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Stone Setting Machine Advice

Hey all, I’ve been setting up my studio/teaching myself jewelry the past year, and I need some guidance on proceeding with learning how to set stones. I have the basics for a studio, a micro motor + grs benchmate and various tools to complete a piece of jewelry. I’m interested in learning to do different stone settings besides tube setting, so I can start bringing more variety in any piece I create.

I’m interested in possibly getting a gravermach type machine with a compressor in order to aid in gypsy setting and eventually learn pave and other cool types of settings. One thing i’m worried about is the cost, without formal education is it wise to purchase this machine now? or is there a steep learning curve that should first be addressed with a course or lesson. While cool, I’m not too interested in engraving but I do want to learn basic techniques regarding due to its usefulness.

I haven’t begun to learn bezel setting as I’m not too fond of the look, but I know having a hammer piece would be beneficial if I ever wanted to. Thank you for taking the time to read, any guidance regarding this matter will truly help me, as I need to be smart with my money going forward.

While I am probably not a good one to ask about tools ( I have way too many, and am a sucker for good tools), I use my GraverMax all of the time for cutting or moving metal.
I did some training at GRS in basic engraving, but I do not “engrave”, just use the basic tools and skills for jewelry work.
After 10, maybe 15 plus years I wore my first machine out, and am now on my second, much newer version.
This time I made the investment in the much quieter GRS brand compressor, rather than the cheaper Home Depot compressor I had been using for years. Good choice, the noise level shop is far more tollerable.

Gerry Lewy’s blog posts on stone setting contain a wealth of instruction. Gerry has been setting stones for some fifty years, and has very generously been putting the fruits of his experience onto the web for several years now.
https://gerrysdiamondsettingessays.blogspot.com/

Regarding investing in machinery, I suggest first developing some facility with hand gravers. Until you’re producing enough pieces that you consider yourself a production shop, the speed advantage of a graver machine doesn’t really outweigh the cost. Also, learning how to cut seats and bright cut with manual gravers will only improve the quality of work you achieve with air gravers. And learning to prepare and sharpen gravers properly will stand you in good stead.

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hi,

i would venture to say that regarding stone setting, using gravers, that graver sharpening is very important…a correctly sharpened/ polished graver cuts like butter, and leaves a mirror finish, with little effort.

i spent much time and money on various sharpening stones and attempting to master hand sharpening/ polishing gravers…but never really mastered it…

(use a coarse stone, and then a finer stone, so that tips dont break off in the metal when bead setting…)

i will say that a grs power hone was one of my best investments…you might want to look into that…i never realized what a really well sharpened/ polished graver was like until i got the power hone…

regarding compressors, the Silent-Aire compressor that grs sells has a low decibel noise…the compressor will cycle on and off and so a quiet one is nice to have…(dont forget to drain it at the end of the days usage)

you can start with hand gravers…using grs quick change gravers and collets and handles…these can be used by hand, but will also fit into the hand pieces for the gravermach/ max…

also, consider a grs micro xl engraving ball and holding fixtures and attachments, to hold your work…

also, look into micromotors…

just a few thoughts for you…

lastly, you might want to check out Jewelry Training Solutions website…in addition to free video tutorials, there are many “pay” videos on stone setting and fabricating settings…i personally think Peter Keeps video tutorials are very fundamental, comprehensive, well shot, and i highly recommend checking them out…

https://www.jewellerytrainingsolutions.com.au/

julie

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All of what you describe and much more has been done by hand with fairly simple tools for years. Study the history of jewelry and you will be amazed at the work done 1,000s of years ago. The tool catalogs and some of what we discuss right here may lead you to think that, without these tools, you won’t be able to make jewelry. Learn how to do these tasks by hand and how metal behaves while you are doing it. Once you do, you will be able to make better decisions about what to buy. That all being said, I love tools and can be sucked into the same deep well of expense that you are looking into. I say that having made jewelry for nearly 50 years, most of them with only simple hand tools because I couldn’t afford any more. Now that I can buy pretty much what I want to buy, I do it knowing what can be done by hand. So, to try and answer your question a bit I offer the following: Spend money on good files, pliers, setting tools, a torch appropriate for the size of your work, a flex shaft and polishing lathe also appropriate for the size of your work. Hammers are important and an anvil on which to forge metal. Learn to polish your hammers and anvils. Build a solid bench with good lights and ventilation and buy the supplies that you need and go to work. Learn to draw if you don’t already and spend time going through the jewelry making process in your head and on paper. Get some copper and brass and work in those metals first to test out a design so that you won’t be worried about screwing up, something of which you will do a lot. Keep lots of records in simple notebooks to go back to. After you have done all of this for a while, maybe years. Think about a rolling mill. Start with an economy mill and once you learn how to use it and what size you need, step up to a better mill. Flex shafts last for years, but you may need to either replace or add to your flex shaft inventory. Really study what can be used on a flex shaft and don’t be shy about trying new flex shaft mounted wheels, burs and abrasives. By now you will wonder what to do with all the scrap that you have accumulated. You should probably send it back to a refiner, but you can also learn to recycle it by turning it into useful ingot.s This means you buy a crucible, ingot mold and draw plates. If you already have a mill, you are good to go. Try to buy good reference books like Tim McCreight’s Complete Metalsmith. Yes I know about the internet and use it a lot. I haven’t mentioned lost wax casting, lapidary, engraving, chasing, repousse and many other metal art forms. Most of them can be done with simple hand tools many of which you can make yourself. I say that knowing that I just bought a Steve Lindsay Air graver that I am loving, but I learned to do simple engraving by hand first. The most important tools in your shop are your brain and your hands. Teach them first and then look for ways to make the work better, easier and faster. This is a journey, not an end point, enjoy it…Rob

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Hey Julie, thanks for your insight. I was wondering if you think the engraving ball is still worth it when I could get similar attachments for my GRS system.

Also, regarding the power hone, you think it’s a worthy enough investment first over a compressor + reciprocating hand piece? I have some of the tools to sharpen by hand but if your saying it’s futile then maybe it’s not worth it.

Thanks again,
Kaleb

Visit Steve Lindsday Engraving sharpening for some good practical ways to make and sharpen engravers.

Hello Kaleb,
Pardon me if I tell you that I think you are suffering from a lack of knowledge about stone setting. You mention bead (pave) setting and bezel setting, but nothing else. Bezel setting is the first thing most people learn and pave is about the last. If you don’t want to bezel set or tube set, that leaves prongs and gypsy settings and, only after that, pave. You mentioned gravers and that lead a lot of people to run off in that direction. Gravers are great, and you can learn all kinds of things about them on line and particularly at Gerry Lewy’s excellent tutorials, but they aren’t necessary for a lot or setting.

The first thing I would do is read about prong setting. All you need to do it is some pliers and files to start. It will be a bit more convenient in some cases to use burs of various types. Just some little ball burs and hart burs and a few setting burs to make notches to start. If you get into setting a lot of round diamonds and big colored stones, only then will you need a set of stone setting burs in graduated sizes. You need some prong pushers to push down prongs and a pull down pliers, if you can find such, is a nice addition.

If/when you get to using a hammer handpiece, a flexshaft is a lot cheaper than a gravermax/meister/whatever. Those are more used by folks for engraving. Not saying they won’t work for pushing over prongs, but there are hand hammers and little setting punches for that, followed by the hammer handpieces and only much later graver-whatevers. A lot of professional setters don’t have one.

You don’t say whether you are going to be fabricating or casting, so it is hard to say what else you will need. I come from a gem cutting/faceting background and from that end, folks often order settings and just want to learn to set, so some files and ring clamps and a few pushing tools are all that is needed. If you are going to make settings, then there are lots of other things that will be helpful…it would help us if we knew more about what you are wanting to start with. Good luck! -royjohn

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hi Kaleb,

a couple of disclaimers:

  1. i agree with everything Rob and RoyJohn say
  2. i am a tool junkie
  3. i always think that next tool is going to make everything all better…and sometimes it does…and sometimes it doesnt…
  4. i love learning new skills…which often requires new tool setups…so i am surrounded by rabbit holes and fall into them often
  5. i love to research tools…which often exposes me to “better” and more costly tool options…which reside near the bottom of my rabbit holes
  6. i love to problem solve…which often leads me directly to a new rabbit hole…and making tools and jigs…(a different kind of rabbit hole)

anyway…

i had a very purist attitude about learning to sharpen gravers…my mentor was a master at it, and i was determined to learn how to do it properly…i refused to concede…one of my earliest problems was that my 52 round graver tips would snap off in the metal when i was attempting to raise beads…i struggled to solve this issue…i found the answer in a paragraph in Oppi Untrachts book…always follow a coarse stone with a fine stone or the tip will break…

regarding graver sharpening, using sharpening stones… i dont think its futile generally speaking…my mentor was very good at it…i assume most people can be…i tenaciously tried to master it…for years…but failed…i finally cried uncle and got a power hone and i love it…i definitely would have preferred to master sharpening by hand!

…its like my first manual stick transmission car…it was an old fiat convertible car that i got for $2800 in the mid 1980’s…i loved that car…my dad told me not to buy it…but, it was so pretty!…i later bought a new car with manual stick transmission…until i got that new car, i had no idea how awful my transmission had been on the fiat…and what a good one was supposed to feel like…

…until i got the power hone, i had no idea how much better a well sharpened graver would cut…i personally think that pushing too hard with a poorly sharpened graver can be dangerous…so i prefer a well sharpened graver that cuts with little effort…and is highly polished to leave a mirror finish bright cut…

i think i would suggest:

  1. try sharpening by hand first, and see if you are able to master it…study the techniques for preparing gravers, sharpening regarding face angles and heels, etc

  2. practice practice practice by hand first…i started by hand first, and slowly added tools as i moved along

  3. i forgot that you said you had a benchmate system…so practice with that first…the benchmate and engraver ball are similar but different…i prefer working on a ball…it has more of a solid “deadblow” kinda feel…less vibration…but its a personal thing…

practice raising beads for pave, doing bead and bright, on copper sheet…make ring blanks and practice eternity bands…

  1. gravers start to add up…if you think you will eventually get a gravermach/max or similar, then i would get the quick change gravers, collets, and handles…or the lindsay ones…so you dont have to buy duplicates later…

julie

John! I hear you, I’m definitely not too knowledgeable yet. I’ve made a design with tube setting that I like a lot, and have been getting practice by just trying to make/sell those. Now I want to move on to other designs along with new ways to set. My next stop is gypsy setting, but as I learned yesterday, it would be far easier to have a hammer hand piece to finish the setting.

I don’t have a flex shaft (got a harbor freight pendant motor and a foredom micro motor) but I may have to invest in one to get a badego (badeco?) hammer hand piece as i’ve heard good things throughout the forums.

I’m excited to learn more since my first design wasn’t able to sell how I wanted :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

P.S. to anyone wondering, while I have the set up for both sand casting and lost wax casting, I’m unable to find a place to do it :slightly_frowning_face: so for now, I work in basic fabrication of rings.

Kaleb,

When you are just starting out, you need to master the use of your hand tools. Rob’s advice is good.

Sharping tools by hand isn’t futile, it’s important. I’ve been doing it for over fifty years. There are aids, as Rob mentioned ~

Most jewelers I’ve met are tool junkies, but the tools are only as good as the skills you have using them. If you don’t master the basic tools; files, saws, torches, hand gravers, etc. spending money on expensive equipment isn’t going to make you a good jeweler.

Using a hammer hand piece without the knowledge of what you’re trying to achieve with it, will do more damage than any advantage you think you might gain from it’s use. I gave up using my flex-shaft hammer hand piece many years ago. I’m one of the guys that use “hand hammers and little setting punches”.

In my opinion, there is no quick way, just be willing to put in your time to learn the correct use of your hand tools.

Tjones

Some of my work ~

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Hello Kaleb,
Like most of us, I am a tool junky, but as a gemcutter, I also have to buy rough, so I economize on tools. I scout on ebay for stuff and also cheap imports I can modify and garage sales, etc. Yes, the badeco has a great reputation, but I got an H15 clone off ebay for $32. It works fine. I have not used it enough to break it and I am not experienced enough to notice how much better the badeco might be. The thread on the tip is a standard size, so you can make your own tips from steel or brass screws or make the screw thread with a die on something you work into an anvil…or get the anvil points on ebay or wherever. Yes, some jeweler tool snob with 20 years experience will tell you that you need the Swiss one, but I figure that when I make enough stuff to pay for it, I will get it then.

Your Harbor Freight flexshaft looks like it takes all the standard handpieces, so you can put your hammer handpiece on there. You might look for a maker’s workshop to cast in, or even consider doing some steam casting outdoors if that fascinates you. However, there is lots to learn about fabrication, there is a real art to it…look at Jim Grahl’s designs in our archives here…

As far as gypsy setting is concerned, look into it further…if you are setting round stones into metal and use a calibrated setting bur for the right size hole, you don’t need to bang the metal down and can just use a round, pointed burnisher to push the metal down over the stone. Or you can thin the metal and hammer it down, but even that can be done with a punch and a chasing hammer. If you decide you like it you can get the hammer handpiece. The handpiece is nice for doing a lot of prong setting with non-fragile stones, but you can also push the prongs down without it and need to know how to do that.

There are fun little jigs you can buy to help you make prong settings from wire, or you can just stab the wires into a charcoal block to solder them together. I read old jewelry books like cooks read cookbooks. After you’ve seen the illustrations and read the process ten times, you can do it without a “recipe.” Or you could watch a whole bunch of Youtube videos, I guess, but for me, they take too long. -royjohn

Please take a class before you drop a lot of bucks on tools. GRS, GIA, and New approach (and many more) all have good classes with professional instructors. Once you learn what is what, and have used these tools, you will have some idea what you want to do and also to find out if your skill level can readily attain the precision required. These tools are not plug and play.
j hoch

John - you can learn hammer setting with a nail with a flattened head and a chasing hammer. It is far less likely to run away with you and break your stone. Start simple.
judy h

It seems like dropping money for a class costs more than it would for the tools :joy: Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.

I answered the question that was being asked, but others have noted correctly that without the training, skill, and experience, no tool will get the job done professionally.
At Bowman we first fabricated and sharpened our own line gravers, before we ever used them for stone setting, we learned each sawing and filing skill by hand, through trail and error, and by watching, practicing and mastering the techniques, before moving on to the next skill set.
We made and tempered our punches, and learned on the most basic of hand tools.
Files, saws, and even the alcohol lamp blowpipe was how we were first intriduced to hard soldering silver.
Only training and practice will prepare a craftsperson to maximize the newest whiz-bang tool, otherwise it probably will be just another toy on the shelf

hi Kaleb,

just to reiterate, gravers are very sharp and can be dangerous, especially if not used properly. You should definitely get proper instruction in the safe use of gravers.

Julie

Judy is correct. A well made bezel with a thick wall is a very nice way to set stones, especially cabs. Learn to use a hammer and simple pushers to move the bezel wall around the stone. I make them out of brass rod and forge the ends into a shape that matches the bezel. This reduces the amount of cleanup after you are done. I also have a steel pusher for quick movement of a lot of metal. You need a way to secure the piece to do this and a ball vise works very well. You can also use an inexpensive machine vise. In either case, you will likely need some thermosetting plastic in which t embed the piece before you secure it n the vise. As an alternative, you can use chasing/repousse resin in a heavy dish or even on the end of a heavy dowel. Look for your own solutions and don’t always rely on what you see in a catalog. You should also look at pictures of other artist’s shops. You can find them in the bench exchange and on various artist’s websites. Mine is www.robmeixner.com Look for “shop shots” under the “more” tab. Good luck…Rob

A suggested, any tool is merely an extension of the hands of the crafts-person.
Without the basic skill, the finest tool on Planet Earth might as well be used as a mallet, for all the good it will do.
Even today I still find times when a punch and the hammer are the best tool for the job at hand.
Until one has developed an understanding and at least a basic mastery of the techniques, no tool will produce great craft on it’s own, and learning a technique using the basic hand tool is how this mastery is develooed.

Hello Kaleb,
The schools Judy mentions are very good…you should look at the website for Blaine Lewis’ New Approach School just to see how swanky the school is and how great the equipment is. If you were to travel to Franklin, TN and take a complete course, Blaine would be able to place you as a bench jeweler in a good, prolly $50K+ annual salary job. However, even a five day course would cost $1350 and you would need to add your transpo and living expenses…a twelve week course would cost you half of that first year’s salary…

Everybody has their preferences for training and learning. I’ve always been self taught, mostly. You could find courses in jewelry making, some of which would include some stone setting, at workshops run by various Gem and Mineral Clubs. The William Holland School has a stone setting course for $280 plus your room and board for the week, which would probably be about $350. Of course, Wm Holland, and lots of other places have cancelled classes this year, but there’s the future. There are some on line video courses available, too, which have been reviewed here…IDK any details.

I think that if you can learn to make simple silver jewelry, you can learn to do bezel and simple prong setting. If you want to go beyond that to pave and various other things, you can look at Gerry Lewy’s articles and decide whether you need classes to progress.

To learn prong setting, I would suggest just getting a few needle files and a flexshaft (which the OP has already) and some burs and prong pushers. Then buy some calibrated synthetic stones and some cast silver mountings and set to work. You can work into using gravers with fishtail settings and the like…-royjohn