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Any ideas how to file silver

Hi, I am a ammature. I have learned so much from this list and from
those offline. I am curious, Since I solder an item and then I cut
off the bulk of the silver on the edges, then I file with a coarse
file, then medium, then fine. Then I sand with 400 and then 600. Then
I prepolish and polish.

My fingers totallly hurt from holding these small items to file the
edges down to an even finish. If I used a ring clamp I would think
it would smash it and not hold it. I am Making like end caps for
round tube like stones and stuff like that. The entire bezel is less
than 1/4. And it just has a plate on top. Larger items take a long
time too and are really hard on my fingers.

If anyone has any tips to share on how to file faster or how to save
my fingers … I would be very appreciative.

Thank you in advanced.

I have used a tape called alligator skin that worked pretty good when
working on small stuff, it helped with the heat from polishing too,
but make sure there are no loose pieces hanging from the tape
when doing so. Michael

   If anyone has any tips to share on how to file faster or how to
save my fingers ... I would be very appreciative. 

You may want to spend the money and buy an expandable wet belt
sander. If you are doing lots of work or are in pain, this could be
much easier on you. You may be able to find one used and save.
There are many people that make them. Visit a rock show or rock
club to see and maybe try one out. They are also in the lapidary
catalogs. When you use the sander, use plenty of water and place a
tray under the wheel to catch the filings (they add up fast). Work
with a soft touch as your work will heat up fast. You can start
with a 100 grit belt (very, very aggressive, not for bezels) and
finish with 400. Starting with 220 grit may be fine. I like to
save old belts for the finer sanding. Steve Ramsdell

Dear Jane, There is nothing better to get the “feel” of the piece
than filing, sanding and finishing by hand.

But there are many times when nothing can replace my flex-shaft and
mini grinding and grit impregnated wheels, which also come in
graduated grits. Find them in the Rio Grande catalogue, and many
other jewelry supply stores. I use A&A Jewelry Supply in LA much of
the time for supplies. Their prices are very competitive. Website
is: (Usual disclaimer)

Good luck. Good that you found Ganoksin/Orchid.

Kay Taylor

Hi, Jane - from another amateur – If you are just trying to smooth
(and/or polish) the cut edges, you can do that with tripoli on your
buffer. Of if they’re too small, try using a Dremel or whatever with
some sandpaper disks, and or a small wheel with tripoli (and then
rouge). I like to finishe them, then by tumbling (and burnishing)
for about 30 minutes with stainless steel media and polishing soap.


Hi Jane, Three things have helped me save me fingers when smoothing

First is the use of handles for my files. These come in many sizes
and shapes and are adjustable to fit the diameter of your files.
When you go shopping buy the one that feels most comfortable in your

Second is the use of diamond files. The advantage is that diamond
files cut away metal on both the forward stroke and the slide back.
Twice the work in the same amount of time. Ah, but there is a
disadvantage – cost. Diamond files are usually sold in the same
type sets as other needle files and can be pricey. But you can find
sources that will sell just one. That’s what I have – just one.
Its half round on one side and flat on the other and does just about
everything I need.

And third, relax and let the tool do its work. If you are tense and
bare down too hard you may be creating unnecessary work for
yourself. Excessive pressure can cause you to loose control and put
random scratches that must be removed. And that’s a real bummer.

I hope this helped a little.

Jane, if I have some heavy filing to do I always try to use some
sort of clamp to hold the piece, rather than gripping it in my
fingers. Mostly I use a very simple ring clamp, made of wood. Also,
brace the piece against your bench pin (a piece of wood with a V
notch at the end facing you). When necessary make cuts, shallow
grooves or holes in the bench pin to help brace the piece. The bench
pin is disposable! The bench pin then takes most of the reaction
force from the file. Don’t though try to clamp the piece to the
bench pin, unless you’re making a rather engineered item.

Kevin (NW England, UK)

Hi Jane, I do a lot of little bezel cups, too. If I remember
correctly from your original post, you do three levels of filing:
coarse, medium and fine. It strikes me as possibly excessive. Unless
you have really made a mess of things, you probably only need fine
filing on edges and such. Much of your time spent medium and fine
filing is removing scratches from the coarse file!

I’m thinking of buying a pair of retaining ring pliers (that open
when squeezed) and coating the tips with plastic or epoxy. I would
then hold the little bezel reasonably securely cups from the inside,
giving me access to the entire outer surface, and not strain my

Learning and trying to keep your work piece pristine and
scratch-free can help eliminate the need for all but the most
fundamental filing. I’ve put clear Scotch tape over flat surfaces
while I’m working on a piece to keep minor nicks and abrasions from

In some cases, I’ll avoid filing altogether, and use abrasive wheels
on the flex-shaft. For example, touching up the seam on a bezel. Hit
it with a medium, then fine abrasive wheel, and you won’t have the
need to remove the scratches from a file. Using the abrasive wheels
when you really should be filing becomes apparent when your wheel
is disappearing before your eyes into a pile of gritty rubber.

Cratex wheels are a traditional standby, but some newer silicone
based wheels are cleaner and are quite effective. Over time, you’ll
probably build a collection of abrasive points and such, and learn
from experience what works best in a given situation.

I rarely go below 400 grit sandpaper, which is usually either
wrapped around a paint stirrer, or rubber cemented to a flat surface
(Delrin block). Then on to 600, 1000 and maybe 2000. Then tripoli and
after a good scrubbing, rouge or ZAM (another bar polishing
compound… great for soft stones, too).

A great Orchid tip I picked up (thanks, whoever you were) was to use
a brown rubber gum art eraser to hold small flat pieces on my sanding
block. Sliding the eraser back and forth moves the work against the
sandpaper, eliminating much of the trouble in handling a small piece.

Anyway, all the advice in the world won’t eliminate the problem,
just possibly help ease it somewhat. I get cramps in my hands, sore
fingertips, chewed up fingernails, and such… but at least I don’t
have to do something like roofing in the rain and cold (for now, at

All the best,
Dave Sebaste
Sebaste Studio and
Carolina Artisans’ Gallery
Charlotte, NC (USA)

    My fingers totallly hurt from holding these small items to
file the edges down to an even finish. If anyone has any tips to
share on how to file faster or how to save my fingers ... I would
be very appreciative. 

Jane, there are several methods to hold tiny parts, and make it a
little kinder on those of us with arthritic fingers.

  1. Rubber erasers. Cut off a chunk that’s easy to hold and embed
    the tiny part in it so you have something larger to hold onto.

  2. Super glue. The liquid and not the gel type. A drop on the
    hardwood or bench block, stick the piece to be filed onto the surface
    with the adhesive. Wait a minute, file, pop off with a bench knife.

  3. Masking tape. Use a strip several inches longer than needed. For
    the purpose of this example, imagine you’re using it on a flat disk.
    Place one end of the tape on one side of the disk, the other end on
    the same plane, but diametrically opposite, with a loop in the
    middle. Press the loop together so the tape adheres to itself and
    forms a tab. Grasp the tab to move the metal across the abrasive

  4. Jett-Set, or Aqua-Plast. This media becomes pliant and moldable
    in hot water, and then becomes quite hard when it reaches room
    temperature. Get a lump of the pliant material in the hand you intend
    to use to provide the sanding motion, then embed the metal into the
    other end. When it cools down, it will conform exactly to the
    impression of your fingers when it was molded. Usually the metal
    piece can be popped out, but for stubborn pieces, a few seconds in
    the hot water will loosen the hold.

Hope it helps.

Has anyone suggested that you put these little caps onto wooden
dowels and then file them? You could also tape your fingers which
makes me feel very clumsy but can make a difference.

Marilyn Smith

Jane, this method works for most metals. I mount an electric drill
(B&D used to make these mounts but no longer does; you can make your
own, or I have an address where you can probably still buy one for
about $20) upside-down on the workbench and use a fine rubber abrasive
wheel in it (Cratex, 1/2 inch wide, 4 inches in diameter, 1/2 inch
center hole – available from Rio Grande, Metalliferous, and other
sources). Abrading the edges of metal on this wheel saves all kinds
of wear and tear on the hands. The slower speed and larger size
(compared to a Dremel) make it safer to use and easier to assess your

You should use a file to smooth off large, rough areas, then go to
the Cratex wheel. When I am teaching a class of beginners, once they
start using the Cratex, it’s hard to get them to go back to using a

Even easier is to tumble-polish your metal blanks in a moderately
abrasive medium. It smoothes off edges nicely. (If you have a flat
blank, it works best if you curve it slightly.)

As for polishing, tumble-polishing in stainless steel shot is a lot
easier and cleaner than on a wheel. See Judy Hoch’s booklet on
tumble-polishing, available in the the Rio catalog and other places
(or see my article on the topic, in the July 1999 issue of Lapidary

Good luck and happy fingers!
Judy Bjorkman

When making bezel cups, I often just use those wonderful scissors
that cut pennies (buy 'em at Harbor Freight) to trim off the surplus
sheet, and then sand using a 400 or 600 grit belt on the expandable
drum of my lapidary unit. The speed is such that the bezel cup is
sanded flush in a minute or two, and is ready for polishing.

Lee Einer

When I sand my bezels I do with my flex shaft. I use a finish nail
as the mandrel and cut 320, 400 and 6000 paper into 1" strips on a
paper cutter. I use a piece of heavy tape to attach it and just rip
off the used part as I go. I use a wooden clamp to hold small
pieces, but am going to try some of the other suggestions here. JLK
Handcrafted Jewelry

Jane, Filing is an extremely important aspect of doing precious metal
smithing. (Actually I separate it into straight filing and sculpting.
The former is simple shaping and metal reduction while the latter is
the creation of a specific and final shape).

There are so many ways to hold small (and large) items: a hand vise
is useful, a bench vise-good but clumsy, hold a flat plate with
erasers - gets in the way, clamps - also clumsy, on a ring mandrel -
don’t file away your mandrel, etc, etc. I have watched my students’
first efforts at trying to file and find most of their problems stem
from improperly holding the file. I can tell them how to do it till I
am blue in the face but basically, each person has to find what is
comfortable, most efficient, and effective for them.

Holding an item for filing is yet another self learning experience.
When I file a ring shank, I hold it in my thumb and index
finger…using them as a guide for the file while moving across and
around the shank. Doesn’t that mean I am filing my fingers at the
same time? You bet, but it is for me, the most accurate, effecient
and effective way to do it. My fingers and fingernails are always
torn up, worn away and generally look pretty bad. Now, if I wanted to
protect my nails and fingertips, I would have to become more
innovative and find a way not to file them. But, if the file
doesn’t get em…the wheels of my lapidary machine probably will.
By the way, if you DO find a better way would you share it with the
rest of us?

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1

 1.  Rubber erasers. Cut off a chunk that's easy to hold and embed
the tiny part in it so you have something larger to hold onto. sells a rubber block for just that sort of use.
It’s maybe three inches.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

I'm thinking of buying a pair of retaining ring pliers (that open
when squeezed) and coating the tips with plastic or epoxy. I 

Dear Dave and others, If I’m finishing a bezel cup that is to be
soldered onto a piece, I mark the center of the cup with a transfer
punch (these come in a set of sizes) and then drill a small hole
dead center to enable mountin g the cup on a screw mandrel. Place the
mandrel (and attached cup) into the handpiece and rotate the cup
against a series of abrasive strips mounted on a tongue blade or other
supporting flat stick. This way I quickly get a fine finish on the
bezel cup.

If I am finishing a bezel ring (no bottom) I place this on a tapered
wooden mandrel which I have previously fashioned from a wooden dowel
or chop stick and which has been modified to enable chucking in the
handpiece, and I finis h these the same way as above.

…" A great Orchid tip I picked up (thanks, whoever you were) was
to use a brown rubber gum art eraser to hold small flat pieces on my
sandin g block."

For filing or finishing flat pieces I attach a cardboard throw-away
device used in the dental office to hold bitewing X-ray film in
position- called bitewing tabs. There are adhesive wings which are
pressed against the upper surface and a vertical piece which you
hold with your thumb and forefinger to allow moving the metal piece
back and forth against various abrasives or files. Ask your friendly
Dentist for some samples and give it a try.

For what it’s worth, Joe Dule