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?

A: Foredom’s #30 handpiece is always equipped with a Jacobs-style chuck , which can hold anything from a #80 drill all the way up to a bit over 1/8 inch in diameter. If you get the handpieces that copy the Foredom, but are not that brand, they might not hold tools that are quite so small. While it is indeed slower to change bits and attachments with a Jacobs-style chuck , like the #30, this should be your first handpiece. With the quick-change type, you are limited to only 3/32″ shanks, which means, for example, that the only drill bits you can use, other than an actual 3/32″ drill, are the carbon steel types, like Busch or others make, that put drill bits of whatever size on a 3/32″ shank. These, while handy, are not as long-lasting as high speed steel drill bits, and cost more. And there are times when you’ll want to hold a 1/8 inch shank tool as well.

So while slower to use, the #30 chucks are more versatile. A plus is also that they last a lot longer. I’ve had any number of types of quick change chucks, and they simply don’t last forever. The collets, or the parts the collets fit into, or the parts that open the chuck, all suffer wear and tear, and need to be periodically replaced. Sometimes that can get costly. The #30 chucks are pretty much indestructible. I say pretty much because I’ve seen them worn out or damaged, but it takes some real work to do so, or it takes a long time. I’ve got one #30 handpiece that I’ve had for over 25 years, and it still works just fine.

So start with the #30 chuck, genuine Foredom brand preferred. They cost less than the quick change, and do more, just more slowly. Then if, over time, you find you’d like more speed in changing between attachments, get a second handpiece, a decent quick-change model. If you do any stone setting, that quick-change might even be your third handpiece, with the second one being a good hammer handpiece like the Badeco. You can do setting work without one, and in fact some setting tasks are more safely and better done the manual way, but the hammer handpieces are wonderful time savers, and can do some things easily that are a pain to do with a punch and chasing hammer.

That handpiece does things a quick-change or #30 cannot, so if you’re upgrading handpieces in order of utility, I’d guess that one might be second, if you do stone setting. The quick-change duplicates what you do already with the #30, just speeds things up. One thing, by the way, that helps speed up the use of the #30 is how you open and close it. The standard little chuck key has a habit of getting lost. Put it on the end of a cord or chain so it’s always exactly where it should be. You can also get chuck keys with plastic handles. They’re easier and faster to use, and easier to find in a bench pan too.

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.