Building up a stone

I have been setting dichroic stones (cabachons) that I fuse in 1/4"
fine silver bezel and have a question about building the stone up in
the setting. (I won;t go for a shorter bezel because it just doesn’t
give me the effect that I want in my stones.) I have been making a
lot of pins and pendants to get ready for my first show and the way I
usually do it is taking way too much time. I first started building
up the stones with the extra silver sheet from my work and later
silver wire but that tends to get expensive with the more stones I
set. I then switched to brass sheet which is fine but then realized
that it really takes me tons of time to cut the three small pieces I
need to build the stone up and the more work I do the more I need to
cut and I really would rather spend the time cutting my designs, not
the stuff that people don’t see. I have started using cut up credit
card type plastinc and adding four pieces in the setting. It works
great, takes hardly any time and I am happy - but is this acceptable
in the jewerly field? I remember way back when I lost a stone in a
custom piece that I had bought, the setting appeared to be filled
with tiny cork pieces. I was surprised but did not mind. Any
thoughts? What do you use? Thanks, Elle

One of the cutters that I buy stones from told me that electrical
tape was a good base for stones, also helps to keep them from
cracking during the setting. - Deb

Elle - While I’ve never set manmade (personmade??) glass, I have been
setting sensitive stones for many (~35) years. For consistently good
results I have found it difficult to do better than using HARDWOOD
sawdust.(what you found may have been coarse sawdust) You can buy it,
or make your own; the key is to have it truly dry, and pack it well.
It provides good support, and some cushioning to protect against the
shock of hitting the mounted stone against a desk edge etc. In doing
many repairs of silver jewelry I’ve seen almost everything under the
stones; I’ve never known the sawdust to fail, as long as the bezel is
a good fit, and the material is tamped down well before the stone is
set. Have fun!


It has long been common practice to use sawdust for ths purpose —.
there are pros and cons, but building a cab up in the setting is
surely an acceptable practice! margaret

Hi Elle,

While your technique works, it’s not considered ‘proper’ by many 1st
line jewelers. The feeling is a piece of jewelery should be entirely
made of ‘precious’ metal & stone/gems. Unless of course, the main
elementsof the item are other materials.

If a similar situation presented iself to them, they’d be likely to
use a step bezel or build a platform from a pice of wire (round or
square, as required) to raise the stone to the proper height. The
platform may need only be a single turn of wire configured to the
shape of the stone’s outside edge.

A step bezel is one that has a cross section that resembles a chair
being viewed from the side. The bottom is thicker than the top. The
stone sits on the ‘seat’.


Regarding Elle’s question, If I may raise a query. Does any one know
of a source of very small silver spheres? Maybe 0.5mm diameter.
Such a material would be a useful “pad” under bezel set stones. The
little B-Bs could be poured into the bezel, or maybe mixed with a
little water to form a sort of paste if that would be easier
handling. Perhaps very fine sand would work. Maybe “silver sand”.
Hmmm? Not to open a can of worms so far as personal safety, but my
mentor of 20 years ago used WET asbestos instead of sawdust to level
cabs in bezel settings. Notice, I said WET. Notice I said BEZEL
settings. Asbestos fibers can easily become airborne when handled
dry and are a genuine lung carcinogen. Nothing to fool around
with… but then we do handle many hazardous substances when metal
smithing! When used with care and KEPT WET, asbestos offers the
cushioning and malleability of sawdust, yet is durable. A bezel
setting seals in the material. Although the stuff is not sold
anymore, I know a real cheap, common source for small quantities…
old electric irons (pre 1970s). Check garage sales or your older
relatives who never throw away things. A very small quantity will
last a long time. Again, I emphasize the personal safety concern.
When I retrieve the asbestos I use, I don my best respirator, and
soak the iron with water before opening it up. Inside is a “mat” of
asbestos. (It was used as a heat insulator to keep the handle cool.)
Keep those nasty fibers from becoming airborne by making sure the
mat is wet. I store the asbestos mat in a lidded plastic
tupperware-type container to keep it damp and always handle it wet to
damp. I’d really rather pursue the “silver sand” concept if anyone
knows where such could be found. Thanks everyone, Judy Judy M.
Willingham, R.S. Extension Associate 221 Call Hall Kansas State
Univerisity Manhattan KS 66506 (785) 532-1213 FAX (785) 532-5681

Elle: One of the reasons to put material behind a stone is to cushion
it. If you use credit cards (which are hard plastic) if you hit the
stone it has nothing to protect it and can break. I have always used
very find sawdust or even in a pinch, pencil shavings. It gives the
stone a cushion and you can also use it to raise the stone in the
bezel. Do not use the boxwood sawdust since it is too hard and is
usually only used for drying your silver.


Judy, Have you thought about SS crimp beads? They are tiny, and flat,
may just fit well under a stone.

Some in my ongoing jewelry class use the softer plastic cut out from
lids from take out containers, perhaps even a styrofoam one.

    Not to open a can of worms so far as personal safety, but my
mentor of 20 years ago used WET asbestos instead of sawdust to level
cabs in bezel settings. 

I’d definitely skip the asbestos. I don’t think it’s in any way
concievably worth the risk. I know of a guy who used to be fond of
using DRYER LINT to level out cabs in bezels. I haven’t tried it
yet, but it seems to make sense. It will pack down nicely, and it’s
readily available. Personally, I prefer to slice up an old “pink
pearl” type pencil eraser into thin sheets with an backed razor
blade, then cut out ovals, etc, with snips or nail shears. That way,
if the article gets wet, the material won’t soak up water and expand,
lifting it against the bezel and thereby loosening the stone, whereas
it provides a tiny bit of cushion to the stone if it gets wacked.

David L. Huffman

    If I may raise a query.  Does any one know of a source of very
small silver spheres?  Maybe 0.5mm diameter. Such a material would
be a useful "pad" under bezel set stones. 
I don't know about silver but  Small Parts Inc. sells little balls

around 1mm in several materials (Steel, nylon etc.), most are hard
though and wouldn’t give much cushion.

         Not to open a can of worms so far as personal safety, but
my mentor  of 20 years ago used WET asbestos instead of sawdust to
level cabs  in bezel settings.  Notice, I said WET. 

That’s a frightening idea! It may be wet going in but later when
someone has to unseat the stone for whatever reason, that asbestos
will NOT be wet and also be very hazardous, Especially if the
repairing jeweler or customer hasn’t been warned. I always go on the
assumption that my jewelry will outlive me. Like you said, we come in
contact with a lot of dangerous substances…let’s try to keep it as
safe as possible!

Amy O’Connell
Amy O’Connell Jewelry

I have used binding wire or locking tweezers to hold bezels in
placewhen soldering.

         If I may raise a query.  Does any one know of a source of
very small silver spheres?  Maybe 0.5mm diameter. Such a material
would be a useful "pad" under bezel set stones. 

Alfa Aesar is a chemical supply company which manufactures high
purity metals for scientific and engineering purposes. They list many
different forms of silver in their catalogue, including silver powder
in different mesh sizes up to 20 mesh (which is close to .5mm), silver
shot (larger), and silver flake. Phone number is 1-800-343-0660.
Rene Roberts

What do you think of using shapes formed from the rubber of an old
inner tube? You can have as many layers as you need and it would
provide a cushioning effect. Frances

Visit me or “beam me up” at:

Interesting thought about using rubber inner tubes to build up a
stone. I happen to have a supply left from busted tires from cycling
and all of a sudden the idea hit me. Hey, it is so easy to cut and
fit into the bezel and from the looks of inner tubes that I have had
hanging around for years, I’m sure they will last. It is worth a shot.

Rubber may react with the metal and cause unexpected problems later. I
like to use polyethylene sheet plastic, it is flexible and does not
degrade or react as readily as rubber. I get it form a local plastics
shop. My two cents.

Timothy A. Hansen

Hi! There are many things I don’t know about making jewelry, and
I’ve never heard about this “building up a stone” thing. I only have
seen bezel settings with a wire seat, placed at the height that one
wants the stone sitting. I’m not a bench jeweler but personally, if I
had a ring or any piece of jewelry that I found was stuffed with
sawdust, cut up credit cards, rubber erasers, styrofoam or
asbestos(!), I would be sincerely horrified. If I really loved the
piece, the best I could do with it would be to throw it in my jewelry
junk pile. I know this sounds hard and mean but these are my true
feelings about this subject. Rebeca

In my experience the most efficient and permanent way to build up the
stone is to use silver wire in guages from 30 to 14. If you stock
silver wire it is easy to determine how high the stone needs to go and
fit a wire in bezel cup. Posatives to this method are : very clean, an
odd shaped stone is just as easy to work, no problems with repair down
the road, and no possability of breakdown over time. This is also a
great way to see color in a transluscent stone. Once the stone is set
you cannot see the wire, yet there is space between the stone and the
bezel bottom for light to get into. Hope this helps a little.

Todd Reed

Re using inner tubes: I am not sure about this, but I would hesitate
to use a natural rubber product with silver. Rubber is made by
vulcanizing the natural plant extract with sulfur. This sulfur could
be a source of tarnish. There are synthetic rubbers and silicone
’rubbers’ out there. I wonder if the very knowledgeable person from
Castillo could comment? Marlin Cohrs

Rebeca, if you have any Navajo jewelry with stones, you probably have
sawdust in them. Most Navajo jewelers would be horrified at anyone
setting fragile stones without cushioning the stone. I don’t believe
there is right and wrong here, just different values, i.e. the purity
of the piece versus durability.

John McLaughlin,
Glendale, Arizona

Most “western” jewelers don’t “fill” bezels much. But perhaps a
majority of Native American and much Mexican, and often many other
"ethnic" sources of silver jewelry set with stones like turqoise in
seperate bezels, such as most Zuni pinpoint, or Navaho style clusters
of stones, has such fillers, both to allow thinner stones to be used
intermixed with thicker ones, in the same height of bezels, and with
the end result being all stones appearing the same height, but also to
provide cushioning for the sometimes fragile stones. Sawdust fillers
under the stone are the most common. The use of these methods is
quite traditional and acceptable when the nature of the stone is such
that this makes the most servicable piece of jewelry. These settings
can last for many many years done this way. I’ve repaired pieces that
were 30 or 40 years old set this way, and the metal may have worn out,
but the fillers were often just fine and still doing their job. If
you’re setting harder well cut stones, there’s no need for such
fillers, which then only serve to make the setting a little less
secure. But with turqoise and similar sometimes fragile stones, the
jewelry is actually better for it. Not only does it solve the design
problem of how to make the stones all seem similar height after being
set in a cluster, but it also provides some protection for the stones,
as well as making the setting process itself faster and safer. Some
of the suggested materials, though, I’d agree with you. Cardboard
rots over time. Asbestos… sorry. That’s dangerous. Styrofoam?
Erasors? Yeah, right. Phono records and credit card plastic do work
nicely in many cases but don’t give the shock protection of sawdust,
so aren’t always the best choice.

In judging the use of such methods, keep in mind the context of the
traditions and the workshops in which some of this stuff was (and
still is) produced. Especially in earlier days, many of the Southwest
Indian artists were working with, shall we say, severely limited
budgets and materials available were few. They often made do with
little enough at hand that few of us western trained jewelers would
quite know where to begin. The use of the sawdust under the stones
may strike you as unprofessional, but in fact it can be a resourful
and innovative way at very low cost to solve a recurring problem. In
that context, the sawdust may even serve to demonstrate the
authenticity of the item, not demean it. And besides, as I’ve noted,
sometimes it really is the best way to do the best possible job.

I recall a workshop I visited near the Mayan ruins of Chichzen Itza
(spelling is wrong, I know), in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, when
I was there in the late 60s travelling with my parents. Here was a
guy making silver jewelry, inlaid with some turqoise, but mostly
Chrisocholla and malachite and some colored glass or whatnot, which I
gather was found not too far away, or at least, within Mexico. He
explained that he could trade chickens or eggs therefrom, for the
stone, which he then cut, with a hacksaw blade, and ground with an
ancient little hand cranked knife sharpening grinder screwed to the
wall of his little house. No real jewelers tools other than
sawblades. he’d made the saw frame himself. A gasoline plumbers
blowtorch was used for soldering. Home made chisels and punches from
nails. A carpenters hammer, and an old car axle or the like for an
anvil. Couple old machinists files. Some scraps ofemery paper, and
polishing was done by hand rubbing against a felt covered stick with
various compounds. The stones were inlaid in a rather attractive
black cement of some kind, and I inquired what he was using: epoxy,
or some other resin, as the adhesive and black background material…
he grinned. said something to his young son, who grabbed a spoon, ran
out into the blacktop road (baking in the sun), and dug out some of
the asphalt. it was warm enough from the sun that it was still nicely
pliable. That was his glue, warmed a bit more with the torch. Once
chilled, and smoothed flush with the inlaid bits of stone, you
couldn’t tell it was just road material… The work itself was quite
pretty. Should I have been offended by his choice of material? On
the contrary. It was remarkable as a demonstration of both
workmanship with limited tools, and ingenuity in devising a method to
do what he wanted.

Same thing with the sawdust fillers under the stones. They work.
Judge it’s use by the standards of the creators, and in their context,
and by whether it works, not by preconcieved notions of whats
"proper". Outside that context, the opinion looses it’s point of
reference as to what’s valid or not.

Hope this helps.
Peter Rowe