Quick-change Flex-shaft Handpieces Compared

Q: I've got a Foredom #10 handpiece, but the lever action is stiff. Which quick-release flex-shaft lever is the easiest to operate?

Can I Use a Railroad-Track Anvil for Jewelry?

Q: Anvils I've made from sections of railroad tracks work great for making knives. Why are people telling me they aren't good enough for making jewelry on?

Repolishing a Carbide Burnisher

Q: I seem to have scratched up the point of my tungsten carbide burnisher, probably by rubbing it on a diamond or something. How can I repolish it?

Uneven Results From a Rolling Mill

Q: I just got a new rolling mill, but sheet, wire, everything I roll comes out wavy instead of flat and straight. Am I doing something wrong?

Scotch Stones

Q: What are Scotch stones, and what are they good for?

Graphite Soldering Mandrel

Q: I've got a soldering fixture made from graphite, in the shape of a ring mandrel. The problem is, it takes forever to get a silver ring hot enough for the solder to flow. Am I using it wrong?

Sprue Cutters versus Bolt Cutters

Q: I'm casting bronze jewelry, but my jewelers' sprue cutters don't seem to work on my sprues. They hurt my hands, even when I push them against my workbench. Is there a better way to cut this metal? Do I need a powered cutter?

Rolling Mill Tips and Tricks

Q: I just got a small inexpensive rolling mill, and I'm starting to figure out how to use it. Can you suggest anything to do with it I haven't thought of? I've already managed to roll out a tenth of an ounce of fine silver into a eighth-inch piece of wire six inches long in less than 90 minutes, annealing every few passes.

Needle tips for Torches

Q: I've got a Hoke torch, but the finest tip it came with isn't really small enough for what I want to do. Do they make any smaller tips for it?

Tool Modification for the Jeweler

Q: Where can I find a setting tool we call a "side pusher" in the UK? It is used for flush-setting stones without marring the metal. It looks very much like a bezel pusher, however one side of the tip is slightly curved rather than having a straight edge, so as not to leave an imprint in the metal when you push the bezel over from the side.

Getting Better Welds With the Sparkie II

Q: I've got a Sparkie II "fusion" (capacitive discharge) welder, and I've been having trouble attaching nickel silver findings to my copper parts. Do you think it's these metals in particular that are the problem, or is something wrong with the machine?

Using Bezel Blocks and Punches

Q:I've got a set of bezel blocks and punches, which are a series of graduated conical holes in a steel plate and the punches that fit them. But when I've tried putting a disk of metal in there and pounding, it makes a crumpled, torn mess. What am I doing wrong?

Using a Boil-out Pot

Q: In older jewelry instruction books, I keep reading references to "boiling out" jewelry in a "boil-out pot". Is that just a warm pickle pot, or something else?

PUK Arc Welders vs. Laser Welders

Q: I bought a PUK arc welder as a cheap alternative to a laser welder. It’s good for jewelry assembly, but I’ve been mostly disappointed with it for other common tasks. Unless the stone I’m welding next to is a diamond, it’s likely to get damaged by the arc. It’s useless for repairing glasses frames, and doesn’t seem to work well for 18K yellow gold. Will a laser welder do the rest of these things better?

Preparing an Ingot Mold

Q: I tried to pour a gold ingot in my new cast iron ingot mold, but the metal is stuck and won’t come out. I sprayed it with WD-40 first—what’s the problem?

On Gravers

Q: I just bought some gravers. The fellow who sold them to me said I had to put into a vise, break them in half, completely re-shape them, heat treat and then sharpen them. What are they doing for me? Why not just make the things from scratch?

Mounting Vibrating Laps and Centrifugal Casting Machines

Q: I need to install a vibrating lap in a fixed location, so it won’t walk all over the place. Short of bolting it to the concrete floor, any ideas on how to stabilize the base?

Home-made Sinusoidal Stakes

Q: I’ve been fascinated by the shapes I’ve seen made in sheet metal using a “sinusoidal” stake, which has an undulating profile. Is it possible to make my own, or do I have to buy one?

Making a Wire Beading Tool from Tool Steel

Q: I want to make my own tool for producing beaded wire, and wondered if I need to use tool steel, or if mild steel was sufficient?

Magnetic Tumblers and Magnetic Stirrers

Q: What’s the difference between a magnetic tumbler and a magnetic stirrer?

Inexpensive Torches

Q: I’m looking for a small torch for silver soldering. Will one of those inexpensive butane torches work okay? Or what about one of those propane torches that screw onto the top of a gas cylinder?

Lighting a Small Oxy-Acetylene Torch

Q: Is there a trick to lighting an oxygen-acetylene torch without getting that black soot all over the place? I’ve got a Little Torch and it either makes a big mess or won’t light at all, especially the smaller tips. And the valves seem really stiff and hard to turn—is my torch defective?

Working With Platinum

Q: I want to make some jewelry out of platinum. I’ve never tried working with it before. Is there anything special I need to do?

Files—How to Extend Their Lifespan

Q: What’s the life expectancy for files? My favorite ones seem to be getting duller. I thought that more expensive files would last longer, isn’t that true? Is there a better way to clean them than by using nitric acid?

Laser Welders New and Used

Q: I’m thinking of getting a laser welder for silver, gold and platinum, but I was wondering—does it require the use of flux, which seems to be irritating my lungs? And do they exhaust their own fumes, or do I have to provide an extraction system as well?

Labeling Rubber Molds

Q: I make a lot of rubber molds, and I’d like to mark them for identification, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can write on the outside of them with that is permanent. Any ideas?

Sharpening Small Drill Bits

Q: Is it worthwhile to try to sharpen jewelry-sized drill bits? If so, how should I go about that? If there’s rust on them, or on my burs, does that mean they need to be replaced?

Do I really Need the GRS Benchmate System?

Q: I’d like to get a GRS Benchmate system for supporting my work, but the budget’s not there. Are there any alternative setups that are nearly as useful as the Benchmate systems?

Improvising a Draw-Bench

Q: I think I’m getting to the limit of what I can pull through a plate by hand. How hard would it be to rig up a draw-bench that would increase the size of wire I could draw?

Is My Ultrasonic Really Working?

Q: How can I tell if my ultrasonic cleaner is working? Are there any immediate effects visible in the fluid?

A Home-made Scoring Tool

Q: I’m making a series of octagonal salt shakers in sheet silver, and I need to score the lines where the metal folds so the proper angles are produced. It’s not hard to do this on narrow bands of silver, but lines several inches long are another story. Short of purchasing an expensive scoring tool setup for the flex-shaft, is there a simple way to do this?

Adjusting the Hoke Torch

Q: I have a new Hoke torch set up for oxy-propane. But the little knobs for adjusting the flame won’t stay at the setting I have chosen, but keep sliding back at least half a turn. Is there something I can do about this?

Hand Drills vs. Dremel Tools

Q: I’ve got a Dremel tool, but I was wondering if it would be better to get a traditional-style hand drill with a crank, or one of those bow drills with a rope, for drilling holes for jewelry.

Tips for Hammer Handpieces

Q: I’ve got a Foredom hammer handpiece, and was thinking about buying the diamond and carbide tips for it. I was also looking at the Badeco tips, which are supposed to fit my handpiece, but don’t seem as sharp. Which should I get?

Power Engraving Tools Compared

Q: I’m looking at getting a power engraving tool, mostly for bright-cutting and raising beads, but I’m torn between the GRS System 3, Gravermax, and Lindsey setups. I’ll only be using it every once in a while, so a lower price is attractive.

Consumables in Gold Testing Kits

Q: I got a gold testing kit, but I used up all the little tubes of gel it came with. Can this magic goop be purchased in bulk so I can do away with those nasty tubes? What is your solution?

Gentec vs. Smith Torches

Q: I currently am using an air/acetylene Prestolite torch but would like to add a propane/oxygen torch to my toolbox. Can anyone offer insight into any differences between the Smith Little Torch and the Gentec Small Torch? Are the differences only the color and the cost or is there something more substantial that I am missing?

Fixing a Foredom Footpedal

Q: I’ve got an older Foredom flex-shaft, but the foot pedal doesn’t work well anymore. It’s basically either on or off now, and the top speeds seem to have disappeared. Can these be fixed, or should I replace the whole thing?

Electric Jewelry Soldering Machines

Q: I already have a Smith Little Torch, but I’m thinking that getting a ProCraft electric soldering machine will make my life easier, especially when soldering posts on earrings. Or am I deluding myself?

Drilling with a Flex-shaft Tool

Q: I have been using a flex-shaft and a small (#60) drill bit to drill holes in 20 gauge copper. I ding the center of the hole first, but it seems to take forever to get through the metal on most occasions. Am I doing something wrong?

Draw Tongs

Q: What’s the deal with the draw tongs I bought, with those wide jaws, big teeth, and hooked handle? I tried to use them for drawing some .35 mm fine wire and gave up in disgust. A regular pair of vise-grips worked a lot better.

Do I Need a Tumbler?

Q: I make jewelry, and so far I’ve been dipping things into a solution, rubbing it with steel wool, then polishing everything by hand using a flex-shaft, but it’s slow. My question is: do I really need a tumbler? Would it give my work a more professional look?

DIY Water Torch?

Q: I’m intrigued by the idea of those new “water torches” that break water down into fuel—can anybody tell me how to build my own?

Crimping Stakes

Q: I just got a raising stake I can’t figure out; it has a groove running down the middle. What’s it used for?

Compressed Natural Gas

Q: It seems that if I use propane to run my torch indoors, I’ll be violating all sorts of regulations and voiding my insurance. What do people do if they want to solder indoors?

Combination Wire and Flat Rolling Mills

Q: I’m thinking of getting a rolling mill, but I was wondering if I should get the kind with grooved rollers, or just flat. What are those grooves really good for—making square wire, or half-round stock, or what?

Containing Dust from a Charcoal Soldering Block

Q: Every time I use a charcoal block (even the compressed ones) I have dust everywhere. What do I need to do to keep my bench from being covered with black grit?

Cleaning Fine Needle Files

Q: Do you recommend using a file card to clean fine needle files? I’ve tried it, but it just doesn’t seem to be working on them like it does with my bigger, coarser files.

Choosing Hammers for Jewelry

Q: I'm strongly attracted to the Fretz hammers, but I'm having trouble deciding between the mini-hammer set and the precision set. Any considerations that will help me make up my mind?

Can I Generate Oxygen for my Torch by Electrolysis?

Q: I’m trying to get my air-acetylene Little Torch to burn hotter, and I thought I’d try oxygen rather than compressed air. Would it make sense to generate my own oxygen by electrolysis of water?

Respirators for Soldering Fumes

Q: Are those paper masks from 3M good protection from soldering fumes, or do I need a cartridge respirator?

Can I Build My Own Rolling Mill?

Q: I’m thinking of building myself a rolling mill for making silver foil out of tiny pieces of silver. Do you think I can use aluminum for the rollers? What about for the gears?

A Different Kind of Graver Handles

Q: I just got some old jeweler’s tools with a bunch of gravers that had handles a lot longer than the standard ones I’ve seen. They have a slot down the middle, a string wrapped around the handle, and a screw. The handles are longer, but the metal part sticking out is shorter than on normal gravers. Are they used the same way?

Miniature Sheet Metal Tools for Jewelers

Q: Are there any sheet-metal bending, punching and shearing machines made for jewelers? All I’ve seen are giant industrial models; I need miniature versions.

Adjusting a Rolling Mill

Q: I’ve been having trouble aligning the rollers on my rolling mill so that the stock rolls straight and it’s even in thickness. Any hints on getting this right?

Buffing, Grinding, and Sanding

Q: I want to buff small metal items like flatware and jewelry items, maybe even watches. I got a flex-shaft machine, but I could use some help in figuring out how best to use it. Is this the right tool, or should I have bought a bench-mounted machine? Do I need to sand everything first, and if so, what grits do I use? Do I need to keep changing the angle I buff at? What do I do about all the dust and lint it throws everywhere? How big should the wheels be, and am I supposed to change speeds for different compounds?

The Smith Little Torch and Compressed Air

Q: I have a Smith Little Torch, and I wonder if I can run it on propane and compressed air, or even by blowing with my mouth. An old jeweler friend said it should be possible.

Cavallin Rolling Mill Instructions?

Q: I just got a Cavallin rolling mill, but it didn’t come with any instructions or user’s manual. Where can I get one, or failing that, can anyone tell me how to use and maintain it?

Butane vs. Propane: Which is Hotter?

Q: Looking on the charts, at “total heating value after oxidation,” propane is 19768 BTU/lb. and butane is 19494 BTU/lb., but in every other category butane looks hotter. Which is really going to heat my jewelry items faster?

Best Jewelers’ Saw Blades for Hard Metals

Q: I know jewelers’ saw blades are intended for precious metals. But are there any similar blades that work well with steels and other hard metals?

Which Flex-shaft Handpiece to Buy?

Q: I’m wondering which model of Foredom Flex-shaft handpiece to buy, the #30 which can take 1/8″ or 3/32″ tools, or the quick-change handpiece which only accepts 3/32″ shank tooling. Any advice?

Choosing Drawplates for Making Wire

Q: I am considering buying some drawplates, starting with a round or multi-shape plate. I have heard that the best drawplates are from Italy, is this true? Would it be best to purchase a tungsten plate or one made from tool steel?

Simple Home-made Wax Carving Tools

Q: I want to start carving waxes for jewelry, but the official tools are so expensive! I’d like to get started with some basic home-made tools; any suggestions on what I need to do? Also, I’d like to rig up a wax lathe for turning small round jewelry parts—any suggestions on how to do that?

Can Old Vulcanizable Mold Rubber Be Used?

Q: I’ve got some Castaldo Ready-Cut Mold Rubber that’s been sitting around for more than 5 years. Can this still be used, or has it lost its ability to vulcanize?

Bur Sharpening for the Frugal or Desperate

Q: I’ve heard of a process for sharpening files that involves dipping them in acid. Do you think that will also work for burs? I have a lot of dull ones, and they’re expensive to replace.

Breaking In a Rawhide Mallet

Q: I just got a new rawhide leather mallet, but it’s hard and shiny on the face. How do I break it in so it works like the ones I’ve used before?

Do I Need to Use Acetylene for Soldering?

Q: I’ve been told that acetylene was necessary for jewelry soldering, because natural gas and propane just don’t get hot enough. Is that true? Would I need oxygen to use anything else besides acetylene?

Inexpensive Rolling Mills

Q: What do you think of Contenti’s rolling mills? I can’t afford a Durston and they seem pretty good to me, but another jeweler called them “pasta mills”.

Chattering Burs

Q: When I use my setting burs, instead of cutting smoothly, they keep chattering like mad. What’s a guy to do?

Hand-Operated Bow Drills

Q: When I was traveling I bought a hand-pumped drill that looks like one of those things Indians used to start fires. Is it an antique? Does anybody still use them for making jewelry in the developed world?

Bench Grinders, Polishing Lathes, and Belt Sanders

Q: I’m thinking of buying a bench grinder for my studio, so I can grind the edges of silver shapes and do some tool shaping. I wonder if I can also use it for polishing. Is this the right tool, and if so, which ones do you recommend? How much horsepower do I need, how fast should it go, and is variable speed important? Do I need a hood and fans for dust collection?

Exchanging Compressed Gas Tanks

Q: What should I look for when picking up a tank of compressed gas?

Jewelry Tools—110 volts to 220 conversion

Q: I’m moving to Europe from the USA, and wonder if I can make my electrical jewelry equipment work over there, since they use 220v 50hz power, while all my equipment was set up to run on 110v 60hz.

Drilling Wet with a Flexible Shaft Tool

Q: I’ve purchased a Foredom flexshaft, and I want to drill some holes in glass, which I’ve seen done using a shallow pan of water to contain the glass and cool it. Is this dangerous for the tool, and would I run the risk of electrocuting myself?

Transporting Acetylene Tanks

Q: I’ve got a tank of acetylene that hasn’t been used in a long time. I think it’s about half full, and I don’t plan to use it. But I’ve heard scary stories about people blowing themselves up by transporting acetylene in their cars. How can I trade it in safely?

Prioritizing Studio Safety Hazards

Q: I’m trying to prioritize the safety hazards of my jewelry studio. What’s more dangerous, being near electromagnetic fields from electrical lines, vacuuming up spilled jewelry investment, or exposure to the germs that lurk in my studio’s bathroom?

Polishing with Gloves On—Just Don’t Do It.

Q: I like using these tight white gloves with a thin grip coating when I’m polishing. I like them better than using those thick, bulky rubber covers on individual fingers, but I’ve been told they aren’t as safe—what’s the problem?

Jewelry Metals and Allergies

Q: My wife seems to be allergic to every metal, so she has trouble wearing rings. What can we remake her wedding band from that won’t cause a reaction?

Inhaling Polishing Compounds

Q: I’ve been polishing with tripoli and rouge, using a paper dust mask, but I’ve noticed that some of the compounds are still ending up in my nose. Is this a problem and if so, what should I do about it?

Building Your Own Dust Collector

Q: I’m looking to build a dust collector for my polishing wheels and wondering if anyone has any suggestions or specs for something fairly simple.

Fuel Gases and their Environmental Effects

Q: I just found a butane torch that advertised itself as being “ozone friendly”. Does that mean it’s better for the environment than other butane torches, or better than any other fuel gasses, like propane?

Explosion and Fire Hazards of Polishing Dust

Q: I just heard about a dust explosion in a sugar factory that killed a lot of people. Is there anything similar to worry about in the dusts we jewelers generate?

Environmental Concerns for Jewelers

Q: Do we jewelers really need to feel guilty about our environmental effects? I haven’t done the math, but I doubt that a jeweler’s use of fuel gases amounts to as much in a year as an SUV uses in a week.

Contact Dermatitis from Aluminum?

Q: Is aluminum a metal to be avoided in jewelry? I noticed what seems to be contact dermatitis where I accidentally rubbed against some.

Can Titanium Rings be Cut Off in an Emergency?

Q: Is a titanium ring so hard to cut off that a doctor would have to amputate a finger if the ring was stuck on it?

Glasses for Platinum Soldering

Q: I’ve just started working with platinum, and I know I need some extra eye protection from the hotter torch temperatures involved. Are those blue cobalt safety glasses the best ones to use?

Diamond Toughness

Q: Somebody told me that diamonds are hard, but not tough. Is this really true? Do I have to be especially careful when setting them?


Q: One of my clients is looking for a stone called “Krysokoll”. I think it is a Swedish word. Any idea what this stone is?


Q: Does anyone know how to prevent causing dings in metal (such as silver or Nugold) while doming? I domed a piece of Nugold with a white plastic pear-shaped mallet in a hard wood dapping block and am having a heck of a time removing the dings! The mallet is round on both ends.

Diamonds vs. Cubic Zirconia

Q: How does one test a stone to see if it’s cubic zirconia (CZ) or a diamond?

Drilling Diamonds

Q: How on earth can you drill a hole in diamond? Isn’t it the hardest thing on earth? If it has something to do with diamonds being softer in some directions, how can you drill a hole, which goes all the way around?

The Higher Education of a Jeweler

Q: Is it worthwhile getting a college education if I want to be a jeweler? Which is better, Tyler or the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)? What about Yale?

Vitreous Enameling

Q: What do jewelers mean by “enameling”? Is it the same as regular paint, or does it have to be heated in an oven? Is it the same as embossing?

Controlling a Kiln

Q: What can I do to control the temperature of my kiln and make it more like an oven?

Millesimal Markings

Q: I purchased a ring that has the number 417 engraved in the inside. The ring is supposedly 10k, but it doesn’t say so—what does 417 mean?

Working Niobium

Q: Does niobium come in tubes? (I ask because I would like to avoid a rivet in a ring if I can help it.) If so, how workable is it? For instance, could I buy a tube whose inside diameter is close to what I need and then use a ring stretcher to shrink or enlarge the tube diameter? If so, how many sizes: ½, 1, 2? Can niobium be annealed easily?


Q: Can anyone give me any information on obsidian? I purchased some turtle buttons purportedly made of obsidian; they are extremely light in weight—is this characteristic of obsidian?

Photo-etching Halftones

Q: I want to etch halftone images into silver and gold, like the heads of coins. How deep can I etch before I undercut the little dots?

Agate and Jasper

Q: What is agate? Is it the same as jasper?

Diamonds and What They are Worth

Q: How does one judge the quality of a diamond? What are the five C’s? Do I really need to spend two months salary on an engagement ring?