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I am making hamster toys and equipment. I have successfully used a soldering iron to make holes in plastic and cardboard. My question is, can I use it to make holes in small sticks? (As in small pieces of tree branches.)

If you need to know what kind of tree -- probably willow or apple.

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Plastic will melt and flow away from the iron leaving a hole. Cardboard is really just paper with air gaps between the glued layers so there's just a little bit of material to burn.

A wooden stick is going to be solid wood. It doesn't melt and move out of the way - if anything the burned area of wood actually gets harder (and more brittle) as it turns to charcoal. You're not going to just burn a hole through it.

The right tool is, of course, a drill. You may be able to use a sharply pointed knife for a smaller stick, but a drill really is going to be your best bet. It will also work for the plastic and cardboard, and in my opinion, will be safer than using a burning hot iron.

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    hot iron, while not as safe as drill, is in my opinion better choice for plastic when you just need some small holes as it will not leave sharp edges, wont leave residue around holes, is faster and easier when done correctly. – Sampo Sarrala Dec 8 '17 at 19:16
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    That really depends on the plastics you are dealing with as there could be a safety issue there. Drill would be more precise and you can always clean up after. A little heat can help here to clean edges but I can't imagine using it as a go to for making holes. – Matt Dec 9 '17 at 2:48
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Echoing above answers, but wanted to add that for something so small and easily broken you should consider a pin vise hand drill.
This is basically just a tiny hand powered drill, you basically turn it to drill the holes. This might be useful if you want to insert wire or pins, or when the item you are drilling is particularly fragile.
Here is a video explaining the use of one.

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  • Not familiar with this! Do you want to explain a tiny bit about it? – aparente001 Jan 13 '18 at 4:36
  • It's basically just a tiny hand powered drill, you basically turn it to drill the holes. This might be useful if you want to insert wire or pins, or when the item you are drilling is particularly fragile. You are able to ever pressure on a fractional scared and thus control potential fractures to some degree – Josh Jan 13 '18 at 5:15
  • Last sentence came out a little garbled, but thanks. Please add this material to your answer! – aparente001 Jan 13 '18 at 5:22
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JPhi is right; a drill is the best tool for this. On the other hand, it's really tricky to start a drill on a small, round surface. Ideally you would use a drill press that could take very small drill bits, and then clamp your sticks down onto the drill press table. Assuming you aren't going to want to invest in all that stuff, maybe you could find an easier way to accomplish your goal than to drill holes in little sticks.

If you really need these little sticks with holes in, I would flatten one side of the stick in the spot where the hole goes, maybe with a pocket knife. That will make it a little easier to get the drill bit started into the wood. Make sure you keep your fingers in safe places and give it a try. If you have a rotary (like a Dremel) tool, that might be easier to use than a full-sized drill. It would also be helpful to conscript a friend (unless you have three hands.) ;-)

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  • Thanks, I will try clamping them down and if that doesn't do it I'll recruit a friend holder. I'm going to make a "flexible bridge" for my hamster, out of willow sticks. Usually I start with an awl before I drill, and I start with a small bit to make sort of a pilot hole, and then I switch to the proper size. – aparente001 Jan 8 '18 at 2:21
  • If you can get the hole started with an awl, that should be a big help. It's the curved surface that causes the problem. – Cindy Skillman Jan 9 '18 at 4:29

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