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Day 6 Fixtures (Details)

Being a jewelry model maker for years, the majority of the pieces I work on are pieces that are going to be molded and reproduced many times over, so if there is a pit, mark, scratch, etc. that flaw will be visible in every piece that comes out of the mold. So extra time and patience is needed to make sure that the model is as flaw-free as possible, which will save time over and over from cleaning waxes or castings on reproduced pieces. When working on small pieces, sometimes it is difficult to hold onto the piece to get the scratches and marks out. So today, here is a quick tip to hold onto small pieces for cleanup.


One of the things I have always done is kept a large portion of my old used up burs and mandrels from wheels. I have a pile of them and am constantly grinding them into tools, shapes, burnishers, etc. In the future I will show some of the ways I make cutters, burnishers, grinders, and pit-beaters, but today I will show you a quick jewelry holding fixture.

If you have ever used mounted rubber cratex wheels, when you are done, instead of tossing it in the garbage, remove the last bits of rubber or abrasive cratex and you will find in most cases an end that is perfect for holding a small bit of Dop Wax.

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There are many types of materials that will hold a piece of jewelry, JETT-set, pine tar, loading wax, but I prefer Dop Wax. Dop Wax is used for holding stones for grinding and faceting, but I find it works best for holding small and large pieces. It melts about 160 degrees, and cleans away after a soaking in alcohol. (Faster in a container in an ultrasonic).  Just heat the piece up, not too much, (you will get the hang of it) and hold it in place with tweezers for a few seconds until it is cool enough to set firm. this also works good for setting stones in small pieces. Sometimes you might have to load the wax on a larger fixture. I have many different sizes of wooden dowels and fixtures with Dop Wax on them for different sizes of jewelry. I even use it on one of my fixtures on my GRS BENCHMATE .

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 1j Locket Earrings 08

Now go make it a Great Day!


Day 5 Safety (Torch Setup)

Day 5 is here and time to talk about something more important than jewelry making, more important than jewelry design, more than tools or beauty or comfort….. let’s talk about  SAFETY.

Sizing 10

Safety should be THE #1 thought that is the foundation of every task, every job, every day. You can mess up a piece of jewelry, you can melt a ring or break a stone, this is replicable, but if you do not wear safety glasses EVERY TIME you sit at your jewelry bench, you are risking something irreplaceable. If you do not tie back your hair when you are working, you are risking injury with fire or machinery. Get into the habit of having a few pair of safety glasses at every work station you have. If they are easily accessible, you are more likely to put them on.

Fire is something else to be cautious of and if you have a torch in your workspace, make sure the floor is not a material that is flammable. Also make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy, within arm’s reach of your bench. When hooking up your torch to your tanks, it is a must that you check the fittings for leaks. It is also a good idea to check them on a regular basis. There are 3 ways to tell if you have a fuel or an oxygen leak. First, if you have a fuel leak, you will be able to smell gas. Oxygen has no smell, but gas always does.

Second, check your gauges on your regulator. A regulator is a MUST to have between your torch and your tanks. If you turn off your tanks, the gauges should hold their pressure. I set my oxygen pressure at approx 30psi and my fuel (propane) at approx 10psi. Turn off the tank by turning the knob on the top of the tank all the way to the off or closed position then watch the gauge to make sure it does not slowly lose pressure.  Also, when using the torch, turn the tanks all the way to the on or open position.

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The third way to check for leaks is to get a soapy solution and spray the fittings and watch for bubbles. I use a mixture of Simple Green and water (8 parts water : 1 Part Simple Green), it is biodegradable, smells great, and is good for cleaning just about everything imaginable. Even if there is a slight leak, it will bubble slowly (or quickly). If you see this, you will need to tighten the fittings. If you have them really tight and there is still a leak, you will need to find new fittings. Check both fittings on the regulators of both tanks as well as the fittings for the gauges.

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 Also check the fittings on the torch. I use a Smith Mini Torch and have never had a problem, but it is good to check. Also dip the very tip of the torch in water and look for bubbles. If you see bubbles there, the valve on the torch is either not tight, not adjusted correctly, or just worn out.


Here is what to look for if you have a leaky fitting. (bubbles)

Bad Fitting

Thanks for stopping by and have a safe day!


Day 4 Soldering (sizing)

Today we will look at a few tips on soldering and for the example, I will size a silver ring. First, figure out what size the ring is, and what size you need it to be. For each size difference is approx 2.4mm.

Sizing 1

In this example, I will size a ring down, so I marked the ring and cut the ring using a 3/0 saw blade and supporting the ring with a ring jig.

Sizing 2

I cut just inside the marks I made to allow room for filing. I use an Equalling Escapement File to file the inside of the shank, what this file does is makes sure the two ends are parallel to one another so there are no gaps in the soldering process. Gaps usually means pits in your solder joint.

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Next, I make sure the two ends are touching with no gaps, if the top of the ring is strong enough, I will twist the shank a bit and bend the ring past center, to compensate for the “spring” in the metal. You want to make sure the two ends match very close.

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Now, clean the solder joint very well, if you have an ultrasonic cleaner and a steamer, that would do the job well, but if not, soap, water, and a soft tooth brush will work. Protect the ring’s finish by dipping and “swirling” the ring in a mixture of Denatured Alcohol and Powdered Boric Acid. I always keep this mixture around and dip everything in it before soldering. I keep it mixed, about 1-2 tablespoons of boric acid to 1 oz. of alcohol. I keep it in an old baby food jar. works great on both gold and silver. Let air dry before soldering, you will notice it will turn your jewelry “white”, this is good, it is a thin coating of protective boric acid which will help keep fire scale down.

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Next, I add flux and solder. I use Handy Flux, a brazing flux that works great, especially on silver, but I use it on gold as well. I also keep this in a baby food jar, along with a silver wire to apply the flux. Coat the solder joint well. Heat the piece until the flux just stops “bubbling”, then add a small piece of solder with a soldering pick. I use a TITANIUM SOLDER PICK, the solder doesn’t melt to the titanium like it will to steel. I just barely dip the tip into the jar of flux and pick up the piece of solder with the pick, then apply it to the top of the solder joint. I used medium SILVER SHEET SOLDER and I cut it as needed. You will be tempted to want to use a bunch, but you don’t need a lot. See how much I used for this application.

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Now comes the FIRE!! I use a Smith Mini Torch and have used one for years. The gas I use is propane and oxygen, but you can use Acetylene or Natural Gas. I like the propane because it is easy to get, and it is a much cleaner gas to use. Acetylene produces black smoke and “floaties”. I use the #5 tip that comes with the torch, in fact I drill it out a bit to give me more heat on larger projects. I use the same regulator on the propane that I used to use on acetylene. You will want to get a flame that is not too “bushy” and not too “sharp and pointy”. The flame in the image is what you want to aim for.

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I mentioned that you wanted to apply the solder to the top, this is because we will be applying the heat to the bottom of the solder joint. One of the biggest mistakes many jewelers make is applying the heat to the solder, this is a NO-NO. You always want to apply the torch heat to the opposite side of the solder joint because solder is drawn to heat, like a moth to a flame. When you do this, you “draw” the solder THROUGH the solder joint, making a stronger joint with less pits. Also if you melt the solder first, you “boil” the solder, changing the characteristics of the alloys in the solder, making it flow less and more brittle.

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After soldering, place piece in a pickling solution. I use Sparex which will help remove fire scale as well. I use a very small CERAMIC LINED CROCK POT to heat the pickling solution. Heating the solution makes it work a lot quicker.

We will get a lot deeper into soldering in the future, I hope this helps.

Take Care


Day 3 Tools (Graver)

Welcome back to day 3. I had a couple of questions/comments about the graver that I used to shape the earring I made yesterday, so let’s jump into tools and tool maintenance, namely… the graver.

There are many shapes and sizes of gravers available, but if you want to get into hand crafting of metal, get familiar with a few gravers. I will just touch on one today, but at a later date, we will get into a few more styles.

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When it comes to metal clean up, getting into those tough to get areas, or just getting a flat clean edge on a piece of silver or gold, my go-to graver is a flat graver. Get yourself a few of these in different widths and see what you can do, it will become a tool that you will grow to love, but when it comes to shaping a graver, there are a few very important things you must do first.

When you buy a new graver, it will have to be shaped and sharpened. This shaping process is VERY important and you must be VERY PATIENT! I cannot express this enough. The hardness of a graver end is heat treated and it is very easy to change it, do to overheating by grinding.

First, get a graver handle. These come in different lengths as well. Find the shortest handle first and mount the pointed end of the graver into it. Your graver will last years and years, and if it gets shorter, then replace the handle with a longer handle to lengthen the blade. I find it easier if you drill a hole into the wood first, (approx 1/8″ drill bit).  There are a few shapes of handles as well, I like the ones that are mushroom shaped with a flat spot cut into it. It fits better in my hand. After you have drilled the hole into the handle, about 1″ deep or so, pound the graver blade into the handle. I find it easiest to place the graver on a piece of wood, like a small 2×4 or something like that, then I pound the handle onto the graver, making sure the bottom edge of the graver is lined up with the flat edge of the handle. After the graver is seated firmly into the handle, place the graver in the palm of your hand so that it sits comfortably. Hold it comfortably so that the graver handle rests in the palm and the graver blade is held in the thumb and forefinger. make a mark on the blade about 1/2 inch past your thumb.

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This is where you will cut off the blade. (they come longer than needed). I use a cutoff wheel to trim the excess off. After it is cut off, the shaping begins. Again, I cannot express how important it is to take your time doing this. Have a cup of water handy and grind the graver for about 1 second, then dip it in the water, grind for 1 second, then dip in the water……repeat, repeat, repeat. You do not want this graver to get hot or it will not work properly, it will chip and break easily or get dull quick.

Grind the blade into the shape of the graver shown, you want the cutting end to come to a thin end, approx 2mm or so, like the graver here:

Graver 1

               Now it is time to sharpen the graver with a sharpening block or a wet stone, there are a number of jigs you can use to set the angle of the graver edge, I try to keep mine at about a 45-50 degree angle:

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               Some people like to grind the opposite edge at about a 5-10 degree angle (called a heel) which helps the metal to be removed easier, I just keep mine flat.

Another trick I like to do is to polish the bottom side of my gravers, which leaves a “mirror” finish. I do this by first removing all the scratches on the bottom side of the blade with 600-1000 grit sandpaper, then taking hard yellow polishing compound and rubbing it on a piece of paper, coating the paper with the compound, then rubbing the bottom side of the graver on the paper, polishing it until it is shiny and scratch free. This will make your graver cut silver like butter and give you a super-shiny surface.

 Graver 11 Graver 2

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I hope this was not too confusing…… if it was, feel free to comment and ask questions, I will try to clarify if need be.

Now go have fun!