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[Tool Time] Hot wax knives

Dear Tool Timers,

This weeks tool for you consideration is what I call a poor persons
hot wax knife. I use them primarily for spruing up castings. If you
price out the commercially made wax hot wax knives you will spend a
fortune. Some of them go for over $300.00. I have used several
different kinds over the years and find the weak component is always
the hand piece and wiring.

What I have brought into school here always receives the torture
test. My students can beat up a tool faster than you can blink an
eye. Again we had about a dozen of the Giles wax tool and they are
all but one or two broken and in need of new wiring or hand pieces.
So this year I tried a different approach. I got a cheapo wood
burning pencil and hooked it up to a light rheostat. It worked fine.
The only draw back was that the hot point was too far away from the
pencil grip I like to use when holding the thing. Looking in the Rio
catalog I saw almost the exact same wood burning tool but they were
calling it a wax working pen. The number is 700-318 and cost $15.50

Now here’s another great feature. They sell a wood hand piece
protector that screws on to allow a better pencil grip closer to the
tip on the tool. Both the pen and the wood protector cost about
$25.00. Now you really can’t just plug it into a socket and melt. So
some sort of plug in rheostat works the best. Foredom sells one,
Harbor freight sells one and you could even go to a hardware store to
buy a light rheostat like I tried. You really need the temperature
control. It takes a little longer than the expensive wax workers to
heat up but once it is hot it does the same job. Total cost for the
pen, wood holder and rheostat was under $45.00.

I think the main difference in the expensive wax workers and this one
is the quickness in which the tip gets to different temperatures.
I’ve had three or four of these units all year and not one break down
yet. And if they do break, for the $15.00 cost I’ll probably pitch it
and put a new one in.

The newest expensive wax workers now shown have some sort of exhaust
and filter built into a holder. This is a great idea but it adds a
lot of cost to the unit. I have a small fan on one side of the work
bench to blow any smoke away from my face. This month I will also be
adding an exhaust to the bench to blow the smoke out of the building.
I’m sure that this smoke from setting the wax up is not good to
breath so be sure in any case to have some sort of air flow away from
your breathing area.

The expensive part of this hand piece is the set of 8 tips. They cost
$55.00 You really only need one and you can file it into any shape
you like.

That’s all for now, Oh, by the way I am building a great web site for
this program and by this August you will be able to see pictures of
facilities and dozens of the assignments and projects we work on her
in Minneapolis.

Best Regards,

Tr the Teacher,
Todd Hawkinson


In addition to your “cheep” wax knife, here is a cheep wax gun. Go to
a hobby store and buy a glue gun that takes the large glue sticks.
About $10 to $15 US. Then, buy the wax cartridge refills from your
tool supplier, and PRESTO you have an “Economy Wax Gun”.

Helping make Jewelry Repair Shops more Efficient and Profitable


I made the same wax tool that you describe but it started as an
electronics soldering iron at Radio Shack. I got the one with the
screw on threaded tips made of copper. I took one of the tips and
ground it to a point with my flex shaft , polished it smooth and bent
it slightly. If I wanted to I could grind the other tips to different
shapes. I went to the hardware store and bought a dimmer switch and
a metal box that they sell to contain the switch within the wall.

First I attempted to wire it and blew a fuse in my house. Thankfully
my neighbor then was an electrician and he had it working in short

You are right about needing that wooden protector grip that is sold
by Rio. Without that it would be too hot to hold close enough for
comfortable work.

I do admire the digital wax pen that Rio shows in their catelog. It
looks like you can set it at a specific temperature and then I
believe it has a foot pedal that you can push for a burst of higher
heat when you need it. Huge price difference though between that and
my setup. I use a marker to mark my favorite temperature on the
dimmer switch I use.

One of my other favorite wax tools is a pencil with a straight pin,
top cut off and stuck in the eraser end. In the middle of the pin
it’s bent down at about a 45 degree angle.

Home Depot sells a small butane tool that looks like it might work a
lot like the “smoothie”, the thing in the Rio catelog that runs on
butane and after it is lit it blows out a tiny stream of hot air to
smooth a wax surface. The Home Depot one is about one tenth the
price and uses a simple lighter as a fuel sorce. I haven’t bought it
yet but I’ve looked at it a few times.



Good info. I might suggest a couple of additions. Get the pen part
from Radio Shack, the 2 temp units are about $5. Get the weighted
spring iron holder with sponge for another $5. With any iron, remove
the soldering/burning tip and hammer it into a flat form, then file
and polish as needed. The thin “blade” works much better for spruing
than the round, wire tips that come on the irons. Also, keep the
tips clean (wet wad of paper works pretty well, occasional wire
brushing and sometimes polishing will give much better heat transfer
than a dirty tip.

Again, great article/tip…
John Dach

Dear Brad,

I’ve done the glue gun with two or three different glue guns. The
problem I see with that is that the stuff won’t stop running out of
the nozzle. I hate hot messes. What I’ve also done is to take the wax
pellets and make a silicone mold of them to get the size pellet I
needed and injected various injection wax into the mold for different
kinds of wax pellets. For the jewelry I make I just buy different
size wax wires and used them. I’ve seen Adolfo use his wax gun very
impressively and could never match his skill with it. Oh well, one
more toy to play with.

Best Regards,
TR the Teacher,
Todd Hawkinson

Hi Todd,

 I've done the glue gun with two or three different glue guns. The
problem I see with that is that the stuff won't stop running out of
the nozzle. I hate hot messes. 

Most hot melt glue guns run at about 400F; as you pointed out way to
hot for casting wax. One way to solve this problem is to use the light
dimmer to lower the voltage to the gun.

Unless you’ve hardwired the dimmer into the soldering/wodburning iron
wax knife, just plug the glue gun into an outlet connected to a dimmer
switch & you should be able to lower the glue gun temp.


You can also get a small plastic squeeze bottle unit from Douglas
Sturgess (888-278-7883) for aobut $8.00 (+ shp/hdlg) that uses
alcohol fuel. You squeeze the bottle, forcing air in the top section
of the bottle out of a small tube, that directs this air across the
alcohol flame and makes a very controllable flame similar to using a
blow pipe. Cheep unit, cheap fuel and it works great.

John Dach

MidLife Crisis Enterprises
Cynthia Thomas Designs
Cynthia’s sculptures are at:
Maiden Metals,

NET and Todd et al:

My wax tool is about as you describe, but I got the Radio Shack model
with the set screw tips. I have some thick copper wire (8 gage?)
which I have forged into a flat shape, a point, etc., for various

There is also a battery operated (AA cells) tool that originally was
an electric scalpel which I bought at a gem show for about $20. It
has a pushbutton on switch so that you can to some extent gage the
temp. Push on for three seconds, off and use a bit, etc. It has a
small wire loop for a tip. I haven’t used either of these enough to
be able to tell you if one or the other is superior. For smoothing,
a carefully applied hair dryer might work. With any of these polish
techniques, watch out, or the whole thing is gone! That’s why I
wonder if a solvent and a piece of nylon hose might not be better for
many uses. Maybe an expert will speak up.


    I've done the glue gun with two or three different glue guns.
The problem I see with that is that the stuff won't stop running out
of the nozzle. I hate hot messes. 

Just a suggestion: Using the same dimmer switch concept as used with
the soldering pencil wax knife and the highest temp wax you can find.
It might take a little experimentation to find just the right
setting but you should be able to adjust the dimmer so that the wax
stays fairly viscous.

Also, I’ve taken more than a few soldering pencils apart for repairs.
If you’re going to attach the insulator sold by Rio, you can
completely remove the plastic handle, bringing the size and weight
closer to that of commercial wax pens. Just make sure you properly
insulate the connections that are exposed.

Warm Regards,

Good Morning all:

I used to have a tool called the Wrey Wax Pen. It was like a glue
gun but was made for wax. A great tool. Unfortunately, when I moved
amongst the missing. If anyone has an old one laying around, I would
be interested in purchasing it as I cannot find a source for it. The
mgfr. must be out of business.

Jeff Kaiser, CGA

Roy, I’m not an expert but have done quite a few waxes. You mentioned
using a hair dryer to smooth. That could be dangerous if you blink.
I prefer to use nylon hose wrapped around my index finger and for
larger pieces or wrapped over a “Q-tip” for smaller places. The
secret is to use benzene as your solvent – as in lighter fluid. Put
some in a jar lid, dip the nylon in and gently smooth the wax. Be sure
to keep it away from an open flame and have good ventilation. I then
use a piece of dry nylon to polish. There are other things you can
use as well, like the little sponge plastic tips women use to apply
eyebrow makeup, and other spongy things. Cheers, Don at
The Charles Belle Studio where simple elegance IS fine jewelry!

Insturctions for a Wax gun are in the Orchid Archives… to include
how to make the dimmer switch regulator box.
Jim C

For smoothing wax, a toothbrush with all but one row removed can do
wonders. Try different hardnesses of the bristles and temperatures of
the wax.