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Economic tools


I am a very poor college student and have been using the universities
tools and now that it is summer I have afire burning up in me to make
some stuff but I have no tools. I was wondering if anyone had some
advice on where to find good tools for a cheap price. I have looked
at ebay but I question the quality.

Thank you.


If you say where you live, there might be jewelers in your area that
will help you.

I was wondering if anyone had some advice on where to find good
tools for a cheap price. I have looked at ebay but I question the

I was born in Russia, and in Russia one cannot buy tools. They are
simply not for sale. Everybody makes their own. In some ways it is
good, because by making tools, one learn to work with metal.

Do not look at your situation as an obstacle, but as an opportunity
to learn. There is no better teacher than necessity.

Make a design of what you want to make and decide how you will make
it. Than assemble the tools that you need for the project.

Small Dremel motor will do instead of flexible shaft, small
plumber’s torch from hardware store should be enough to start
soldering. Unglazed ceramic tile will be your soldering board. Even
it cracks, you can encase it in plaster of paris. You can buy drill
rod quite cheaply and make a lot of useful tools out of it. And so
Think creatively and adapt what you have. The best tool you would
ever have is your brain. Use it !

Jewellery making is about solving problems and you will have a
chance to experience it first hand. It will only make you a better
metalsmith at the end.

Leonid Surpin

try Don Norris “Learn Silver” he has a kit on his site with all the
tools you will ever need.

Oh sorry. I am currently in school by St.Cloud MN, but call Denver
home. The only really useful jewelry tool I have is a Dremel brand
rotary tool with a flex shaft which has made working on pieces for
class a lot easier since I can do so in the dorm room.

Note From Ganoksin Staff:
Looking for a rotary tool for your jewelry projects? We recommend:

I’m not familiar with Don Norris’s “Learn Silver” program, but that
800 dollar kit looks like it includes two, maybe three hundred
dollar’s worth of tools if you include the tumbler. In that case, I
think you’d be much better served taking that money and buying the
individual tools.

RioGrande and Contenti both offer preassembled toolkits, and the
Revere Academy posts the lists of tools required for their classes on
Otto Frei. I’m not sure if buying a bunch of tools other people have
decided are “necessary” is in your best interests though, so what I’d
do is look through a few of those lists and keep track of what items
make it on each one, and then compare those tools with the ones that
have helped you out the most in your classes.

Another thing to keep in mind is that most suppliers sell tools in
various grades. Lower grade tools might require a little extra effort
to get to a workable point, but most of them are salvageable. Sanding
your pliers to get a smooth, non-marring finish on the jaws or
grinding off the sharp edge of a hammer face is something you can do
yourself, and anything you can do yourself is something you don’t
have to pay someone else to do.

Above all, don’t be afraid to modify a tool, any tool, to fit your
needs. A full selection of forming hammers would cost a small
fortune, but if you’ve got the time and a bench grinder, you could
fashion yourself quite a collection just from old rusty relics you
find at a swap meet or garage sale.

Now that I’ve typed all this, I realize that it doesn’t really
answer your original question. I have bought tools off eBay, and
sometimes it’s a crapshoot, but sometimes you can get really good
deals. Look at the pictures and look at who’s selling it. If the
seller has five hundred more of the same thing for sale, they
probably bought it from a warehouse in India or China, and you can
probably get a better deal, plus some kind of guarantee, from an
actual retailer.

Harbor Freight sells some usable tools, but it’s important to
remember that you’re getting what you pay for there. For example,
they’ve got a set of dapping punches for something on the order of 40
dollars. I own one of these sets, and I have no doubt that if I had
the need to make domed shapes with any frequency I would easily wear
through it. The steel came with pits and tool marks, but I had the
time to clean it up myself, and I didn’t have enough use for the
thing to consider investing in a more reputable brand.

Have you talked to your instructor about where to buy tools? He or
she might be able to offer more local advice than anyone here could.

Here’s hoping some of that wall of text is useful to you. Good luck.

Willis Hance

Go to the MJSA website, there is a link there for tool suppliers.
Also if you can make the trade shows. you will find hand tools and

Good Luck!

Hi there

I originally learnt to silversmith in Sri Lanka, so had a good
introduction to making stuff with very little equipment. As a
hobbyist I have continued this trend and now find myself getting
almost as much pleasure from making the tools to do a job as I get
from actually making the piece.

Obviously, this all depends on what kinds of kit you are making, and
professionally made nice tools will save you a lot of time (for
instance, I do have a Durston rolling mill and love it dearly), but:

Pliers - you can buy standard hardware shop pliers and file the teeth
off of the inside, then finish the inside with emery to get a non
marring set of jewellers pliers. Needle nose ones are good to start
with as it is easy to get to the teeth. You can also then shape them
as appropriate.

Hammer - second hand ball peen or rivet hammers are good to start
with. File and sand the head to the appropriate shape and then polish
with white diamond (called HiFin sometimes, available from all good
jewellery shops). A good planishing hammer should have a cusp on it
that follows a circle with a diameter of about 3 to 5 feet. Bevel the
edges a bit harder to prevent marring the work.

Anvils - you can start with a standard one, finish the surface with
emery and then polish with white diamond. I have also used left over
bits of steel plate and polished up one side and this works a treat.
For curved anvils I have used different sized carriage bolts to good
effect, and nails make excellent small punches and bezel pushers.
Steaks (anvils with very specific shapes) can be made out of pretty
much any old bit of metal, shaped and formed. You can also use wood
if it is not going to take too much abuse, I do all of my anticlastic
raising using a metal hammer over an oak bar that has some saddle
shapes rasp filed into it. Generally, whenever you see a bit of metal
lying about start thinking about what you can do with it - to give a
feel, my first ever ring anvil was a section of the barrel of an old
air rifle.

Torch: A standard plumber’s propane torch will work for items up to
about 5 inches across. If you want to anneal bigger then you will
need a hearth (look for blacksmithing groups on the net, there are
easy ways to make these) or a bigger torch. Having a separate O2
source or air blower is lovely from a control point of view, but is
not necessary. I quench into a plastic bucket filled with cold water
and do have a proper acid pickle pot, but a container with some acid
(H2SO4 drain cleaner or swimming pool acidifier are good sources, but
I have used warm lemon juice before), or even warm Silver Dip will do
the job. You can also solder small stuff using tweezers and a gas hob
if you have to. For small and very delicate operations you can use a
blow pipe, either a bought one or a bit of brass piping about 1ft
long with a 3mm diameter hole - put one end in your mouth, the other
in the middle of a sooty kerosene lamp flame and blow.

Bench Peg: G clamp a bit of wood to your bench or table. Works a
treat but is best with some kind of hard wood.

Polishing Motor: Get a cheap grinder from a hardware store that has
a drill chuck at one end, you can then attach polishing mops to that
end by putting spindles on them. Old CDs with emery paper glued to
them make acceptable lapps as well, as do circles cut from thick
leather. I have an old box over my wheel to cut down on dust.

Hand Polishing - impregnate (rub) cloth, wood leather, string etc
with polishing compound and rub vigorously on your work, or your work
on the polishing stick. This works surprisingly well, and the HiFin
you polished all of your tools with will give you an excellent finish
and a fairly fast cut (on silver, copper and gold).

Drawing wire - not that necessary anymore, but when required I still
use the method I was taught as a kid and put my feet either side of
the draw plate and pull through with the draw tongs. For draw tongs I
use a set of vice-grip pliers. If you have a lot of time on your
hands you can make your own draw plate from some sheet steel and a
centre punch - anneal the steel, drill varying sized holes in it, pop
the centre punch into the holes and bash it down so that the taper on
its shaft causes the inside of the hole to taper. Do this from both
ends. Temper and then polish the holes by fitting a bit of wooden
dowel in them coated with HiFin, stick the other end of the dowel
into your drill and spin until shiny. Tips on annealing ferrous
metals and tempering are in the orchid archives - it is worth
how to do so that your tools last.

Drill - an old hand drill works a treat, and the battery powered
ones are fairly good too. You can also make your own drill bits out
sewing needles if you are really hard up. There are instructions on
doing this in the orchid archives. Eventually you will want a proper
pendant drill and a drill press as well, but they can come later.

Files and sanding - hardware store files will do, butyou will want
to treat yourself to some nice new ones eventually. Sandpaper for
metal from a hardware store or automotive shop is ideal for most
jewellery work, get grades 200 to 1,200 - back it onto sticksfor
specific jobs and it will last longer and work faster.

Sawing - one thing where you do need the right kit. Get a decent
jewellers saw frame and a good selection of blades.

Cleaning up - a toothbrush, some toothpicks, warm water and a mix of
white spirit (gloss paint thinner) and washing up liquid will get
rid of ingrained polishing compound fairly effectively.

Generally, I think that one can be as creative in making one’s tools
as they are in coming up with finished pieces, though it does require
time and patience to do. It can also be very cost effective and allow
you to build up a shop slowly. Do take your personal safety into
consideration and exercise care - there are some things which I am
very lucky to have walked away from unhurt. However, don’t be afraid
to experiment and occasionally get it wrong - the shelves of my
workshop are littered with bits and bobs which proved not to work at
the time but are awaiting recycling into something helpful at a later

Hope this helps.

There are several places to procure cheaper tools- but they will
require modification (filing out teeth or adjusting the tips)

  • Picks and tweezers and fine points- In todays toss-out world and
    disposable mentality- you can get tweezers and picks and probes from
    dentists and ER’s… Try the Sterile processing deaprtment at any
    hospital or clinic. CLEAN THEM- sterilize and keep them clean.

  • SIMPLE MARKETING: Flea Markets and dollar stores- youre not looking
    for 5 years of work- you are looking for tools that can get you
    through to make some pieces and possibly some cash! LOOK FOR TOOLS
    that have no serious monetary value- make simple, sellable items and
    generate cashflow- THEN move into your “artist” mode and start
    starving! (HA!)

  • Yes- Im supporting producing mass-market mentality… BUT- I am
    saying there is NO need to be a starving artist unless you WANT that
    as a title! Produce cheaper pieces to fund the bigger items! Its the
    "Monopoly" rule- 4 simple green small houses = 1 big fat-daddy RED

  • Pawn shops can offer a great variety of tools- albeit a bit more
    cumbersome in the start- but several of the shops near me offer a
    "Grab bin" of hand tools and older things that are easily adaptable.

  • Try offering your services to a jeweler- clean floors part-time in
    exchange for tool-time… Free labor is always good and it may
    provide a foot-in-the-door for some simple tasks that can begin your
    portfolio outside in the retail world.

  • DONT FORGET YOUR LOCAL ROCK HOUNDS! These cats are great for
    showing you the ropes and most have tools they started with and
    "evolved" out of!

  • Check Craigs list and eBay- but I strongly discourage any
    tool-purchase you cant put your hands on thanks to the numerous of
    dubious and questionable items you may receive!

  • Last- have you ever considered the school you attend? Any surplus
    tools? Maybe a “check-out” program with the art director or
    professor/department heads… I have known of folks that teach and
    they love to explore a persons creativity and in one case made an
    "Intensive Self-Study" course to allow a student to not only
    ciontinue- but work for the school as well as have lab-tools

Good luck!

Just a suggestion or two to add to the excellent ones already

Browse 2nd hand stores like the Salvation Army for bargains. I buy
used crock pots (for pickle) for $3, and simple things like butter
knives ($.25) to grind into bench knives, etc. I bought some light
fixtures for my bench for only a few dollars as well, and nearly
bought a wonderful old desk for a bench, very inexpensive.

Flea Market/Swap meets for the same, plus the old tools. I didn’t
have a grinder when I bought tools like this, just a knife
sharpening stone, (which makes a wonderful file for many things, I
still sometimes prefer it to course files for jewelry) and various
grades of sandpaper and emery paper. These will edge your new tools
to your satisfaction, and you can polish or buff by hand (cloths
impregnated with compound) or with your dremel. Introduce yourself
to some of the used tool folks at the flea market. Tell them what
sort of things you are looking for, and many will turn up in their
booths over the next few weeks, with you in mind. Many of these guys
know a lot about how to finish tools and work them, they are a fount
of knowledge and ideas.

Plumber’s torch - I used the kind with a hose from the small
disposable tank to the nozzle for my first year or two, it was
great, certainly did the job ($20 for a set up w/o a hose, around
$35 with). They use disposable propane cannisters from the hardware
store, about $4 each. You can invest in a disposable cannister of
Mapp gas ($8) if you need a fuel that burns a little hotter for some

Contenti co. was mentioned; they are among the most inexpensive out
there, and most of what I heard has been positive.

You won’t need much to get started, and since it’s summer, I suggest
working outside for ventilation. Some cinder blocks and a piece of
plywood make a very removeable bench, esp. if you can leave the
cinder blocks in place and take only the board with you. For $5, you
can buy a seat cover for a 5 gallon pail that will hold your torch
upright along with Your soldering brick and all of your tools, and
the pail and cover become the seat for your impromptu bench. With a
board under your arm, and your pail seat in hand, you’re on your

Let us know how it goes!

Lisa W.