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Tools priorities

Hi All,

The quest has begun, I’m setting up my full-time bench/studio and
have already begun to buy the essentials (mini torch, files, pliers,
picklepot, tumblevibe, etc). I am in the midst of writing a grant
proposal to be able to afford some of the ‘big boys’ that I can’t
manage on my own. My question is, in your opinion (because I know
it’s dependant upon how you work, what type of work you do, etc.)
which is the more useful to you…a rolling mill or a drawbench and
it’s accessories? And in a follow up question or two is it better to
go all out on the rolling mill or economize and is there much
difference in use in the 3’ drawbench vs 6’? Thanks ahead of time for
your answers. Please let me know if there is anything ‘more urgent’ I
should think of getting. Thanks


rolling mill vs. drawbench…

Well, it certainly does depend upon who you are and what you do. But,
that said, I would pick the rolling mill absolutely any day of the
week. You can always buy wire stock and tubing in whatever gauge and
shape you need. The rolling mill can be used for so many
one-of-a-kind effects -

the hubris-causing art stuff (!) - so for that reason I would vote
for the rolling mill!

Good luck with your new venture!

I use a rolling mill on a daily basis to make the size stock needed.
Why file off excess when you can sve time and money on getting the
proper thickness. If your time is valuable like mine don’t draw out
your wire. Order it.

Thanks and good Luck Johneric

useful to you....a rolling mill or a drawbench 

Rei - the very best way to become a “grown-up” jeweler is to buy a
rolling mill. It’s the nucleus of a shop besides the casting
aspects. Mine is 25 years old and acts like new - get a good one.
For drawplates we use a 6" vise (good for lots of things), plates
and drawtongs. You only need a drawbench if you need it, and the
main reason for that is when you’re pulling wire that’s too thick to
pull without the bench. I can pull wire of around 1.5 mm or maybe a
bit bigger, but that’s about it. So, if you’re going to need lots of
fat wire, then fine - otherwise you could probably just mount a vise
and get some drawtongs and do most everything.

Rai, I have never missed not having a drawbench, but I could not get
along without my rolling mill. In fact I have two. One is an Italian
one with flat rollers which I use for thinning my metal, and also for
texturing it. As it only came with flat rollers, I finally purchased
an inexpensive Karet rolling mill which in addition to flat rollers
came with several rollers for rolling out wire, square, round, etc…
It has proven to bea little workhorse. When I got it I had problems
figuring out how to assemble it, but Kenneth Singh, a frequent
contributer to Orchid, walked me through the entire process. Very

One other tool which I could not get along without is a Beverly
Shear–open throat which cuts straight pieces, or curves. Handles
heavy gauge metals with ease.

A lot of my tools were purchased from an automotive supply store,
and the local hardware store and modififed for special uses. For this
I use my trusty old Grinder, which although not used on a regular
basis is essential when it is needed.

An inexpensive, but sturdy vise is also a must in my studio, as is
my big anvil.

My list of essential tools and equipment is lengthy, but I won’t
elaborate on these as most of them have special uses, and may not be
considered essential by anyone else. As you begin working and
developing new techniques your needs will dictate which special tools
you need. The problem is knowing when to stop. So far I have not
reached that limit.



Go for the rolling mill. Get a 4-1 ( or more) geared combination
(grooved and flat) rolling mill and also look for removeable side
rolls, for making half-round stock. The wider the better. With the
mill, you will be able to make all your own wire and sheet stock, if
you choose to do so, or can modify any existing stock into what you
want. I routinely make custom bezel stock in any width and thickness
in about 15 min. If you are going to draw wire through your
drawplate, you will want to use the grooved portion of your mill to
taper the end of your stock to get it through the drawplate
initially. If your new mill has the side roll capacity, you can have
new rollers made by any qualified machinist, and have any shape you
want milled into the rollers, so you can make custom shapes, or extra
wide half-round, as I do on mine.

Your drawbench will be used far less often than your rolling mill
(usually just for round stock) I have a portable one, mounted on a
heavy-duty sawhorse with fold-up legs. Mine’s a four-footer, but you
could go longer if you think you’re going to make longer wire than 3
to 4 foot. I keep mine in a closet until I need to use it. It is
powered by a hand operated winch, holds the stock with a vise grip
connected to a heavy nylon strap. Works quite well. Cost me less than
$100 to build. Plans for it are out there on the internet, I know.

The drawbench is cheap, and a relatively simple device, but the
rolling mill is the complicated part. I recommend a Durston above all
others, and also own a Cavallin, my number 2 choice. Durston makes a
huge number of custom rollers you can buy to fit their mills, but
they make no effort at all to market them, as far as I know. Cavallin
provides a single half-round groove on the side roll of their new
mills. (???) Good luck finding a used mill that won’t need re-milling
of the rollers before you can use it. Most people have no idea how to
keep a mill in good condition, and end up damaging them
inadvertantly. Happy rolling.

Jay Whaley UCSD Craft Center

And in a follow up question or two is it better to go all out on
the rolling mill or economize and is there much difference in use
in the 3' drawbench vs 6'? 

It’s always better to go all out if you can. Ever hear someone say,
“Oh geez, if only I’d bought the smaller model, I could be doing
less now!”

Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


Yes, it most certainly depends on the work you do, what tools you
will most need. Personally, I think it would be grand to have a draw
bench, but I would be lost without my rolling mill. I do a lot of
filigree, though, and for that I need the mill. I use it for lots of
other things, too, of course. The main times I’ve wished I had access
to a draw bench again was when I feel inspired to make my own tubing
or draw down a larger diameter wire. In both of those cases, I
usually can in the end get what I need from the manufacturers. When I
had access to one of those (back in school), though, I did use it! I
saw instructions a few years ago for how to make your own draw bench
for less than $50. Printed them out, they’re somewhere around here.
I’ve just never done it because my space didn’t really allow for it.
But there’s a consideration for you- buy a nice mill, make your own
draw bench. I just Googled it, and although I didn’t see (near the
top, anyway) the same link I did several years ago, I did see that
Charles has a publication with plans for one. The plans are $15.50 &
it says you can build one for about $30.

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

ROLLING MILL overwhelmingly, and PEPE tools makes a smashing combo
model on sale frequently at FDJ tools, or a number of other
sellers…i always advise a small shop to opt for the non-electric
model…witht he PEPE models the difference between the 90mm and the
110 mm is negligible, so spend the extra on the stand as opposed to
the extra 10mm of flat stock capacity…".Tony" the US salesman is a
treat to deal with to make PEPE even more worth checking out. .
( Don’t just buy the mini-torch because it’s
the most advertised…the Hoke or mecco midget will outlast out
preform and offer far more versatility than a smith or gentec torch-
once you buy into the regulators,the hoses, tanks, etc… you’re
looking at 400 bucks easily anyway…the hoke is on sale ,practically
universally, and parts are still widely available as well (so stock
up now) it was the jewelers standard before the disposable era and
smith shook hands…and works, in my opinion far better than any
maker’s “little torch”, and is not limited as some models are, to
disposable cannisters that cost a fortune and create tonnes of waste
every year globally as the disposable tanks are available from
Paramaribo and the Tierra del Fuego to the Seychelles!..and metals
don’t readily disintegrate, (but can be trecycled!..


Priority - rolling mill - the best you can afford. You can live a
very long time with a drawplate and a big vise. It all depends on
whether you want to make a living with what you do or hand make every
bit of wire you ever need.

If you get a mill that has a set of flat and a set of wire rolls, it
is a very good choice. If you want to start out with $100 of silver
in 6 guage, and draw it all down, you need the draw bench. I’d buy
wire in the right size to start with.

Highly biased answer -
Judy Hoch

The last two times I said anything here, my post showed up twice.
Here’s hoping that straightened itself out.

Anyway, if you’re able to weld steel, or know someone who is able to
weld steel, it shouldn’t be too hard to make an adequate draw bench
yourself for a lot less than buying a “real” one.

Just buy a hand-cranked strap winch from Harbor Freight or a similar
cheap tool store and cut out the hook they had in there and replace
it with a steel ring wide enough to hold your draw tongs. The bed can
be made out of steel C-Stock, and it’s just a matter of mounting the
winch at one end, and two vertical posts to hold the drawplate at the
other end. To keep the drawplate from rattling around, snap it to the
posts with a C-clamp or vise grips and you’ll have a drawbench for

And the Beverly shear truly is a beautiful tool. If you’re just
going to use it to cut nonferrous metals, the lightest model, the
B-1, should be just fine, not to mention a few hundred dollars
cheaper. It is rated for 14 gauge mild steel, so for jewelry
processes “light” might be a bit of an understatement. I’ve also
heard that the lighter the shear, the closer the radius it can cut.
I’ve only used the B-2, so I can’t really be sure about that.

Not to advertise for Harbor Freight too much, but they’ve got an
imported knockoff B-1 throatless shear for a fifth of the price of a
real Beverly. I know a lot of people who have gotten the cheapie, and
for some of them it worked straight out of the box, but others have
had some issues with the blades. I think most of them were able to
either get it replaced or fix it themselves, but if you aren’t good
with a grinder or you don’t want to risk paying shipping three times
on a 20 pound package it might be worth it to buy name brand,
especially if you plan on doing a lot of sheet work. You get what you
pay for and all that.

Willis Hance

Rosenthal Supply in Miami has an extensive assortment of replacement
rollers and dies for making patterned stock…many don’t know they
exist ( rosenthal that is) and their prices are hard to beat on
custom dies and rollers…i think they refinish rollers for around 15
bucks or so… I’m with Jay on the winch,vice and draw tongs
drawbench…i think i saw the plans in either Complete metalsmith or
one of C.Lewton-Brain’s books…the main thing is to buy draw tongs
that have malleable handles so you can bend them to fit the
retaining rings that do the pulling… as far as drawplates…-and i 'm
betting there will be dissent on this point- there is no need for an
80-100 sapphire lined plate unless you are in the business of making
mill products…i have had really good ones and really bad ones…if
you opt for the 15 dollar combo plate you get usable stock that needs
a bit of finishing, not much but some - and it’s easily
accomplished… if you buy the twenty five dollar combo plate you get
usable stock with less finishing required…if you make it out of any
hardwood and then harden the holes,squares, etc, with fire and waxes,
you get usable stock too…it depends on what your needs are…don’t
just buy to stock your larder with tools if you plan on buying
assorted shaped wire from metals dealers…( though i am an admitted
tool junkie myself- but after losing everything single tool I owned
to the flood after hurricane katrina it becomes apparent really fast
what you need, what you don’t, and how many other people have the
same excesses of rarely used or surplus tools…)…for instance no one
uses pear, heart, or star shaped drawplates in this country
much…though in india drawing 6 gauge wire from it and slicing it as
decorative appliques is common…how many stars and hearts and
teardrop appliques do you think you’ll use in a lifetime.??.then
having that 12 dollar drawplate may be for you…for tubing a swage
block has more uses than just tubing and with a self made wooden draw
plate for the final closures is ideal…a local machinist can make all
the metal plates you need usually cheaply so don’t rule that custom
made possibility out…and step drills are wonderful for making wood
plates…Oh lightening, gotta cut off the power system !


This is a rant about Harbor Freight’s throat less shear. I bought one
last fall. The knives were unusable and chipped readily. I went to
the local Harbor Freight store. All of the shears there had the same
problems, IE, useless. I ordered a set of real Beverly Shear knives
and my friend and I re-milled them to fit and reground the shear body
for proper clearances. Unless you are a machinist this is not easily
done. The shear works well now. I figure it cost me about $350 in the
original purchase, new knives, and labor for the modifications. Still
a bit less than the real thing. It also broke me of ever buying
anything from Harbor Freight again. I remain convinced that HF tools
are good for boat anchors, or door stops if live in the mountains
like I do.

William E. Churlik

Don’t you know that almost all that stuff Harbor Freight carries is
made in China? Because so much of the machining work all goes to
China, it was the cause of a company, that my son (a journeyman
machinist) worked for, to go out of business. I am now using his
inheritance to assist him in getting his degree. I don’t send any of
my students to buy the “crap” from Harbor Freight - or use it myself!

Rose Marie Christison

The Chinese and Indian made cheap tools can have very erratic heat
treating. The shear is one of the ones that has untempered blades
that are too hard to cut some metals and they can chip. They should
be removed before use and tempered in an oven at 450 to.475 F. The
blades may also need adjusting before use so they don’t have an
interference contact. Don’t cut hard steel or stainless steel or
stuff too thick. And at 1/5 the price they are still useable.

Beverly blades are a little soft and may deform on hard material
instead of chipping.


Wow, thanks guys. I am overwhelmed by the response! :slight_smile: Upon
reflection (and with the popular vote) it seems a rolling mill is the
order of the day. I am planning to get the Durston and possibly make
my own stand to mount it on. I should know in about two weeks or so
if I have the grant or not. I think I should be able to build a
drawbench (thanks to the wonderful volunteers in the community I am
doing my artist in residence position in). And I honestly hadn’t
considered a beverly shear, something to think about.

I am however looking for an anvil. Saw the one at harbour freight
(russian cast, not hardened enough) but after reading about the 2
plus hours of work to get it into anykind of working order and then
it dings super easily I have been advertising and going to auctions
looking for old blacksmithing anvils (I don’t mind putting in two
hours or more of grinding and the like if it will hold up. Any idea
of where to look? I am living in a farming community in Iowa and it
seems everyone I talked to HAD one in the barn but have since gotten
rid of it. AAARGHH. I do a good amount of heavy gauge forging and
bracelets and it’s high on my priority list of things to find. Any
ideas on where to look for a good 85-110 lb. horned anvil?

Thanks again for all of the great responses. I’ll have to follow up
on all of the leads given here and research what will work best in my
studio. Soon as I have my business up and going I will be sure to
let you all know.



For a reasonably priced new anvil, look at these from Cliff Carroll’s
Horseshoers Supplies. I have the 70lb wide and am very pleased with


Any ideas on where to look for a good 85-110 lb. horned anvil? 

Don’t waste your money on Harbor Freight anvils. I bought one on
sale and the first time I used it to flatten out some twisted silver
wire it left an imprint of the twisted wire on the surface of the
anvil. It is now a rusting hunk of metal waiting for a boat to be an
anchor for.

Steel anvils are the best but pricey. Cliff Carrol, a guy who makes
tempered cast iron anvils in Colorado but will ship them anywhere.
He supplies them to jewelry tool suppliers in the US.

He sells 35 lb, 70 lb, and 125 lb. I got the 35 lb model and have
been thrilled with it. It is tempered cast iron and has a real good
ring to it. You will need to do some surface sanding on the finished
surfaces to make them smoother for jewelry work.

Be careful about grinding the surfaces on old anvils. They are
surface tempered and you may grind away the temper.

For a stump to place your anvil on go to a local firewood supplier
that sells hardwood. Get a log that hasn’t been split yet. I got a
maple stump and it works great.

Cliff also sells horseshoer supplies. Many interesting hammers and
such. He also makes a portable forge that he designed. I’m trying to
think of a use for it because it is really cool. :slight_smile:

No affiliation with Cliff Carrol. He’s just a great guy who makes
great anvils and stuff…

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Rocky Mountain Wonders
Colorado Springs, Colorado

My tool priorities are to buy quality tools one time. If you buy
cheap tools (ie: chinese, india) then you will be replacing them
sooner than later. Most of my hammers even quality have to be
refinished. Everyone has their own standard of the tools they use.
But quality (usually means more expensive) lasts and works longer and
better. I have tools that are over 30 years old and still working
fine. I have acquired over the years some cheap tools and they did
not last long enough to even warrant the expenditure on them.

jennifer friedman

The best way to find a used anvil at a decent price is to keep
checking the farm auctions and estate sales. You’re counting on
chance for that though, so if you want to speed things up you might
want to see if there’s a local blacksmithing group who occasionally
has get togethers. A lot of blacksmith events involve people selling
their extra tools, and there are almost always a few anvils for sale
at the mid-size events I’ve been to. You’ll end up paying a little
more though, since blacksmiths probably best understand the true
value of a good anvil.

A good place to start might be the Upper Midwest Blacksmith
Association. They have a website at www dot umbaonline dot org. There
should be a calender or events section there.

Willis Hance