Piercing metal, sawing metal and sharpening a graver

Hello All,

I enjoy reading the Orchid Digest every morning while drinking my
first cup of coffee. I experience a sort of wistfulness every time I
read the last post of the day, wishing there were more. I have only
posted a few times over the years, and decided that starting today I
would become more active, contribute more often, and participate in
the process, instead of just watching from the sidelines.

First, a little bit about myself. I am a solitary studio jeweler,
love tools, working with my hands, and learning new things. I have
been making jewelry for a few years, and have developed modest skills
in fabrication, wax carving, stone setting, engraving, and enameling
through the reading of books, taking classes and workshops, and
making jewelry.

So! Today, my post is about a really great book, piercing, graver
sharpening, and how grateful I am for the generous sharing nature of
the community!

This post contains a few bits of I have collected, which
I have found to be helpful and which have provided some “ah ha”
moments for me! Often the answers to seemingly simple problems can be
quite elusive for me!

The really great book is titled “Jewelry: Concepts And Technology”,
by Oppi Untracht. (I love to collect books on jewelry making,
metalsmithing, jewelry history, etc)

I have read this book, cover to cover, at least twice. It is 840
pages long, and I must admit a bit tedious at times, due to the
massive amount of very minute, detailed it includes. What
I have found is that although I have read it many times, often when I
run into a specific problem or issue, if I look up the topic in this
book, the answer will just “jump off the page” at me, as if I am
reading it for the very first time. I am sure I read the same
the first two times, but my brain must have just filed it
away as general as it did not have the significance that
it later does when I look up a specific topic.

For example, I was having trouble piercing. The saw blade kept
“pulling” off to one side of the line I wanted to pierce. The main
thing I always remembered from various instructions about piercing
was to properly tighten the saw blade when inserting it into the saw
frame, making sure it was tight enough and made a “pinging” sound
when plucked, and also to use proper lubrication. So my focus was
always on making sure the saw blade was tight.

However, I read (on page 80 of this book) that “If it (the saw
blade) is under too much tension in the saw frame, it will tend to
twist and work away from the cutting line, and if you force it to
return to place, it may break”

What a revelation for me! My saw blade was just “too” tight! I love
this book! It has also helped me to stop and realize that I tend to
“bulldoze forward” repeating the same process, expecting to correct
the problem, and so helped me to be conscious of the need to stop and
think about “what is happening” and try to figure out “why”.

Another example is when I was having trouble sharpening/ polishing
gravers by hand, for bead setting. I was once taught to first use an
oiled India stone to sharpen the tip, followed by polishing on a
piece of crocus paper charged with red rouge, which was glued to a
square piece of glass.

While bead setting, the tip of my #52 round graver would
consistently break off in the metal when I went to lift the bead. I
could “feel” when it snapped off. I could not figure out what was
happening. So, again I returned to the book! I read (on page 292 of
this book) that “In good graver sharpening and polishing practice, an
India oilstone is used first for sharpening, followed by a fine
grained Arkansas stone for polishing”.

And later “If a graver is used directly after being prepared only by
a rough stone, its point may quickly break”.

This provided a probable explanation! The coarser polished surface
of the graver must have been more prone to breakage than a finer
polished surface! I love this book!

I was determined to master the art of hand sharpening gravers, and
spent years trying, but I could not overcome my inability to keep the
graver aligned properly, and eventually purchased a power hone, which
is now one of my most valued pieces of equipment and worth more than
every penny spent on it! It was not until I made the purchase that I
realized what it felt like to use a properly sharpened graver, where
it slides through the metal and cuts like butter with just a whisper
of pressure.

These types of little tips are sometimes elusive, but when
discovered, can make such a big difference, so I thought I would
mention this book and these few tips here. Thank you to everyone who
shares their knowledge and art!

Best Regards,

Hello Julie,

You advocate “… really great book is titled “Jewelry: Concepts And Technology”, by Oppi Untracht.”

I agree. Don’t forget the other Untracht book, Metal Techniques for Decorating Metals

Another wonderful resource is Theory and Practice of Goldsmithing

by Erhard Brepohl (edited by Tim McCreight and translated by our own
Charles Lewton-Brain!).

So many books, so little time. Sigh, Judy in Kansas, who has moved
some peonies and hydrangeas because they were struggling in their
former places. The wrong time of the season, but maybe this will

Thx much for this posting, many great clues to questions I’ve had as

I’ll be sure to pick up that book!


Thanks for the post, Julie!

Your generous sharing of the tips and techniques which make all the
difference between struggle and ease, are to me, what Orchid’s true
purpose is all about. I know that a lot of newer jewelers use other
forums because Orchid no longer meets their needs. Please continue
posting, and keep this forum vibrant!


Thank you, Julie, for sharing your recommendation of Oppi Untracht’s
book. While you suggested it was at times tediously detailed, this
is exactly what I look for in educational books. I’ve borrowed and
purchased any number of beautifully illustrated books that were
touted as “how to’s”, but in reality, seemed to be more about
showing off the work of various artists that had already mastered
the techniques in question, rather than about teaching those of us
who wished to learn these skills. Often, they gloss overthe very
nuances of details that would make the work truly useful to the less
experienced. Untracht has been recommended before on Orchid, and
I’ve had him on my list of authors to investigate. Your endorsement
led me to bite the bullet and finally purchase a copy of his book on
Alibris (and at a better value than on Amazon).

Thank you, again, for your testimonial!

Linda in central FL

Where the pastures are growing faster than I (or the horses) can keep
them mowed.

Hello Judy,

Thanks for the great book recommendations! I am always excited to
add to my library shelf of knowledge!

I will search these out immediately!

Another one of my favorite Jewelry History books is titled “Splendor of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean Pierre Ghysels Collection”, by Frances Borel, Photographs by John
Bigelow Taylor.

This book covers ethinic jewelry from Africa, The East, Oceania, The

(256 pages, 400 photographs in full color)

Not only are the text and examples of jewelry amazing, but it is the
sheer brilliance of the photographer that makes this one of my most
treasured books! Such as making a “simple” carved bone bangle appear
almost luminescent!

Have you discovered “Demco” (a library supply company) book jacket
covers? These are a great way to protect (especially) the (edges of)
paper dust jackets of hard cover books! I got an assortment pack with
different sizes!

Best Regards,

Hello Linda,

I am so excited to hear that you are adding this book to your
collection! I too have purchased many instructional books, and have
taken classes and workshops over the years, picking up different tips
from different people.

Here are a few more things I learned along the way.

At one time, I wanted to try utilizing setters shellac, and also
pitch, to hold practice plates while practicing bead and bright cut
stone setting. I could not figure out how to work with (small amounts
of) the shellac or pitch. I kept overheating it when trying to soften
it up. I gave up on my attempts and bought some JettSet compound
instead, from Rio Grande, which is a wonderful holding product, by
the way.

Later, while at the Revere Academy in San Francisco, taking a stone
setting class, the teacher quickly fired up a Smith Torch (which was
the propane/ oxygen type) to heat up/ soften the setting shellac. he
did not really talk about this step, he just did it. perhaps because
it was so obvious to him.

He only used the propane, without the oxygen. which is a less hot

This was a revelation to me!

All the reading I had done regarding setters shellac/ pitch etc,
never really discussed “how” to soften/ heat up the shellac, they
usually just cautioned “not to overheat or it would become brittle”.
Well, as you might imagine I had been firing up my Smith torch using
both the propane and oxygen (just because this was how I always used
it in the past) and could not figure out why my shellac/ pitch kept
heating up too fast and bubbling, no matter know small the flame or
how far away I was. The “answer” smacked me in the head in that
classroom in San Francisco. The flame was too hot, and it was within
my control to make it less hot simply by not using the oxygen at all!

Also while there, as I was watching an instructor do a fabrication
demonstration, he intuitively took a file and made a quick little
gouge in the bench pin to better stabilize the piece of metal that he
was filing.

This was another revelation!

The brand new bench pin that I had purchased for my home bench had a
"V" shaped cutout down its center, and to date had remained in this
pristine condition. The bench pins I had “borrowed” during various
different classes and workshops were each very individual and of
unique shapes. Until I actually saw this instructor alter the bench
pin he was working on, It did not occur to me that the bench pins I
had been borrowing were actually purposefully shaped, gouged and
altered to suit the previous users. Until that moment, I never really
"saw" the pins as anything other than something I needed to take from
the box, clamp into the bench, and brace the work on.

I had not been paying proper homage to my bench pin!

I realize that these revelations reflect poorly on my intellect. I
think that perhaps in my intense desire to learn, looking outward
toward experts, experienced teachers, books, etc, I sometimes forget
to stop and have the confidence to look inward for the answers by
using my own mind!

Very early on in my jewelry making journey, while watching an
instructor demonstrate bench polishing a cast ring using various
wheels for the flex shaft (which can be quite intimidating in their
sheer variety!), I asked him “how do you know which wheel to pick up
next?” His reply was “you use the one that will give you the result
you want”. A fundamental statement!

These little shares can be so big! Thank you to everyone who shares
their knowledge and art, even when they are not aware that they are
doing it!

Best Regards,

Hi Linda, I’m self taught, so the books I have collected are very
important. I have a nice little library, but the Untracht book has
been off limits because of the price. do you mind sharing the cost
you actually spent with shipping. Thanks Thomas III

Thomas- got to Addall. com and look under the used book search. You
can find used copies for cheap. I own a nice book collection and this
site is my go to for books.

Jo Haemer

Hello Michelle,

Thank you for your kind words and support of sharing knowledge. Your
words “the difference between struggle and ease” really resonate with
me. I am definitely intimate with struggle, and aspire toward ease!

My instructor once told me that “I must learn to get out of my own

Best Regards,

he did not really talk about this step, he just did it. perhaps
because it was so obvious to him. 

That was a great post (and thread) Julie. It is so true that so many
of the things that remain mysterious to us are not closely held
secrets but just never explained because they seem so obvious to the
person who knows how to so it.

I also appreciate the book suggestions, those that I don’t have
already have been added to my wish list.

I’m sure someone else could state this much more clearly, but the
older I get and the more I learn about the making of jewelry, the
longer the list of things I wish I knew how to do seems to get. I’m
grateful that the people on this forum regularly knocks some of
those things off that list.



Welcome to the fascinating and addicting world of jewelrymaking.
Once you start, it’s impossible to find your way back to sanity. 30
years in this profession and I still love it just as much as I did
when I started as a high school junior taking Jewelry 1.

When it comes to bench pins, its up to each one of us jewelers to
customize it. It was a given - from what I was taught, you were
expected to tweak, alter and in cases, make your own tools. I
rontinuely tweak my pliers, make my own stonesetting tools, refinish
my hammers, resharpen my gravers. When it comes to bench pins, now
that gets personal. I have to break in a new bench pin every 2
years, for I am always modifying my bench pins to the way I like it,
with the grooves and notches in specificplaces. I have a joke - I
have left notches up and down the East Coast, for every school I go
to, I have to put a notch in the bench pin I was using.

Right now, I have 2 bench pins mounted on my bench, for I am
breaking ina new one (almost there) while I wean myself away from my
very worn (and will break pretty soon) bench pin. By end of summer,
I will have retired my old one. It’s a hard thing to let go.

Have fun and keep on learning

Another great book search site is bookfinders.com. Especially good
for rare & out-of-print books.

Also, for those who like the author Oppi Untracht, check out
Traditional Jewelry of India’. An excellent 400+ page book with
lots color pictures & detailed background on the cultures of India as
it relates to jewelry. Techniques of manufacture are also covered. I
love growing my library!

Another great book search site is bookfinders.com. Especially good
for rare & out-of-print books. 

I’ve used booko.com.au with varied success.


Thank you for the book recommendation! Adding to my wishlist!

Best Regards,

Thomas- got to Addall.com and look under the used book search. You
can find used copies for cheap. I own a nice book collection and
this site is my go to for books. 

Thanks Jo, I did what you suggested and was pleased to see some I
might be able to afford. Thanks, Thomas III