Making Jewelry


Cliff Harris


    This page was created by a college student in an online Gemstones and Gemology course taught at Emporia State University.  The purpose of this page is to show the tools that are commonly used in jewelry manufacturing. The industry has a standard set of sizes for jewelry components. Standard allow several manufacturers to to be involved in a single piece of jewelry. The machines and tools of the jewelry industry are not complicated to use and each has a purpose in production.

Tools for Crafting Jewelry

Fig. 1
photo by Cliff Harris

Figure 1 shows the lapidary machine. This is the tool used to shape and polish gemstones. The wheels are made up of different grinding, sanding and polishing textures. The lapidary machine uses water as the cooling agent to keep the stone from heat fracture and discoloration during the lapidary processing. Visible on the left hand side of the lapidary machine is a carbide blade stone cutting saw. This tool is used to cut the stone into a manageable size for the lapidary wheel as well as to remove unwanted excess material. The white round wheel on the far right of the lapidary machine is a leather wheel glued to the machine. This wheel is covered with zinc oxide and produces a fine polish.

Once a stone is prepared it goes to the bench. The bench is the assembly place and has many components. A typical bench will have a torch for soldiering metal ( fig. 2). The tools include, but are not limited to, various types of pliers ( fig. 3), tweezers, a hand ring clamp, a bench pin, jewelers saw, a planishing hammer, neddle scribe, a rawhide mallet, a burnisher, a ring sizer, a ring mandrel, and a collection of files. As with all machinery there should be proper care to be safe. The safety devices are a full-face shield that is shatter proof, heat protective gloves, and proper ventilation. Machines that have moving or spinning parts should always be approached with no loose clothing or long hair as they may become entangled causing injury.

Fig. 2
photo by Cliff Harris

Fig. 3
photo by Cliff Harris

Fig. 4
photo by Cliff Harris

Fig. 5
photo by Cliff Harris

Some steps are required to work with the metal if you choose to do any bending or shaping. You have to first aneal the metal by heating it on a anealing pan that is filled with pumice (fig. 4). This pan acts as a barrier to the rest of the bench when metal is being heated to a red hot surface. Once the metal( silver, gold, nickel, platinum) is heated, it should slow cool to room temperature as this makes it malleable. Now the metal can be shaped. this is done with a variety of anvles and hammers(fig. 5).

Fig. 6
drawing by Cliff Harris

If the metal is to stay flat, the next step is to cut it to the desired shape with a jewelers saw. This handy little saw has very fine teeth that are specially designed for cutting metal. The blades have different widths between the teeth for cutting different widths of metal. (fig. 6). A bench pin is used with the saw for a controlled precise cut (fig. 7). Besides cutting with a saw one can stamp out preset designs that are too numerous to be displayed here.

Fig. 7
photo by Cliff Harris

Fig. 8
photo by Cliff Harris
Once metal has been heated and cut, shaped, welded or any combination thereof, in the design it must be cleansed of the fire scare that heat creates. Fire scare is the build up of oxides that are released as a result of the hot metal being in contact with the air. This oxide is removed by submerging the metal in a jeweler's pickle, which is a warm mild acid solution. This solution has to be kept isolated and no other metal but precious metal can be put into it or else it becomes contaminated (fig. 8). One of the main cautions when working with this acid is toxic steam tht can be produced by puting hot metal in. Care should be taken not to breath the steam. One other caution is dropping material into this acid could cause splashing. This should be avoided at all times.

Once the piece is cleaned it needs to be polished with a tripoli and red rouge polish on a buffing wheel (fig. 9). Both types of polishing agent are very fine grit compounds trapped in a wax host or water based host that is applied to buffing wheel. In most situations tripoli is used to remove small scratches and to remove the top surface of the metal. The Red rouge is a much finer material that is usually the final step in polishing as it produces a mirror-like surface. Special care must be taken not to contaminate the buffing wheels with the two compounds. Between tripoli and rouge each metal piece should be pickled and then washed completly with soap and water.

photo by Cliff Harris

photo by Cliff Harris
The same process for cleaning and polishing applies to lost wax casting. Lost wax casting is a process which uses wax carved figures that are set into investment and then hot metal is slammed into the burned out investment. Burning out the invesment removes the wax and leaves a hollow impression where the metal fills the void taking the shape of the impression left by the lost wax. The main tool for this job is the centrifugal casting machine (fig. 10). This machine uses spring power to spin the molten metal from the center to the ouside forcing the metal into the mold. The dangers of molten metal flying out of the caster is the most common problem that can be solved with a shield that is higher than the casting machine and surrounds it completely.

This page was designed to illustrate some of the most common tools used in the jewelry industry. Some of the tools are modifications of existing tools and others are specific for jewelry. A good hobbyist can fit most of what is necessary for repair in a tool box. Substitutions for the larger machines can be found in the handy dremel like tools.

I cannot imagine making jewelry without any machines or tools. All of the above discussed tools make the job easier and creates satisfying results.

This web page was created by Cliff Harris, May 7, 2003.

All photos were taken by Cliff Harris. All drawings were made by Cliff Harris.

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