Rediscovering the Flex Shaft: What Have You Done With Yours Lately?

I’ll just tell you right here at the beginning that I am not a flex shaft pro. I’ve had some of my larger and less-used jewelry tools boxed up for awhile now, including my flex shaft. But even before it was put away, I rarely used it. It seemed like a lot of trouble to get it all hung up and such, cord in the air, pedal on the floor, figuring out what all those bits do . . . I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought I was getting along just fine without it. Then something happened.

For the first time in ages, I used a flex shaft at Bead Fest this past August. I was taking Richard Salley’s amazing two-day sterling padlock master class, and he had two flex shafts set up for student use in his well-equipped classroom. A few steps in the project instructions required us to use one with a cut-off wheel to trim some metal, a drill bit to drill some holes, and some polishing wheels during our finishing process.

using a flex shaft while making a sterling padlock, photo: Tammy Jones

Here’s the sterling padlock–first, the inner bits in progress, then the finished (at least, nearly finished, because class was over) closed and open padlock with patina. Incredibly rewarding!

When I came to the first step that required the flex shaft, I just walked over to it, sat down, and picked up the handpiece. And then I kind of froze.

Fear No Flex Shaft

If using a flex shaft is supposed to be one of those things that comes back to you like riding a bike, it didn’t really. Maybe I didn’t use it enough before to have the muscle memory or whatever is required to just pick it right back up again. For whatever reason, I felt unsure and apprehensive.

But there was a classroom of jewelry students around me who had all used it or would soon use it, and they knew what I do for a living, so I couldn’t not use it, right? The fact that I didn’t totally know how to do what I assumed they’d all assume I’d know how to do was kind of embarrassing—but it worked. I shamed myself right into using that flex shaft.

And I loved it!

grinding abrasive bits for a flex shaft

Using a Flex Shaft: First, We Drill

The first flex-shaft task on our project instructions was drilling holes. So after I made some starter divots, I drilled holes. But let me tell you, when the bit finally broke through the metal and into the wooden worktable for the first time, I was back in my groove (figuratively and literally, too, I suppose). Not only did the knowledge come back to me immediately, it came back in a BIG way. I had the power (again, literally and figuratively) and I was hooked on that tough little power tool.

…And Then We Cut Off

Later in my class, we used the flex shaft with a cut-off wheel attachment to cut away some space in bezel wire that was already soldered down to the back plate. A little more advanced, but I was up for it and had no trouble at all. I even had to change the bit from a drill bit to the cut-off wheel. I was on a roll!

bits and burs for the flex shaft

What Has Your Flex Shaft Done for You Lately?

Drilling, cutting, polishing, grinding . . . these are just a few basic tasks your flex shaft can do for you. But there are so many more! Wax carving, gemstone carving, more finishing steps than you can imagine–read all about them.

Throughout the two days of my class, I enjoyed any opportunity to use the flex shaft and even purposely used it when a different tool might have done just as well, just because I wanted to. It’s a powerful feeling to stare down a piece of metal with that hand piece in your grip! Now I can’t wait to get mine set up again. I’ve realized what an essential tool it is for the jewelry studio. I don’t mind figuring out where to put it and how to get it set up now that I know how many ways I can use it and how many tasks it will make easier for me. And how fun and empowering it is! That makes all the difference!

how to use a flex shaft for jewelry making

Master the Flex Shaft for Yourself

If you’re ready to see all that a flex shaft can do for you, we have you covered. Check out the flex shaft online workshop series by Andy Cooperman, master jewelry artist and instructor. These courses are based on his best-selling videos, which are also available, so you can learn however you want to. If you’d like an interactive experience with notes and other details already written out for you, try the flex shaft course that’s right for you.

Tools, techniques, and tips abound for the flex shaft in Andy Cooperman’s workshop.

Learn Via Interactive Online Workshop:

Beginners and intermediate flex shaft users will love Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft: Volume 1 Online Workshop with Andy Cooperman, which will help you understand all of the flex shaft accessories and what they do. Next on the list is Andy’s second online workshop, Volume 2: Hammer Handpieces, Special Tips & Tricks, which goes deeper into more advance flex shaft use, including using a hammer handpiece and more advanced tips and tricks.

Learn Via Video:

If you prefer video learning, start with Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft with Andy Cooperman, Volume 1: Burs, Mandrels, Sanding/Grinding, Rubberized Abrasives & Finishing video download. Continue learning with the next video download, Volume 2: Hammer Handpieces, Special Tips & Tricks. Finally, you can get both videos in one DVD if that’s your thing! See below for all the ways you can master this tool with Andy Cooperman’s expert help!

Online Editor, Interweave Jewelry and Cloth Paper Scissors

Discover how many ways your flex shaft can help you in the studio with Andy Cooperman and more!

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