I am eminently frustrated with my feeble first attempts at gem
setting. If I’m not crawling around on the floor on my bad knees
looking for stones, I’m clutching the flex shaft weakly losing the
undercutting burrs as they stick in the metal. I’m going to order the
Wooding book as soon as I can and maybe even the Cheap Thrills book
all in an effort to try to get a handle on this. I think I am missing
some basic concepts. Any words of advice gratefully accepted.
I am eminently frustrated with my feeble first attempts at gem
Judy, need a little more info first.
What type and shape of stone(s) are you trying to set? What method
are you using? Are you setting the stones in heads, channels, or bead
setting them? Would be happy to help with a little more info. Best
regards, Ken Sanders
Judy, I feel your pain!
The solution for me was to break down and go to The New Approach
School (Blaine Lewis) in VA. After 5 very full days, I feel pretty
competent to get good at setting. If you go to a class, I urge you
to take copious notes, and review them every time you use the
techniques until you become proficient.
I’m sure there are other wonderful classes as well, but I was
totally delighted with Blaine. He is a devoted and excellent
teacher, and with his magnification system, you can watch him demo
and see every “flea dandruff” (as he puts it) sized piece of metal
that moves. Imagine a normal setting shown on a huge screen tv, so
that one inch becomes maybe three feet!
I have seen his video only to the extent he used it in class, but I
think that would be my second choice, after a live-action class. I
have the Wooding book and tapes, but they are much better as a
refresher than as instruction. Before the class, I looked at them
full of unanswered questions, with no one to ask.
Cheap Thrills (In the Toolshop-- is there another?) is a
terrifically useful little tome, but not about stone setting.
Here are a few tips:
I purchased “Diamond Setting: An Introductory Procedure,” a
video by Robert Wooding. For me it was a quantum leap in my
technique. I have not been disappointed in any of the videos I have
purchased from Rio Grande.
Bee’s wax softened between the fingers for handling small stones
The Allset tool is remarkable
The Bench Mate ring clamp allows both hands free to work.
Curved jaw pliers allow you to see your work better as you bend
prongs over the bezel facets
6…I use cast or stamped mountings but I solder 22 gauge wire to the
outside. This adds strength and gives you enough material to work
Good Luck…This is not an easy venture on which to start out.
In the beautiful foothills near Eagle Idaho
Blaine Lewis’ “Bezel and Flush Setting” video set is terrific for
that aspect of setting stones.
I am eminently frustrated with my feeble first attempts at gem
setting. I think I am missing some basic concepts. Any words of
advice gratefully accepted.
Without more or watching you set stones, it’s hard to
give any specific advice. So, here is some general advice. I hope
it helps. There are some things in the jewelry making field that
are easy to figure out and apply. Stone setting is not necessarily
one of them. It looks easy, it requires relatively few tools and
you get great impact for the time you spend, but it also requires a
great deal of eye/hand coordination, fine motor skills, dexterity
and good near vision. Even having taken courses on stone setting
and watching master setters almost every day, it took me years, and
tons of patience and practice, to get to a proficient level. It’s
good that you’re dissatisfied, embrace that. Dissatisfaction and
frustration are perhaps the most underrated, unappreciated and
misunderstood mechanisms in learning a new skill. Frustration can
propel you to the next level. Have patience with yourself. When
learning stone setting, it is best to do each step as perfectly as
you can even if it takes hours to complete a simple job. Speed will
eventually and naturally come to you, but habitual sloppiness is
very hard to break.
Inevitably, I have a student or apprentice get extremely frustrated
and remark that something is too hard, I always tell them that
nothing is any harder than anything else, it just takes more time to
learn, more time to perform and more time to master. Once you are
sure you aren’t leaving out important steps, break down learning a
new skill into steps and let your natural learning curve present
itself to you.
Hellooooo Judy, I am setting many years and I think at times my most
valuabe tool is a good broom!!! Really! Anyhoo don’t despair it’s
just the learning . What we do, is at times very difficult and
frustrating. I think overall because we are people who are trying
very hard to obtain beauty in our work and possibly into our lives.
Be patient with yourself ,buy books ,take classes,and
practice,practice , practice.( E-mail me any time )
Happy Holidays to all Orchidians!!!
Get a copy of Blaine Lewis’ video tape – while I have not seen the
tape, I did take his class and if the tape is anything like the class
it is infinitely better than a book to start with. Once you have
seen something, getting additional help from a book is very useful.
lude your burr with some wax… slow down your speed and wear an
apron with a pocket at the bottom to catch what you drop… have
a good day Ringman John Henry
The last year that I spent Christmas with a partner - I bought him
the a most appropriate gift for Christmas.
A miner’s lamp (head mount) and a pair of knee pads…
Get used to it. We all spend a large proportion of our time crawling
around on the floor, under benches and such:)
I’m still working on the diamond magnet…
Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
2207 Lucile Ave.
Stockton, CA 95209
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who responded to my Frustration
post. I feel encouraged that I am not alone in this. I was beginning
to feel the most inept student ever. Especially to David Keeling;
your description of the technique is detailed but amazingly I was
able to understand it. And Larry “it’s good that you’re
dissatisfied, embrace that”. It’s true that I do get “into it”, so
to speak. I carve, hack away piece by piece until the puzzle is laid
bare. Most people get infuriated with me but I persist,
nevertheless. And after this I am going in search of the tapes
mentioned in the other posts. Cheers and Have a Great Weekend…
Learning to love the dirt and see the world as my cats do…
Get used to it. We all spend a large proportion of our time crawling around on the floor, under benches and such:)
I’ve seen/heard this described as “the jewejer’s prayer” position…
related to “the child’s pose”, but more awkward.
Hi Judy, and all
The reason you are having difficulty is…what you are doing takes a
long time and many errors to learn. It’s not you.
The brand new, very sharp undercutting burr is the hardest to use
for a relative novice. If the setting is a commercial one, it is
probably kind of thin, and may torque, or twist if the burr catches
and binds a couple of the claws while spinning out of control. Try
to be patient, and you will eventually be successful. If there is
one tip that I may offer you about using undercutting burrs while
you are learning, it is to use one that is considerably smaller than
the stone diameter to start the seat, or to use a small ball burr to
mark the location of the cut. Once you have established a bearing
where the larger undercut burr will spin without catching, you will
find some relief.
I use undercut burrs to cut the seat in one claw at a time. Sounds
weird, but I seldom overdo a cut. I’ll try to explain this clearly.
Use a burr that is about 50% of the diameter of the stone. Slip it
inside the head, and cut the bearing into the claw which is on the
left…that is, the one at 9 o’clock that you can see from its side,
and look at it while cutting. Hold the piece firmly, and rotate the
burr at a relatively slow speed until it establishes a mark, and
then , in increments, cut the bearing to a workable depth and
profile. Think of it as 'carving". Then rotate the setting until you
have an unworked claw on the left again, and cut a matching bearing.
Repeat this until you have cut all four, or six if that is what you
Why the one on the left? This is important.
Because of the rotation directionof the motor, the burr wants to act
like a tire and travel clockwise from where it first catches. It
finds traction, and travels, or “walks”, often cutting or marring
where you don’t want it to. it goes out of control. if you hold the
handpiece very firmly, and the ring clamp very firmly, and only make
contact with the one claw on your left, you are taking advantage of
the strongest muscles in both your hands which will resist the
burr’s inclination to walk away from you, from the nine o’clock
position to the 12 o’clock position, which is where it ALWAYS goes.
Your right hand can offer enough resistance to the burr goiung
forward, simply by gently applying some pressure toward you, or
toward the six o’clock claw, without touching it. Once the cut is
established, go to the next.
Eventually, you may need to try to drop the stone into the setting,
and eyeballing its fit. Is the available diameter in your fully-cut
bearing the same as that of the stone? If it is close, or right on,
bend two of the claws outword from ABOVE the bearing in order to
allow you to drop the stone right into the bearing. If the seat is
correct, and the claws can be bent forward without pinching the
girdle of the stone, you will have little trouble. If the stone
rocks within its bearing, the bearing will require some correction.
Be patient, and you’ll get it right. Don’t cut corners or take
chances with a bearing which doesn’t match the profile of the stone.
If you want to practice cutting a bearing in the way that I have
described without wrecking anything, try this. Use a pin vise, and a
piece of heavier wire, about 1 mm. Secure the wire in the pin vise,
and try to make a bearing cut with your undercut burr on the right
side of it, as if it were the claw on your left that I described. It
will walk, and catch, and make you crazy until you find a way to
feel the fine control necessary to hold both the vise and the
handpiece steadily and securely enought to prevent the burr from
going out of control. Gentle pressure toward you, with the burr
spinning at a moderate speed. Use it like a saw, establishing a mark
and chipping away at it until you have a pleasing depth, as you
would on a claw. You will develop a "feel’ for what you need to do
when working on an actual setting.
Do you use regular bearing cutters as well, or “setting” burrs? They
are the ones with the vertical sides, and a cone-shaped bottom which
mimics the pavillion of a diamond. These are less aggressive in
their cutting, and if you use the size which matches the (diamond?)
diameter, you will generally get an accurate, workable bearing. Not
idiot-proof, but better for the novice.
You really need to study the profile of the stone as well. Is it a
well-cut diamond? Thick girdle? Thin? Coloured stones require more
careful study, and often I find that each claw must be cut to match
a particular area of an uneven girdle.
You will find that your success depends on your willingness to
accept failure, and to learn from your mistakes.If you need more
help, feel free to call me at my studio, and I will try to help in
any way that I can.
There is excellent advice here on learning gem setting, so I will
throw my hat into the ring on the general topic of Frustration.
One of my favorite definitions of a “master” is someone who makes
his mistakes look like part of the work.
Almost everyone of the folks on this list could tell you about some
flaw in a what others might consider a masterpiece that they made or
someway they could have improved their piece. The difference
between you and them is only the degree of that potential flaw.
It has been shown scientifically that human beings learn more from
their mistakes then from success. If you are going along smoothly
and everything is going right there is less feedback then when you
met some sort of resistance.
The most successful entrepreneurs are those who failed at least
Thomas Edison made thousands of samples trying to find the right mix
to create the light bulb, yet he regarded none of these tests as
failures only steps along the way teaching him what did not work.
Airline pilots do not fly in a straight line to get anywhere, they
fly and make constant course corrections along the way. The sooner
they make the corrections the closer they fly to that straight line.
The same is true of you or the expert as you get better you will
start sooner and sooner to correct yourself as you start to move
off-course and your work will look cleaner and cleaner.
Judy - stone setting can be one of the most difficult and anxiety
portions of the work we do. Even after years and years of doing it
there is still a degree of apprehension when it comes to the final
process of setting the Since we are quite often working
with very valuable stones and expensive precious metal, as well as
countless hours of labor, it isn’t exactly a stress free procedure.
Wooding’s books are very helpful, as is perseverance and a lot of
practice with inexpensive materials. It is better to work with
less significant as a learning exercise and refine the process until
you are comfortable with setting a stone you consider valuable. A
sense of confidence will come in time as you develop better
familiarity with the procedures, but the very best advice is to take
a beginning stone setting class. Taking the appropriate classes will
give you instruction in the correct way to approach the wide variety
of setting considerations. And, better yet, you won’t be as likely to
develop bad habits as one might using the self taught trial and error
method. The money you invest will pay for itself many times over.
My recommendation is the Revere Academy. www.revereacademy.com
If the consumers who purchase our jewelry had any inclination of how
difficult and dangerous it can be to set gemstones (to both the
setter and the gemstone) they might have more appreciation for the
Good luck to you,
Michael David Sturlin
I’m really enjoying all the advice on setting, but… What is an
"undercutting bur"? Is this another name for hart burs, or is it
something different? Thanks!
Dear Noel, I have been teaching stone setting for seventeen years
here at the Minneapolis Community & Technical College. Over the years
I have had to describe this process over and over. Here’s my shot at
Here are some basic techniques. Hard to just describe, but maybe it
will help. If you start with a round prong or any shape, you need to
notch it to fit the stone. This is usually done with burs. I know
many will be more specific, but you need to somewhat match the side
profile of the stone for it to fit. The side on the stone called the
girdle fits into this notch. You remove metal on the inside of the
prong so the stone fits with no gaps when you are all finished. This
really can be done with quite a few different burs. The most popular
being a 45 degree or 90 degree bur. In olden days setters used to
file this notch with files and rifflers. When beginning remove about
half of the prong, no more.
As you are doing this you have to aim the bur and NOT drill too deep
or too high on the inside of the prong. The top of the stone should
be the same height as the top of your prongs. This aim can be done
with the bur as a guide. Compare the cutting edge of the bur to the
stone. Aim where you think this notch should be. Try to do all the
prongs the same. Usually one at a time, although when doing one you
might slightly star the next so aim well.
The burs can vary from one manufacturer to another. The high speed
buts cost the most and last the longest, but many times have a very
big tooth and be very aggressive. If you compare a Busch Bur that’s a
45 degree to a High Speed bur that’s a 45 degree you will see the
difference. Buy the Busch Bur. As a beginner you will control the
cutting with this bur more. They are also a little less expensive
than the high speed ones.
Don’t assume that the prongs will be perfectly spaced, ever. They
need adjusting most of the time. A chain nose pliers works well to
move them out a bit if necessary. The stone should be place in the
notched crown and be loose. Tightening the stone happens with three
First, the prongs have to come up close to the stone. I usually use
a parallel pliers to do this. You can do two or opposite prongs at a
time. After the prongs have come up closer, the stone can still be
loose. If it is a faceted stone line the prongs up with the facets.
The sign of excellent stone setting is this. And only you may be the
only person that know this part. On many faceted stones the very top
of the stone is eight sided. Like a stop sign. Make the stone line up
with the prongs.
Second, the tips of the prongs need to be pushed onto the crown of
the stone. A prong pusher or pliers can be used at this point. Do
opposites one at a time. Many times this will be enough to set the
stone. I take it one little step farther.
Third, with a chain nose pliers, or your favorite pliers, from the
SIDE, very slightly squeeze the prong towards each other. If a four
prong head do it to both sets. If a six prong head do it to each set
of two. After squeezing the prongs out of position use the pliers to
squeeze them back to the way they were like new. This should set the
stone. Tightening happens very gently this way.
When I started in the trade in 1977 I was a stone setters
apprentice. Now that was not a diamond setter’s apprentice, but a
stone setters. We had to set opals, aqua marines and many very
brittle stones. I did break my share, but setting diamonds were a
snap after learning on all the others.
I know if this helps, but it’s my two cents worth.
I feel compelled to offer a bit of levity here as well. In my shop,
when something seeks and finds the floor, I always say- sometimes out
loud, " none genuine…'til it hits the floor"!
To John, I hope you are recuperating nicely. You are so friendly and
helpful. I always look forward to reading your posts. Gail