Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

How to be Fast

OK, we’re coming into “Work a little, rest a little”, mode here. With
all this talk about speed, I thought I’d throw some things out there.
These are fundamental things, and largely apply to any kind of work -
wax, fabrication or otherwise. I would guess that a good percentage
of Orchid will know all of this, and more will know some of it,
already. Also, understand that these are hard-and-fast rules, until
they’re not. If you have reason to break them, then that’s what you
should do. I guess a list format is best…

  1. Understand the difference between roughing and finishing and don’t
    confuse the two. By finishing, I mean detail, not polish. A
    figurative carving is a good example: First you make the shape, then
    you give it life. There’s no way to say, but you might do the
    in 1/2 hour and the detailing might take 6 hours. And don’t rough too
    much - leave room for later. First you rough, then you finish. No
    matter what medium.

  2. Use the biggest, baddest tool you can, but not too much. This
    applies especially to files and burs. If you try to cut down a wax
    tube with a weenie little needle file or a dental tool, you’ll be
    there all day. Use a jeweler’s saw with a #5 sawblade, and whack it
    off. In the finishing step you’ll use the needle files…

  3. Pretend you’re a factory even if you’re not. Use production
    methods always, make it a habit. You may only work on one piece, but
    often that piece will have 20 parts or processes on it. This means:

  4. Work in piles. Have a pile of parts, pick one up, do the work, put
    it in a finished pile. Then take that pile and do the next step on
    it. If you have 15 bezel rings, make 15 bezels, solder them onto 15
    plates, etc.

  5. Do one process at a time, don’t get ahead of yourself. If it’s to
    solder, round and flatten 25 flat jump rings - put all the seams
    together, solder them all, round them all, and then flatten them all,
    and then file the flats, then the outer edges, then the inner edges.
    1 tool + 1 surface = 1 process. Work systematically.

  6. First do the lefts, then do the rights - don’t turn your work
    round and round. You might think engravers act like they have a
    pencil, but they don’t, largely. If they engrave “KICK”, they do the
    stroke of the K, the I, and the other K, turn and do the two upper K
    strokes, then the lowers, all the serifs, etc. If you need to file
    out a ring top or such, file left, left, left, all the way around.
    Then go back and go right, right right all the way around. And then
    go back and do a stroke to tie them together. If you were in a car on
    a twisty mountain road, and a linear thinker, you would have to start
    at one end and go to the other. Since you’re in an airplane, you can
    go “flick, flick flick” for the left curves. etc. This is a HUGE time
    saver, and also gives consistent work.

  7. Don’t do anything you don’t need to do, and don’t do that until
    it’s time to do it. Hand in hand with this is, look ahead. Years ago
    someone said to take stock from the rolling mill and sit down and
    file it out. Huh? I’ll take raw stock from rolling, cut it to length,
    bend it into a band, solder, round, file the inside, stamp it, and
    ONLY THEN will I file the outside. If you have a NEED to finish it,
    then by all means do, but not just because. Why would you put a huge
    effort into polishing a ring top when you’re going to hammer set a
    stone into it? Why would you spend an hour to get a wax to a
    superfine finish (fine, yes, superfine, no) when you’re going to take
    a file to it after it’s cast? It’s just walking into freshly poured
    concrete - don’t do it. Part of this is looking ahead. Be able to
    say, “I don’t need to do THIS right now because I’m going to do THAT
    later on.” Conversely, and equally important, is, “I DO need to do
    this now, because I’m doing THAT later on.”

  8. Work smart is easy to say, maybe not so easy to do. If you need a
    band with 4 balls on the surface, are you going to try to carve away
    wax to a level surface, leaving the balls behind, or make a band,
    on a lathe, nice and neat, and then wax or solder the balls on after?
    IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW the piece came to be, all that matters is what
    it is in the end. That is gospel, realizing that more work is
    supposed to make more piece - that’s craftsmanship. Absolutely nobody
    is interested in how much time you wasted doing something the "wrong"
    way, though.

  9. Buy a steel rule with millimeters, a good set of dividers (not
    that junk - get a drafting one and put a point where the lead goes),
    a scriber, a center finder, and a good MM gauge and USE THEM. I would
    no more work on a wax without N,S,E,W center lines marked out than I
    would put an icepick in my ear. With those lines, you can do anything
    with reasonable confidence and precision. Without them, you are
    stumbling in the dark. This goes for fabrication, too.

  10. Don’t listen to anybody, including me. That does not mean don’t
    learn. Many times (many) I’ve heard someone say, “Do this, this,
    this, this, et al”, and I’ve just picked up a hammer and gone Whack!,
    and it’s done. Engrave this in your brain: IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW
    MADE. The only thing that matters is what it is. It’s your jewelry,
    make it how you want. If that means whacking it with a hammer, and
    you get that long and involved result, then good for you. I could
    make you two identical rings in two widely different methods, one
    taking 2x the time, and you could never tell the difference, nor
    would you, the buyer, care much. Books, especially, have these lists
    of processes - Then do this, then do this - they have to because
    they’re books. Rise above that and just make it. Don’t think of it as
    a recipe, think of it as a snapshot in time - a mental image. I could
    count on one hand the things that just must be done to formula -
    granulation comes to mind - mokume. Otherwise, the only thing that
    matters is what’s in the showcase. Now, if you don’t put in 3 hours
    of engraving, it won’t be engraved, to be sure. But how you do that
    engraving is nobody’s business but your own.

  11. Finally - there’s probably more, but it’s enough. Although on
    some level we make jewelry with our hands, we actually make it with
    tools. I know all about being “Tool-Starved”, and that acquiring more
    and better tools is a long process. First: Electricity is your
    If you want to go handmade and power-less, that’s fine and up to you.
    Otherwise, your 1/5 hp flexshaft represents two strong men working
    you (1 hp = 10 manpower). Use them. Use big files for big work, small
    ones for small, rough files for rough work, fine ones for fine. On
    and on. As you gain more tools that are suited to the jobs you do, it
    will be easier and easier, and thus faster, to work. Matching the
    tool to the work is probably #1 on the list for efficiency.

  12. Actually one last, maybe most important thing. Don’t agonize over
    it, just make it. This doesn’t mean that beginners and novices aren’t
    slow and uncertain or anything like that. I’ll set out on a piece
    a vague plan at times and have to sit back and ponder the next step,
    too, sometimes. But try to have a vision, and execute it, and then
    when it’s done, call it done and move on to the next piece. By the
    time you get to polish, all of the important things are over. If it’s
    crooked, it’s gonna be crooked. If the ring top is too low, it’s
    gonna be to low.

This is, of course, related to a recent thread about wax carving. I’m
not writing this, really, for the people who were a part of that
discussion. This is for the newbies and lurkers and such who most
likely were reading and wondering what it all means… And a final
thought for those folks: I AM fast. I’m probably no faster than my
peers, though - they’re fast, too. If you watched me work, though, I
wouldn’t seem to move any quicker than you do. Do not ever think that
speed in this sense means “rushing”. It just means working