From Drill Bits to Buffing Wheels: Flex Shaft Accessories for All Your Metalsmithing Tasks
Previously I shared just a handful of uncommon ways you can use a flex shaft for metalsmithing, from Andy Cooperman’s flex shaft video, Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft, Vol. 1 and 2. You might wonder how one tool can do so many metalsmithing tasks–and the answer is in the accessories.
Flex shaft accessory kits come with dozens of accessories–burs and bits, polishing wheels, grinding wheels, bristle brushes, abrasive cones, and so much more. It can feel overwhelming to decide which ones do what and which ones you actually need for your metalsmithing work. Here’s a brief look at flex shaft accessories, from drill bits to buffing wheels, and what they do.
A Brief Look at Flex Shaft Accessories for Metalsmithing
Flex Shaft Drill Bits
Drill bits are usually spiral-cut rods used in flex shafts, Dremels, or drills for cutting and drilling metal. You can drill holes through metal and stones with drill bits. When purchasing bits for a flex shaft, you should know that the smaller the number of the bit, the larger its diameter. For example, a #1 bit is larger than a #10 bit. So a #75 bit is about the size of a needle, while a #1 bit is nearly 6mm in diameter. Bits are usually made of steel, carbide, tungsten, or diamond.
Flex Shaft Burs
Burs (above) are like drill bits with a sharp, spiral-cut ball or cone on the end. Because the cutting surface is rounded instead of straight, burs cut rounded spaces in metal. They’re ideal for carving in metal, cutting seats and prongs for stone setting. Sized the opposite of drill bits, a #1 bur is the smallest, and larger numbers are larger in diameter. Burs are generally made of steel, carbide tungsten, and diamond.
- Bud burs are tulip “bud” or flame-shaped burs used for pave setting.
- Cup burs are concave burs used for rounding and finishing prongs holding a stone.
- Stone-setting burs have flat sides and cone-shaped points used for trimming the insides of prongs and creating a level seat to support a stone.
- Hart burs are used for channel setting or to cut seats in prongs for stone setting. Hart burs have a knife-like edge that helps them cut the grooves needed for channel setting.
Flex Shaft Disks and Wheels
Solid abrasive disks or grinding disks (above) are made up of grinding materials (like pumice, emery, diamond, silicon carbide, aluminum oxide) embedded in a solid matrix (like hard rubber). These disks (which can be disk shaped but also barrel, cone, and diamond shaped) are often sold in bulk and are meant to be put on small mandrels for use. (See ‘Mandrels’ below–they’re nothing like the ring, bezel, and bracelet mandrels we use in metalsmithing.) The various grits range in coarseness from grinding to polishing, both metal and stone, much like sandpaper. And speaking of sandpaper . . .
Sanding disks are simply flexible disks of sandpaper. Just like sandpaper, they are available in a wide range of grits and are ideal for getting into narrow areas thicker sanding disks and wheels can’t access. Like the abrasive disks above, sanding disks are also usually sold in bulk, and you add them to your own mandrels for use.
Cut-off wheels or disks are used to cut through metal in relatively small areas, such as prongs, ring shanks, or chain links, when wire cutters are too small for the job.
Flex Shaft Buffing Wheels
Buffing wheels or disks are used, along with polishing compounds, to polish and finish metal surfaces. They’re typically muslin, felt, or leather. They come in a wide variety of sizes; naturally the smaller, roughly 1″ ones are used with a flex shaft and the larger ones are used with larger polishing machines.
- Muslin buffs are common buffing accessories that are typically flat, disk-shaped, and come in two varieties: sewn in circles to firm up and provide support to the material or unsewn to leave the material softer and more flexible.
- For a high polish, use hard felt buffs, which can be flat disks, tapered disks, cones, or cylinders.
- Leather buffs are best for final polishing steps.
Flex Shaft Brushes
Brushes with steel wire bristles, brass wire bristles, and plastic or rubber “bristles” are used with and without polishing compounds to clean and polish metal, especially in recesses. Steel and brass wire bristle brushes can also create texture on metal surfaces. I often use steel and brass bristle brushes to clean up excess solder and to burnish fired metal clay components. Like buffing wheels, bristle brushes also come in a variety of sizes, with the smaller approximately 1″ brushes being ideal for use with flex shafts.
Flex Shaft Mandrels
The little rods that buffing wheels, abrasive disks, cutting disks, and sanding disks attach to are called mandrels. They come in a variety of diameters that fit in adjustable openings in the flex shaft hand piece. Mandrels provide a way for you to remove the wheels and disks that are worn out and replace them with new ones. Simply loosen and remove the screw, add new wheels/disks, tighten the screw, and get to work! You’ll want to have several mandrels so you can use some for sanding disks, some for cutting disks, some for buffing, etc., without having to remove the disks and wheels each time you need to perform a new task.
It’s a lot to take in, and I’ve only scratched the surface. It’s much easier to understand when you see these accessories in action and try them out yourself. With the Deluxe Flex Shaft Collection, you can do both of those things. You’ll get Andy Cooperman’s two-volume DVD, Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft, a flex shaft tool with a 36-accessory kit, plus two DVDs from Travis Ogden, to give you even more professional advice and expert instruction on using the flex shaft for all your metalsmithing tasks. Metalsmithin’ ain’t easy–but it’s a lot easier with a flex shaft!
If you already have a flex shaft but still want to learn how to use it from two metalsmithing pros, get the Basic Flex Shaft Collection for all the video instruction without the flex shaft tool and accessories.