poking, while also preferring not to deal with small pieces of paper, the awl presents itself as a relatively inexpensive tool for your use. We used it for quite a white and it was great!

string art tool - awl
string art tool - awl poking holes in the template
close up of string art nail holes made with awl

Interesting Fact: Awls have been used for centuries for various purposes, including piercing holes in leather, wood, and fabric.

3. Dentist Hole aka The New Age: Drill-Based Techniques

Using a drill to create nail holes offers precision and efficiency (and as the name pun shows sound a lot like in dentist’s office). There are various drill options available, from handheld drills to pen-like drills and tabletop drill presses. Depending on the brand, there are drill bit adapters that allow you to mount thin, small diameter drill bits onto your handheld drill. You can select drill bits with diameters smaller than your nail diameter to create the holes. Once the holes are drilled, you can hammer in the nails. Investing in a drill and replacing drill bits is necessary, but this technique offers reusability of patterns and no paper clutter.

As mentioned in my previous blog post “What Type of Thread is Best for String Art Projects?” I prefer to use nails with a diameter of 1 or 1.2 millimeters. When using a drill for creating the nail holes, it is crucial to select drill bits with a smaller diameter than your nails. For instance, I use 0.8 mm drill bits for my 1 mm nails and 1 mm drill bits for my 1.2 mm nails.

drilling string art holes with small drill dremel
drilling string art holes with small drill dremel

Using a drill to create nail holes in string art signs has certain drawbacks. One issue is the potential for drill bits breaking while inside the wooden base. To ensure straight nails, you must drill on a flat surface and make sure the drill bit enters the base perpendicularly. Avoid drilling while sitting on a sofa with the wood base in your lap!


Similar to using an awl, the drill-based technique requires manually drilling each hole before adding the nails. This means that you need to give individual attention to every dot on the pattern, unlike the first technique of hammering over the pattern, where not all nails may have paper fragments stuck under them.


You’ll need to replace drill bits periodically, and choosing original replacements can lead to quickly accumulating costs. Exploring more affordable alternatives from China might be an option.


Take care when determining the drilling depth, and you can use paper tape markers to ensure the holes are of the same depth if needed.


It’s important to note that although a drill may resemble a large marker, it lacks the same weight. As a result, beginners may experience hand fatigue when using the drill for an extended period.


Another aspect to consider is the drill dust. Despite the small size of the holes, they generate a surprising amount of dust during the drilling process. Therefore, be prepared to clean up after a day of drilling.


A notable disadvantage is the price associated with the drill-based technique. Replacement drill bits, especially in smaller sizes, are typically only available in sets, leading to unnecessary expenses if only a few drill bits are suitable for your particular nail size.


It’s worth mentioning that even with the drill-based technique, a hammer is still required to insert the nails. Initially, there may be hopes of simply placing the nails in the pre-drilled holes and pressing them in, but this approach is not effective as the nails don’t go in that easily (if they did, the whole sign could lose nails over time).


On the positive side, using a drill allows for the reusability of patterns, and there is no need to worry about branches or obstructions in the wood base that could cause the nails to bend.


Additionally, the hammering process is faster and less noisy compared to the traditional hammering over the pattern method, which can be helpful for those living in apartments or flats.


In conclusion, the small drill technique can work well for some crafters, as its advantages often outweigh the disadvantages. However, the choice of technique ultimately depends on personal preferences and individual needs.


red string art gnome
yellow string art gnome

Choosing the right technique for creating nail holes in string art signs depends on your preferences, experience level, and project requirements.

The classic hammering method is suitable for beginners and those exploring string art casually. The awl technique is ideal for individuals who dislike dealing with paper fragments and wish to reuse patterns.

The drill-based approach offers precision and efficiency, making it suitable for serious string art enthusiasts.


Remember to consider factors such as cost, time investment, and personal comfort when deciding on the technique that works for you.

Lastly, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of you for taking the time to read this article. Your interest in string art and dedication to exploring different techniques is truly inspiring. 

We have a passion for sharing knowledge and providing valuable insights to support your creative journey. So, keep an eye out for future blog posts where we’ll continue to delve into the wonderful world of string art.

Your support means the world to us, and we look forward to providing you with more valuable content in the future.


We’d love your support even more by taking a peek at our Etsy store! Who knows, maybe some of our delightful string art patterns will catch your eye. So swing on by and explore the wonders of our store. We can’t wait to share our string art creations with you!

Happy crafting, and may your string art creations bring joy and beauty to your life!

Warmest regards,

Renate from GoodStrings and All About String Art

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