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Basic flex shaft bur suggestions


I’ve had my Fordom (with the classic #30 hand-piece) for several
years, primarily using it with a very basic set of balls and cones
to carve horn, bone, etc, and with diamond points for gemstone
carving, and various polishing functions.

I’ve started doing more fabrication and casting, primarily working in
copper alloys like bronze, with a bit of silver work from time to
time. The only stone setting I do is the occasional bezel set cabs,
but I am starting to do more of this with some of the carvings, as

I am looking to build up a better selection of burs for my tool; so
I’m looking for suggestions for a good basic selection of burs that I
should learn to master.

Ron Charlotte

I am looking to build up a better selection of burs for my tool.
so I'm looking for suggestions for a good basic selection of burs
that I should learn to master. 

Ron, google anything you can find on Andy Cooperman. Art Jewelry has
been featuring for the last several months articles written by him
about the flex shaft, and burrs, and what they do. The last time I
saw Andy he said he is working on a book. If a burr can do it, he
knows how.



Most vendors offer sets of burs for specific operations. Many
catalogues give a description of what each bur does. There are
different grades of burs related to the metal they are made from (
ex. - HSS, carbon steel, high tech alloys, etc. ) - reading about
those metals may help you select the right ones for your needs. I
prefer busch brand over cheaper brands of burs for precision work,
particularly their line that doesn’t clog with metal particles but
diverts them away from the work. However, I modify many of my burs as
i do a good bit of stone setting and setting repair so i need
specific modifications that help me produce consistent results.
Harbour freight, micro-mark, etc. sell assortments of 50 diamond
coated burs suitable for carving the materials you mentioned at a
fraction of the cost of larger vendors ( like Rio for instance) that
contain some good shapes for preparing settings for hand cut stones (
machine cut stones tend to have uniform girdles, and cullets so
adjustments for individual stones aren’t as necessary as long as you
have measured each stone to verify their sizes are matching. If you
aren’t doing a lot of stone setting and more lapidary, and non-stone
carving the diamond coated burs may be the way to go as they serve
many purposes in addition to experimentation. Many vendors catalogues
are the place to start to get good descriptions of what each bur
offered does though, and again, the sets they have pre-assembled
speak to many of the basic operations that come up in a studio
day…The manufacturers too publish guides on their burs. Write them
for the and request samples of the specific ones you may
think appropriate to your needs. Getting all your from
one source is not the most objective approach to learning about the
tools available for different metalsmithing purposes ( although Andy
Cooperman is a great artist ! Charles Lewton-Brain has published a
vast amount of tools and usage as has Tim McCreight, and
Harold O’Connor, but Patsy Croft is a master of modifications of
burs, so it depends on who you ask what to as to the information
you’ll get in answer from their experiences…That’s why I recommend (
and teach) my students a thorough working knowledge of tools and what
they are made of and their potential applications before they make
their first piece of jewelry in the studio. Too often classes and
teachers presume that the students have any knowledge at all of
tools when particularly in teaching beginners, the students have
little or no knowledge whatsoever of tools available to them much
less what can be done with a standard 90degree hart bur with the
point ground so the bur acts as a depth guide whilst cutting a
perfectly level seat…I highly recommend learning all you can about
the tools you have and that are available before making any major
purchases. Additionally, buying assortment sets have their pros and
cons- some contain small sizes you may never use, conversely the
small sizes may be modified or used for a non-traditional operation,
like cleaning up the metal around the setting where a point of a
marquise shaped stone will sit, that will dawn on you when seeking a
bur from the box of say, 68 pieces!( thinking of the set Gesswein
-and most other vendors- sell ; its an assortment set of all-purpose
burs made of vanadium steel reasonably priced that do everything from
cutting & shaping to setting ). Learn what works for your needs, and
buy what is reasonable to start learning with. There is nothing wrong
with a harbour freight set of assorted burs, in fact you could use
one like theirs to make your own notes from with info on what it does
and doesn’t do for your applications, modifications that worked or
didn’t for your carving, and their ability to last on a scale you
develop for rating different metals and shapes… I’m all for
self-teaching/learning when its approached from a methodical
point-of-view, with clear notes for future reference and later, to
use as a gauge to see how you have progressed when comparing your
initial findings to what knowledge of tools you may accumulate a few
years from now. Not overlooking that some teachers have a lot of
experience to share, but not all of them offer accurate information
specific to what you would like to know about “x”…For example, one
school I know well in N. Georgia requires students to take Silver 1,
at least 3 times before progressing to any other level of Silver or
gold smithing- It is a totally ridiculous approach to teaching ( much
less ethical considerations which this school sorely lacks), and is
intended, as far as I can tell, solely to make money from repeat
"students/suckers" and the student is then left with the proverbial
"luck-of-the-draw" as to what teacher is teaching at a time one can
potentially attend, and is probably not offering new or relevant at
all to what you seek to know,. Alternatively some of the
new “teachers” at this particular well known school are novices
themselves, whereas the older regulars offer the same rote
for the past 20 or more years at this school. In my
opinion you will probably learn more with a copy of “The Complete
Metalsmith” in hand and membership in your local rock club, federated
mineralogical society or lapidary club, or through taking local
courses at a community college with a metals or jewellery program
than paying the fees and room and board at this school, or similarly
run organizations ( and I use that term loosely!)… If you have any
questions specific to the use for a certain bur that interests you
feel free to contact me off list and I’ll try to answer it or refer
you to a better source…rer