7 Sensational Jewelry Making Tips from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Pros Tom & Kay Benham
If you’ve seen an issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine in the past 10 years or so, you probably know about Tom and Kay Benham. As Contributing Editors to LJJA and authors of its popular Ask the Experts column, Tom and Kay are overflowing with decades’ worth of metalsmithing, soldering, stone cutting, and other jewelry-making tips. Here are a few great ones, including my favorite about modifying a saw to accommodate oversized metal sheet.
1. Make a Super Sharp Scribe: A really good, ultra sharp scribe is difficult to locate, but you can make your own with a heavy-duty sewing needle clamped in a pin vise. This makes the sharpest scribe you’ll ever use, and its tip is quickly and easily replaced if damaged. It works especially for marriage-of-metal projects where an exact outline must be marked and then sawed out. Be careful, it is very sharp!
2. Tumble Chains Without Tangles: If you are interested in tumbling chains to polish/burnish them, but don’t like the tangles, here’s a simple way to tumble several chains at once without spending hours sorting out the dreaded chain ball. We thread each chain onto a small bird ladder (purchased in a pet store), closing the clasp so that the chain will stay on. We cut the ladder so that it will lie on the side of the tumbler barrel, and drill each side post at the end for a wire rung to keep the chains from coming off. A little bit of experimenting to find what works best for your tumbler and . . . look Ma, no tangles!
3. Pickle-Safe Strainers: Sometimes it can be a problem to remove a small piece from your pickle pot. Check your kitchen supply store or favorite all-purpose store for nylon-screened or plastic strainers. Water cool the soldered piece first, place it in a metal-free strainer, and then place the strainer in the pickle pot. It can be easily retrieved and then rinsed in the strainer, too. Make sure your strainers are plastic or nylon mesh. Do not use metal strainers in your pickle pot!
4. Make Perfect Small Cabs and Matching Bezels: It can be difficult to cut small, perfectly round cabs (1⁄2 inch or smaller), because the eye can’t easily see those smaller sizes. Use the back end of a drill bit (the same size as your desired final diameter of the cab) for the dop stick and carefully grind up to its edges and your cab will be perfectly round. Be sure to preheat the end of the drill bit with a heat gun to ensure good bonding of the dop wax. It’s particularly helpful when trying to cut a matched pair. Bonus: The drill bit can then be used as a mandrel to make a perfectly fitting bezel for your cab!
5. Oversized Sawing Solution: Have you ever attempted to cut a piece of silver sheet that’s longer than your saw frame and come to a screeching halt when you realized it won’t fit? One solution is to use your pliers to twist your saw’s blade 90 degrees so that the saw frame is perpendicular to the axis of the saw cut. With the saw frame off to the side, you can make cuts of unlimited length as long as the width of the silver sheet isn’t greater than the saw frame depth.
6. Quiet Pounding: Ever notice how loud the sound is when pounding on your steel bench block while it’s sitting on a wooden bench top? The bench top reverberates like a drum, amplifying the sound. To correct this, simply place your steel bench block on an old computer mouse pad to help absorb some of the shock and noise.
7. Metal on File vs File on Metal: Metalsmiths often experience difficulty generating a long edge that is flat, straight, and square when using the traditional jeweler’s file. The method we recommend is the opposite of what is usually taught–instead, we bring the metal to the file and not the file to the metal. We use a large 14″ fine-cut file, sold as a Formica file for smoothing the edges of countertops. We place the file flat on the bench top, and then, holding the metal in a vertical position, pull it along the cutting surface of the file. This method generates a long, flat, square edge in a fraction of the time of the traditional method.
The Benhams are just brilliant! Their many combined years of experience has generated fantastic projects, tips, and technique advice for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine over the years, and now you can get the best of their Ask the Experts columns in one convenient package with the 10 Years of Jewelry-Making Questions, Answers, and Tips: Ask the Experts 2002-2011 eBook. It’s must-have info for jewelry makers of all levels.
P.S. Read on for more great metal jewelry making tips from the Benhams!