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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

Gas, Electric, or Wood Kilns

Q: My new place in Washington State has a brick barbecue, which I plan to use for a wood-fired kiln. But the place also has heavy electricity and natural gas. Which is better for ceramics, a wood kiln, a gas kiln, or an electric kiln?

Making Paint

Q: I want to make my own paints from dirt, rocks, vegetables, spices, etc. I have seen paint make from colored dirt by adding a little white glue and some water. Is this going to work with everything?

Carving Amber

Q: I’ve picked up some nice pieces of amber and I was wondering how to carve it.

Stone Carving

Q: I am interested in carving a piece of stone and was wondering if it can be done without a lot of fancy equipment.

Stone Cutting

Q: I have a large piece of black slate, ½ inch thick, that I’d like to use for a table top. What is the best way to cut, polish, and seal it.?

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?

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?

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?

Best Type of Flux

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

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?

Paste Solder

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

Water Torch

Q: I’ve got a second-hand type A+ “water” torch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work—what am I doing wrong?

Lapidary Polishing Pads and Points

To start, it may help to describe what is probably the most common polishing process.

After the stone has been properly prepared for polishing by a series of sanding steps, the polishing compound, generally a metallic oxide in powder form, is mixed in a liquid, usually water, and applied to the polishing pad.

Lapidary Polishing Pads and the Proper Speeds to Spin Them

Unfortunately there just isn’t one speed that works best. The glass industry has published a lot of research work on polishing glass and they found if you can keep everything else equal, the faster the surface contacting the glass runs, the faster the polish happens.

Lapidary Polishing Compounds

Everyone wants to know what the “best” polishing compound is and how it is used. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a single “best”—just a better one for the stone in question, depending on your technique. But here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

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.