6 Expert Tool Tips: Save Time & Money When You Make Your Jewelry Tools Work for You

One of my favorite features in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist is “Cool Tools and Hip Tips” by Helen Driggs. Helen calls on expert jewelry artists and teachers to weigh in on the jewelry tools she features, and I love seeing how so many different metalsmiths use and alter various jewelry-making tools. I think learning about a topic from multiple people is a really thorough way to learn, so here are six favorite tips about jewelry tools excerpted from nearly a decade of Helen’s “Cool Tools and Hip Tips.”

  1. Alan Revere recommends removing the plastic or rubber handle coverings and the springs from pliers to fully feel their movement and best utilize them. Regarding handle coverings: “You lose the sense of what is going on by having the cushion,” Alan says, “So take a blade and strip off the handles. The metal below may be a little rough, but it can be filed down. As long as it is comfortable, that’s fine; it does not need to look pretty. Ultimately you have greater control by holding metal handles.

jewelry tool tips: modifying pliers for best use by Alan Revere

  1. “The other extra that manufacturers often add to pliers is a pair of springs,” Alan adds. “These are even worse than the handles, because they reduce your ability to get tactile feedback. . . . So take a blade and pop these off, too. If there is an objectionable weld mark, use a grinding wheel (wear goggles!) to remove it. Traditional high-quality European jewelry tools do not include these two add-ons for good reason. Both diminish the quality and function of a pair of pliers.”
  1. Tom and Kay Benham, contributing editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, are a wealth of great tips about metalsmithing and jewelry tools, like this one: “To prevent a buildup of metal in the teeth our files, we rub blue carpenter’s chalk from the hardware store across the file’s teeth when first acquired. We clean the teeth with a fine metal brush and rechalk as needed. This treatment keeps our files clean and helps prevent rust. Children’s sidewalk chalk will also work.” Brilliant and double handy.

jewelry tool tips: sawing vertically by Michael David Sturlin

  1. I felt so gratified when I read that Michael David Sturlin sometimes files the same way I do: vertically! Before I read this, I felt a bit guilty every time I filed this way, wondering what expert metalsmiths would think about my rogue technique. So I’m glad to find at least one expert that does it, too!

Speaking about tiny escapement files, Michael says, “I use these files in a slightly different way than the standard approach to filing. I frequently use a vertical motion–the same movement as with a jeweler’s saw frame. . . . I support my item over a cutout in my bench pin and make short strokes with the file in a very controlled up and down movement. This enables me to keep a perfectly square or perpendicular edge when filing the inner walls of an opening. This is harder to control when using the file in a more typical horizontal stroke. Using the file vertically also allows the eye to see the work more clearly because the file is not obstructing the view.” Personally, I find that I can file faster and in a more fluid motion with better precision when I file this way.

jewelry tool tips: sawing tip from Christine Dhein

  1. We’ve all suffered the distinctive sound of a saw blade snapping or skipping across the edge of the metal and missing its mark. Christine Dhein developed a way for our bench pins to provide saw blades with the best possible start. “Often saw blades slip out of position on the first stroke, which can damage your piece,” Christine says. “To ensure your first pass with the blade cuts the metal in the correct spot, saw into the wood of your bench pin with one or two strokes to stabilize the blade. Position your piece on the bench pin so that it meets the blade at the beginning of the line to be cut. While the wood holds the blade in position, saw into the metal with several strokes. Remove the blade from the wood and place the notch you cut between the ‘V’ in the bench pin to saw the rest of the line. With this ‘bite’ in the metal, your saw blade will naturally cut where you intended.”
  1. I often enjoy looking in hardware stores for products that I can use as jewelry tools or supplies, so I love this brilliant little tip from Marne Ryan: “Use rubber wall corners from the home store to make custom vise guards. Their 90-degree angle and self-stick tape make the corners easy to fit on any vise.” So smart!

There’s so, so much more to learn about jewelry tools from Helen’s “Cool Tools and Hip Tips” articles. This is must-know jewelry tool information for metalsmiths of all skill levels, so we’ve combined them all in Collected Cool Tools, Volumes 1-4, a convenient info-packed collection of four eBooks at a special price (37% off!). Download yours and learn from the pros! All of these tips came from just part of one volume!

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