Jewelers Tools & Machines

What do you really need to get started…

Tools…so what will you really need?

The answer to that question is not entirely straightforward. I’ll get to that in a bit but before I go there let me start in a different corner.

To set the scene: you have probably seen me mention my love of tools in a couple of the other posts. It’s no secret that I gravitate towards activities and interests that have a high “accessory factor,” i.e. lots of tools, gadgets and machines.

I really enjoy well made and high quality tools so you may look at some of my recommendations and go “Are you NUTS? I am not spending that amount of $$ on a hammer when I can get one at a third of the price that will do the exact same job!”

That is perfectly fine, of course. At the end of the day it is your creativity and not the tool that determines the quality of the final piece of jewelry. But for me, the tools I use are a part of the journey to that final piece. Without going too philosophical, I do treat the creative process as a journey that should be enjoyed as much as the final result.

Like life itself, you must learn to enjoy the journey as the destination may not be what you expect!

For me part of the joy lies in using a good hand tool knowing that it almost certainly will outlast me and hopefully produce some beautiful work in its lifetime.

This may not translate into getting the latest newest super tool. As a matter of fact I quite often prefer to buy a well-maintained old secondhand tool that was made at the time where tools were meant to be passed down through generations.

If you have a different view I totally understand and respect that. At the end of the day luckily we are all different..

But back to what you need…

Obviously depending on which discipline of handmade jewelry you want to pursue you will need different tools ,e.g. making bead and string jewelry requires a different tool set from PMC jewelry making or large piece metal forming jewelry.

Another key factor in your choice of tools will depend on your preference of using hand tools or power tools. Not to mention your budget, which I suspect that for the majority of us is the single most influential factor.

So let’s start…actually before that let me just explain. This is just a high level coverage of the tools. If you want a little more detail you’ll find sections on each of the tool categories in the main menu.

To make it somewhat digestible I’ll cover the tools in the following groups:

  • Bench Tools
  • Cutting Tools
  • Forming tools
  • Hand Tools
  • Solder Tools
  • Power Tools
  • Finishing tools

Bench Tools

I guess most of the tools will be used at the bench and hence would be “bench tools” but what I am referring to here is more like the Bench Pin, Bench Vise, Light etc.

Must Have:

Benchpin with anvil space

A good bench pin is essential to have something to work on. There is a ton of different options and you will end up going through several different types before you find the perfect fit. Luckily this is one of the least expensive items so there is room to try different types.

Dazor 2134 clamp-on Jewelers lamp

Excellent light. I know light is probably not really a tool but to get anything useful out of your tools you will need to be able to see what you are doing. I use a secondhand Dazor with daylight tubes that I picked up on Ebay.

Nice To have:

Proxxon Vice

A good quality Bench Vice with protected jaws. There are a million and one options and your choice will depend on bench space and the type of work you plan to do. I use a Proxxon clamp on version. Not actually the best choice but I wanted something with a swivel head and clamp on so I didn’t have to screw it into my bench.

GRS Benchmate

If you really want to treat yourself, get a GRS Benchmate system. You will love it for holding rings when doing setting work. This is quite simply the best there is. And with all the other attachments like the saw plate, etc., it’s a very expandable working platform.

Cutting Tools

These tools, as the name implies, are used to cut metal. So obviously tools like saws, files, burs, etc. are in the group and I have also included items like disk cutters.

Must Have:

A good jewelers saw is a must have and don’t make the mistake I did in going for a “cheapo” model. It will drive you nuts when it doesn’t hold the blade properly or twists it slightly or, like my first saw, the blade length adjustment screw slips so the blade goes loose after a short time!

Swiss Jewelers saw 3Swiss Jewelers saw adjustable

I ended up getting the “Swiss” model.  I have one with a fixed frame and one with an adjustable frame. And be careful here, there are some Chinese knock-off copies selling for cheap on places like eBay.

Obviously you will also need a good selection of blades for the saw. I got myself a blade organizer that included a wide selection of sizes. You can get selection bundles or you can buy the different sizes in separate bundles, either way works.

Jewelers saw blade organiser 2

But check out this alternative way to store the blades: very slick and all color coded.

Jewelry saw blade organiser

I’ll get more into how to choose the right blade for the job on the Jewelers Saw Page

Jewelers files

Files and lots of them…but you can get away initially with having just one or two really good quality full-size files and a set of needle files.

As for all other tools, buy the good stuff like Gorbet Swiss Made or Friedrich Dick. The Bunnings special (Trans: Home Depot) el cheapo Chinese-o ones will go dull after a short time and create more damage than good work.

Jewelers bench brushes 02Also, get yourself a file-cleaning brush. The one in the picture was a cheap plastic one that I stripped the brush part off the plastic handle and created a nice wooden handle instead.

Jewelry burs

Burs: this is a bit of a jungle and there are a gazillion different types and shapes of burs for different purposes. When you just start out it can be a bit of a task figuring out what you need. I suggest you start with a mixed set that will give you most of the popular shapes and you can start getting used to which one you prefer using for which tasks.

Jewelers Drills and diamond core drills 01

Drills: again, go for a mixed set initially that will get you going and you can always add more sizes of drills as you go.

You need to be aware of what type of machine you plan to use your burs and drills in (see “Power Tools” below). Dremel uses a different size shaft for their tool bits than, say, a Foredom flex shaft. So be sure the burs and drills you buy fit your machine.

Jewelers Tin Snip

Tin Snip, sometimes called shears, are like metal cutting scissors. They make it easy to cut sheet metal, solder pallions (little bits of solder) etc. You can go without but they just make life easier.

Nice To have:

Jewelers Swanstrom Disk Cutter 01

A disk cutter. If you, like me, are rather average at sawing out a perfect circle, a disk cutter is a fantastic tool to have. It will make life easier for you and save you lots of time creating circles and disc rings.

The one in this image is a Swanstrom Tools model, US made. Great quality tool and very effective; you can get little plastic centering plugs separately to make an easy process of cutting a disk ring (washer to use the traditional name) instead of a solid circle.

Actually, these days Swanstrom makes these types of cutters in all sort of weird and wonderful shapes from squares to hearts.

Jewelers Swanstrom Disk Cutter 04

When using the cutter I normally place it on a piece of stair cover rubber of the type that has little rubber spikes but turned upside-down so your tool sits on the flat surface that would normally be glued to the staircase. This not only gives a fantastic non-slip surface but also provides an excellent noise cushion when hitting it. I use this material under all objects I hammer on. As opposed to using a sandbag for noise reduction this is very low profile, slip proof and flat. Perfect!

Rubber underlay back side up  Rubber underlay bfront side up

                 Right side up                      Upside down

Forming Tools

In this group I have mostly put tools you use to either hit metal into shape, i.e. hammers, or the tools you use to hit against i.e. mandrels, anvils, bench blocks etc.

Must Have:

Jewelers Hammers 03

Hammers: you need at least one good quality metal hammer and at least one non-marring hammer i.e. nylon, rawhide or wood. But having said that, you will quickly find that there are special hammers created for almost every conceivable type of job and you can go totally nuts buying hammers. I love it, actually!

I personally have a fascination with the Fretz hammers. I love the wood used for the handles and they have a great finish (despite being manufactured overseas!).

Jewelers Mandrels

If you plan on doing rings you will need to also have a good mandrel. A mandrel is actually a bit of a broad term that is used in a bunch of different contexts, but what I’m talking about here is basically a round tapered piece of metal that you slide a ring over and bash with the rawhide or plastic hammer until it is perfectly round. You get these mandrels in all sorts of shapes and sizes: round, square, oval, triangular, you name it. But get yourself a ring mandrel with the ring sizes engraved, then it can double up as a ring sizing device. Here is a small mandrel that can be used when hammering out round bezels (small one on in the picture)

Jewelers Bench blockBench block: basically just a flat square hunk of metal that is used as an underlay to hit against. I got one with one 45 degree tapered edge and the rest 90 degree.

If you or your surroundings are a little particular with noise you might want to get a sandbag as well that will dampen the hammering noise. As described above, instead of a sandbag I use the kind of rubber that you put on stairs that have little raised “spikes” on one side.

Nice to Have:

Durston Rolling Mill

Since I started I have always wanted to get a rolling mill but I have not been able to justify the $1500+ investment in one tool so far. But if you have the budget, get one. They are seriously useful for a bunch of different activities in the studio.

 

 

Another one of those dream items is a full set of Fretz Stakes…

Fretz Stakes 01

but with the combined cost equal to the gross domestic product of a small African state they are still on the wish list.

I guess there are so many tools that could go on this list.  Like the Bonny Doon press, or the Bonny Doon vertical vice and stake sets.  A full set of Dapping punches and dies, the Fretz bench top anvils, and many, many more. But the fact of the matter is that you can get away with a hammer and a bench block to start with.

Hand Tools

I group tools like pliers, measuring tools, visual aids, brushes, etc. in this category.

So this is where the real fun begins. There are quite easily a million and one different hand tools you can get. It is very easy to buy yourself silly in this space but to get started you don’t actually need that much:

Must Have:

You’ll need a set of pliers, a divider, a metal ruler, a caliper, a machinist square, a scribe and a pair of optivisor or other binocular loupes.

Jewelers Standard Set of Pliers 03

Get yourself a good set of quality “standard shaped” pliers. You’ll need a round nose, a chain nose and a side flush cutter at minimum.  I actually started with two flat-nosed as I found it easier to use those when bending jump rings in the thicker gauge wire.

Jewelers Specialty Pliers 02But as mentioned, this is where you can go all out there are pliers for ANY job you can think of and probably a few you have never thought of. Here are a couple of the more specialized pliers I use.

Jewelers Measuring and marking tools

With the measuring tools (divider, ruler, caliper), go the best you can afford. No point in starting a project with off measurements on the metal. For the machinist square, it goes without saying that you should be spending enough to get one that is actually square. And more or less anything with a sharp point can be used as a scribe like an Exacto knife, a sharpened nail, etc.

Jewelers Scribe pencil

I use an old 2.0mm architect mechanical pencil that you can get from any office supply store with a sharpened nail inserted as the scribe point. Works like a dream.

Jewelers bench brushes 02You will need to get yourself a couple of different small brushes. I use a bench brush from Lie Nielsen (makes some of the world’s best woodworking hand tools.). Although intended to sweep up wood shavings, it works equally well for metal. For the small soft brush I just went to the local hardware store found a paint brush I liked and cut down the handle. Presto, several $$ saved as opposed to buying a brush from the jewelery tool supplier. There are a few places at least where I am a bit stingy!

Jewelers Optivizor and loupes 04

The last must-have item is a set of Optivisors or binocular loupes. They are absolutely essential when you work with small pieces to be able to see the quality of your finish.  The only trick here is to get a pair where the focal distance fits your normal working distance.

A couple of small powerful hand loupes are essential too if you are inspecting stones of any kind.

Nice to Have:

Pliers.. Just start in one corner of the internet and search for jewelers pliers. There are sooooo many specialty pliers that you could spend a year’s salary and still not have them all. Pick wisely when it comes to the more wacky ones that you may use once every 3 years. But regardless, always go for quality. But first on the list is probably a set of parallel pliers. They have a ton of useful applications so start there.

Jewelers Ring Sizing setSmall electronic scaleMetal stamp

You could put a ring sizing set on the list as well as a small electronic scale and good bend shank metal quality stamp for each of the types of metal you work with.

Solder Tools

Must Have:

To be able to do any sorts of serious metalwork you will have to master soldering. Scary at first…open flame, mixing gases, the risk of things blowing up if done incorrectly. Well fear not, it is not quite as hard as it may sound!

In this category there is also a million and one different options to choose from: different types of gases, different types of torches for each type of gas, different delivery methods for the different gas (i.e. on a cylinder, from an Oxygen generator, or a hydrogen gas generator). In this section I’ll keep it brief, simple, and to the point, but if you want lots of options and more info check out the full section on Solder Tools.

So let’s get started! You obviously must have a torch, and there are several different base types:

Single gas (propane, butane), which is a single-gas torch. You can either get one where the burner is screwed directly on the top of the gas cylinder or one that has a hose connected to the cylinder with the torch at the end of the hose.

Prophane torch 02Prophane torch 01

Mixed gas: there are many options for mixing gases but generally speaking we are almost always using oxygen to mix with other gases like propane, butane or acetylene. The different gas mixes are used for different purposes, or, said differently, you can achieve different top temperatures depending on the gases you mix and hence melt different types of metal.

When starting out I’d recommend going for either a small handheld butane torch or one of the Smith Little mixed-gas torches. I got myself one of the Smith Little torches in a kit where it came with a number of different sized burner nozzles.

Smith Little Torch KitThe set you see here includes the regulators required for non-disposable tanks but If you are in the US I’d be going for disposable cylinders to start. Unfortunately here in Australia it has proved largely impossible to get disposable oxygen cylinders. Not sure why but impossible it has been!

So I ended up having to get a commercial oxy cylinder from BOC (a local gas producer) which meant that I had to get proper commercial regulators. And to make matters more complicated, we don’t use the same size thread for the regulators here as in the US so the torch came with US fitting and not Australian. Anyhow, much research and different adapters later, I managed to get it all hooked up safely.

Besides the torch, you need a good fireproof surface to do your work on. Again, you can go low-tech and pick up a brick or an old paver somewhere and use that, or you can go for one of the many options in fire-resistant boards.

For my solder station I created a small range hood with a light.

Solder Station 01

You will need some thirdhand tweezers (like the ones on the image), at least one, and a container for water to cool items in. A solder pick is essential, and last but not least you need solder and flux.

Jewelers Pickle-Pot

Oops, almost forgot, you will need a pickle bath. It’s basically a warm acid bath where you drop your piece in to let the acid remove all flux and fire marks from your work piece. For the pickle you will need a copper or wooden tweezer to get things in and out of the bath.

As you can see I just went for a small commercial slow cooker from Target.

Nice to Have:

Well like many of the other areas this is a bit of an Eldorado. For the “accessory” lover there are lots of nice-to-have items like different tips for the torch, different types of torches, torch holders, automatic lighters, a million and one different types of solder and fluxes, different more or less fancy pickle pots, and even the variety of different tweezers is a jungle in itself. Hundreds of variations on the thirdhand, you name it it’s all out there..

The one thing that I have found to be really nice to have is a small can of Firescoff which is basically a clear liquid that you spray on your piece before soldering that protects the work from being tarnished by the heat of the torch. It can be rinsed of in hot water. Check it out: FireScoff.

Power Tools

Must Have:

Well if you are a bit of a purist, arguing that there are “Must Have” power tools is not easy seeing as pretty much all jewelry work can be done using hand tools. However, making life a bit easier, here are the power tools I suggest you take a serious look at:

Foredom Flex shaft KitFlex shaft: Get a good one from the start. I found Foredom to be the best quality I could afford with by far the most options and accessories. Get a mixed starter kit with a good hand piece and some burs and other useful bits.

Foredom Bench lathe KitPolish motor: Again I went for a Foredom, mainly because of the small footprint but also because of the quiet operations. You will find that many of the Foredom copies are very noisy in comparison to the real thing. But you could just as well use a bench grinder from the local hardware shop as long as you can mount the buffs you need.

Nice to Have:

Mini cut off sawThis is where the tool lover can get a good kick. For the flex shaft there are quite simply an endless array of different hand pieces and other attachments like hammer pieces, angle grinders, belt sander attachments, lathe attachments and much much more.

You can get little circular saws to cut your pipes at perfect angles, different types of polishing devices…all in all, the $$s you have to spend is the limit. Just keep in mind that almost all jewelry work can be done using hand tools…

Finishing Tools

Must Have:

So first of all, what are in the group of finishing tools? Well for me it’s the likes of buffs, polishing tools and a couple of overlaps with the power tools like the polishing motor or the Tumbler.

Jewelers Burnisher

To start cheap: get a hand burnisher. There are different types for different jobs but in general it’s a highly polished tip that should be of harder material that what you are trying to polish. Rub the burnisher against the work and you will see it becomes shiny.

You’ll need a flock of different emery boards. Translation: wooden sticks with abrasive paper around it. To make life easy I have round, half-round and square sticks pre-wrapped with different grades of abrasive paper that I have wrapped up front. I create a neat little storage device out of a couple of pieces of ply and some PVC pipe.

Jewelers sanding stick storage 01 Jewelers sanding stick storage 03

I often use a piece of cotton string loaded with polish compound for those hard-to-reach areas. I use liquid polish like Silvo and soft cloth.

Spending a bit of money, as mentioned above, can get you some sort of polishing motor where you can mount different of buffing attachments for the flex shaft. If you choose to go this route, you should get some small buffs and felt tips.

Jewelers mini felt buffs 01

Nice To Have:

On the nice-to-have front you can look at getting another power tool called a tumbler. It’s the kind of gadget used for rock tumbling. You load it up with steel shot and let it run for some time with your work piece inside. The principle is the same as the burnisher where steel is rubbed (or in this case tumbled) against your work piece to remove scratches, making it shiny in the process.

Jewelers tumbeler 04 Jewelers tumbeler 02

Other than the polishing tools you could also consider getting yourself a good ultrasonic cleaner.

Jewelers Ultrasonic Cleaner 01

It’s a kind of soap bath with a very high vibration emitted in the water that cleans off “stuff” from your jewelry. It’s super effective for both new and old jewelry.

There are a ton of other buffs, gadgets, machines and the likes you can get to make the finishing job as easy as possible but I’ll cover more of that on the Finishing Tools page.

This should give you a fairly good idea of where your hard-earned cash will be best spent. But as I mentioned earlier there are so many tools and gadgets on the market that only your imagination and size of wallet will set the limits. But remember, while the right good quality tools will make your life easier, it is still your creativity that drives the final result.

But if you are starting totally from scratch and want to get a good base set of tools I recommend you check out the major jewelry suppliers. Most have kits made up of all the basic tools you will need to get started. It’s a good cost-effective way to get the basics, but a word of caution: you will find that most of the kits will have items that are either poor quality or not exactly what you want. Still, the money you save on the kit normally means that you are better off regardless.

When selecting jewelry making tools, there are a couple of things you must keep in mind. Select your tools based on the discipline of handmade jewelry you want to create, for example, PMC jewelry making and large piece metal forming jewelry requires different jewelers’ tools as compared to bead and string jewelry. Another factor that will impact your tool selection is your personal preference, such as, whether you like using hand tools or power tools?

I hope this has given you some inspiration and an idea of what you will need but as I have pointed out several times it is your creativity that defines the work, not the tool. Good tools just make life easier.