CAD Vs. Wax Work

Thanks to all of you who gave advice and positive support to a
newbie. I’ve spent a few days reading up on CAD and wax carving and
bought books that were recommended. I am deciding whether or not to
create my designs with CAD or wax. I would like to design items
based on my interests in nature and art.

I basically would like to design my own pendants and earring
findings and, if possible, design mini-pieces of sculpture that can
be worn as jewelry. Many of the CAD pieces that I have seen have
been kind of machiney looking, so if you do recommend CAD, I’d be
grateful if you could advise me on programs that can come close to
the softness that exists in wax carving and also the following:

  1. Programs that are the easiest to use

  2. Programs that could possibly import drawings that I scan or make
    in Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw

Thanks so much!

Hi Annabel,

speaking as somebody who is doing both, I would say that you need to
learn both! Most CAD programs were originally designed to make
mechanical parts very precisely and are designed to be used in that
way. I think the one that would suit you down to the ground is ArtCam
Pro, but it is about $8000 so perhaps not the place to start.

Can I suggest a different route, the more organic side of the
business is the Computer Graphics Industry (CGI) these are the
programs for 3D cartoons etc, and are sold in much larger numbers so
are much cheaper. My particular favourite is SILO

This program is just about to bring out a sculpting upgrade ( very
much like Zbrush) and prides itself on being very easy to use (in as
much as you can say that about 3D modelling!) it has free trials an
active forum and only costs $109 with a free upgrade to the next

I would say to try any 3D modelling programs that you can get your
hands on, but you do have to start somewhere.

I don’t work for them by the way, this sounds like an advert, I
struggled with just getting my head around the concepts with other
programs seemingly designed for people who already understood
everything anyway!

regards Tim Blades.

ArtCAM has been a tool for me over the past 7 years. The software
can generate what you want- designs that have a more free flowing
look rather than a precise machined appearance. Any software is going
to have a learning curve- this program has (ArtCAM’s Jewelsmith) had
a lot of user input in its recent versions. Modelmaster’s owners, the
two people who sell most of Jewelsmith’s seats in the USA, come from
industry related backgrounds- including sculpting figures for the
collectable and trophy industry.

Originally Coreldraw was recommended as a drawing front end for
ArtCAM- the design and drawing interface lacked some of the features
of serious illustration programs- the interaction of the user base
caused the creation of very useful sculpting and drawing tools. ArtCAM
was once primarily a toolpath generating program- in seconds it
generates thousands of lines of G code to run a CNC milling machine
or router. The choice of outputs has been enlarged to include stl
files for 3D printers as well.

Rick Hamilton

Annabel, I really like Jewelsmith sold by Delcam. It is really a
pretty amazing program, and you cam make all sorts or things. they
needn’t look mechanical, however… there is a learning curve and
you do need training. Training is paramount, not just a little
training but expect to go back at least once a year. I couldn’t grasp
all of the capabilities in the program in just 2 days. Also, as you
use the program, ideas come to you and then you need more training to
figure those out. If you a good at watching tutorials and can read
computer style manuals then perhaps you can forgo some of the
secondary or tertiary training. But for me, I need to see it up close
and ask questions. I have a problem reading technical type things.
And I am impatient and get flustered trying to read this type of

Back to JS, right now the company is preparing a new release as well
as some sort of power shaping software. Also, you can get one of
those 3-D scanners and scan anything and put that relief into your
system and use that as a texture on your pieces. this type of
application really can help you to create fluid organic forms. If
you wanted to do a series of jewelry using old coins for example, you
could scan them and manipulate them into new forms of jewelry, or
you could take the faces off of these coins and put the faces on top
of leaves and make little magic amulets. It is just amazing what this
program can do.

Be prepared to purchase a mill for anywhere from $11,000 to $30,000
and the program for another $7000? I don’t know what is running now.
Also a scanner is going to run for $3500. I just purchased a scanner
from a reseller of Roland, [they are being taken off of production so
check into the scanner quick].

I am sure that there are people out there who can advise or opine as
to cheaper solutions, but I think that if you are going to jump in
you should think about doing it with equipment that won’t hinder your
creativity. It will pay for itself if you use it. You can lease all
of this stuff for less than $1000 a month

Good luck Dennis


speaking as somebody who is doing both, I would say that you need
to learn both!

Thanks. This is good advice. I have bought some books and will
definitely teach myself wax work, as I like to do things with my
hands and I also like to sculpt, so it should be fun. The books that
I have read have been really illuminating and I think that I would
enjoy to do some pieces on wax. However, the CAD technology seems to
be getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper and I read in the Orchid
Archive were a lot of people seem to believe it is the wave of the
future, so I think that I have to learn it as well.

I have to jump in on this one with the oposite of cad cam. If you do
not know how to do either wax or cad you are going to have to learn
both. If you learn wax work you can make your pieces without the
investment in time and money on cad. I can usually carve a wax just
as fast as the guy putting it into a computer. No it is not as
perfect but pretty close. Ask your customer if they want a computer
cut wax or a handmade ring, I bet the answer is handmade. There have
been a few times that cad worked better for me and I sent it off to
have done. Let the experts do what they do. It’s easy in this high
tech world to get caught up in cad cam, I have been doing this for 30
years and I bet I have not spent over $1500.00 in wax tools in those
15 years. Computer aided anything just cost more money every year,
new updated programs or better programs (then you have to learn them
more time) and on and on. I recently carved a very intricate wax that
took 8 hours, it would have been great to have it done with cad but
did not have the time. The question is what would it have saved in
time maybe 4 hours (if you are really good at cad), I’ll keep my 30K
in the bank and spend that extra 4 hours on the hard wax. The
company’s that are good at cad keep up to date programs and know what
they can do and do it well, send the work to them. I have seen a cad
wax done by a local guy and it was terrible. Bad design is bad design
a computer aint gonna help. DISCLAIMER All you 20 to 25 guys outhere
that are good at cad aided jewelry, your work is amazing and I
applaud you for your time and skill.

OK off my soapbox and back to work, I have to pay for the new
quickbooks program because my old one had to be updated to do what I

Bill Wismar

I took a look at that program Tim Blades mentions - Silo. That’s a
nice looking program for $100 or so. A Poly SubD modeler, mostly,
looks like. Like Maya or 3ds Max without the animation routines.
Looks good. It’s not a solids modeler, though, so you can’t output
directly to a machine. I would echo his advise, though. Learn to do
both hand work and machine. I would say that if you do only one, make
it hand work. The reason I say that is pretty obvious - you’ll
actually learn how to make jewelry, first off, and it’s WAY cheaper.
If someone can afford to chip out $10,000 on something they don’t
even know will fly, having no experience in jewelry design, then,
well, send some of that my way!! LOL! It is a fact that most machine
made jewelry looks machine made, and the weakness of the programs is
compound curves and such. Let me expand that - by the time your
average user can figure out how to draw and machine some cascading
curvy pendant, like say an elm leaf wafting in a breeze, I could have
it sitting in a showcase, making it by hand. As with all things, let
the specialists do the specialties. The machine is good for what it’s
good for, and hand work is good for what it’s good for. Yes, a
skilled user can do anything on the computer, but it might take a
week to build that leaf, while I can get a piece of sheet metal and
do it in 20 minutes.


Many of the people who are using CAD-CAM in their work are using it
in addition to hand processes. Computer aided design does not
replace the hand skills necessary for making jewelry, it just adds an
arsenal of new tools and techniques to the skill set. There are no
real short cuts to learning the techniques of jewelry making- there
are just a series of skill sets- some of which are so complex that
people specialize just in one particular area- like engraving,
setting, or enameling- areas that CAD-CAM is at least currently, weak
in. People in the jewelry field get into making jewelry for a variety
of reasons, but for many of us, the concept of making a living was
only part of the reason. The process is satisfaction in of itself-
pouring hours of thought and effort into a piece of jewelry that
someone will purchase, wear, and enjoy. I have met some jewelers
whose range of talents within the field are simply amazing- artistry,
technical skills and attention to detail- that inspire awe. These
people still put a lot of sweat equity into their work. They just
somehow make it look easy… the jewelry equivalent of music
proteges. For the rest of us, it is painstaking, focused work. Work
we love, however.

Rick Hamilton

1 Like

Hi Bill

I used to think that way but no more. I have a good friend who is a
fantastic designer and waxer. His jeweler was a hand carver and he’s
the Cadman. For a year he did more hand carving-it was just faster.

It took him a year to be better at cadcam. After a year he went from
30% carved to 70% cadcam.

Cad Cam, if you’ve not done it, can’t be compared.

Better usually means speed.

  1. The seats are cut into the wax which mean setting is better and

  2. The next time you sell the same ring takes NO CARVING just say
    "cut wax".

  3. The next time you sell the same ring but with 8 points rather
    than 3 pointers takes 5 minutes and NO CARVING just say “cut wax”.

You don’t have to be a good hand carver to do cad/cam.

But it does take a year to master. But most folks will be around for
many years, just as well get trained.

David Geller

David Geller
510 Sutters Point
Sandy Springs, Ga. 30328
(404) 255-9565

But it does take a year to master. But most folks will be around
for many years, just as well get trained.

Thanks so much for your tips. Your entire post explains exactly why
I want to learn CAD. I have already started teaching myself how to
make wax models through books that I have bought and I do enjoy it.
I like to knit, sew, cook and do other things with my hands and I
find make mini sculptures in wax to be both relaxing and a lot of
fun. HOWEVER, your posts does raise some interesting points that I
had thought about, and I think that I will definitely invest the
year or so that it will take to learn CAD. How did your friend learn
how to do Cadcam?

Sorry Bill,

If you hand carve a wax model and then cast it, it is not handmade.
FTC regs control the use of the words Handmade and Handwrought and
the use you made is inappropriate. This is why so many artisan have
interjected words that are not regulated, such as, hand fabricated,
handcrafted, hand built and more.

The hand carved wax model offers a greater advantage of being a
unique sculpture or limited edition as desired. The bigger question
to me is, if the cad/cam designer is using computer tools (strokes
or what ever term you like) like I use regularly in Inkscape (for web
design and other graphic art) is there any art work or unique value.
Your sail boat is a good example of what I mean. Generated from cad/
cam with SVG tools with give strong line continuity would give a
child’s toy type of look. The personal touch wins out every time, if
the customer can afford it.

I think your site shows several examples of why hand carved is
important to know and well superior skill to start with. Thank for
passing the soap box,

Daniel Culver

I was so happy to read your reply to this thread. I was trained in a
facility where there were bench jewelers, stone setters and
polishers. While the bench folks could set stones, mostly they gave
it to the setters. Those days seem to be long gone. I am stunned at
how many jewelers seem to be able to do it all. At 55 I am getting
to be too tired to want to have it all in the talent/expertise area,
I will muddle along with what I have, improve where I can and praise
God I can send a design to someone who can do the CAD thing for me!!
I am mostly self-taught and professionally started out polishing.
The world certainly has changed! How many of us think we were born
too soon!!!

Mary frances


Thanks for your kind email! I am trying to learn from all of you
wise people and would like to learn correctly! I already have tons
of student loans, so I am going to have to be as self-taught as
possible, barring books and, time permitting, a class here or there.

By the way, I certainly do not believe that anyone was born too
soon. I love to learn from people who have been on our wonderful
planet longer than I – they are usually much wiser than me.


Hi Daniel,

The bigger question to me is, if the cad/cam designer is using
computer tools (strokes or what ever term you like) like I use
regularly in Inkscape (for web design and other graphic art) is
there any art work or unique value. Your sail boat is a good
example of what I mean. Generated from cad/ cam with SVG tools
with give strong line continuity would give a child's toy type of
look. The personal touch wins out every time, if the customer can
afford it. 

Comparisons and criticisms regarding CAD jewelry vs. hand-made can
be confusing and controversial… so, I usually try to stay out of it

opinions are usually based on one’s personal psychology, work style
or artistic inclination. I know I’m no different when it comes to
that. And most of us are very attached to our own way of doing
things, so trying to change someone’s mind about this stuff can be
about the same as suggesting you completely change your political
leanings or religious beliefs. :wink:

But having said that, I’m going to jump in anyway, because it would
be a disservice to the uniformed, if a statement based on someone’s
experience with a 2d graphics program about the artistic merits of
CAD/CAM, was taken at face value.

Having done both hand-carved waxes and CAD/CAM wax modeling, I can
say that I have the same problem with both of them. That is, the
execution of detail.

Working manually, I could never get the look I really wanted or the
level of detail that I saw in my mind. The opposite is true for me in
CAD, You can design anything you can imagine in CAD. My challenge is
often containing the level of detail and shape to that which is
possible to successfully cast, finish and set.

Given these two problems and knowing my strengths, I’ll opt for the

Michelangelo and Cellini were great designers who made beautiful art
AND a lot of money. I wouldn’t be surprised that if they were living
in 2006, they’d be running Windows XP with ArtCAM Jewelsmith, right
next to their traditional work benches. My point is, it need not be a
choice between one or the other, both have their own unique place
and particular merits.

Your point about the personal touch being something the rich can
afford, is well taken. Working in retail jewelry stores before CAD
came along, it was usually about getting it done well enough to get
the money, not about creating great works of art.

Other jewelers I know who have shared this frustration tell me that
CAD has changed their lives. They can create something they are proud
of and make a good living at it.

For me, creating naturalistic shapes in a 3D program isn’t about
using “SVG tools or strokes”, the terminology doesn’t relate to
anything that I know about…

To make something that looks like jewelry, it takes an eye for
design, whether you use a sharp pointed stick OR a CAD program. :wink:

I don’t claim that what I do is great art, but I think it’s somewhat
artistic… The good thing is, I still have a lot to learn as an
artist using CAD, because I maxed-out my bench skills, a long time


Jesse Kaufman

Annabel and the Orchid community,

I really should have answered your post’s question earlier on; I
apologize for not having done so. I also apologize if this note gets
long winded.

Let me begin by saying that I’ve been doing jewelry professionally,
as my sole source of income, since 1979. I have done fabricated work
as well as cast. I started doing what has been referred to on this
forum as “art jewelry” and progressed into the more mainstream
commercial end of the jewelry field, thinking I could make a better
living sooner following this path. Since I began doing mostly
wholesale work for other jewelers in 1988, the great majority of the
work I’ve done has been waxed and cast jewelry, interspersed with
some fabricated pieces and fabrication of cast pieces. I began
working in CAD/CAM in 2001 (Rhino is the software I am currently

With respect to the “CAD Vs. Wax Work” question, by all means learn
both, and learn how to fabricate well. I have been doing more and
more of my designs in CAD as time goes by, peaking at last count to
70% of my Christmas 2005 selling season custom work being done by
CAD/CAM. It has increased my profitability by no less than 35% each
year since I have been using it; last year saw a 63.5% increase in
net profit, totally attributable to CAD/CAM work. I still fabricate
metal or carve waxes where and when it is more appropriate.

Clearly, for me, Rhino has been a great boon to my productivity and
thus my profitability. I still, however do hand carved and hand
fabricated work wherever it makes better logistic sense. I currently
do not have a 3D scanner, so rings to be custom fitted to an existing
ring are easier and faster for me to hand carve than to 3D model for
a perfect fit. Objects requiring hard edge borders with inside square
joins are sharper and faster to fabricate. Though some of the RP
systems are able of producing a nearly perfect inside square edge,
finishing inside that corner is at best time consuming and
challenging. Some objects (perhaps because of my own mental block to
visualizing their component curves or surfaces) would just simply
take too long to model in CAD, so I carve or fabricate them.

Being “organic” or “soft or smooth” in form does not preclude
CAD/CAM, even with Rhino. Using control point modeling you can take a
"ball of clay" (a modeled sphere rebuilt to have many control points)
and sculpt it into any form your mind’s eye can see; so when I see
posts saying CAD/CAM can’t come close to producing what hand work
can, I cringe. I carve and I CAD so I know I can produce a bird’s
head with expression either way. (I’ve done both; if you’re
interested I can send, off-line, computer renderings and photographs
of finished CAD/CAM work to show examples of what I’m talking
about.) I’ve helped others to learn the methods to accomplish
completing valid Rhino models, in what ever design style they prefer
to work. I’m hoping to soon become a user of 3Design to broaden what
I can already do with CAD. Still other programs such as JewelSmith
offer tools to texture surfaces in a way difficult with hand carving
(unavailable with Rhino and Matrix, at present, but those tools
should be available in Rhino V-4 and Matrix 5.3’s “Matrix Art”, both
coming soon in nonfat versions).

Honestly, I know I can carve or fabricate anything I can do in CAD.
The caveat is the time savings and/or the perfect symmetry that comes
from CAD over hand work, in most cases. A class ring that might take
me 18-24 hours to carve to the same exacting detail as I could do
with Rhino, would only take me 8-10 hours to CAD model. If I take an
RTV mold of the original hand carved wax, I need to be extremely
careful not to nick the wax while cutting open the mold. If I do nick
my wax, I need to repair it or use a wax pulled from the mold to cast
as my master model (there will be shrinkage in the injected wax, so
it will not be the same size as originally planned for.) Once I cast
the hand carved wax, or the injected copy, if there is a problem with
the casting of that master model, I’d have to re-carve, or re-cast
an injection. With a CAD model I can send the file back to the mill
or other RP machine and have another perfect facsimile of what I
designed on screen; with no shrinkage from that which had previously
been planned into the model, no mold parting lines, no hassles
getting the injection to fill tight detail, and with no more than a
few extra minutes spent to set the model up for re-milling or
re-printing. It is arguable which produces the “better” model; as has
been voiced here on the forum; but in my area of the jewelry making
field, my clients demand my work to be as nearly perfect as is at
all possible. That level of work is much less time consuming to
attain using CAD/CAM then by using hand methods, making it more
affordable for my client’s clients and making it possible for me to
produce more work within the same time period.

I love carving both wax and metal, I love hand fabricating with
intricate hinging and clasping mechanisms, I love hand engraving
(which I still use to embellish some of my CAD creations); but I also
love how profitable CAD/CAM has made my business by making all of
that so much more efficient. I also love having an easier time
(because of my increase profitability) affording what I’d like to
purchase for myself, be it great food or the toys to enjoy life away
from the bench.

Paul D. Reilly
The Paul Reilly Company

Before there is any confusion (and hopefully after there has been as
much laughter as I have had upon reading my post on CAD Vs. Wax
Work) I’d like to clarify that there are NO non-fat versions of
computer software for CAD out there at thiss time. (My apologies for
misleading those of you who would have liked to “trim down” by using
CAD rather than traditrional bench techniques!).

And thus helps demonstrate that it is not the computer that is
building the models that you see coming from CAD programs, but
rather the user/designer who is (or should be, at any rate) in
control of what gets output from the machines.

My spell check caught (without my seeing it personally) the words
"non-beta version" and corrected it for me to a word combination it

There is no substitute for human proof reading that is any more
reliable than the person using it…same as happens in CAD/CAM; CAD
is as much art and the user’s abilities as anything else we do in
the jewelry fields.