Metalsmithing Tools: Bezel Opening Tool
Situations sometime occur when a cabochon breaks or cracks during the setting process or after it’s been set in the bezel. Removing the broken cabochon for replacement is usually problematic and often results in destroying the ﬁnding in the process. This puts you right back to the beginning and you must start over, grind a new cabochon, and fabricate a new ﬁnding. Very irritating. So, over the years we’ve been working on methods and a special metalsmithing tool to lift the ﬁne-silver bezel up and outward. This tool helps release the damaged stone without damaging the bezel itself. To follow is the process for creating our special opening tool with the hope it will help you out of this predicament.
Prepare the Metal
Materials we used:
- 1/8″ square W1 tool steel (W1 means the tool steel is quenched in water as opposed to oil quenching)
- Coarse ﬁle to shape both sides of the tip of the tool into a fine line
- Fine file to finish the metal surface to a razor edge.
Harden and Temper
Once filed, harden the metal by heating with a torch. Heat the edge to a red heat then quench it immediately in water. After hardening, the steel is too hard and brittle to be useable. It must be tempered to reduce the hardness and make the tool tougher and less brittle.
At this stage, further reﬁne the razor edge with 400- and 600-grit emery paper, polishing the steel to a shiny surface. Not only will the metal look good, this quality allows you to see the color change during the next stage of the process.
To anneal the razor edge, gently heat it and watch the surface oxides change color slowly. When the color changes to straw yellow at the tip, instantly quench it in water to prevent the metal from getting any softer. Be very careful and use a small ﬂame to heat the tip very slowly; it’s very easy to have the oxides change color too quickly and turn blue. If the metal turns blue at the tip it will be too soft and the entire hardening and annealing processes must be repeated.
We ﬁnd annealing 1/8″ square tool steel with a torch to be difﬁcult. The heat of the ﬂame is too high and takes the small tool through the temperature change too quickly to be able to stop and control the color. To slow this process, set the small tool on the edge of a small hot plate set to 300 degrees Fahrenheit which allows you to watch the color change at a much slower pace. When the tip color approaches straw yellow, simply push it off the hot plate into a small container of quenching water, resulting in perfect annealing every time.
Sand all surfaces of the hardened and annealed tool using 400- and 600-grit emery paper. Buff to a high polish. Use epoxy to set the tool into a 1½” diameter wood ball that serves as its handle. Wood balls in various diameters are usually found in most craft stores.
To use the tool, carefully slide it along the intersection between the silver bezel and the cabochon until you can work the razor edge between the two surface. Work just a little bit at a time going around and around the bezel opening, inserting the tool a little bit deeper with each pass. With a little patience you’ll soon have the entire bezel standing straight up, allowing the cabochon to just fall out without any damage to the bezel. Once you have a replacement cabochon you can set it being a little more careful this time.
Being able to salvage the ﬁnding saves you a lot of time and work.
The tip of this tool has a razor sharp edge so be extremely careful to grasp the ﬁnding in such a way that your other hand is never directly in line with the sharp edge in case of a slip. When not in use we keep a wine cork over its tip to prevent accidents from happening.
Tom & Kay
Tom & Kay Benham are Contributing Editors to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and author its Ask the Experts column. Have a question for them? Please leave a comment below.
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