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?

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.

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

Annealing Bronze

Q: I need to bend a thick piece of bronze, but it is too stiff. Any ideas?

Casting Sterling

Q: How hot should the oven get when burning out jewelry investments? How hot should the mold be when you cast sterling silver? Why have my castings been coming out black and pitted, with little pinholes?

Foundry Practice

Q: I read that metal can be melted in a homemade charcoal-fired furnace, using an old cast-iron pot for a crucible. Is this a good idea? I want to pour about 20 lbs. of brass.

Gold Leaf

Q: How do you use gold leaf? What is the difference between gold leaf and composition leaf? Are there any metallic paints that closely simulate the look of leaf?

Patination for Steel

Q: Does anyone have any recommendations for steel patination?

Turning Copper Green

Q: How can I turn copper and brass items green?

Manganese Bronze Problems

Q: I’m melting manganese bronze and it makes a lot of smoke when I pour it into my plaster investment molds. Then the castings seem to come out porous, black and pitted. What am I doing wrong?


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.

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?

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?

Finishing Silver Castings

Q: What steps should I take in order to get a good polish on sterling silver castings?

Homemade Jewelry Cleaner

Q: Can I make my own jewelry cleaner from household ingredients?

Sterling Silver Patina

Q: How do you use liver of sulphur to patina sterling silver?

Recipe for Chaser’s Pitch

Q: What is in “chaser’s pitch”? Can I mix it myself at home?

Platinum or White Gold?

Q: Expense aside, is there any reason to use white gold instead of platinum for jewelry?


Q: Is there any way to prevent that ugly and hard to remove firescale from covering my gold and (especially) silver jewelry pieces when I heat them?

Silver Solder

Q: What is in silver solder? Is it all basically the same thing?

Difference Between Burrs

Q: I know there are two types of burrs (also spelt burs) which can be mounted in a flexible shaft for removing metal: high-speed steel and vanadium steel. What is the difference?

Carving Pewter

Q: Can you carve pewter like wood? Is that a good way of working it?

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?

Dapping Silver Sheet

Q: How should I sink some smooth depressions into the surface of a silver sheet? Do I need a dapping punch and block?

Polishing In Deep Places

Q: Some of my brass jewelry has crevices and depressions that are impossible to reach with any brushes or buffs I’ve tried. How can I polish down into these areas?

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?

Polishing Sterling Silver Castings

Q: What steps should I take in order to get a good polish on sterling silver castings?

Best Type of Flux

Q: Which is best for soldering precious metals, the liquid self-pickling flux or the white paste kind?

Brazing for Platinum

Q: I’ve used an oxygen/natural gas torch to solder silver and gold and for brazing. I know that one needs the extra heat of oxygen/acytelene for welding steel—is it good for platinum as well?

Alloying Gold

Q: I’ve got a piece made of 22 karat gold, and I want to cast some 14 karat gold. Can I add something to it to make the lower-karat alloy, and if so, what, and how much?

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?

Cleaning Your Own Jewelry

Q: I’ve got a cubic zirconium in a silver setting. I’d like to clean it; is there anything special I need to do?

Can You Get Mercury Out of Gold?

Q: My 22 karat gold wedding ring became discolored after coming into contact with mercury from a broken thermometer. Is it destroyed, or can it be fixed?

Paste Solder

Q: Is paste solder as good as wire or sheet? It certainly seems like it would be easier to deal with.

Plating on Non-conductives

Q: How does one plate metal onto non-conductive items, like leaves and shells?

Coloring the Reactive Metals

Q: How does one go about coloring the reactive metals like titanium, niobium, or tantalum? Aside from grinding and polishing the metal surface first, what do I need to do to get those iridescent colors I’ve seen?

Remelt Sterling Silver Scrap

Q: Is it worth it to try and remelt my sterling silver scrap and make new wire and sheet? Or is it more feasible to take it to a refiner, even if you don’t have a whole lot?

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?