I took a couple basic metals classes and fell in love with wax. I
want to become a professional wax carver / jewelry designer, but so
far I have found very little about how to do this. The
GIA Applied Jewelry Arts program sounds promising, are there more
programs like this? Are there apprenticeships for wax carving? Other
ways of learning? Any would be very helpful.
I took a couple basic metals classes and fell in love with wax. I
Wax carving will never lose its place but I would suggest looking
into CAD. It just seems things are going that way. I taught the
applied jewelry arts program and was the manager thereof for several
years. I even coined the name for them. It is very expensive and one
size fits all though…If you want to learn a cad program and apply
it immediately you must have real world experience with it. That is
what we are all about…The Jewelry CAD Institute.com…
Kate Wolf offers wax carving workshops in her studio in Portland,
Maine. She is an excellent teacher, and has produced a line of tools
including carving tools. There are also some books on carving waxes
for jewelry, tool sets available from jewelry supply houses, and
some on-line tutorials including ones hosted by Orchid.
Not every jeweler is a software programmer or user. That is why I
believe hand carved waxes will NEVER lose their place in the industry
either. If you want to become a wax carver, studying cad isn’t going
to be much benefit if YOU are not carving the wax, but instead,
letting a computer carve it for you. In that sense you are becoming a
computer designer and NOT a wax carver. The best advise I could give
to become a wax carver, reminds me of a famous quotation by Arthur
Rubinstein when he was approached in the street near the Carnegie
Hall in NY by a man who asked, “Pardon me sir, how do I get to
Carnegie Hall?” PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!
Kate Wolf offers wax carving workshops in her studio in Portland, Maine.
She is an excellent teacher, and has produced a line of
toolsincluding carving tools. There are also some books on carving
waxes Kate has an excellent reputation, it’s true. I believe it was
Margie Mersky who lashed out at an ignorant posting saying, 'Wax
carving is only easy for some one who knows nothing about it"" or
words to that effect. I’d agree with that in a fundamental way. In a
way that’s not at odds with that, I’d say that wax carving IS easy -
you get a sharp tool and the wax cuts just like butter. Even Carvex
and the right tools goes quickly and smoothly. Meaning that it
becomes more of an issue of WHAT you are carving. Meaning to begin
with that you need to know what ring sizes are about, how to make
settings for stones that at least work pretty well, as a beginner,
understanding the casting process so your waxes will be castable at
all, and more. And that’s even before talking about design in the
It’s not so much to know, to get started, but it’s all important and
getting the ground under your feet first will go far towards your
ultimate success. Many books have things about that sort of stuff,
and I’m sure Kate gets into it, too. BTW, I must apologize but I
don’t know what I can do about it, so far. We’ve had Yahoo mail for
manyyears as part of our internet package (don’t like it much), and
we recently changed to an upgraded version. It’s better in many ways
but I’ve noticed that the formatting doesn’t translate into Orchid,
for some reason. So our postings have read like backwoods run-on
sentences, it seems. I’m going to see if I can fix it over time, but
it’s not us, it’s the mail program.
If you have limited bench experience, your understanding of assembly
will cause you much grief and frustration.I had a Cad-designer, she
had no bench time, period! We/I just weren’t talking on the the same
page. She was an artist, but not a jeweller! My new designer has his
recent GIA training. I give him my setting input and everything is
working just fine. My suggestion is to learn some jewellery basics
first, then buy your Cad-program and then put up your company
shingle on your door.
From that point on, you will definitely be working 6-7 days a week.
Word travels fast if you are good… But remember, you need “hands-on
experience first!” There are no short-cuts in this world of ours…
I just took a workshop with Kate Wolf, one of the best carvers in
North America. She does workshops all over the country. Teaches
classes in her studio in Maine. I’ve taken many many workshops over
the years and Kate Wolf is the best teacher I’ve ever had. Highly
recommended. Claudia Rush
I’ve carved wax for a very long time. I did it for a living and was
my favorite part of jewelry making aside from making tools for
jewelers. I think it’s still possible to make a living as a wax
carver, it’s just getting really hard. I used to carve waxes for many
stores in Tucson, AZ as well asfor my own customers - usually 4 to 5
a week. But once CAD CAM took hold, I went down to carving a couple a
year. And these are accounts I had for over a decade. The last wax I
carved was for a 6 carat diamond. I was brought in like a pinch
hitter because the woman didn’t want to let the diamond out of her
site. She sat and watched me carve the ring for 3 hours. If you are
going to pursue wax, you should definitely get into CAD CAM. That’s
Knowing how to carve by hand is a great skill. But, doing it
commercially is a tough road. By the time you get really good,
you’ll need bigger magnification and lots of ibuprofen to keep
going. That’s what happened to me.
My good friend Craig, who I never thought would slow down, is now
working under a microscope and he’s sending out most of his work to
have done in CAD CAM.
If you want to be entertained, you can look back at my posts from 10
years ago on Orchid where I was ranting and raving about how CAD CAM
is “soul-less” It’s pretty entertaining. The irony is now, I have a
CNC machine to help me make my tools because my hands are too sore
and my eyes are too bad.
Same with CAD, Practice-Practice-Practice. If you’re going to take a
warp speed class on CADCAM yet have no opportunity to practice,
you’re wasting time and money. Human beings tend to learn by
repitition. I’d be willing to teach/tutor anyone in beginning to
advanced wax carving, but it’s up to the student to practice. From
what I’ve seen and researched within CAD there is no way it will ever
fully replace hand carved wax models. Application of both is magical,
but as Steve mentioned it’s futile if you do not understand the
basics of jewelry design and functionality. And most of my wax
carving tools are hand made, and they work just as well as any you
How to become a wax carver… there is nothing that can replace
hands on experience and YOUTUBE not to be sarcastic but get some
carving wax a a very coarse file and a scalpel and any wierd little
sharpe objects and a nything that will scrape cut or shape a piece
of wax and a set of dividers and give it a try yourself. when people
compliment me on my wax carving i say well… you didn not see the
couple of hundred or so I goofed up on
Luna- To become a great wax carver you have to have a good
understanding of metals and stone setting. I’ve seen so many pieces
that were designed and carved that were not wearable or could not
accommodate the stones properly.
There are some great books out there as well as some wonderful tools
and workshops by folks like Kate Wolf.
My husband Tim is an amazing wax carver. How did he learn? In high
school, when he was first studying jewelry, every single night he
would whittle on some Ivory soap with a pen knife. Until our students
gifted him some of Kate’s tools a couple of years ago he only used a
worn eye scalpel and some gravers. This is a guy who can hand carve
an eternity band to size with all of the stones properly spaced and
seated, with azuring inside even, in about an hour. Maybe and hour
and a half. Sometimes I just want to shoot him. It’d take me two
days. He and I also had the great good fortune to learn from his
Uncle Bob Atkeson and some great old european masters how to
fabricate metal and set stones. I can’t emphasize how important it
is to be able to set stones and engineer a durable mounting before
you start carving away.
Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
I agree Kate Wolf is tops for wax carving instruction. Her tools are
great too! — especially the basic large wax carving set.
Hi Luna. Look up Kate Wolf of Kate Wolf Designs. Not sure where
you’re located, but she offers excellent seminars on wax carving
both at her studio in Portland ME and at other venues around the
country. She is an excellent instructor with a really amusing
presentation style backed up by some serious tools (ex. all
demonstrations are done via a close-up camera and video screen so you
can see everything). She covers a LOT of ground in those seminars in
terms of skills and shares funny stories about her professional
background along the way. I’m going back for more later this month…
(I don’t work for Kate…though I’ld love to…just wanted to share
my thoughts on her classes.)
Not every jeweler is a software programmer or user. That is why I believe hand carved waxes will NEVER lose their place in the industry either.
Very true, but computer usage in the jewellery trade it is becoming
expected in Australia, well this is the impression I’ve been getting
The subject of CAD/CAM is mandatory in my institution.
It’s good to know how make things by hand, if you need to.
Kindest regards Charles A.
I am also going to suggest Kate Wolf. I am not a great wax carver,
but have been carving the occasional wax since the early 70’s. I had
a chance to take Kate’s class at her studio in Maine two years ago,
and it was a lot of fun, and her teaching, as well as some of her
specialty waxes and tools, kicked my waxes to a new level.
CAD Cam has replaced a lot of wax carving, as it is fast and
accurate, especially well adapted to mass merchandise style of
jewelery, but there is still a lot of satisfaction in executing
something completely by hand. Especially small animal carvings which
I enjoy doing, that hand carving gives a real character to.
Get some wax, watch some of the videos available, and read about
carving and casting in wax. Then play. Experiment. After all, it is
just wax, and a lot less costly than metal to learn in, and you learn
from your mistakes. After you have a feel for wax, and the way it
feels as you carve it, look into a class with Kate.
She will show you how to layout and carve settings for stones, so
they are accurate, and symmetrical. How to use various tools, and
techniques. How to finish, and prepare your waxes for casting, and
calculate the costs. How to repair your mistakes (a VERY useful
skill!). One side benefit of a class with Kate, is you will also be
exposed to many other students with a wide variety of skills and
techniques of their own, from the self taught, to the novices, to
skilled carvers looking to expand their skill base, to returning
students who have come back to Kate for the next step in honing
.... My suggestion is to learn some jewellery basics first, then buy your Cad-program and then put up your company shingle on your door.
Gerry is dead right.
A year or two of mindless bench time until it really does not
require thought. Them a cad program to learn on your own time, this is
the hard and expensive part and will take a while. (Hint… my 10
years of daily use of 3D cad and I am at best semi competent, good
enough to sell but there is room for improvement) Then a mill and its
cam software. You might overlap the cad and cam, with interesting
educational results It is a complex dance with many variables but
when it all works it is very sweet. Still the bench time is the
critical starting point.
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
I’ll agree with Jeff that bench time is critical to understanding
jewelry when designing in CAD.
My own experiences included working in a jewelry factory as a sample
and model maker along side a traditional white metal model maker in
1973. I was also designing and making jewelry for a retail store on
the weekends. I made well over 1000 models before CAD/CAM entered my
life in 1998. I still fabricate a lot of models entirely, combine
fabrication or hand carved waxes with machined pieces, whatever gets
the job done most efficiently. As far as I am concerned, CAD/CAM is
just another nice tool, like Kate Wolf’s carving tools or the 10
inch single cut file I grab when I want a very flat surface. There
are times when a $25 tool does the job more effectively than the
A critical thing to remember about wax carving for a living is that
you must be very precise. It sounds obvious, but it’s hard for some
to achieve. The thing is that you are always making something for
someone else rather than yourself and it has to meet their
expectations above your own. Everything needs to fit and match, be
symmetrical and ultimately comfortable. If you’re making a matching
wedding band for an existing engagement ring for instance, it needs
to fit perfectly, w/o any gapping, shank thickness and height the
same, curvature the same, setting style exactly the same, stone size
and spacing the same…on and on. Just being similar won’t make the
customer happy. The longer you do it, the better you’ll get.
Some have said you need to jump right into CAD. I’d say that I don’t
disagree that CAD needs to be a tool that you can understand and
use. But I do disagree that CAD is pushing good wax carvers out of
the business. In practice I have found that the customer doesn’t
care how something is made, they just want it made well. In fact,
many customers like the idea of an artist/craftsperson carving their
model out of wax by hand over a “computer generated” model. Plus, I
think hand carving is a skill that should be mastered before you
jump into CAD. You are a much better CAD model maker if you have
first made hundreds of pieces, start to finish, by hand. Personally,
I use both CAD and hand carving.
But as far as how to learn to be a wax carver? It’s true that Kate
Wolf is a great person and a great teacher. Ideally, you can take
her classes and get a job in a shop where you can regularly carve
wax models. The experience of taking the classes, carving models on
your own, then showing the models during your job interview gives you
a better chance of earning a wax carving position. The intensity of
a shop environment is a great learning situation, both for building
skills and productivity. Plus you get paid!
Some have said you need to jump right into CAD. I'd say that I don't disagree that CAD needs to be a tool that you can understand and use. But I do disagree that CAD is pushing good wax carvers out of the business.
Sometimes to understand something, we need to look at evolution of
the process of modelmaking.
When centrifugal casting came into it’s own, the models were made
from silver. In my opinion, it is still the very best method of
creating model. Wax gained popularity when manufactures realized that
instead of paying $50 per hour, they can get away with $8. Designers
started to do puffy forms, which could be easily modeled in wax and a
specialty of wax carver was born.
Public eventually got tired of puffiness and wanted classical look
back, but by that time who remembered how to do it in silver were
charging $100 and up per hour, so hello CAD.
CAD is a great software and has a lot of uses in goldsmithing, but I
do question it’s application in model making for economical reasons.
If one take into account cost of computer suitable of CAD on
professional level, time that it takes to master the software, all
other expense associated with it, and divided by the number of models
that a craftsman would produce during a lifetime of equipment - I
seriously doubt that there are any savings at all. Actually I am
willing to bet that the old way of making models from silver, if all
the costs are calculated, would be way ahead.
We constantly making the same mistake of trying to emulate large
scale manufactures. What makes sense for them, almost never makes
sense for us.
To respond to original question of “how to become wax carver”. If one
wants to be able to handle all kinds of models - than step one is to
learn how to make things out metal. One type of models is simply
imitation of metal techniques but in wax. The second part is to take
a sculpture course if artistic carving is intended.
I would not worry about CAD forcing carvers out of business. CAD
models at best is an approximation of what the real model should be.
I am presently making 3 pendants very intricate and fine. The human
hand could not even replicate each of these and to such extreme
detail. A Cad can do this in just minutes after the original pattern
the p.c. screen.
The pendant has mini-wire forms all through the pierced "Hand"
design, and this weighs only.3 grams in wax…So try this experiment
in a hand wax carving exercise! Cad is great for replicating such
designs as stated, it is supreme! This process saves time and money
and can be modified right on the screen.
Many years ago, about 45 to be exact, I saw a model-maker made a
silver charm, it took him 3-4 days to execute the pattern. On his
bench he had well over 18 files, imagine 24 hours to make one simple
charm!!! On Cad?..minutes!!