Merle's Favorite Jewelry-Making Tips from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

Merle White
is editor-in-chief
of Lapidary Journal

Jewelry Artist

The three things I love best about the Ask the Experts column by Tom and Kay Benham in every issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist are the questions, the answers, and the tips-really! It may sound a little silly, but I learn from all three.


Put a piece of scrap mat board between your bench pin and the metal you want to saw to make sawing easier.

A Tip for Easy Sawing
The tips are great, of course, like the one that ran in June of last year on easy sawing, which came in from a generous reader, Diane Brooks. 

Place a scrap of mat board used for framing pictures between the bench pin and the metal you're sawing. It will help you in several ways:

  • Starting the blade in the mat board prevents the metal from skittering around when the blade bites into the metal.
  • It cleans the blade as you saw.
  • It supports the work over the hole in the bench pin so it doesn't collapse and bind the blade.
  • It reduces chatter and results in fewer broken blades.

Just about everyone new to sawing has conniptions trying to get the blade started and then keeping it intact, and anything that can help you get started and then keep going is a wonderful discovery in my book!


Any time you're striking a tool with a hammer, it's a good idea to check the hardness of the tool steel and avoid shattering.

An Answer About Hammering Safety
In November 2010, the Benhams answered a question about whether or not it's safe to strike hardened steel tools with a steel hammer. We not only got a yes or no, we got an explanation of why this can be a hazard in similar circumstances, too. If you hammer metal, you need to know this:

"It's considered unsafe to hit a hardened steel tool with a hardened hammer face as one of the steel surfaces could shatter, sending shards of steel flying. It doesn't happen often, but Tom can personally attest that it happened to him. When he was twelve, he was once holding a cold chisel for his older brother to strike with a sledge hammer. When the hammer struck, the end of the chisel shattered and sent a piece of shrapnel into Tom's chin. This made him an immediate convert to the principle of never hitting steel on steel.

"When hitting metal on metal, one of the two pieces of metal must be softer to prevent shattering. Any time you're striking a tool with a hammer, it's a good idea to check the hardness of the steel by running a file against the struck end of the tool. If the file skates across its surface without cutting into it, then it's probably too hard to be struck with a hard-faced hammer, so use a brass or bronze hammer instead."

Tom and Kay made these resin earrings.

Great Jewelry-Making Questions!
Questions not only provide an opportunity to supply an answer, they can also be inspirational, open us up to something we never would have thought to ask, or just give us the chance to laugh. Maybe someone with years of experience with metal is new to resins and adhesives and asks a question that mixes up a lot of different things (February 2010). But Tom and Kay understand what they're driving at, tease out all the different questions that are really there, and answer them one at a time. That kind of question is encouraging and helps me remember that even accomplished artists started out unaccomplished, and everyone is new to something.


Stay in touch, literally, with fingerprint jewelry!

My favorite questions are probably the ones that ask about a whole topic I never even knew existed, such as the one in January 2010 about how to make fingerprint jewelry. What an interesting idea! Although Tom and Kay hadn't tried it, they suggested trying photo etching to transfer the pattern from paper to metal or using metal clay.

Some questions are just funny! "Does anyone else have experience with their dog eating their rawhide mallets?" a reader wanted to know in January 2010. Tom and Kay had not, but they shared an idea from Charles Lewton-Brain, famous for championing homemade solutions to jewelry-making challenges in his book Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop: Inexpensive Equipment Options and Bench Tricks for Goldsmiths, about using dog chews to make inexpensive, quality leather mallets. (Use solid chews, cut them in half, drill a hole for a handle, put one in, and voila!)


Tom and Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and write its popular Ask the Experts column.

Help for beginning jewelry makers, safety information everyone needs to know but many do not, a jewelry technique I'd never encountered, and a letter that made me laugh out loud and was followed by an easy way to make inexpensive jewelry-making tools! I never know what I'm going to read in Ask the Experts, but I know I'll always learn something!

Don't miss another great jeweler's tip, inspiring jewelry-making Q&A, or funny jewelry-tool lesson. Take advantage of the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist back issue sale now! You can ask, answer, and learn in the Ask the Experts forum here on Jewelry Making Daily, too.

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