Jewelers, beading and lapidary enthusiasts, and those that work with sea glass have a common problem: How to make a hole in their material, be it stone, precious or semiprecious gems, or glass.
I have worked with beach stones for about 12 years. They come in different hardness measured on a 1-10 Mohs’ scale. The quarzites are hard (7 on the Mohs scale) and the sedimentary or sand stones are much softer (about 3-5 on the Mohs scale) and therefore easier to drill. We use a Dremel drill. Take a look at the comments to this post about different models of Dremel drills. We use cylinder drill bits that are coated with diamond dust (simply called diamond drill bits). I buy them in bulk because we use so many. I am out of bits again and I just scoured the web for suppliers. This post is about how to choose a supplier! Drill bits come in very different quality, so you want to choose carefully.
First, lets consider the different types of bits. There are 1) cylinder bits, 2) twisted bits, 3) shank bits, 4) core bits, 5) crinkled core bits, 6) cintered core bits. If you are not sure what this means you can check out pictures of these bits at Dad’s Rock Shop. I have tried choices 1-4. Considering the cost, I still prefer the simple cylinder bits or the twisted bits. They are much cheaper. Most sources have a variety of sizes to offer. And you can buy in bulk. They work for really hard stones and they work with glass. In terms of how long they last before they are totally dulled up, it’s your technique which is most important: drill slowly, under water to keep everything cool and with a relatively slow rpm (<2000). Drill even more carefully and without exerting much pressure if you are making a hole in glass.
So, once again I have decided to go with cylinder bits and I want diameters of 1-2 mm. I usually order large quantities, say 300 – 1000 bits. I did a google search for ‘1 mm diamond drill bits’. Here is what I got. The prices are per drill bit.
Dad’s Rock Shop $3.50 (no discount for large quantities)
Lasco Diamond Products $1.75 (1.5mm Diamond drill bits only)
By The Bay Treasures $2.30 (min 50 bits)
Delta One Lapidary $1.85 (min 12 bits)
Twisted bits on Ebay $0.35 (20 bits)
Thunderbird Supply Co. $1.32 (min 30 bits)
Covington Engineering $1.00 (min 50 bits)
Daniel Lopacki $0.95 (min 100 bits)
I read every web site in detail and looked at the “about” section. That tells me whether the seller has first hand experience with drilling stones. I have previously bought drill bits (and other stuff) from Dad’s Rock Shop. They are good quality, but their current prices are not competitive. I have bought poor quality bits too, but not from any of the suppliers mentioned above. I was somewhat interested in the drill bits from Bay Treasures because these are clearly lapidary enthusiasts and concerned with quality products. However, I think I am going to go with Daniel Lopacki. His prices are very competitive if you buy in bulk. And the website includes great tips for drillers. They know how to do it and have done it themselves and quality bits are a concern for this seller too. As you can see, you can get bargains on Ebay. I have had variable success with these bits depending on the vendor. But check out the comments below, because Seth from fans4pc managed to change my mind on his diamond bits which are both well priced and good quality.
For drilling holes in glass, check this new post out!
A very informative post not only for those making jewelry, but also for anyone interested in how it’s done. As usual, you’ve included wonderful accompanying pictures and I must say–your Drilled Beach Stone with Silver Inlay is quite lovely!
Thanks John. And thanks for the idea!
Someone asked what Dremel model to buy for drilling stones. There are 4 corded rotary Dremel models described on the Dremel website: http://www.dremel.com/en-us/Tools/Pages/CategoryProducts.aspx?catid=2013
I have used the 200 series and it lasted about 10 years. I don’t like the chuck system for attaching the bits, but that has been redesigned in both the 3000 and 4000 series (the latter with more power or “high performance”). Variable speed is important. More power is not important, because you want to use the lowest rpm you can and you need to drill slowly with little pressure on the drill press. So my next Dremel is going to be the 3000 series.
Thanks for being here!
Hi Robin, I love your stone sculptures! Great work. David
Hello, I’m a woodturner and came upon your site searching for small diamond drills. Info is great. I want to incorporate semi-precious stones in my bowls. Question: In the first “beach stone SS” photo, there is a loop that runs through the stone. Is that a technique with wire or a set piece that can be purchase in quantity? It looks very cool.
Thanks, Mike (TurnStyles Etc)
It is a handmade SS wire loop soldered to a SS tube – have to solder AFTER you put the SS wire through the holes in the stone, which makes it a bit tricky because you need a heat shield to protect the stone from cracking. Also tricky to drill 2 small holes that close to one another in the stone. But one hole, with both wires going thru it, works too. In this piece the neck wire needed to have a slender clasp that would fit thru the tube.
If you drill a larger hole (3-4mm) through the stone, you could use prefab SS wire loops with attached tubes and these could be made in large quantities and sold for about $5 per piece. The measurements could be custom to suit your needs! Thanks for the question (and the idea).
I found your site by looking for information on beach shell types, I’ve been collecting shells in my yard and making wind chimes and jewelry for friends and I had no idea what those shiny little yellow and orange shells were, Till now! Thank you! mystery solved! 🙂
I’m so glad I found your site! great info and attention to detail, love your work! I hope to be as good someday!
Thank you, Sue. I am honored. You are very kind. David
We are a supplier of diamond coated drill bits for both cylindrical and twist design.
We sell 30 pack of 1mm Diamond Drill Bits for $19.99, FREE shipping.
We also sell other sizes such as 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm.
An assorted pack of 20 pcs. costs $19.99, FREE shipping.
that is really cheap – but are your bits good quality?
Would you be interested in trying our diamond drill bits and review them on your blog?We’ll be more than happy to send you a free sample pack.
Seth from fans4pc sent me some drill bits to test (thanks). I took a piece of granite 4.5 mm thick and drilled it with my standard 1mm cylinder bits (about $1/bit) and then I changed bits and used a 1mm twisted diamond drill bit from Seth (about 0.66 $/bit) to drill the same stone at the same thickness of 4.5mm. Drilling was done under cold water and I timed the two drills. Results:
standard bit – 17 sec
Seth’s bit – 15 sec
Then I used Seth’s twisted 1mm bit to drill 10 more stones (about 72mm of total drilling). On the 11th stone the drill bit broke.
That is a pretty awesome result. Its rare that I can use one of these bits to drill that many stones.
I also tested his other bits, including cylinder bits and core bits of different sizes. They were very good quality, even when drilling glass.
Bottom line I am ordering his bits today!
Thanks very much for all this information. Based on your review of fans4pc, I’ve just ordered a new set of 1mm diamond coated twist drill bits from him. I have a battery operated Dremel which I feel better about putting in water… However, perhaps I’ll have to use my Foredom TX. I want to drill small holes in small, flat stones picked up on a sand bar/and sea glass.
Lela, let us know what your experience is. I found another vendor on Ebay who charges $0.45 per bit for 1mm twisted diamond drill bits….
Update: I received the 1mm diamond coated twist drill bits from fans4pc on ebay. Shipping was SPEEDY and Free. Can’t beat that! In addition, I offered $15.99 (instead of the asking price of $19.99) for the set and it was accepted. Thanks for that, too, Seth.
I have tried the bits today in my hand held Dremel. The first two bits I used broke after a couple of drills. HOWEVER, I decided it might be because I did not have them all the way in the Dremel – So on the third bit, I put it all the way in. The GOOD news is that I have drilled 24 beach stones, 9 pieces of beach glass and 20 shell fragments and the bit is still going strong. I had to stop only because the battery on the Dremel was getting weak.
I was drilling under water. I did notice that the beach glass is opening out a larger area in the under side when drilled. Any hints to avoid that?
If the rest of these bits work as well as the current one, I’ll be ordering more.
Thanks for this useful info
@Lela: regarding the large area opening on the under side, this is a common problem with stones and glass. A few comments: 1) go very slowly and with out pressure at the end of the drill just before you crack through, 2) use a solid wood surface as a support on the under side, 3) drill from both sides by turning over the stone and guessing where the holes will meet up!! The last trick really works best, but it requires a bit of practice so that your 2 holes from either side are well aligned.
Actually, I was doing all that. I was going slowly (it seemed) and I had wood under the piece. I see no way that I could turn the piece over. I’ll just try going a little slower.
Just starting – great to knows about you and your work. THANKS
Good luck Tom!
Thank you for allthe info.I have become interested in cat-eye shell and want to mount on a necklace to show both sides(not at once!)I have a dremel type drill and am about to buy 1mm diamond twist drill.Any advice on thetype of mount would be much appreciated.As woodturner I made a number of wooden cups(shallow)but that only gives you one side when glueing the shell in. With Thanks.R.Payne
Just one comment about shells. I find diamond drills are not so good for shells. A regular steel bit often works better for me. Be careful about not exerting too much pressure or you will crack the shell. Keep every thing cool with cold water. Also, be sure to wear a mask. The ground shell dust gets in to your lungs and can not be good for you!
Have tried and failed at drilling sea glass until reading this – thanks so much! I was forcing and using too much pressure. Ready to buy bits in bulk now that I have improved my technique. Any particular recomendation on size of bit? I will mostly be using jump rings to add to the drilled glass. Any other tips you may not have covered – although you seem to have hit them all.
Any size bit will work. Choose according to your needs. Consider making a smaller hole first and then enlargening. Consider “core bits” (hollowed) for the larger holes, 3mm and larger. But core bits can be expensive. Thanks for your comments. David
Hi. I want to drill a fossilized druzy shell. It looks like a regular shell,but the inside is druzy crystal formations, and the back has formed into solid rock. The actual ‘shell’ is now very hard and solid. Any tips a?
I want to drill across the top. Appx 1/2 ” across. A very small hole for wire
That will be difficult Jennifer, 1/2 inch tiny hole thru a druzy (hard) – all I can say is go slowly and count on using several drill bits.
I am not drilling though the crystal formations. I am drilling across the top of a shell. I am going to try and send you an email. The inside of the shell is basically hard rock. I have seen thm drilled before.
hello – thankyou, I’ve really enjoyed you work, and thanks for really useful advice on drilling stones, I’ve started drilling beach stones for a sculptural piece. I am using a dremel 4000 successfully with a 3mm diamond core drill bit, but now I need the holes to be 4mm. I have just ordered some 4mm diamond core bits – but they are too big in shaft size to go into the dremel (I’m new to the tool!!). I can’t find any adapters for fitting 4mm shafts into the dremel… – so i wondered if you had any tips on the following- should i drill 3mm with the dremel, then enlarge the hole to 4mm with the large hollow diamond bits using a regular power drill? – or do you think a twisted bit is better for enlarging the hole. I’m based in UK and there seem to be less suppliers here. I used the very expensive dremel bits for the first few tests (pricey mistakes!!) – and now – the cheapest place I have found is here, but i’ve yet to put them fully to the test… (4mm shaft issue) – i hope you might be able to advise. thanks
It looks like you have a problem if your bit does not fit in to the Dremel and you can’t get a suitable adapter. However, it’s not difficult to me make a 4mm hole with a 3mm bit using a constant circular motion. If you are careful you can get a pretty accurate circle. That is what I would do. I would not use a regular power drill. They are heavy and clumsy tools and the rpms are insufficient.
so much great information – thank you! I have been collecting rocks and sea glass for 40+ years and have them everywhere! Even put in marinace verde granite counter tops which look like imbedded rocks. I have been making jewelry with wire wrapping and want to try drilling. What should i practice on before endangering my little lovelies? Would a dishpan full of water with a piece of wood at the bottom be a good work set up? Love your work thanks again Karen
Thanks Karen. Yes, I agree with your plan. I use a Tupperware shallow plastic container with water and a piece of wood in it. Try drilling a few stones. Sand stones are very soft and easy to drill.
This is probably a very stupid question but I see you use a shallow plastic container with water and wood. However, how much does the water cover? All of the wood and your stone? It’s ok for the drill/drill bit to be in the water? I was using a regular drill with the diamond bits on my beach glass but they were shattering and flying everywhere!! Someone suggested a Dremel drill but now I need to purchase the bits and figure out how to actually use it! Thanks in advance!
The water covers the stone that you are drilling (just barely). You dont want the drill or much of the bit to be in the water because it will splash and make a mess! So the contact point between drill bit and stone/glass is just under the water level. If you are shattering your glass, you are heating it too much due the friction of the drill bit. Remedy: 1) water to cool; 2) drill slowly, carefully and without much pressure; 3) use the slowest rpm on your drill which will decrease the friction and therefore the temperature.
You’ve inspired me to try it. Where do you get your deerskin cord? I’m seeking round, not shiny. Thanks.
Hi. I just found this site and thanks for the info. I am a newbie and hoping to drill a hole in some stones from the beach…i bought dremil and diamond bit (only 1) and was told it should be done in a tupperware container with water…ok this may sound like a dumb question, but this is an electric dremil. Drilling in water sounds awfully scary….. Help!
The Dremel itself is best mounted on a drill press. It stays out of the water! Only the diamond bit enters the water. I usually position the stone surface just under the water. Thus the rotating diamond bit does not cause a lot of water spray which makes a mess and can also wet the Dremel and thus cause a short circuit which is what you were concerned about. If you do this correctly the Dremel tool stay dry. Hope this helps.
Thank you for sharing not only your amazing art but your knowledge and encouragement, as well. I’m hoping you can help me with selecting a VS benchtop drill press, not a flex shaft or rotary tool stand, that will allow me to drill with both small & large core bits. Thoughts?
I have a very simple benchtop drill press from Home Depot! Cheap, but does the job. I don’t think it really matters… Good luck.
I am drilling sea glass with diamond bits and it is taking anywhere from 2-3 minutes up to 20 minutes. (even using 2 new bits) per piece. I am drilling with the glass and bit tip under water and exerting minimal pressure. I start the hole with a ball tip and then change to the 2.1 mm cylinder bit (longer than shown on Dads’ Rock Shop site). Why is it taking so long? Wrong drill bits, poor quality bits? Would appreciate some insights. Good information on your site.
There is unfortunately no fast way to do this (that I know of). Because glass is so fragile you just have to drill slowly. It takes me 10 min to drill an average piece of glass with a 1-2mm hole. Just like you. You could try using lubricants/coolants but water is cheaper! Here is another site about drilling glass. Nothing new really.
Thanks for the information on drill bits, but I’d like to know how you created the stone with the silver inlay. 😉 It’s just beautiful!
I started with a small (1-2mm drill bit) and then gradually used larger and larger bits up to a 10mm bit. Then, you can shape the hole you have just created to your specific needs. Starting with a round hole, you can make an oval hole, or a triangular hole, or anything else you desire. I often set another stone, for example a brilliant gem, within the hole I have just drilled. These settings are round. But occasionally I’ll set a irregularly shaped beach stone within the hole (“stone in stone”). In the latter case you have to proceed slowly and constantly check whether you are approaching the correctly shaped hole to set the internal stone in. Have fun!
How do you “set” a stone within a stone? Even if you create a perfect hole, I’m sure you need a way to keep it from sliding out.
Ahh! Good question. I am still working on the best technique and have learned a lot from professional stone setters. This is worth a separate blog entry and not easily summed up in a few sentences. Suffice it to say that a silver (or gold) bezel is necessary. Metals are malleable and can be “worked” with the correct tools so that they stay stuck in the holes you create in the stone. It is generally the same principle used by stone setters setting a diamond.
Thanks for the explanation. I’m just beginning to experiment with wire wrapping tumbled stones, but thought I’d try to drill some. I have a lot to learn;) I’ve heard that the core bits from Rio Grande are good. Have you tried those ones?
I have not tried those. Let us know what your experience is.
I came across your information when I was searching for ‘how to drill beach stones’ I am so happy I found you!
I took your suggestion and bought drill bits from Seth at stores.ebay.com/FanDepot . I asked him a question and he sent me to you.
I ordered this set http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=261095040934&ssPageName=ADME:X:eRTM:US:1123
and was wondering about using the bits, if you can help, I would greatly appreciate it.
I have the Dremel tool 200 and wanted to know if you knew which size collet nut I would need for these bits and if I need any other attachments.
Also if you or your readers have any information on drilling beach stones, please share.
My stones are from my hometown, Walnut Beach on Lake Erie, Ashtabula OH. Every time I go back there to visit, I bring back loads of stones and driftwood and have been looking for ways to create with them.
Thanks in Advance,
The drill should come with a series of different sized collet nuts. Otherwise you can buy them at Home Depot or Lowes.
Hi, thanks so much for all the advice.
I’m just starting out and intend to use a container with wood and water as suggested, but could you let me know how you keep the stone/glass to be drilled still? Do you use some sort of clamp also inside the container?
There are clamps and the like, but I find them cumbersome, so I use my fingers (!) and in 15+ years I have yet to drill a hole through a finger or suffer any injuries. 🙂
Thanks for your advice, I was thinking of doing it that way but didn’t know if it was a good idea. It’s good to know others just hold it with their fingers, thank you 🙂
I am a beginner as well (sea glass) and followed these instructions with great success. Patience is key. I used the eraser end of a pencil to hold the sea glass down.
great idea – thanks for sharing
Hi, I’m interested in using a dremel to enlarge holes in gemstone beads. I am tired of using a bead reamer on jade beads. It takes forever and my fingers get very sore. The beads range from 6mm to 10mm in diameter on average. Most come with very small holes that I need to enlarge to 1mm to 2mm. Will the process you have described work for my application? Thanks!
Absolutely, Anita! Here are 2 caveats. (1) These are small beads that are difficult to hold by hand. Its easy to slip and drill a finger in stead of the bead! So I would hold the bead in place with some kind of device rather than with your fingers. (2) It is easy to generate heat and crack the bead. So it is important to drill slowly and under water. If you have hundreds of beads to drill it is going to take some practice until you get good/fast at it! Give us feedback! I would like to learn from you, specially about how to hold the beads in place under water. David
Thanks for the speedy reply. My fingers are still sore from working on 2 beads last night with my bead reamer and, yes, I have hundreds of beads to work on. I make jewelry, accessories, and decorations with Chinese knots. I never find beads with the right size hole for the satin cord I use. Based on your recommendations, I’ll be purchasing the Dremel 3000 and the drill bits from Seth on ebay. I’ll also be ordering the Dremel work station. The remaining question is how to hold the bead while drilling. My roommate bought a metal device meant to hold small beads while reaming, but it was worthless. I’ve also seen a wooden one that looks like a clothes pin with various size slots for beads, but the reviews are not promising. Eurotool has a great looking bead vise, but it will only accommodate a 1mm drill bit. An article I read suggested using silly putty or museum putty to hold the bead in place. Suggestions anyone?
How about using a needle nose pliers to hold the stone securely. or even a regular pliers?
I have tried that without much success. I have also bought a vice to hold the stole (a somewhat cumbersome device). In both cases the stones tend to slip and fall out of the tool, e.g. it is difficult to secure them. Holding the stone with my fingers works best. In 14 years of doing this I have never injured myself or drilled a finger!!! I am super-careful however.
What about two big square hand-held pencil erasers used like long fingers to hold the bead? I don’t have experience with drills yet, but am rather clumsy.
I used the twisted diamond drill bits from fans4pc with Dremel 4000 series.
Lowest rpm is 5000, 10,000 worked best but burnt out faster.
You can use small pan, old metal ice cube tray, tuna can, with 1/4 inch scrap wood under and over stone and clamp down to hold with 4 inch or larger c clamp on work bench. Fill with water to cover stone. You will see cloudy discharge when cutting, pull bit up to clear waste occasionally. Takes a few minutes for hard stones.
Thanks John – I like your clamp idea and will try it. David
Thanks very much for this article! I am considering purchasing a set of the twist bits for holes and also some of his cylindrical burrs to try out. Have you tried engraving designs on the stones and if so, which type/brand of bit should I be looking for? (total newbie)
I have no experience with engraving! But surely it can be done. Just look at the intricate designs engraved in Jade for the ancient Chinese and Mughal emperors! My guess is that jade and other softer stones are more suitable. Perhaps a ball drill bit (rather than a cylinder) would be better? Let us know if you come across anything. Thanks for your input.
Any ideas on which Dremel is the best for drilling a 2mm hole in freshwater pearls? In addition, I’m having a hard time finding 2mm thin sleek bits online.
Thanks in advance.
I think you can use any Dremel, but I like the variable speed Dremels and I like slow RPMs. Hi RPMs create too much friction and heat. I did a google search for “2mm diamond cylindrical bits” and got a huge number of hits. Any prices under $1 per bit are good prices. Usually you’ll get a break on the price if you buy larger numbers. I don’t have much experience with pearls. But I am sure there are places on the web where you can read more about drilling pearls.
80 y/o guy looking for a new gig. just retired from respiratory therapy. I am also known as the goldpanningman@gmail,com I turn stone into gold? Maybe… it’s just a novelty. Need to know how to drill holes in stone.
There are many on line tutorials. All you need is a Dremel, a drill press, a pan of water, diamond drill bits and lots of patience. Keep your stone cool, keep the rpm as low as possible and drill SLOWLY. Good luck.
Looking to purchase diamond drill bits for Dremel to use on beach glass. Your previous recommendations stated to order from an eBay provider who is no longer available. 2nd best provider?
Ebay vendors change over time. You will have to do your own homework. I searched Ebay with “1 mm diamond drill bits cylinder” and got 7 hits. The prices are really good, but I don’t know about the quality. If you do buy some bits, please share your experience with everyone on this site. That would be very helpful!
we are the ebay vendor mentioned in this post.
our store is still active:
Seth…..your webpage comes up as inactive today…
Thank you for the heads up Patty. There is a problem with how this page links to the web address. If you could type in the link it works fine.
Or you can use these links as well:
Husband has the ebay account, is not available tonight and I can’t remember his password! I’ve blown so many hours tonight, so am hoping Seth might be able to receive this. These 1 mm bits are very tempting, but what I’m seeking right now is 0.5 mm or possibly 0.75 mm bits for a specific drilling project, using a Dremel. Do you ever have those smaller sizes available, which aren’t showing on your ebay store or diamond-bits sites right now? This might be relevant to some others who’ve posted here as well, for special circumstances. Any suggestions?
Thank you for the messages.
When a diamond coated drill bit is manufactured, they make a regular hard steel drill bit first and then coat it with diamond (artificial) dust.
Now, if we want to make a 0.5mm (0.02 inch) drill bit with diamond coating – the base steel drill bit has to be like 0.02mm (0.0078 inch).
As you can see this would require ultra high precision technology to manufacture. And even higher precision tech to use.
I am not sure most of us can handle something this thin.
I suggest trying eBay item number: 261197167185
This is a set of 1mm twist drill bits, I am confident that this will do the job.
Hi. I have a electric Dremel and two beautiful flat natural stones I purchased at a fair. I try drilling a hole in one of the stones and it will not penetrate. The drill bit just slides around and after repeated attempts it doesn’t even leave a mark on the stone. I’m stumped.
Make sure you are underwater with your stone and bit. Also don’t drill fast, use low pressure and take your time. You are sliding because you are using too much pressure. Happens to me too if I am impatient.
Thanks for sharing,was getting disgusted with buying crappy bits.
Whats the best for drilling holes on bottles
About drilling glass: read my response to a similar question from Sept 27th, 2013!
How do you go about making the silver inlay in the beach stone? Thanks!
Its pretty straightforward silver smithing with a thin gauge of sterling silver (gauge 24-32). The latter is important so that you can mold the silver around the stone by hand with a burnishing tool and it will then stay attached to the silver. The pendant chain is usually attached to the silver inlay in the back of the pendant.
Thank you for your quick response! Do you measure the circumference for the silver strip and then solder the strip together and then put it back in molding it in place and burnished? Can you use tubes and flare it out on both sides? I’m trying to visualize the process, but having some difficulty.
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I’ve bought the diamond bits have the Dremel setup with stand, but I haven’t been successful at all. Do you know of any companies that drill stones and beach glass that I could send mine to for them to drill?
No, I don’t! The problem is that it is time-consuming. Sorry. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you. I have had issues with fact that I needed to replace drill bits as often as I have. I guess that this is just a fact of life and I will need to incorporate the cost of bits into my pricing. Thanks again great stuff.
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Not sure if you are still answering, but my hubby got me the Dremel 200 for Christmas. I’m wanting to sand and polish rocks from Lake Michigan, to use for making jewelry. I’m new at this and need advice one if this is a good model or which I should use. Also which bits for sanding and polishing. Hope you can help. I’m getting g nowhere on my search for answers! Thank you and hoping to hear!
1) use the Dremel mounted in a press to drill holes in stone or glass
2) for sanding (?) or polishing stones you will need other tools. Try a rock tumbler: https://best.offers.com/best-rock-tumblers?path=zbe-48243-mpp-100a1a&creative=78683839775765&device=c&keyword=78683920044862&source=s