Modifying tools or techniques for the handicapped

Request for Help:

A handicapped student is taking a jewelry class where she lives.

She has learned to solder and form balls, etc., but her problem is
"how to hold things in her left hand which is badly deformed, having
only stubs of fingers and a partial thumb." Obviously her instructors
and those in the class have been unable to offer solutions that have

She is certainly bright and then some, holding three masters degrees
and teaching at a small university in Charleston. Also, she is a

But, brain power aside, she is still having problems trying to
figure out ways to hold things with her left hand, while she works
on them. Now and again she has managed to come up with a way to do
it, but other times she is at a loss as to how she might modify
either tools or techniques and thought perhaps those who have
managed to overcome similar handicaps have ideas that might help

If anyone has any suggestions of ways to overcome this handicap or
if you need more about it, you may send the suggestions
directly to her at: [willissv at knology dot net]

Thanks ever so much. This is such a varied and generous readership,
I feel sure someone on this list will have some great ideas for her.


Hi Kay,

I used to work in the prosthetic industry, and I keep an eye on

I saw this a few years ago, and this may be of assistance.

Not an artificial hand, but artificial fingers.

Can’t hurt to approach them.
Regards Charles A.

You don’t mention whereabouts in the world you are. If you are in UK
then get in touch with your appropriate REMAP panel. REMAP is a UK
charity that specializes in making or modifying equipment for
disabled people,

see Remap - custom made equipment for disabled people

It’s been going since 1965. The charity is divided into autonomous
groups called “panels”; roughly one panel per county. Each panel is
comprised of around 10-20 engineers, all volunteers, who use their
own workshops free of charge. I’m a member of the Coventry &
Warwickshire Panel. Other countries have similar organizations, but
you will have to Google for them.

I hope this helps.
Regards, Gary Wooding

Kay -I hope this can help.

I have found that the larger the handle the easier it is to hold
things. I use the pre made pipe insulation on my flex shaft to make
it easier to hold. It’s a grey softish foam tube that is not
slippery and easier to hold. It comes in different sizes. It even has
a self adhesive strip to keep it closed. Have her try it on tool
handles as well. Also there is a product that flat picking guitarists
use called “Gorilla Snot”. Yup. thats the name. It keeps you from
dropping guitar picks while playing.

Although my hand handicap pales in comparison… I have had five
surgeries on my two hands and wrists in my lifetime. Bad burn
accident, carpal tunnel, ganglion cysts, not to mention tendonitis
and arthritis as well. I can still make stuff, but not as fast as I
used to. Thats why I’m teaching more and making fewer pieces with
higher prices.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

She has learned to solder and form balls, etc., but her problem is
"how to hold things in her left hand which is badly deformed, 

How’s her right hand?

If her right is fine, one can solder primarily with one hand. She
can just set up the soldering job and then solder it. No chance of
any pick work, but that should be fine most of the time.


I have been searching on the internet to no avail but someone might
have seen what I did once so here goes. There is an eye surgeon I
think in India. He has rheumatoid arthritis - very severe - and yet
with modified tools he can still operate with severely deformed
hands. His tools look like nothing I have ever seen but they work
for him.

Hi Elaine:

Yes, my friend’s right hand is fine and she can solder just fine
too. Her problem is simply she is searching for better ways and ideas
on how to hold things/tools etc. since she can’t really use her left
hand to do so and she wishes to do more than just solder. I guess I
thought perhaps some who had overcome similar problems would have
some suggestions on how to modify tools etc. that would help. It may
not yield anything and again it may yield just that one suggestion
that is brilliant. But thanks for bring up a very valid point.


I had an excellent teacher (thanks Jo I bet she is still reading the
list) who taught me to solder even though i have shaking and
problems. I one hand solder if I need to do something special like
attaching an earring post. I use surgical steel clamps and put them
into the magnesium blocks one lays on its side and is pushed into the
block and holds the pin straight and in contact with the earring back
then I place solder and keeping my elbows in tight for more control I
go for it. Sometimes my soldering is done standing,but many times I
must sit and use the soldering table to steady my right forearm.

Even on my worst day I can make 12 pairs of earrings or 6 rings. :slight_smile:
keep trying find what works for you and yes you may use many
magnesium blocks, but they are luckily only about 4 dollars. I go
through 2-3 a month in heavy production. (3 months made 300 pieces)
ah the good old days when I had a studio.


Hi Kay,

I had a bit more of a chance to think about this.

There’s a device called a stitching pony used for leatherwork, I’ve
never built one for my leatherwork as both my hands work, but for
Sharon, it could be a cheap replacement for a left hand.

Basically it’s a clamp, held firm by the power of your thighs.

A very simple device, and cheap to make.
Regards Charles A.

I seem to recall a similar topic a while ago, when someone pointed
the OP in the direction of a well-known jeweller who lost several
fingers in an accident (I think that was the case, although he may
have been born that way). Anyway, there may be about him
in the archives if nobody else can remember. His studio name is
named after his condition - may jog someone’s memory.


If she can hold things at all with the left hand, would it be
possible to use jet set and set up a variety of clamps/holders? She
could position them so that the thumb base would open them. By using
jet set, the bases could be identical and just the size and angle of
the tool changed. Indeed, in some cases, part of the base could
extend to use the wrist for added support ( like a Wrist Rocket.) The
clamps might include some with wheels or a lazy susan like device to
allow turning the item but that would depend on the amount of
dexterity she has left in her other digits. For sawing you might look
at something like Senseless Beauty1 used to pierce the Minnesota

In addition, you might want to concentrate first on building
something to hold the flexshaft. If she could hold it stable with
the left hand, the piece could be manipulated rather than the shaft
to accomplish her tasks.

Also it might be worthwhile to see if there are any ergonomic
specialists or schools in the area. They might undertake this as an

Hi Kay,

GRS makes a set of tools called the BenchMate System that might be
just the ticket. The basis of the system is a steel ring clamp that
fits into a gimbaled ring that is attached to the front of the bench
with a tapered edge mounting plate so it is very solid and stable
yet easily removable. GRS also makes many different tools that work
with the same mounting plate. As most of the pieces with rotating
parts have adjustable friction, she may be able to use the system to
hold and grip things securely, in essence replacing the grip of her
left hand, but still be able to articulate them just by pushing the
bottom of the clamp around. There is also a soldering pad that has
flex-mounted soldering tweezers, so the need to grip the part and
hold it stationary in exactly the right position all at the same time
may be eased enough for her to be able to do some more advanced

This system, it seems to me, would allow her to be able to do 90% of
normal left hand holding tasks without having to have the dexterity
and/or gripping power required without such tools. The system is
remarkably versatile when coupled with the many different optional
accessory tools, attachments and extensions. The positioning and
holding possibilities are all but infinite and with some learning
time I think it should be relatively easy to achieve mastery of
one-and-a-half-handed operation, although I can’t speak to your
friend’s specific situation with any experience.

Check out the whole system at Home - GRS

or call them at 1-800-835-3519. Great people, great tools. Most of
the tools GRS makes are also available from most companies that sell
jewelry tools such as Rio Grande, Stuller, Otto Frei and Gesswein.
All have great tech service and will help you figure out how best to
help. I have no affiliation with any of the mentioned companies, I
just maintain a sizeable trade deficit with all of them (I buy a lot
more from them than they buy from me).

Dave Phelps

Thanks Helen - yes, I too have a distant memory of such so I’ve gone
to the archives to search - so far I obviously haven’t put in the
correct description of what to search, but I’ll keep trying.


The name is Seven Fingers Studio - Tom Herman. Does absolutely
fantastic carved gold and stones. Found in major shows. Wonderful
man. I have no idea how he holds stuff, but he is nice, ask him.

Judy Hoch

You’re thinking of Tom Herman of 7 Fingers Jewelry.


There are a couple of good resources available for someone with
physical limitations. The federal government supportsa system of
assistive technology projects, one in each state and territory, and
are charged with making assistive technology devices and services
more available and accessible to individuals with disabilities. Some
of the programs are more effective than others, but each should be
able to help orpoint you to help. They often have Occupational
Therapists on staff who can demonstrate various devices to increase
function, and some have the ability to fabricate tools or grips to
help with the type of problem you are describing. I have the
pleasure of working two days a week providing computer and network
support to the Colorado project, so I am familiar with the
tremendous skills some of the projects have available. Here is a
link to the Federal grant description and state awards (see sections
on Purpose and on Awards):

the association of projects here:

Another resource is your state Workforce Center or Vocational
Rehabilitation program. They will often fund the modified tools and
training needed by someone with a disability, I know the Colorado
employment agency often contracts with us to help people who need

Marlin in wet Denver, CO

Thomas Herman at sevenfingers Seven Fingers Jewelers is
one of the finest goldsmiths I know of. He lost 3 fingers in a farm
accident as a child.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Thomas Herman at sevenfingers is one of the finest goldsmiths I
know of. He lost 3 fingers in a farm accident as a child 

Thomas Herman is teaching a 5 day Master Class at Metalwerx June

I would surely love to attend if I wasn’t engaged elsewhere for those

Michael David Sturlin

A set of foot operated clamps might help… the vision: a clamp
suitable for jewelry, with changeable jaws to accomodate various
shapes and functions.

foot / leg operated pedal or lever which actuates a vertical
downrod. the downrod pulls the top clamp jaw down against the bottom,
fixed jaw, thus clamping the workpiece.

A progressive spring “loads” the clamp at different levels of
pressure - the further you press it, the more clamping force.

A ratcheting tooth fixes the clamp at whatever pressure you set it

A release pedal releases the camp - same spring pushes the top jaw
upward releasing the workpiece workpiece jaws could be made
changeable for soldering, round stock, flat stock,

this is all theoretical from the mashboratory… but it is well
within the metalworker/ tinkerers’ domain. it may be possible to make
a large part of it from wood.

steve mashburn