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Compensatory flex-shaft techniques?

Hi All: I’m a recent graduate of the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts,
in San Francisco, and I’m wondering if there are any left-handed
jewelers (and/or setters) out there who could offer me some pointers
with something that’s got me tied in knots, each time I sit down at
the bench… Although I’ve become adept enough at layout, piercing,
soldering and finishing that I’m now employed as a repairman, I
still seem to be all but incapable of controlling the flex shaft,
each time I need to set a stone. In the hands of all my right-handed
colleagues and former instructors, this invaluable tool seems
relatively easily controlled: just squeeze the fingers tighter and
stiffen the hand into a vise-like grip, and away you go! The only
problem is, when the *(%$^&)tool’s in the left hand, there aren’t
enough opposing fingers, it seems, to keep it steady enough to
prevent prongs from being decapitated, regardless of the speed or
pressure I use.

Are there any lefties out there, especially those who do a lot with
prong setting, who’ve come up with ways of overcoming this obstacle?
(At this point, after more than 50 attempts, I’m averaging only one
well-cut 4- or 6-prong setting for every dozen or fifteen I ruin, an
average I’d really like to put behind me!)

Thanks so much, all!

All the best,
Doug Turet, GJ
Lapidary Artist & Designer
Turet Design
Tel. (617) 325-5328
eFax (928) 222-0815

Doug, I too am left handed and have been using a flex shaft for
almost 30 years and have not encountered the problems that you
describe although it isn’t quite clear what you are experiencing. Is
it a lack of hand strength? If so get one of those spring loaded
devices used to develop hand strength. Apart from that I think that
there is a definite advantage in holding the hand piece in the left
hand. Because of the direction of the rotation of the shaft filings,
dust, etc. is directed away from you as opposed to towards you, when
held in the left hand.

Joel Schwalb

Hi Doug, I’m a lefty as well, so I understand your pain. When I cut
seats for settings, I anticipate the initial movement of the burr
and compensate for it. (because the rotation of the burr is
clockwise, the handpiece tends to jump to the right). I find that by
supporting your hand and arm on the bench, it helps to control the
handpiece. It’s also very important to start slowly at low speed. I
hope this makes sense. Good luck.

Don McLeod’s Jewellers-Goldsmith-Designer Specialist in hand made
jewellery & corporate gifts, made to order in gold, silver and

I'm wondering if there are any left-handed jewelers (and/or
setters) out there who could offer me some pointers I still seem to
be all but incapable of controlling the flex shaft, each time I
need to set a stone. 

Hi Doug, I’m left-handed, mainly when it comes to writing. Over the
years, I’ve gradually moved my skills from my left to my right hand
quite successfully. With the flexshaft it was different, I persisted
in using my right-hand (unsuccessfully) until one day I considered
that the flexshaft was like a pen or pencil and the only thing I
couldn’t do with my right-hand was write.

So, I swapped to my left-hand and started thinking about it as a
writing tool, to be given the same control as a writing implement.
Since that realization, my drilling, burring, cutting, texturing,
etc., results have improved dramatically. I think of the point of
the burr as the point of a pen, needing precise control and

Along with that mindshift, I noticed that I automatically supported
my hands and fingers much more appropriately.

Another change I made was to move my flexshaft motor to my left side
so I didn’t have the flex part draped around my shoulders or crossed
control hassles because it restricted my movement and the flex part
wanted to do it’s own thing and push against what I was trying to do.

Hope this is of some help,

Hi Doug, Have you tried bracing your hand that holds the hand piece
for maximum control? I brace my pinkie on the side of the bench pin,
my ring finger on the top edge of the bench pin, the thumb, index and
middle finger hold the handpiece. Also, let the motor run for a few
seconds before touching the bur to the piece you are working on- the
hand piece moves around a bit as it starts up- wait until it is
steady before working with it. One of the things I help students with
in my workshops is bur control (and bracing both the hand holding the
work and the hand holding the tool against the bench pin is
essential.) For stone setting or any other work that requires very
precise grinding, it is useful to let your index finger ride on the
bur to direct it. I just got the Foredom TX flex shaft and I am
thrilled with the speed control on this unit. HTH, Kate Wolf,
at Wolf Designs, Portland, Maine

Have you considered cutting your seats with files until you get the
hang of the flex shaft? I use files whenever I can and I don’t think
it really takes any longer, and it saves on repolishing prongs too. I
try to do as much by hand (non-motorized) as possible or reasonable.
I admire and am greatly inspired by handwrought jewelry of the arts
and crafts era. It’s kind of a spiritual connection to the metal and
the old world craftsmen for me when I use a tool powered by my own
hand instead of an electric motor.

The other thing you might consider is the handpiece you are using.
Maybe you need a slimmer/fatter one? I used to use the older style
handpiece with the black comfort grip, but it was so big around I
couldn’t get my fingers wrapped all the way around it (I have really
little hands). I just could not tame that beast! So…a smaller
handpiece solved my problem AND came with a quick change lever that
saves tons of time. (Hey…I’m not totally against technology).