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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

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?

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?

Cast Concrete Sculpture

Q: How do you go about making concrete sculpture like the kind you can buy for your garden?

Cast Marble

Q: How does one go about making sculpture in “cast marble” or “bonded marble?”

Alternative Casting Materials

Q: I would like to cast something into molds (besides plaster of Paris) that would end up looking like white marble. Should I use polyester resin or what?

Clays for Sculpture

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

Concrete—How to Use It?

Q: I am casting simple forms in concrete, mostly using holes in the ground for molds, and I’m looking for ways to generate different interesting forms and surfaces. Any ideas?

Concrete Textures

Q: I’m interested in experimenting with concrete to get different surface effects than the usual boring cast concrete look. Any suggestions?

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?

Carving Green Wood

Q: I’ve got some sections of tree trunk that I want to carve into figures. Can I carve it when it is still fresh, or does it need to season first? If I leave it outside (in Britain) will I need to use some kind of preservative?

Handbuilding Ceramic Sculpture

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

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?

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?

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 Oil Clay FAQ—Oil-based Clay for Sculpture

Andrew Werby discusses various oil-based modeling clays and their use, with notes on modeling technique, as well as several recipes for mixing ones own. This article covers the following topics: origins and qualities, available varieties, armatures, tooling, smoothing, mixing ones own, variations, safety considerations, and clean-up.

The Clay FAQ—Water-based Potter’s Clay and its use in Sculpture

Andrew Werby tells how ordinary water-based clay can be used to create permanent fired sculpture, as well as its use for making models for production in other materials. This article covers the following topics: clay defined, direct and indirect use, waste molds, natural clay, reusing clay, handworking clay, plaster and clay, joining clay forms, firing, slipcasting, making slip, modifying clay bodies, building hollow forms, freeze/thaw problems, armatures, accelerated drying, and surface treatments.

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 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.