Tips & Tricks

Bench Tip

Have you ever made the mistake of putting some steel into your pickle and suddenly all of your pieces are coated with copper?

The easiest way that I have found to remove it is to half fill a coffee mug with fresh hot pickle and a ounce or two of drugstore hydrogen peroxide. Put in your pieces for about 10 minutes and the coating is gone! Pour the solution back into your pickle pot.

How to measure a ring size

When you place a ring on the ring mandrel, at what point of the ring do you measure the size? The center of the shank, the top, or the bottom? Due to the width of some rings, this can be very confusing.

To measure a wire ring, such as a classic cab, on a mandrel, use the measurement that is in the center of the shank.Often the 4 to 6 wire shank telescopes a bit while on the mandrel.

If your ring shank is uniform in size, the size would be taken at the point where it is tight on the mandrel. That is, if you are holding the mandrel upright with the largest size at the bottom and the smallest at the top, it would be at the bottom of the shank of the ring.

Wax Working Qualities

BLUE... The softest of the three colors for working by hand. Machines well and has a nice finish. This is the most flexible of the three and can be worked to very thin pieces without breaking. Files well for hand carving. Holds a good amount of fine detail. Polishes well for casting.

PURPLE.... Works easily by hand or can be machined. A medium hard wax with some forgiving qualities when being used by hand. Holds good detail and has good filing qualities. A hard wax that is still easily worked by hand and machines perfectly. Takes a little nicer finish than the blue or purple wax. Holds amazing detail and can easily be polished to a nice finish for showing or casting. Can become a little brittle when worked to a thickness of 1/16" (1mm) or less.

GREEN....A hard wax that is still easily worked by hand and machines perfectly. Takes a little nicer finish than the blue or purple wax. Holds amazing detail and can easily be polished to a nice finish for showing or casting. Can become a little brittle when worked to a thickness of 1/16" (1mm) or less.

Turn your wooden ring clamp into a useful, multi-function holder

The ring clamp is usually braced against the bench pin as you work. Trouble can develop if the clamp slips while you are applying pressure. When you push downward on the ring with a prong pusher, for example, the clamp can slip out of place – even slightly – and cause a sudden movement that results in a chipped stone, damaged prong or injury to your finger or hand.

If you grind a channel in the ring clamp, however, you can lock it in place with the bench pin. This provides more stable support for the work in progress and enhances your accuracy and safety.

An 80 grit ½” x ½” abrasive band and mandrel (drum arbor) works well for this modification. Draw a reference line on the ring clamp about 10mm from the end. Use the abrasive band to create a two-millimeter indentation around the ring clamp. Test the groove against your bench pin(s) and make adjustments as necessary so the clamp locks in place.

This simple modification will make your tool more stable and reduce the chance of damaged jewelry or damaged you!

This simple modification will make your ring clamp more stable and reduce the chance of damaged jewelry or damaged you!

Jeweler's Saws

Saw blades are always placed in the saw frame so that the teeth point DOWNWARD, like a Christmas tree.

If you can't see the saw teeth, run them gently against the fabric of your shirt or pants. If they catch, they are facing downward.

To start a cut, use almost NO pressure. It often helps to make 2 or 3 gentle cuts on the upstroke only, to help seat the saw blade. This creates a notch in which the saw will glide.

All cutting is done on the downstroke.

As in forging, try to keep the saw moving in nearly the SAME PLACE while moving the metal beneath it with your other hand.

Turning corners: March the saw in place without advancing it while you slowly turn the metal beneath it.

Keep Breaking Saw Blades? You may be: twisting the saw frame, pushing too hard (use almost NO pressure!), changing the angle of the blade, using an old, spent blade, or just breathing too hard on a day with a "Y" in it!

TIP: Try holding the saw frame very gently with your dominant hand, even with 2 fingers. The other (non-dominant) hand holds the metal down quite firmly, moving it under the blade.

Bench blocks, hammers, other shiny tools

Maintaining your tools is an important job for a jewelry artist, and must be attended to regularly.

Dings, scratches, and rust in your tools will be pressed repeatedly into your metal, and you will need to sand them away from each piece you make. Save time by removing them from your tools.

Remove scratches and dings from steel the same way you would remove them from your silver: sand and polish.

Sanding: Begin with the finest grade of sandpaper that will remove every mark from your tool. Progress through finer grades one at a time, inspecting after each to be sure all marks from the previous, courser grade is removed. A common progression would be 220, 320, 400, 600, 1000, 1200 and/or 1500 if available.

Pre-polish with tripoli, clean off well, then buff with red rouge. Apply these with polishing buffs, mini-buffs on a flex shaft, or felt polishing sticks charged with compound and rubbed by hand.

Lubricate with a bit of fine oil, like 3M machine oil or motor oil, when sanding. Wipe down well after each grade, or you will be scratching particles from courser grits back into your tool when you change grades.

Polish on the wheel. There are many ways to do this. A common pre-polish is Tripoli, and Zam works well as a fine polish for steel. Clean tool well between polishes.

Protecting Tools from Rust

Rust is the result of moisture. Much of the moisture that attacks tools is the result of condensation. Most anti-rust strategies focus on either reducing moisture in the area of our tools, or coating our tools to protect them from moisture.

Reduce moisture in drawers and toolboxes with silicone packets. These are included in many products to protect them from moisture. Check with shoe stores, electronics stores, etc, where these are often discarded.

Chemical moisture absorbing pellets can help to reduce moisture in the workshop.

Dehumidifiers in workshops are an excellent way to reduce room moisture.

(Renaissance Wax), oil, and Vaseline can all help to protect tools if they are coated regularly.

Covering exposed tools with a cloth will help keep condensation from settling on tools.


File by pushing the handle AWAY from you (think of pushing the file away from the handle). A file's cutting teeth work only in one direction, so filing toward you can flatten the cutting teeth of the file, ruining files while actually accomplishing little filing on your piece.

Clean your files periodically with a file card. This is a piece of wood with very stiff wires meant to scrape out metal from between file teeth. Rub file card parallel to the teeth of the file.


At all times, attempt to hit METAL with hammers, never the block (or mandrels). If you hear the block ringing, you are damaging both your block and your hammer, while forging ineffectively.

When forging, try to keep the hammer in the SAME PLACE while you move the metal beneath it. You can anchor your hammering arm to your side, or rest it on the table for stability. This improves your aim and technique.

Look at the face of your hammer. Any marks on it will be pressed into your piece, and will need to be filed/sanded off. You will eventually want a dedicated hammer which you will sand and polish.

To strike steel tools (punches, stamps, disc cutters, etc) use a utility hammer, small sledge hammer, or a mallet for striking tools. DO NOT use your polished hammer face to hit anything but your silver (copper, etc.). BEWARE: A steel hammer striking a steel tool MAY fracture, throwing off razor sharp pieces. Proceed with caution and at your own risk. The ideal hammer for striking steel tools is a deadblow mallet, or a weighted or brass mallet.

The hammer hand (dominant hand) acts like a machine, striking the same surface repeatedly, while the other (non-dominant) hand holds, compresses, and moves the metal beneath it.

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