Making jewelry with physical disabilities

I have so enjoyed the threads on these emails, they uplift. Now on
to what is not your usual email and what I have been afraid to
write, (I dont want pity) but feel the need to ask. Due to a
motorcycle accident I had, I have been wondering if there are any
others on here; that due to an unusual circumstance may have lost
fingers or a hand, and are still going on with your jewelry? Or
perhaps know someone like me, that has adapted their equipment and
gone on with their career?

I ask this because I have had the 3rd in a flexor tendon and plastic
reconstruction of my right hand (little pinkie) and I am right
dominate, from a motorcycle injury, that has been an experience to
say the least. While the pinkie injury seems maybe not too bad, it
was negleted because this all happened back when Hurricaine Ike was
hitting the south coast where I live.

Anyway time went by before I even got to see a doctor and then
well… here I am. 51, pulling my hair out because even stringing my
beads is a problem, arthritis has gotten a hold on my whole hand and
is crippling it. I could go on an on about details but it would bore
yall to tears, I know I am.

I just was hoping for some advice (on adjusting equipment) so I can
get on with my passion. I ask for this due to, lol, a recent broken
foot from simply removing a can off the pantry shelf and other
related mishaps. I would like to keep from further injuring myself
or anyone else for that matter with a lathe or kiln and torches. I
have been forbidden to use all the above until I find away to adapt,
since I set fire to one cast and now the foot is broken. At least
still have my sense of humor; but that is running out. I really dont
feel sorry for myself about all this; except for the inability to go
about jewelry.

I actually made some pieces for a charity auction for disabled
children after first surgery, but it was chain maille and beads
strung together, which was good therapy. All that is fantastic but my
real interests lay in the more intricate details of creating the
pieces…beads, links, settings, faceting, mining etc. Now I just
want to get back to the smell of glass and metal cooking. Sounds and
vibrations of my mallet hammering, and the grinding spray of giving
birth to a visual from my soul and learning how to go further into
the use of said equipment.

If this in anyway offends anyone or makes them think that I dont
beleive every part of jewelry making is an art form, PLEASE
understand that isnt true. Honestly it all has to do with a thread
about finding your niche in a way, its just that my niche isnt (
this just isnt gonna come out right somehow I feel it) in that one
area. Im not saying anymore, I just want to be who I am. Also the
continual use of heavy duty pain killers, isnt helping me with
putting the right words togther OR in being able to do what I want
with my art.

This whole experience has delayed an already delayed website, not to
mention several good selling seasons. Reading the thread on "How did
I get all these awoke a realization of money flying out
the window, because its all sitting there ( I laughed too, because I
am usually compared to a “Lord of the Rings” character). Sigh. this
also isnt a pity party email either, I am frustrated and turning to
yall because I have tried several things with adapting hammers with
velcro (another flamable product). FYI: Oxygen blowing across ANY
petroleum jelly product BAD.

I did get my refractorscope for gemstone identification, havent been
able to use it yet, trying to organize work area inside office for
that. Tips for using one will be greatly appreciated. I may not
remember everything I have read in these threads, but I have saved
every single one that comes to me for further reading later. I love
this artform as much as my body loves breathing, and when I do die,
my main and only regret will be Ill know there was something I didnt
get to get my hands on regarding making a piece of jewelry.

Thanks for your time in reading this. please dont think any piece of
advice is too trivial… every remark will be read and appreciated.


I cannot recall his name at the moment (I’m very old so I have an
excuse for forgetting) but there was a fabulous metalsmith in
Southern California who had only one arm. It was in the 1970s and I
was quite skilled in metalsmithing but I would order special
gold/diamond jewelry from him for my son and my mother.

One day I came to him with a design problem that I was having. He
looked at my work and my sketch and said, “Your trouble is that you
have two arms and not enough innovation.” His work was beautifully
designed and finished.

I drove past his former shop on Topanga Canyon in Chatsworth
(California) and it now houses a psychic/ tarot card reader.

I look forward to the responses you’ll be receiving. I’m dealing
with vision problems and wondering how much I’ll be able to do as
time goes on.


Debra, Sorry to hear of your accident and wish you all the best in
your recovery. As far as overcoming disabilities to have a very
successful career in jewelry making, take a look at Thomas Herman’s
website and know that it can certainly be done.


Purely for inspiration, take a look at the jewelry of Thomas Hermann,
whose business name is or used to be) 7 Fingers, because that’s what
he’s been working with for all the years I’ve known him. Looking at
his work is inspiring no matter how many fingers you have and no
matter how many he has! He is both a very fine engraver and stone
cutter with an exquisite design sense. His work is beautifully
executed and highly detailed. Whatever handicap he experienced when
he lost half of one hand, it has been overcome and does not
compromise his work. How he does it, if he has adapted tools or
himself, I don’t know. Just thought you’d like to know of him.

Marianne Hunter

Dear Debra,

I think what you need is a trained monkey :slight_smile:

Seriously. Advertise at the high school for a twelve to fifteen year
old to be your unpaid hands, legs, and muscle for a year. Interview
several so that you find the one child who will listen to you and
treat you gently. S/he gets paid in training, and you get your
projects done. Once the year is over, promote the kid to
journeycrafter and pay a wage or profit share.

I’m not offended at all. Some people consider jewelry to be art, some
as a craft, and some (like me) to be a form of engineering.

Andrew Jonathan Fine

Advertise at the high school for a twelve to fifteen year old to be
your unpaid hands, legs, and muscle for a year.

I think that you will find that employing 12-15 year olds is illegal
in most states and it is illegal to have someone of any age work for
you and not pay them. The types of jobs young people are allowed to
do is also usually limited, in most states, for example, soldering
and other shop work would not be permitted.

Sue Shaffer

Debra, I do some minor modifications to some of my equipment because
I’m prone to repetitive stress injuries, and for some reason, my
hands go numb when I’m weaving beads or hammering metal for too long,
so I’ve had to experiment with the right thimbles and adding handles
to my repousse tools and such. But I’m not really clear on exactly
what we need to get around, so I don’t know where to start. There’s
usually a way around most obstacles, in most cases it’s just a matter
of whether the goal is worth the cost and the effort.

If you’re not comfortable about sharing the details with the world,
please feel free to email me offline. I solve problems for a living.
Not usually this kind of problem, but logic is logic, and I’m pretty
good at making do with whatever I’ve got to work with. And… I’m
living with undiagnosable and mostly untreatable pain, so I
understand why you need to do this, and I’m happy to try to help. :slight_smile:


Just look at the work of Tom Herman - his studio is called Seven
Fingers. He does incredible metal carving and gemstone cutting. He
shows at the very best venues. I’ve taken a workshop from him and the
missing fingers are not mentioned - he lost them long ago in what I
remember was a farm accident.

You can do jewelry - just be a bit creative about what you can do
and be open to finding new ways to work with tools.

As many of us age and deal with arthritis, we find that some kind of
power assistance helps us.

Go for it.
Judy Hoch

Hi Debra,

Don’t know if this will help, however if you suffer from a lot of
pain as I do, (I have an autoimmune disorder), My pain clinic
recommended a fantastic device called an ENM Pain relief machine.

I don’t know if you can get it in the USA, but well worth the money.
If it works for you it disrupts the pain signals to brain. You get
it with a 1 months money back if it doesn’t work for you. (For some
reason it doesn’t for every one) So it is well worth it if it does.

I was very sceptical until I tried it.

Hope this is of some help
Take care

Hello Debra,

Reading your post on Orchid brought to mind an amazing jewellery
designer that is based near where I live… I’ve included links to
her website, and a short video that was featured on our local

I hope this will give you the encouragement and strength to carry on
with your dreams and overcome your disabilities.

With best wishes
Emma Lavery

Purely for inspiration, take a look at the jewelry of Thomas
Herman [snip] How he does it, if he has adapted tools or himself, I
don't know. 

Tom is still “Seven Fingers Jewelry”. He has the thumb and index
only on his right hand. I took a workshop from him, and he does not
appear to need special tools or adaptations.

I very much admire his work, and like him. He made my wedding ring!
I especially like shaking hands with him. Like all jewelers, his hand
is warm and muscular, but just feels different from any other!


Advertise at the high school for a twelve to fifteen year old to be
your unpaid hands, legs, and muscle for a year 

LOL, thats what we used to call P.A.s in Hollywood (production
assistants)I have offered a couple of my children this and my oldest
called me this morning to ask what all I needed, I also did ask
around unfortunately, i may have to wait until the next VGMS to
advert if it doesnt work out with my oldest. But that’s a fantastic
idea. Thank ya’ll.

WOW, just wow. I contacted him [Thomas Herman] on if he had to make
any adjustmments on his tools, hopefully he may answer. I havent a
copy of Vincent Van Gogh"s “Starry Starry Night” I pass it through
out the day where I have it hanging to remind me even at the
darkest moments, beauty always comes through somehow our souls find a
way to express what is truley inside of us in spite of what we are
suffering or where we maybe. Thank You for sending this.

I want to again say thank ya’ll for the supportive emails I am
getting, it just made me cry, at how sweetly special this group is,
I have actually contacted a few, for some tips. all of ya’ll are
wonderful people my spirit has been uplifted at the hope and now the
knowledge I can and AM going to do this, for the first time in a
long time since all this started I am smiling again, smooches to
everyone. THANK Ya’ll


Advertise at the high school for a twelve to fifteen year old to be
your unpaid hands, legs, and muscle for a year. 

working for a company or individual without pay to learn or gain
experience in a field is called an internship


After reading your question, the subsequent thread & looking at the
amazing work of the seven-fingered jeweller… I personally think
that said jeweller is an enigma, even when I had 2 good hands I
couldn’t produce work even close to what he does. I don’t know
whether my suggestions will help, but I can tell you how I work w/ 2
nonfunctioning hands. Basically, both my wrists are fused, as are
all the joints of my fingers.

My thumbs still work, but that is a day-to-day blessing, they may
not work next week. Imagine starfish hands as opposed to the more
typical lobster claw hands of Rheumatoid arthritis. I use pliers-for
everything. The good long Swanstrom pliers from Rio Grande. They’re
expensive, but totally worth it. Tweezers for picking up small or
flat objects. You can modify your tools so they fit your hands w/
Jett Sett (also from Rio Grande). Since I’m right handed, the
arthritis has affected the right hand worse than the left & I’ve
learned to depend more on my left hand. I was surprised by the ease
of that transition-I suppose when one doesn’t have a choice… I use
the hand-held butane torches-no tubing, ease of handling, etc., If
you’re unsure whether you can handle a tool-don’t. It’s not worth
losing another appendage or burning down your house. If you’re
working w/ potentially dangerous tools, torch or kiln, make sure
there is someone nearby to help you if needed. Do what you can do,
what you’re able to do now. It’s hard modifying what you do or how
you do it. My biggest love was forging 1 & 2 gauge silver wire-I’d
hammer 8 hours straight. Now I’m lucky if I can forge 20 gauge 22k
gold for half an hour.

Would you consider PMC over casting? Heavy duty pain
meds-metalsmithing… They don’t mix well. I can actually hear the
"duh" reverberating through the ethernet. I have to take pain meds to
do any sort of work, but I limit the amount I take & time when I take
them so I can work w/ the least amount of pain & w/o the muzziness.
Debra, I hope that this might have helped a little. Good luck in your
endeavors. You have a great attitude you’ll do great work.

Be well, Cristine McC

Debra, I didnt know what help I could be but I remember reading
yours, and thinking “there’s a jeweler” you know how someones a
jeweler or there not. You got to love it, you cant just like it, or
run it, or you’ll be throwing things. Its not a job, hobby, its what
we are kind of a thing… Anyway I know where your coming from. I
think you’ll be back to doing what you love, like you dont have a
choice. If that makes sence. Thanks G’night


oh yes,trust as a trained EMT, along with past pharmaceutical
experience and several nurses in the family; I am aware of pain
killers and dangers, I get fussed at from the hand therapists for not
taking the meds earlier for my therapy but I have to drive sometimes
to the sessions and it makes me feel guilty enough driving one way. I
too was amazed at how fast my brain auto-switched to my left hand
since I never ever used it, I have always been a dominate righty, but
God’s designs on us never fail to amaze me when the versatility of
our bodies come into effect. Since all this started over a year ago,
I am unconsciously now reaching for with my left hand, and I won’t
complain about my disabilities because, well I have one of those
families (need to blog) my adopted father (a real life cowboy in
every sense of the word) used to say to mom after one of his

“Bobbie Ann, I know I can’t bounce anymore, but I can roll and
recover”. I am re-doing my inside work area/office to be able to do
the non-dangerous stuff inside and hopefully my husband will help me
figure some type of outside area to work on the dangerous things
outside, by experience I know that one tiny glob of molten glass
dropping on cold cement can create a nice sized crater and scare the
snot out of you.I also don’t wear petroleum based clothing only
cotton or bamboo it can catch fire but it won’t melt and stick or go
up in flames as fast polyester or rayon. However I am stubborn and
don’t want to give up anything I love unless I absolutely have no
choice. I do know I can continue on because too many of you have like
my family shown me, my boundaries are what I make them. I have found
a GREAT glue that keeps the Velcro on the handles of hammers and
anything else I may need to stabilize to use and that’s Elmer’s Glue
with a blue bull on the label called, “Ultimate high performance
glue” it says dampen the surface, but I didn’t read that the first
use and it worked just great took longer to dry… However it does
have a chemical reaction of foaming slightly, but this stuff I
believe would glue your tires down to your driveway and keep them
there. Also if you get it on anything like clothing it doesn’t come
out, getting on your body it wears off in hours just get an old rag
and wipe it, but if you try to wash it off then its kind of a super
glue affect, lol. I love the hints and helpful advice, believe me I
am reading every word.


So sorry to hear about your difficulties. The depression and
disappointment are often the worst part of physical disabilities, so
I hope the encouragement that you’re getting is helping.

Three ideas for you. First, hand physical therapists often use
sheets of thermoplastics to make specialty splints. When I broke my
hand, I make a list of my dexterity needs and took tools with me to
my PT appointment. She fashioned aids for me out of thermoplastic to
help me hold tools and do certain tasks. She was a whiz. She’d just
heat and bend, fit, bend, fit… and in a minute or two, she was
done. So, have your doc refer you to a hand physical therapist (not
a generalist). Of course, you can do the thermoplastic thing at home
if you’re just adapting a tool (aquaplast, protoplast, jetsett,
etc.), but if you’re making an adaptation for your hand, the
physical therapists are far superior.

Second, you may qualify for occupational therapy if your disability
affects your ability to earn a living. Sometimes this is covered
under worker’s comp, sometimes under your individual medical
insurance, or under State or Federal workplace disability laws.
Occupational therapy trains you in adapted ways to do your work
and/or provides adaptations for you. I once had anemployee that
received assistance over a three month period to retrain her… They
also reimbursed us for fixtures to help her, at a cost of $2,500.

This was not a work-related injury, and was through an Ohio program,
under a Federal grant.

Third, perhaps a local jewelry training facility will have some
ideas for you if you visit them. I can imagine that many would be
willing to help based on how nice many people are that teach in this

Best of luck,

Someone recently mentioned Annette Gabbedey in this thread. She’s a
remarkably talented jeweller working in Frome, west of England. The
BBC local new recently featured her, and shows her working and

She said “Really, I look at people with fingers and think, How do
they cope, they must get in the way…I’ve been born without them,
and you learn your own way of using your hands and developing as you
grow up.”

This is a really inspiring little video

If this link does not appear, try googling Annette Gabbedey and the
link appears on her site.