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Tricks of the trade

I thought it might be fun and informative if we start an exchange of
tricks of the trade. I will start with this one. Nothing to do with
jewelry, but something you all should know.

When you burn yourself at the bench (hopefully not to often) use PURE
vanilla extract on it. Soak a cotton ball with the vanilla and tape
it to the burn. You will be absolutely amazed how a burn that
normally will blister will not with this treatment. A couple of hours
later, it’s like it never happened. You will be so glad that you read
this e-mail when you use this remedy. Much better then aloe.

Hi Richard;

Wow! I’ll have to try the vanilla extract trick. I always seem to
burn myself every time I turn on my wax pen. Can’t seem to remember
it’s hot on the end. I know, sounds stupid and it is.

Here’s a bench trick. You know thoses Moore’s sanding disks? Don’t
run very true, do they? Well, spin one up on your hand piece, and
bring a torch in with a sharp flame, right at the edge. Scorch the
edge a bit, then run it against an old file. You’ll get a hard, clean
edge that runs true.

Next trick. When you use a Moore’s disk (or other brand of snap on
disk), they wear out. But there’s still a lot of cutting grit still
sharp towards the center of the disk. If you spin it up and bring the
point of an exacto knife to bear on the back of the disk, mid way
between the center and the edge, you can keep spinning until you cut
off the outer ring, leaving a smaller disk. It’s great for areas
where you need the smaller radius, and you get a little more for your

David L. Huffman

Good idea! Here’s mine for the evening:

When cleaning jewelry at the sink after buffing, it can be really
hard to get the compound out of those cracks and crevices. I’ve found
that those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (the untreated ones that don’t
contain a cleaner) work wonders in tandem with Palmolive or Dawn.


I have used cheap white mint toothpaste on burns with great success.
I glop it on the burn and cover it with something(it’s messy) so I
can go back to working. I leave it on for several hours and have not
had a problem with blistering. I guess the mint sooths the burn and
the paste keeps it in place.

Bobbie Horn
Brownfield, TX

Tricks of the trade, huh? I’m game. Here’s a few of mine. I’m sure
most people already know these, but what the heck.

Ronsonol lighter fluid (naphtha) dissolves carving wax. Use it on a
paper towel to polish a wax, or soak a ring to remove wax left in it
from melting it into wax to make a fitted band. Naphtha is known to
the State of California (what about the rest of the world?) to be a
toxic and flammable petrochemical, so if you live in CA, take
appropriate precautions and use with care. I guess the rest of us are
on our own.

Butane lighter fuel can be used to super-cool and shrink a part
stuck in another piece, like a bezel tube in a too small hole,
allowing it to just fall out. Same precautions.

A graphite pencil makes a great solder pick. Burn the wood back and
use a drafting pencil sharpener to dress and shape it. Use firecoat
in varying thickness to provide more or less stickiness.

Aluminum thread cutting lube from a machine shop supply place is
perfect for lubricating any tool used for cutting platinum.

Use a Krause bur (or the edge of a crossing file) to cut a very
small groove inside the tips on one of your pairs of soldering
tweezers, 90 degrees to their length, about 1.5mm in from the tip.
The groove will let you hold on to pieces of wire and other little
bits much more securely.

A tiny bit of casting flux (I use 50% borax and 50% boric acid)
added to your investment makes for a nice clean oxide free casting. I
said a tiny bit. Too much messes up the investment.

Strips of paper towel wrapped around a fragile stone, held in place
with cross-lock tweezers or binding wire and then soaked with water
make a great heat protector.

Used dental tools make great doo-hickies of all kinds. Next time you
see your dentist, ask for some old tools (if you use the term “cleoid
spatula” you’ll impress them and improve your odds). They probably
have plenty. Grind them into all kinds of shapes for burnishers,
picks, wax tools, screwdrivers, whatever. The metal is somewhat hard,
not plated and takes a nice polish. Don’t forget to sterilize with
steam, alcohol or something before using, or talk the dentist into
throwing them in the autoclave for you.

Speaking of dentists, they use a spray (some use paper) for finding
the high spots or checking occlusion of teeth. Get some and try it
when cutting a seat for a weird shaped stone, or when carving a
tightly fitted irregular hole. Your dentist can fill you in on the
details. Lincoln Dental Supply carries a couple of different types
and flavors. I personally like cherry.

Round nosed pliers can be shaped into many different types of
pliers. Grind a small flat on the inside of one tip, and an undercut
flat spot on the other that is also shortened and sharpened to make a
great set of prong pullers.

OK. It’s someone else’s turn.


1 Like
I thought it might be fun and informative if we start an exchange
of tricks of the trade. I will start with this one. [snip] When
you burn yourself at the bench (hopefully not to often) use PURE
vanilla extract on it. 

Huh! I must remember to try that!

Here’s one that maybe everybody knows, but there might be some
newbies who don’t–

If you get a cab stuck in a bezel prematurely (say, you tried it for
size after laying dental floss across but the floss slipped out when
you went to remove the stone), you can get it out about 90% of the
time by putting the whole piece in a small cardboard box that
closes, and shaking the box like a lunatic.


Okay here’s one: Burt’s Bee’s lip balm (original formula) is all
natural and a wonderful bur lubricant.

You can use a toothpick with beeswax on the end, made to look like a
Q-tip, to stick on the top of a stone to check the seat and/or size
of bezels. The wax sticks and then come off easily with wiping or
your regular cleaning proceedure. I have had one of those for years,
works with tiny stones too because you can mold the tip for the size
stone you have to set.


Something else for burns: lavender oil! Cool the burnt area under
cold water for about 30sec and then dry and apply the oil. It will
take all the pain away and you may not even notice the burn the next
day. We always keep a small bottle of lavender oil in the kitchen
for those inevitable burns.

Elizabeth Gordon-Mills

I think this is a great idea. The idea of vanilla for burns is
certainly new to me, but I actually hope I don’t have occasion to
try it soon.

Here’s a question to which others might have good solutions. I’ve
been doing a lot of polishing the last few days, and have the
blackened fingernails and fingers to prove it. So, in order to rejoin
polite society, say for lunch, how can I get my fingers cuticles, and
fingernails really clean? Soap, nail brushes, nail files, etc. all
get a workout, not to mention the fingers! But is there some product
that works better than whatever bar soap I have on hand? I do
remember “back in the day” when I was a painting major in college,
that we’d rub mineral oil into our hands very thoroughly, then wipe
off any excess. It made clean up easier. I haven’t tried this with
jewelry making, figuring greasy fingers would not be an asset.

Linda G.

I think one of the best tips I’ve learned for cuts and burns is to
use superglue - which was the topic of recent Orchid discussions. I
hate sticking plasters as they are so cumbersome and you have to
change them every time you wash your hands. Superglue creates a sort
of second skin under which your own healing mechanisms take place. It
kills the pain to a large extent and you can carry on working, using
the digit/s in question as though the burn hadn’t happened, with no
stinging sensation when you touch things.

I keep a tube handy in my bench at all times and since learning the
tip from Orchid, burns and cuts have not bothered me.


milk of magnesia makes a great solder stop (anti solder) like yellow
ochre but much cleaner. Plus when your customer is giving you
problems, you can always take a swig as needed.

when setting a larger stone I all ways mark the stone on one side of
the crown with a permanent marker and mark the shoulder of the ring
( or whatever) so that I am putting the stone in the head the same
way each time when I am cutting the seats and fitting the stone. If
you look at the back of just about any colored stone and most
princess and radiant cut diamonds you will see that the backs are
not even, the culets are off center. This way you cut away metal
only where needed and don’t risk weakening the setting by removing
to much metal.

The permanent marker ( I use Sharpies and prefer red ) is great for
finding the spot where the that is touching when you are trying to
seat a stone. Color the inside of the setting with the marker then
drop the stone in and GENTLEY rock the stone back and forth, this
will leave a shiney spot where the stone is touching. Grind away with
a ball burr and repeat as neccessary.

Good luck!!

When you use a Moore's disk (or other brand of snap on disk), they
wear out. But there's still a lot of cutting grit still sharp
towards the center of the disk. 

And what do you use a Morre’s disk for?

Noel (showing her ignorance, or at least the result of no real training)

Here’s a couple:

When stringing with foxtail, hold the foxtail where you have about 6
inches from the end dangling down. Put super glue on the last inch of
the end. When dry it will act as a threading needle when stringing

Also, when soldering with silver use paste flux like Handy Flux
where you can. I can’t say enough about how Handy Flux has saved me.

Fusing bezels. I call this the million dollar tip for silversmiths
that I learned from a fellow silversmith and modified for my use.
Place the fine silver bezel in your third hand with the joint tight
and facing up. Dab some paste flux on the joint. Make a small jump
ring made out of 24 ga sterling silver wire. Place the jump ring
across the joint of the bezel. Use a small bushy flame. If using a
Prest-o-lite turn the flame down until it just about goes out. Then
heat the joint and the jump ring. Watch for when the jump ring melts.
When it forms a small puddle on the joint remove the flame. Any
further heat will cause the sterling to spread out across the bezel
or melt the bezel. It takes practice and you will melt a few bezels
but once mastered it will make your life much simpler. The sterling
doesn’t flow like solder so you will have a bump to file off the
bezel. I use rubber abrasive wheels. But you will have a fused bezel
joint that won’t come unsoldered during subsequent soldering.

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

He glared at me and informed me that he had not gone to school so
that he could give away what he had learned for nothing. 

First I’ll say, for the newbies out there, that jewelry isn’t made
with tricks, it’s made with good ol’ craftsmanship. That’s because
there’s a whole industry of “bench tips”, and I suspect some fail to
realize they are only that.

But, with the curmudgeon part behind…;} here’s one that I
should charge for, but what the hey…

Take a new hart bur of any size - I have a variety of sizes of this,
at this point. Either use a separating disk or a grinding wheel, and
grind off the top of the bur - of course never get it hot. Take it
right on down to the the edge of the bur, the place where the two
cones met on the original bur. After you do that, you can also chuck
the bur and spin it on a stone to true it up, but if you’re careful
that’s not usually necessary.

What you will have after doing that is a tiny sawblade with an angle
of 30 degrees or something on the backside going into the shank.
More importantly, where there used to be a conical point on the end,
now there is a flat, safe (toothless) edge.

The values of such a tool are many and various - all sorts of lining
and trim work, though it’s important to understand that it’s a
roughing tool, meant to remove material for finishing with other
tools. The #1 most valuable use for it, though, is in bright
cutting. The back angle generally matches the angle of a bright cut,
and the safe edge goes up against stones without damaging either the
stone or the bur or beads. A wheel or Krause bur will instantly lose
it’s teeth if it touches diamond. In using it for setting work it
must be really stressed that it’s only to remove material - in no
way is it any good for giving finished cuts. But a setting with 25
bead set diamonds can be knocked down in a few minutes, with care,
and then cut with gravers for finishing Real handy…

Finally, it must be said that this kind of work requires a good flex
shaft and iron-fisted control of it with the hand - it’s not for the
faint of heart, and if it gets away it can do great damage. For
those with the skill, though, it’s real useful.

Here's a bench trick. You know thoses Moore's sanding disks? 

Yep, you can also take some scissors and cut from the outside toward
the middle, bout half way thru the disk to make a softer edge on
the disk. 4 cuts works well, 8 works too.

Super glue is always handy for sealing up minor cuts on the hands.

Spray adhesive (3M 77) and sandpaper make a great pair when you need
assorted sanding sticks. For backers ive used wooden dowels,
popsicle sticks, and foam board to name a few.


A jewelers saw can be used as a convenient centerline reference for
oddball configurations that defy actually measuring on the item.
Superimpose the taught blade over your assembly. Even slight
deviancies from bilateral symmetry become glaringly apparent this
way, because you can see on both sides of the blade at the same time.

You can make a small lathe easy enough by clamping your handpiece in
a drill press vise and plopping that on your bench. This works for
wax turning as well as for cutting tubing with near perfect square
ends(just use your jewelers saw and a steady hand, low speed).

Make a small stone holder cup for setting jobs. Use those nifty
handy round tins, load the bottom half with old watch batteries or
anything heavy(coins even), tape on the upper half face up, line the
top ‘bowl’ with fabric, glue some rubber on the bottom surface. Heavy
enough to not get tipped so easily, stones don’t scratch.

If your duplex spring handpiece is as old and tired as mine, you
might find the screw threads just don’t hold well anymore. Lay a
piece of paper between the screw parts and then tighten. Aw let’s
face it, sometimes I’m just cheap.

Affix a low profile fluorescent lamp under your bench. People may not
have to see your butt for so long when you assume the position.

Another trick with snap on disks is to mount upside down. Use another
disk to cut through some of the glaze on the back side and apply your
favourite cutting/polishing compound. Makes a very nice mini soft

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

There are so many bench tips and tricks Orchidians have submitted
throughout the years! Here’s a couple from me:

  1. Instead of filling your entire ultrasonic tank with cleaning
    solution, make a mini tank. The idea of the mini tank is only it is
    filled with cleaning solution, it’s easily removable, contains loose
    pieces and you conserve your cleaning solution.

I use a small beaker, 500 ml, to which I’ve attached blobs of
silicone caulk on the bottom. Glass transmits ultrasonic waves easier
than metal mesh, and the silicone blobs means it won’t damage the
transducer. I placed 4 blobs of silicone on the bottom of the beaker,
then set it down on some plastic wrap to cure overnight. I peeled off
the plastic wrap in the morning and had flat silicone feet. Instead
of filling up my main tank with cleaning solution, I just fill it
with water and insert my mini tank with the cleaning solution inside
of it.

Now, if I lose a small part or stone, I can easily remove my mini
tank, hold it up above my eyeline and see the lost part on the bottom
of the mini tank. This lets me fish with my tweezers and see what I’m
going after.

Instead of having to change a whole tank of cleaning solution, which
involves dipping or trying to center it over a sieve while pouring
it out, I only have to remove the mini tank. It’s a lot easier to
pour the solution out of it and sieve it. The whole setup saves a lot
of frustration and time.

  1. When sizing rings, it’s the pits if you’re trying to get two
    level surfaces the old-fashioned way using a flat file. Instead use
    two separating disks stacked together on your mandrel. Two disks
    prevents flexing which can “round off” the edges you’re trying to
    keep flat. Hold the band up to a light in the background and at eye
    level (safety glasses!). You can tell by eyeballing it when you’ve
    got a level surface that goes across the width of the band. It’s
    actually easier than trying to describe it.

  2. Put a layer of small white glass blobs in the bottom of your
    pickle pot. This lets you pick up flat or small pieces easily. Get
    the glass blobs in the kiddie toy department or at a stained glass
    place. Marbles don’t work as well because they’re round and roll
    around. The white colored blobs makes it easy to see any metal.

  3. Got dirty black caked-on grease on your fingers and under your
    fingernails? Get a citrus based solvent, like Goo-Gone or
    Contractor’s De-Solv-It, and put it in a jar with a lid. The citrus
    oil is kinder to your skin than soap or other solvents and smells
    nice. Dip your fingers into the jar for a few minutes and then you’ll
    be able to wipe off the dirty gunk easily. A toothbrush will get
    under your nails. Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards to
    remove the solvent. You can use the solvent quite a few times before
    it gets gross, which is the reason you have a lidded container.
    Remember that oils, whatever type they are, are flammable, so
    exercise caution while using it.

  4. Never launder or dry your shop rags with fabric softener. Fabric
    softeners contain emollients. Emollients=grease or oil, the bane of
    soldering on clean metal.

  5. If you need to straighten a small piece of round wire, say an
    earring post, put it between two bench blocks and roll the wire
    between the blocks. A few back-and-forth rolling motions gives you a
    perfectly straight wire.

There’s my even half dozen. So what else have you guys got?

Hi guys,

This trick saved me as well as my planet a lot of trouble! Some
fellow orchidian posted this a while back and I really smile every
time I set a cabochon. I used to stick a layer of silver under my
stones cause they were never quite tall enough and I preferred a
certain bezel height. A creative suggestion I read one day was to use
those black trays that microwave entrees come in. Well they were
perfect! I trace the cab on the plastic, cut around and viola!
Slipped between the stone and the back plate, it brings it up

I’ve always wanted to thank the mystery poster but didn’t remember
who it was…so thank you!!! My bottom line is happier and so is
my other bottom line :0…now I eat those low cal. lunches every
day just for the trays and have lost 5 pounds!!

Sending good thoughts to all fellow orchidians,