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30 June 2010

Archives June 2009 : Jeweler of the Month

Jeweler of the Month:
Dawn Muscio

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an artist and was fortunate to have parents that supported my passion. I have been in the business nearly 20 years. I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York where I received my BFA in 1991. My original major was graphic design/illustration, but I soon found my true calling in an elective jewelry course.

I was truly inspired on my first day of art school when our drawing professor told us that out of 30 of us, only 3 would be able to call themselves professional artists… meaning your livelihood was your art. Today I can truly call myself a professional artist.

After college I received my real training in a fine art jewelry gallery in upstate New York from 1991 to 1999, under my protégé, Albert Paley. I started out at the bottom as a repair jeweler and finisher but quickly was allowed to design pieces to be sold in the store and then began doing custom work for customers of the store and quickly gained a following.

Then in 1999 I relocated to Atlanta, GA where I worked for several stores and trade shops trying to find my place. Finally, in August of 2005 I opened D. Muscio fine jewelry studio and have been specializing in custom, unique pieces ever since. We also sell signature designer pieces, designed and crafted in-house, as well as provide services to the trade, including: hand carved wax models, hand fabrication/finishing and CAD/CAM.

What was your first piece?
The first piece of jewelry I ever made was in high school my junior year. Our first project was a lesson in saw piercing. I made a piano. I have the piece framed and hanging in my studio’s private consultation room, as a reminder of where I began and where I am going. Our clients love to hear the story behind it.

What is your creative process?
The creative process always starts on paper for me. Sketching opens up my creativity, and gets my mind working in 3-D. That first sketch leads to more concepts until I have a concrete idea. I use this process for signature pieces as well as private client commissions. The sketch is my road map, but as the idea transfers from concept to actual 3-dimensions what I thought would work sometimes leads to another avenue and solution. It is this problem solving and thought generation process that leads to our unique and personalized designs. I do not know what I would do if I could not sketch. My work is all about evolution – both as an artist over time as well as my process… it is always evolving.

What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
I take a lot of design cues from architecture and geometry, but it can be an everyday object that gives me inspiration, like the handle on a tea cup for a shank profile. I consider my work miniature sculpture and take into account every surface as an opportunity to be creative and innovative to try something I have not tried or seen before.

Who are your jewelry heroes?
The Germans -- for their mastery of technique and precision.

What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
The journey I take with my clients from consultation to finished piece.

What is on your bench now?
An heirloom diamond remount for a private client that is in its final stages of finishing. The project was to preserve her mother’s original wedding band, and combine it with her engagement diamond and give it a timeless and updated look.

What is your most indispensable tool?
That is the toughest question, because as Dallas knows I love tools! So I will narrow it down to my top 3. My dividers, micrometer and loupe. It is all about precision and quality for me.

29 June 2010

Archives June 2009 : Tool of the Month

Tool of the Month:

This month I am kicking off a series on precision tools, beginning with the divider. Although, a lot of us don’t like to say what we do is precise or measured. A lot of the time, no matter how organic or random the design, jewelry really is tedious and precise. From setting stones to measuring the size of a ring, jewelry-making is an exact procedure.

Dividers, often called spring dividers, spring calipers and divider calipers, are a style of caliper. Calipers are a kind of device used to measure the distance between two opposing sides. The tips of the caliper are adjusted to fit across the points to be measured, the caliper is then removed and the distance read by measuring between the tips with a measuring tool, such as a ruler. While a divider can measure distance, it is most often used to mark metal. The divider has two sharpened legs held in tension with a spring with a threaded rod that controls the distance between the tips.

When I first learned of dividers, I was in a jewelry class at Spruill and I was thoroughly confused by the name. I did recognize the tool but I knew it as a compass from my trigonometry class in high school. Or was it geometry? I don’t remember, but it was a math class none the less!

Unlike my compass with a steel pointed end and a pencil on the other, the divider had two steel pointed ends. My confusion continued as we used the tool, not to draw a circle, but to draw a straight line. Using a small steel ruler to find the exact width, the divider was set and locked into that distance. Guiding along the edge of the metal with one side of the divider, a precisely measures parallel line was lightly scribed into the surface of the metal. The line was then used to guide the saw blade along and cut (to the best of your ability) a straight line. AND if your sawing skills weren’t quite straight the lightly scribed line was still there to use as a guide to file away excess metal. INGENIOUS! No more using a ruler to make small tick marks in pencil/pen/sharpie that are hopefully parallel to then draw a (cross your fingers) straight line. Which then you will saw along the straight line only to find your sweaty fingers from the nerve-wrackingly tedious procedure, has wiped away your line!

Dividers have multitudes of other uses:
  • quickly measuring the size of a bur compared to the size of a stone
  • finding center on a circle
  • drawing a precise circle
  • drawing layouts with arcs
  • holding a measurement
  • creating a grid pattern for tight stone setting, i.e. pavé
  • scribing a straight line on round wire
  • compare sizes from one object to another
  • drawing a straight line for layout when stamping
  • marking lines for mitered corners on boxes and settings
  • layout for wax work
  • inscribing a line as a guide for filing
Spring dividers have a numeric designation (3”, 4”, 6”, etc.) describing the size of the divider or the maximum distance the legs will open. This, in turn, describes the maximum radius of a circle that it will inscribe. For example, a 3” divider will inscribe a 6” circle. A silversmith may use a large 6” divider. But size is an important factor, using a large 6” divider will be too awkward and clumsy to control for smaller more precise applications, such as lay out for stone setting.

JFF carries three choices for dividers, while they are all 3”, their price, quality, and leg size set them apart. The economy divider is made Indian made. The stainless steel legs are thin and rectangular at the top and round down to a small point at the tip. The economy divider has a small adjustment wheel to lock the legs in place. They are $6.95, making them the perfect option for a beginner metalsmith.

The German made dividers are a very sturdy square leg construction, made of tool steel. They have a smoother action adjustment than the economy divider. However the legs are quite wide and bulky causing them less useful in tight spaces. However, the German divider has a quick change feature unique to itself. When tension is released from the setting wheel, the legs can be quickly adjusted to the approximate position desired. The setting wheel can then be slid back into place for fine tuning and locking the legs into the precise location. These dividers are $11.25.

The Starrett is an American made, tool steel divider. Starrett is known for their quality precision tools, and this 3” divider is proof. The finish on the thin, round legs is top notch. The fully round legs lend themselves to many small applications. They are especially great for wax work, as the legs will not scrape the wax as the square legs will. They also have a smooth action adjustment with no wobble and the legs line up true when fully together. The Starrett dividers are $54.15.

28 June 2010

Archives May 2009 : Question and Answer

Q: What does it mean to "dress" a hammer?

A: Dressing a tool involves grinding and sanding away any sharp edges or rough spots on the face and following up the process by polishing to a high shine. Essentially dressing your hammer is a fancy way of saying modifying. There are many different ways to go about this; by hand, with a flex shaft, on a buffing machine, etc.

Many times the hammer will be highly polished but have sharp edges that will leave marks on your metal, the whole point of having your hammers polished is so you don’t have to go back and grind away weird textures and lines left behind. Dressing your hammer will clean up these edges and give you much less work in the long run. You can also modify your hammer to have a more pointed face, like with a cross peen hammer, or give the flat side of your planishing hammer a more crowned face.

Modifying by hand is very time consuming, mounting the hammer in a vise and using various grits of sand paper to remove the edges and then polish the surface. Using a belt sander can speed up the process, but there is still the hand polishing for the final steps.

The flex shaft and buffing machine use a similar process, while the buffing machine is much faster and easier. Begin by using a stone wheel, like a mizzy wheel. This will remove the edges quickly, leaving behind a rough surface. Follow up with a silicone grinding wheel, like the Artifex wheel, to clean up the rough surface. If you don’t have a lot of material to remove, start with the Artifex wheel. Finally, follow up with a tripoli and a rouge. I will typically use bobbing compound as my Tripoli and green rouge as my final high shine polish.

25 June 2010

Archives May 2009 : Jeweler of the Month

Jeweler of the Month:
Lisa Barth

I grew up in Minnesota where many wonderful stones could be found pretty easily, so I became a junior "rock hound" by the age of four. Lake Superior agates and geodes found on the shores of the Mississippi were my favorites. My love for stones was established early in my life.

I was a graphic design major in college and the design principles I learned there have come in to play in many areas of my life but it wasn't until I was in my forties that I came back to my roots with the love of stones. I was attending a home jewelry party, looking over their products when I just knew somehow I could do this better than the costume jewelry that was presented. I dove in head first and set out to learn all I could. I started out with wire jewelry, then moved on to traditional metal work and Metal Clay. I have earned level one certification in metal clay and this summer will earn my Senior certification. Next summer I plan to go for my Master Cert. I am teaching wire work and Metal Clay in my home studio and truly enjoy sharing the passion I feel for this art.

What was your first piece?
My first piece was a funky, hard wired necklace of jasper and catseye with wire wings going off in two directions and held the stones in the middle. Very strange but it did catch people's attention.

What is your creative process?
My creative process is very organic in nature in that it grows as I go. I start with a stone that somehow moves me. I take my color cues and placement of wire or metal by the form, shape and color of the stone. It is my intention to create something that enhances what is already going on in the stone, to compliment and highlight what I think is beautiful. This process often takes me on some wild rides.

What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
My favorite part of this process is exploring the possibilities and pinning down the elements and placing them in a harmonious way that makes my heart sing in response to the piece. It is challenging but also very gratifying when it all comes together.

What is on your bench now?
Right now I am working on a woven bezel in sterling wire that incorporates seed beads and small gem stones for color. It is interesting to combine the two in one bezel.

What is your most indispensable tool?
My most indispensable tool is my Lindstrom chain nose pliers. Give me some wire and my pliers and I can wrap up anything.

24 June 2010

Archives May 2009 : Tool of the Month

Tool of the Month:
Hammers & Mallets

Anyone who has talked to me in JFF knows how much I LOVE hammers. When I first started making jewelry, I tried out different hammers and played with the different effects they made on metal. But I didn’t know the difference from a steel embossing hammer and a cross peen hammer. This article will hopefully help to describe the different hammers and explain what each does. And maybe even help with purchasing your first, second or twentieth hammer!

When shopping for a new hammer it helps to know what the desired effect you are looking for. Hammers and mallets are made from different materials and come in various shapes. The material will determine whether you are

1. hardening the metal without stretching or thinning it out.
2. moving the metal with the intent to change the thickness and shape.

The different shape and head sizes of hammers will determine the direction the metal will move and stretch and how quickly this will occur.

Before I go into detail about the different kind of hammers, I want to define a few words that will be used throughout.

Peening: hammering with the purpose of spreading the surface of the metal. Also hardening the surface in the process.

Sinking: also known as embossing, doming, dishing or dapping. This process forces silver down into a surface that is curved, cupped, domed or stretched.

Raising: sheet metal is formed into a bowl or other hollow object by repeated sequences of hammering on a stake, stretching the metal over the stake to create the desired convex shape.

Planishing: after a piece of metal has been roughly formed by techniques such as sinking or raising, the surface will have irregular indentations and bumps. To remove these imperfections, the piece is hammered between a flat or slightly curved hammer and a steel block or planishing stake.

Cross Peen hammer: this is a category of hammers. Many of the hammers I will describe have a cross peen face, meaning it has a wedge-shaped surface that is perpendicular to the handle of the hammer.

Mallets are great for shaping and forming metal around a mandrel without stretching or leaving behind hammer marks on the surface of the metal. This is possible because they are made of a softer material than the metal you are hammering. The face of a mallet will have a flat or slightly convex striking surface on both sides.

Plastic & Rawhide Mallets
Traditionally, a mallet is made of wood, but have since been replaced by the longer lasting and somewhat heavier plastic and rawhide mallets. A rawhide or plastic mallet is an endlessly useful hammer and is essential in your arsenal of jewelry tools. The plastic mallet is $15.45 and the rawhide mallet is $18.45.

Horn & Nylon Forming Mallet
Another traditional mallet was made of the solid end of a cow’s horn. The natural conical shape of the horn was great for general forming with the larger flat end and more specific shaping and bending with the blunt point on the other end. As you can imagine obtaining a horn mallet is rather difficult these days, but plastic versions are more readily available today. The nylon forming mallet has a round, slightly convex face for normal striking on one end, the other face is a cross peen. This replaces a steel cross peen hammer and is great for raising and sinking when stretching and marking the metal is not the desired effect. The nylon forming mallet is $10.50.

Dead Blow Mallet
Dead blow mallets have become a popular in jewelry-making in the past few years. The head of these hammers are commonly hollow and filled with sand or shot, which absorbs the impact of a strike, reducing the bounce-back. This also produces a stronger, more powerful blow that will move the metal much faster. The mallet is constructed of polyurethane, which will minimize marring and marking on the surface of the metal. Dead blow mallets come in 10oz and 18oz weights, priced at $23.50 and $28.50 respectively.

Brass Mallet
Striking a steel hammer on a steel tool will eventually balloon out the top of the tool, which is not usually a desired effect when you spend $100+ on the tool. Therefore, a brass mallet is really the ticket. The brass is softer than the steel and will not damage the tool. When using a brass mallet for this task a 1-2 lb weight is good.

Brass mallets are also used by repair jewelers to shape and resize a ring, typically when the plastic or rawhide mallet is not enough. The brass will slightly mark the metal (less than a steel hammer) while stretching and forming quicker than the plastic or rawhide mallets. These hammers are much lighter than the ones mentioned above and are priced at $7.10.

Steel Hammers
There are a variety of different size, shape, and weight of steel hammers. Steel hammers are a valuable tool in jewelry-making, the quality, weight and shape of the hammer will determine what it is best suited for. Care of your steel hammers is also imperative.

Good quality steel hammers are made of hardened tool steel, making them an easy target for rust. While stainless steel seems like the obvious fix because it doesn’t rust, the alloys that make stainless create a softer steel than tool steel. Therefore, taking care of your hammers by oiling them and protecting them from moisture while not in use is very important. To store my hammers, I wipe oil on the faces of the hammer and store them in old socks.

If you decide to use a steel hammer to strike your steel tools, keep those hammers separate from the hammers that come in direct contact with your metal. Steel is much stronger than the metals jewelers use (silver, gold, brass, copper, etc), transferring any pits, marks, or dull spots that are on the surface hammer to the metal. Keeping your steel hammers that come into contact with your metal polished and smooth will leave you with less clean up.

Ball Peen Hammer
A jeweler’s ball peen hammer looks just like any other hardware store ball peen hammer, however it’s usually slightly smaller. These hammers have one flat, planishing end and one round, sinking end. Ball peen hammers are used for flattening, shaping or removing dents. Ball peen hammers come in two different quality ranges, the economical chrome plated hammers range in price from $4-$8, while the solid steel Vaughan hammers, pictured to the left are $16.75 for 4oz and $17.75 for 8oz.

Chasing Hammer
Chasing hammers were originally made for chasing and repoussé. The hammer has one large smooth, flat, planishing face that is used for striking the chasing tool, and a small round, embossing end for riveting or peening. Chasing hammers offer two different types of handles, a rounded-style or pistol-style handle. The difference in handles is more essential in chasing and repoussé work, as the ratio of weight of the hammer head to the handle is important for balance.

The idea being that while chasing, the hammer should make an easy rhythm or bounce with the chasing tool, the wrist working as a pivot point creating little to no added work to the jeweler. The rounded handle balances smaller hammer heads, where as the pistol style handle balances a larger head. These German chasing hammers are priced between $33 and $50.

Lightweight, inexpensive chasing hammers have become a popular first hammer for many beginner jewelers. The slightly convex side is great for light planishing and flattening, while the ball side is a perfect choice for creating a hammered texture. These hammers are made of chrome plated steel and cannot be polished when dents appear, however, cared for properly, these hammers should last a couple years. These hammers are about $14.

Riveting Hammer
This lightweight steel hammer is designed for spreading rivet heads but has countless other uses. One end is a thin cross peen used for riveting, while the flat, planishing end is for leveling the rivet and other general hammering tasks. Riveting hammers range in price from $5 - $20.

Goldsmith Hammer
This hammer is used for small scale forging and shaping. It features a round, slightly crowned planishing end for general purpose use. The opposite end is a cross peen, perfect for spreading rivet heads, forming and shaping. This hammer is also great for striking steel stamps. I, personally, love this hammer. So much so, I have two; one for stamping steel stamps and the other for small planishing and forming projects. The solid tool steel German goldsmith hammer is $33.50.

Silversmith Hammer
The Silversmith style hammers JFF carries are German-made Picard hammers. Picard hammers have superior forged steel heads for high performance and durability, all fitted with hickory handles. They are specially designed for all types of planishing, forging, raising and embossing. Widely used by jewelers and metalsmiths. Many times silversmithing hammers will need to be modified for your individual use. It is highly unusual to purchase a steel hammer and it be exactly what you need without any alteration. These hammers range in price from $43.75 to $57.75.

  • Planishing Hammers
The planishing hammer has a flat or slightly domed face. This hammer is great for not only smoothing hammer marks left from raising and sinking, it also flattens wire and sheet leaving little to no hammer marks behind. The face of a planishing hammer will stretch the metal in all directions.
  • Raising Hammers
Raising hammers are distinguished as having a rounded, polished cross peen. The corners are rounded to prevent marring the metal. Raising hammers are most commonly used when raising a bowl or other vessels.

  • Forging Hammers
Forging hammers also have a polished cross peen, however, the face is slightly squarer and sharper. The sharp, rectangular shape of the face stretches the metal in one direction. Forging hammers are used when fold-forming, synclastic and anticlastic forming. This hammer is also popular for leaving a line texture.
  • Sinking or Embossing Hammers
These hammers are similar in size and weight to a planishing hammer, but has round, severely domed faces, think of the ball of a ball peen hammer. These hammers force silver down into a surface that is curved, cupped, domed or stretched. Embossing hammers are also used in repoussé work.

Texturing Hammer
Texturing hammers are the exception to the smooth, polished face rule for steel hammers. These hammers will have rounded divots, lines, and other specialty designs ground into the face of the hammer. Texture hammers are either purchased with the texture already in them, or are made by the jeweler for a specific job. The texture hammers JFF carries are double sided and are $19.95 each.

prices are subject to change without notice.

Please note: in the time since the article was written we carry Fretz Hammers and 1 lb. Brass Mallets

23 June 2010

Archives April 2009 : Question and Answer

Q: What is the difference between reticulation silver and sterling silver?

A: It’s funny how the question of the month comes about...usually a customer will ask a question, something that isn’t very common, then it all of a sudden it snowballs and becomes the question everyone asks. And thus, the question of the month is born! So keep it up, we love your questions!

Reticulation is a process by which metal sheet, usually silver, is heated to almost melting temperature and the surface draws up to make ridges and valleys, leaving a unique wrinkled texture.

Reticulation begins with depletion gilding. A process that involves annealing a sheet of gold or silver to oxidize the copper at the surface, and then pickling to remove the oxide, leaving a thin layer of pure metal on the surface. This causes the surface to have a higher melting temperature than the alloy within and is ready to reticulate. Once the sheet is gilded, it is heated to just below the flow point. The alloy in the interior flows before the surface of the metal does causing a surface to wrinkle. The number of anneals, the size of the flame, and the ratio of copper to silver cause variations in the texture of the reticulated surface.

Silver is the metal most commonly used for reticulation. Sterling silver (92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper) works fairly well, but the wrinkled texture is fairly subtle. (See Regina’s reticulated sterling silver pendant, above right.) Silver alloyed with a higher proportion of copper gives a more dramatic pattern. A commercially manufactured reticulation silver is now produced with 80-83% fine silver and 20-17% copper. (See Judy’s reticulated 80/20 earrings, above left.)

Sterling Silver is only defined as having 92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper, therefore reticulation silver cannot be marked as sterling. If you buy reticulation silver, mark the sheets immediately and keep all scraps separate from your sterling silver. When selling jewelry made with reticulation silver and sterling, be sure the customer understands that the piece is not entirely sterling.

22 June 2010

Archives April 2009 : Jeweler of the Month

Jeweler of the Month:
Regina Imbsweiler

I decided to become a jeweler about one year after finishing high school when I realized that my first career choice, engineering, was not what I really wanted. I was inspired by traveling craftspeople and imagined that it was a free and independent life style, and that I could be my own boss.

From 1974 to 1976 I attended the Goldschmiedeschule in Pforzheim, followed by a one year apprenticeship with a master goldsmith, Herbert Munsteiner. This training was technically rigorous and led to my certification as a goldsmith through Handwerkskammer Karlsruhe in 1977. I am still grateful for this thorough training even though I have gone on about my work in a more artistic way.

I started marketing my own work in 1980, while still working for a jewelry company in Germany. 1985 I started showing at US Galleries, among them Geode in Atlanta.

My family moved here in 1991, and I started Goldsmiths Gallery, with the help of my then-apprentices Leigh Griffin and David Vrooman who are both accomplished jewelers now.
In 1998 I moved to Irvindale Studios in Chamblee, mostly working for galleries and occasionally participating in retail shows.

My teaching experience includes two years as an instructor at Chastain Arts Center and training numerous apprentices. One of them, Vickie Cole, is now an instructor herself.
In 2009 I will have a trunk show at By Hand South, Decatur, during the Decatur Arts Festival and will be part of the Atlanta Contemporary Jewelry Show in November which I also help organize.

What was your first piece?
My first piece was a replication of an ancient Roman bracelet that I had seen in the Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim. It had a carnelian cabochon in the center and two links made out of wires on each side, connecting in the back.

What is your creative process?
My favorite process is combining silver and gold, creating different textures and surfaces. Within my "vocabulary" there are more classical and more free-flowing forms. I sometimes use fusion, and often 22k gold wire and gold balls. Occasionally I have prototypes cast and use them in variations for my production pieces. Tourmalines are definitely my favorite stones because of their most amazing color variations and their "inner life".

Who are your jewelry heroes?
I am strongly attached to the European art jewelry of the 70s and 80s. Some names: Paul Preston, Herman Juenger, Michael Zobel.

Among American jewelers: Harold O'Connor

Where do you find design inspiration?
This is a hard question. True inspiration is intuitive, which means you don't know where it comes from. I pick up bits and pieces of imagery from nature (like almost everyone), microbiology, and geology. One way to get inspired is to look at my stones, and the stuff that is on my bench, and put them together in ways that just happen, spontaneously.

What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
I could be on the torch all day! I am very passionate about fire.

What is on your bench now?
About 8 large rings and a couple of necklaces for my next show at Edgewood Orchard Galleries.

What is your most indispensable tool?
A small curved burnisher which I use to open up bezels when I size rings.

21 June 2010

Archives April 2009 : Tool of the Month

Tool of the Month:
GRS BenchMate™

In the past two tool of the month articles I have mentioned a the GRS BenchMate™. This month I thought it was only appropriate to focus on the BenchMate™. Please note, while there are tons of attachments I could mention, I am only going to mention a few.

The whole of the BenchMate™ system begins with the fixed mounting plate. This steel plate is screwed to the edge of your bench top for mounting the various components of this system. Each attachment has a mounting bracket on the back that fits perfectly onto the mounting plate. Because the sides of the plate are beveled, BenchMate™ accessories can be easily removed by sliding them upward.

GRS BenchMate™ Bench Pin

The BenchMate™ bench pin attachment has a mounting bracket on the back that slides perfectly onto the mounting plate. The bench pin holder has one wing nut and a bolt on the bottom to lock in the bench pin for a more sturdy hold. (As pictured to the left)

The bench pin is made of hard wood and can be modified for individual needs. Because it is so easy to change out, some jewelers even have a bench pin attachment for each use, wax carving, sawing, filing, etc.. But don’t worry about a bench pin for bracing your ring clamp, the BenchMate™ Holder and ring clamp attachment has that covered.

GRS BenchMate™ Holder

The BenchMate™ Holder or, as I like to call it, ring clamp attachment, is far superior to most other ring clamps because it is hands free. The holder will freely tilt and rotate in all directions and tightening the pivot knobs will lock the clamp solidly in any position or add selective resistance. The BenchMate™ Holder and ring clamp is sold in a basic kit that includes: the mounting plate with 5 wood screws, the BenchMate™ holder (ring clamp), shellac pad, ring channel bridge, extra plastic jaws, and 2 hex keys.

BenchMate™ and a few other companies have come up with attachments that fit into the holder, including a small pitch bowl and the Wolf Belt sander. Below right is the Wolf Belt Sander GRS attachment, simply remove the ring clamp and slide in the Wolf Belt Sander attachment into the holder. Below left is the pitch cup attachment, the pitch cup has a small tang on the bottom that can easily be held in the ring clamp itself. (The pitch cup is not a stocking item, however it is available upon special order.)

GRS BenchMate™ Inside Ring Holding Attachment

Many wide, delicate or unusual rings are difficult to hold with an outside clamp. This Inside Ring Holding attachment adds inside ring-holding capability to any BenchMate. The holder is perfect for channel, bead and bezel settings. The Inside Ring Holder comes with a set of seven collets ranging in ring sizes from 4-13. From the set of collets, you select the closest size that fits inside the ring. The screw expands the collet to hold the ring securely. These hard plastic collets won’t scratch or mark rings. With an extra collet set, you can double-stack the collets for extremely wide rings or hold several rings simultaneously for production work.

GRS BenchMate™ Double Third Hand Soldering Station

The BenchMate™ Double Third Hand Soldering Station is one of the most versatile attachments. Mounted on a metal base with a replaceable 6” non-asbestos working platform, the soldering station has two removable third hands. It has the dove tailed mounting bracket to fit on the BenchMate™ system and also has non-slipping rubber feet to sit directly on your work surface.

GRS BenchMate™ Engraving Vise Shelf

My favorite attachment is the Standard Engraving Vise Shelf (it does not include an engraving block). Which may sound funny to most, as I am not a hand engraver. But let me explain a few instances why this shelf is the coolest attachment for your BenchMate™.

My bench top is cluttered with projects, burs, saw blades, saw frames, pliers, hammers...well, I think you get the idea. I have no room to keep my handy Proxxon vise on my bench permanently, and to be quite honest I’m too lazy to screw and un-screw the c-clamp of the vise as I need it. The Standard Engraving Vise Shelf is perfect for that, I just slip my bench pin out of the way and slide the shelf with my vise already clamped in place onto the mounting bracket!


I have always been told that you are supposed to be at eye level with your work. Sometimes, I need to be looking down on my work. I use the engraving vise shelf as a second, lower bench surface for this. I don’t have to change the height of my chair or stand for hours (if the project takes that long).

The GRS BenchMate™ can be quite overwhelming when you are first introduced to it, with multiple attachments and accessories, it looks like a serious tool for a serious jeweler. I had heard Dallas and some customers singing the praise of the GRS BenchMate™. To me it looked like a ring clamp on steroids that could be switched (seemingly like magic) into a bench pin, soldering station, engraving block, or pitch bowl. All the accessories really overwhelmed me, but upon Dallas’ suggestion I decided to start small with the bench pin attachment. If I never got any other attachments, I could at least have a nice bench pin that could easily be moved out of the way. But next thing I knew, I was using the ring clamp attachment, and then the engraving block shelf!

The GRS BenchMate™ Fixed Mounting Plate is $15.98.
The GRS BenchMate™ Bench Pin Kit is $23.95.
The GRS BenchMate™ Basic Kit (the BenchMate™ holder and ring clamp) is $198.00
The GRS BenchMate™ Pitch Cup (special order only) is $22.95.
The GRS BenchMate™ Wolf Belt Sander Adaptor (special order only) is $16. The Wolf Belt Sander, also special order only is $160.
The GRS BenchMate™ Inside Ring Holder is $69.00.
The GRS BenchMate™ Double Third Hand Soldering Station is $99.95.
The GRS BenchMate™ Engraving Vise Shelf is $36.95.

The BenchMate™ System and accessories are mostly sold individually, however, the BenchMate™ Deluxe kit is a practical way to start. The kit includes: the mounting plate with 5 wood screws, the BenchMate™ holder (ring clamp), shellac pad, ring channel bridge, extra plastic jaws, 2 hex keys, a third hand, 2 soldering clamps, and bench pin kit. This Deluxe Kit is $269.

Please note: some of the photos are of my home studio, please excuse the mess!

Prices are subject to change without notice.

18 June 2010

Archives March 2009 : Question & Answers

Q: Can you solder gold-filled?

A: The quick and easy answer is “yes.” But as many of you know, the question and answer section is never a cut and dry answer.

Let me begin by explaining what gold-filled is. Like many of our tools in jewelry making the name is misleading, gold filled is not “filled with gold.” It is a thin layer of gold filled with a core of another less expensive material. Usually a copper-rich material like brass or bronze. The layer of gold is attached to the base metal core through a process called alloy diffusion. Allowing for a much thicker layer of gold than plating can produce.

Alloy diffusion begins with quickly heating and welding the two metals in a high heat furnace and then removing and immediately pressing the composite in a hydraulic press. The process continues by rolling in a rolling mill. Combined with annealing, the welded bond between the gold layer and base metal is further enhanced. The resulting weld is so strong that the finished gold filled sheet stock can be formed, fabricated and soldered without any risk of delamination.

Gold filled materials are used in many finished products; watchcases, cigarette lighters, high fashion jewelry, etc. In practice, most gold filled products utilize an outer layer of gold that is between 10 karat and 18 karat in fineness. Depending on the usage, the thickness of the gold sheet varies. All items designated and sold commercially as "gold filled" must comply with the trade rules set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The total gold content for an object designated gold filled must equal 1/20th of the total weight of the finished item. Therefore, the gold filled wire JFF carries is 1/20th 14K gold filled.

Now, back to the question at hand. Can you solder gold filled? Two big red flags cause a problem when soldering gold-filled: the copper-rich core and the thin layer of gold on the surface. When heated, the copper will raise to the surface, much like soldering silver. This causes a pinkish color after pickling, much like rose gold. Which is not a problem if you don’t mind the color, but if you want yellow gold, not good. The copper core also presents an increased risk of firescale. The first inclination to deal with firescale and/or the color change is to file, grind, and polish.

This is where the thin layer of gold on the surface creates the next hurdle. The surface does not have enough gold to with stand grinding away the firescale without taking all of the gold off with it. Thus leaving the brass or bronze core exposed, which will tarnish while the gold will not.
Ok, so how are you supposed to deal with these problems?
  1. Boric Acid and Denatured Alcohol Solution: dipping the pieces to be soldered in a saturated solution of boric acid and denatured alcohol is a traditional bench jeweler’s technique to prevent firescale on gold. By burning the alcohol off, a protective coat of boric acid is left all over the gold filled. Flux, solder and pickle as you would normally afterward.
  2. Charcoal Block: the charcoal block removes much of the oxygen from the flame which will decrease your chances of having firescale.
  3. Depletion Gilding: a process of heating to annealing temperature, pickling and brass brushing, and repeating 5-7 times. After soldering and pickling the piece, the process of depletion gilding will remove the pink color on the surface of the gold filled. However, this is a time intensive process and rather difficult when working on a link necklace.
Other helpful tips include:
  • Use gold solder, preferably a 14K easy solder.
  • Pick solder, thus controlling the amount of solder used and decrease the amount of solder clean-up needed.
  • Solder quickly, the less time you heat the piece, the lower your chance of having firescale.
A mixture of some or all of these tips and tricks will provide you with the best results possible. Best of luck!

10 June 2010

Archives March 2009 : New Items

New Item
Pepe 4” Guillotine Shear $249.00

This new miniature 4” guillotine shear is a great value and quality tool from Pepe. A guillotine shear has a table to lay the metal on while making straight cuts with a lever arm that lowers a sharp blade. This makes cutting precise lengths of sheet metal quick and easy, without curling the edges like Joyce Chens or other shears often do.

The Pepe 4" precision guillotine shear cuts non-ferrous (gold, silver, copper, brass, aluminum and similar metals) sheet metal up to 16 gauge (1.2mm) thick and 4" wide. It has an adjustable ruler with cutting guide for cutting exact lengths of metal up to 4" long (remove guide for cutting longer lengths) which makes measuring lengths a snap. Pepe has added an angle guide for making precise angled cuts with markings for 15, 30 and 45 degree cuts. You can also use the angle guide for making degreed cuts from any angle between 0 and 45.

Like all Pepe guillotine shears, the innovative design restricts access to the cutting blade, minimizing the possibility of injury. The high carbon steel blades are precision ground and hardened, and Pepe claims you can make 10,000 cuts before they require sharpening. This shear is not for use with stainless steel heat treated hardened metal(s), but it will cut mild steel up to 16 gauge, a remarkable achievement for such a small shear. Like any other shear, repeated use at its maximum capabilities will necessitate adjustment of the cutting blades.

09 June 2010

Archives March 2009 : Jeweler of the Month

Jeweler of the Month:
Herb West

I moved my family to Atlanta in 1962 to establish my medical practice. In 1963 when I inquired what my wife might like for an up-coming gift-giving occasion, she said she would like an Opal ring. Funds were short then so I sought help in finding a stone from a friend who in his retirement made jewelry. He obtained a very nice Mexican fire opal for me. When I asked about mounting the stone, he responded that I could do it under his supervision. I did, and the ring was a success, and I was hooked. I signed up for classes of jewelry making. As I accomplished what was offered in one class I would move to another and another advanced class. I was tutored by individual artists – Susan Zimmerman for wax work, Chris Litwin (who later moved to work with “Harry Winston”), Patrick Baylor (a ‘Swiss master jeweler’), Ken Lawrence and others. All had a contributing hand in my becoming proficient in this art form.

After years of making jewelry for the family, I began creating custom pieces for friends, one of whom is an actress who asked me for two different necklaces for her Hollywood Premier events.
I had been participating in local craft shows and then when I retired from medicine, I exhibited in national juried shows. It is a fun experience. We enjoy the ambience of different cities, the association with talented vendors, and the sincere interest of the attendees of the show. I have received top awards at shows on a number of occasions.

My preference is gem quality opal and gold. For choice stones I travel to the mines in Australia, Mexico and Africa and I attend the Tucson Gem Show. My sources are competent, trustworthy people who know and seek out the size and kind of opals I buy. My work is available in galleries both local and in Santa Fe, N.M.

Before deciding how I am going to do a project, I study and ponder each individual stone to come up with a design that will accentuate that particular opal. Diamonds or colored stones may be chosen to compliment the main stone.

I also work with silver and a variety of colored stones. I gain much pleasure and satisfaction from making beautiful adornments with magnificent gifts from nature.

What was your first piece?
The Mexican Fire Opal Ring I made for my wife.

Where do you find design inspiration?
Most of the time I buy the stone because I like it. The stone will sit until in the middle of the night, while I’m sleeping at 3 am the idea pops into my head.

What is your favorite part of making jewelry?
I enjoy the whole process. Honestly, if no one wanted to buy my jewelry, I would still make the jewelry. I enjoy it, it’s fun.

What is on your bench now?
An opal and silver necklace and an opal and gold necklace that I am working.

What is your most indispensable tool?
I can’t single out any one tool. The most indispensable tool is the one that I need at that time.

08 June 2010

Archives March 2009 : Tool of the Month

Tool of the Month:
Ring Clamp

After writing last month's Tool of the Month on the Bench Pin, it only seemed appropriate to do March's tool of the Month on the Ring Clamp!

With a misleading name, ring clamps have a tough break. Traditionally used for holding rings when setting stones and and polishing, they are many times set in the back of your bench, collecting dust.

For the past three and a half years, my ring clamp laid unused in the back of a drawer. If I ever came across it I would think, "I don't need to use a ring clamp if I'm not making rings, right?" Wrong.

About six months ago, I was filing a small strip of metal, approximately 6 mm by 25 mm. I would lay the strip on my bench pin and hold the metal down with my fingers as I would file. But instead of filing the metal, I was filing my fingers as well. While I might need a manicure, at that rate I wasn't going to have anything left to manicure!

As I was looking around for something to hold the strip of metal, I found my ring clamp. It seemed that it just might work. So I decided to give it a shot. Not only did it hold my metal strip more stable, my fingers were also protected. Ah-ha moment: a ring clamp can be used for things other than rings!

With this revelation, I decided to try and use the ring clamp in other situations. For instance, when I'm polishing on my flex shaft or polishing motor and my project is getting WAY too hot, or drilling a hole in a small piece of metal that I can't keep from flying across the room. A ring clamp will hold the small piece stead and once again protect my fingers.

A ring clamp works hand-in-hand with your bench pin. By clamping something in the ring clamp and bracing against your bench pin for stability, this tool can't be beat! It gives you ultimate control and holding.

A standard ring clamp is traditionally made of hardwood. This double-ended, lever-action clamp uses a wooden wedge jammed into one end to close the other. Jaws are leather-lined to prevent marking the item secured in the clamp. Typically, one jaw is rounded and the other is squared off, making the clamp more versatile for different projects. JFF carries two standard ring clamps, a standard sized Hardwood Ring Clamp ($4.95), and the heavier duty Russian Style Ring Clamp ($6.75).

The Ring Polishing Clamp is made especially for holding rings. Sometimes when polishing the inside of rings, so much heat is produced it is difficult to hold the ring in your fingers. A very simple wooden lever-clamp holds the outside of the ring securely and safely, allowing access to polish the inside of the ring easily. The Ring Polishing Clamp is $4.95.The Pepe Deluxe Ring Clamp is modeled after the Swiss Ring Clamp, yet slightly more economical. Rather than opening at an angle, the Pepe ring clamp uses a parallel clamping action and operates by a knurled screw knob at the base. Coupled with non-marring leather jaws, the Pepe Ring Clamp provides a very secure grip. The Pepe Ring clamp is $23.70

This month, like last month I’m going to mention the GRS BenchMate™. While last month I discussed the bench pin attachment, this month I’m going to focus on the ring clamp attachment.
For those of you who did not get the last newsletter or missed it, let me tell you a little about the GRS BenchMate™. It is a versatile bench tool with various components that easily switch in and out. The BenchMate™ begins as a bench pin and quickly turns into a soldering station, then a ring clamp holder for stone setting, then can be switched to house an engraving block or pitch bowl. While I could spend hours talking about the BenchMate™, I’m going to focus on the ring clamp attachment and the BenchMate™ Basic Kit.

The whole of the BenchMate™ system begins with the fixed mounting plate. This steel plate is screwed to the edge of your bench top for mounting the various components of this system. Because the sides of the plate are beveled, BenchMate™ accessories can be easily removed by sliding them upward. The ring clamp attachment has a mounting bracket on the back that slides perfectly onto the mounting plate.

The BenchMate™ Holder and ring clamp attachment is far superior to most other ring clamps because it is hands free. The holder will freely tilt and rotate in all directions and tightening the pivot knobs will lock the clamp solidly in any position or add selective resistance.
The BenchMate™ holder, ring clamp attachment and mounting plate are all sold in a Basic Kit for $178.