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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

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?

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?

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.

Cheap Jewelry Tools and the Pareto Principle

Q: If a tool selling for 20 percent of the price can accomplish 80 percent of everything I want to do with it, then what’s the matter with that? This is, in engineering parlance, known as the Pareto Principle, or the 80:20 rule.

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?

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?

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?

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.

Bust in Clay

Q: I want to make a life-sized bust in ceramic clay and fire it. Are there any special precautions I have to take?

Clays for Sculpture

Q: I want to try doing sculpture. What kind of clay should I use?

Direct Concrete without Casting

Q: How could I make sculpture directly in concrete, without having to go through modeling a form, making a mold, and casting the concrete?

Handbuilding Ceramic Sculpture

Q: How do you make armatures for handbuilding ceramic sculpture?

Making Pictorial Mosaics

Q: How would I go about making mosaics like the Ancient Romans did?

Making Sculpture in Papier Mache

Q: How do you make the paste for papier mache? Is it just flour and water? What can you build it on besides balloons?

Smooth Surfaces in Plastiline Clay

Q: I want to make a small sculpture in plastiline (oil-based) clay. I want to create extremely smooth flowing curves, with no tooling marks. What is the best way to achieve this result?

Foundations for Sculpture

Q: I’ve made some large sculptures, and I want to site them outdoors. Do I need to make a foundation for each one? That seems like it would be astronomically expensive. Do I have to bury part of the piece in the concrete while it’s wet?


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.

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?

Flat Bezels

Q: How can I make bezels that are flat, not bent? And how do I get them flat after I’ve soldered them?

Dies for Coins and Medals

Q: How are the dies for coins and medals made? Is this something a jeweler can do without a lot of expensive equipment? Can etching techniques be used?

Faberge Engraving Machine

Q: What kind of a machine did Faberge use to engrave the gold under the enamel on his famous eggs and other irregular shapes?

Adhesives for Sea Shells

Q: I make jewelry from sea shells. I have been using hot glue to stick them onto metal findings, but it’s messy-looking and it tends to peel off. Are there any adhesives that would work better than this?

Granulation with Silver

Q: I have been trying to do granulation with fine silver and cannot get all of the beads to stay on the base plate—what should I do?

Tightening Prongs on a Setting

Q: How do you get the prongs of a Tiffany head to hold a stone tightly? And how can you clean up prongs without catching and distorting them?

Silver/Brass Warping Problems

Q: I’m trying to silver-solder a large sterling bezel to a brass base, but I’m having lots of trouble with warping, buckling, and non-adhesion—any hints?

Making Tapered Tubes

Q: How do you go about making a tapered tube, like the spout for an oil-can or teapot, in silver sheet?

The Scaling FAQ—Pointing Up: Making Big Ones from Little Ones

Christopher Pardell gives a step-by-step rundown of the traditional process used to make a large sculpture from a small maquette, with some notes on more modern techniques. This article covers the following topics: definition and setup, ruling, surface gauges and their use, transferring points, sectioning a foam model, and digital techniques.

The Steel FAQ—Using Steel for Sculpture

Andrew Werby offers an overview of the techniques sculptors use for cutting, shaping, and joining steel, plus notes on surface treatments. This article covers the following topics: steel in sculpture, available types, cutting, bending, hardening and tempering, forming sheet, the forge, cold attachment, soldering, brazing, welding, oxyacetylene welding, arc welding, TIG welding, MIG welding, grinding, rust, paint, galvanization, vitreous enamelling, patinas, and safety considerations.

The Stone FAQ—Basic Stone Carving

Andrew Werby sketches out some approaches to basic stone-carving, with an emphasis on the softer stones, like soapstone, alabaster, and marble. This article covers the following topics: carving soft stones, safety issues, points and chisels, other tools, abrasive techniques, larger stones, diamond bits, and sanding and polishing.

The Wax FAQ—Sculpting in Wax

Andrew Werby covers the use of wax in sculpture, including the types used, direct construction techniques, casting, welding and smoothing. This article covers the following topics: sculpting waxes, carving wax, casting slabs, melting, handworking and tools, lost wax, armatures and addtitions.