Category Archives: Tools

Stuff I use in the studio to make other stuff.

tucson gem show 2018

Another year’s gem show is in the bag. I managed to break out of my usual AGTA/GJX “rut” and see some new venues. I spent close to three solid days on my feet from open to close, running on manic fumes the entire time, dismissing lunch (that’s for amateurs!), and sustaining myself with furtive bites of Lara bars. By the end of each day I would be a glazy-eyed dehydrated spazz. YAY! Man, I love this show.

The above lovelies are from a Holidome vendor. That is a vast and confusing venue with 5-ish ginormous football field-sized tents filled to overstuffed with largely gem beads and costume jewelry, though there were some good loose stone vendors for sure. I’ll make a post of what I DID actually buy soon. (Spoiler: I got one of those emeralds!)

Natural color Japanese Akoya pearl strands. I typically ignore Akoyas because I find the classic white “Mikimoto” style pearls a bit of a yawn, but these silvery blue-ish baroque guys were totally my speed. Please someone, give me a reason to call this guy up and order one of these strands!

Many more pics after the click: Continue reading

stones for custom pieces!

red-pink-orange rose-cut diamonds

I have, over the years, accumulated a handful of stones that would love to find a home in some sort of custom awesomeness. The above trio are some sweet red and orange translucent rose-cut diamonds. (More details & photos of these below.)

Ethiopian opal in snake ring

I could not pass this flashy Ethiopian opal up when it called out to me from the sidelines of the Tucson gem show. I think it would work nicely in my snake cocktail ring, or perhaps you have another idea?

MORE more more after the click: Continue reading

split ring in 22K

hand-carved split-ring in 22K with 2mm diamond

This started off as an idle doodle in my notebook, then I kept passing by it on my way to other more serious pages and it would catch my eye. So I just carved it one day when I was feeling like I had a bit of free time. And it sat on my bench for a few weeks, making me look at it… It’s just not the super-carvey typicalness I usually do so I wasn’t sure if it was worth casting. Something about it is really appealing though so I finally threw it in with my last batch of castings, and did it in 22K no less. I’ve been wearing it around and I kind of love it.

hand-carved split-ring in 22K with 2mm diamond

I photographed it on my left hand, but I’ve been wearing it on my right. The diamond & little scrolly bit are very slightly off-set and balance better on the right hand. The diamond, by the way is a 2mm VS+ clarity top light brown diamond (maybe L-O color?), but honestly, it didn’t look it in the paper and it certainly doesn’t look it set into the metal. The only way I can tell they are off-color is if I open up a paper of F colors next to it. Those puppies are blinding.


I FINALLY ordered my hallmarks. I had 14K and 18K before, but now I also have PT950 (platinum), PD950 (palladium), 22K, and some cute little for-fun ones: a “CW” for my initials and a little butterfly. You can sort of see the butterfly on the right in this zoomed-in crop. I’m still getting used to stamping things. I was always really paranoid about stamping my pieces because many of my rings are carved all the way around and the pressure required to stamp in the mark can potentially damage the delicate bits in the carvings. I’m still figuring it out. It’s tricky to get a nice complete stamp if the ring is not totally flat on the inside (mine are rounded), or narrow (some of mine are), or is not smooth on the outside (many of mine aren’t). Also, each alloy is a different hardness, so I have to get used to how hard to push. I overdid it a bit on this one I think.

MORE photos after the jump! Continue reading

wax injector, revisited

I finally got my wax injector and am using it and it works great and pink waxes have populated all the ledges of my studio like weird little fairies. But it wasn’t as easy as that.

Of course I had to put off my grand purchase until the new year because of (blah) taxes. So as soon as the supply company got back in the office after the holiday, I got them on the phone and ordered the thing. It came a week later packed in a box crammed solid with shredded cardboard worms. I applaud the repurposing of old boxes but I have to say that that shit is disgusting. They went everywhere as I tried to scoop them into another box; a hazy dust cloud formed over me like some sort of plague. I’m not kidding when I say that I had thoughts of all sorts of evil creepy airborne particles, namely anthrax. I’ve never seen it but I imagine it probably looks like gray vaporous cardboard. Eventually the machine itself was unearthed in all that packing material. I pulled it out, releasing another cloud of cardboard dust and splattering a new batch of dry worms all over the floor. Curiously, the amount of shredded cardboard that came out of the one box now filled two boxes.

But the wax injector. Oh yes: it had dials, it had toggle switches. It had stylish screw-down knobs on the top. I opened it up and peered inside to find … grossness. Greasy casting sand was packed into the crevices. And I do mean crevices; where there presumably should have been the neat edges of a cylindrical aluminum canister were tool marks and bottomless cracks packed with sand. I was, um, irritated.

inside Arbe wax injector

[This is after I spent a good deal of time cleaning out the sand with a pick and washcloth. Also those dark areas on the bottom where the grinder missed are deep, and packed with sand.]

inside Arbe wax injector

[Greasy casting sand. Ick.]

It looked to me that it was simply a casting job gone poorly (I know a thing or two about casting jobs—especially the gone poorly variety). Then someone went in with a grinder and halfheartedly tried to smooth out the sides but really only made it worse. I got some paper towels to try to clean out the sand. Then I got some cloth towels. The paper towels shredded and the cloth towels snagged up on the sides. It was an ugly scene and I was rather bent out of shape over it. I wanted to use it already. My concerns (aside from the fact that it’s not preeeettttyyy) were that the sand would clog the nozzle or simply exist in my waxes, which frankly, would not do. I do a considerable amount of carving on my injected waxes and having sand in them is stupid. Not to mention, it could mess with the burnout and casting. My conclusions: Sand = Bad (and icky).

I contacted both the place I ordered the thing from and Arbe (the manufacturer) itself with my hypothesis. Arbe was the one to get back to me (promptly), except they told me that it was normal to have some sand in the canister and just wipe it out. If it doesn’t come out, don’t worry because it burns out clean!(?)* Basically, they told me I was being a pussy; a little sand in an ugly-looking canister was NOT going to affect the performance of the unit. I sent back an email all: you have GOT to be kidding me. And the reply was, no, not kidding, but if I’m going to be That Way, they would send me a new unit to replace it. AND, the guy who was writing the emails would PERSONALLY clean out any sand that may be in my new unit before sending it. What a sweetheart. I told him, “You’re ON!” They shipped it out the next day.

So, I had to wait another week or so to get the new unit, which of course was packed in another radioactive haze of packing cardboard (it took me weeks to work up the gumption to lug all those boxes of crap home for recycling); I packed up the old one and they had the UPS guy come to my house to pick it up.

The new one is fine. It is clean, it is normal. It’s perfect. It heats wax and squirts it out a nozzle! I’m very happy.

* Seriously? If the casting sand burnt out clean in the kiln during wax burn-out, why didn’t it vaporize when MOLTEN LAVA (I mean, melted aluminum) was poured into the mold? Am I missing some crucial point here? Because it makes no sense to me.

wax injector

My next major tool purchase is going to be a wax injector. Yes, bask in the glory. Naturally I launched an exhaustive search for the cheapest and lowest-tech out there and came up with this:

stuller mini wax injector

It’s tiny! It’s cute! It’s… missing a lid. You have to inject up. How do you adjust the pressure? How do you keep dust and gross studio debris out? I’m so confused.

Then I found what I had in mind:

arbe mini wax injector with hand pump

It has a hand pump to pump in your pressure. It has a front injector so you can use both hands to keep your mold together and steady. It has knobs and dials and lights sticking out and, LO! Is that a toggle switch on the left there? The dumbest part of course is the fact that nobody seems capable of showcasing their product with the correct aspect ratio. Probably one dumbass marketing dude posted a squashed image and everyone copied. It’s disconcerting and dulls the pointy parts of my brain to even think about it. Luckily, I’ve seen them before and they look a lot more like this:

arbe not so mini wax injector

Correct aspect ratio. The red is kick ass and I would order it in a second if I didn’t need an air compressor to run it. It also has toggle switches.

Now I have to figure out what wax I need. I’ve been looking at Kerr “Super Pink” wax, which says that it is supposed to be the most carvable (I need to do additional carving once I shoot my waxes) and the wax I’ve used in the past has always been very goopy and sticky, gumming up my wax tool and making things hard. I also need to have a vibrant or darker color in order to see the details. The only trouble with the Super Pink is that it does not say that it is very flexible and I have very tricky molds with pieces that pop out the top and vent out the sides that produce lacey waxes with crazy sprue paths. I practiced with my studiomate’s wax injector and it took me a LOT of tries to even pry a ring out of my mold without tearing it to bits. Her wax seemed pretty flexy.

I don’t know if any jeweler types read this but I’d love to hear recommendations. There are so many wax options to choose from.

As my Christmas gift to the Internets, I present this:

Arbe 110 volt Mini Wax Injector with Hand Pump

It’s the Arbe 110 volt Mini Wax Injector with Hand Pump. PLEASE COPY THIS IMAGE FOR YOUR WEBSITE. You have my express permission and endorsement.

UPDATE on wax injector here.

let me stand into your fire

I think I’ll start out this blog by talking about my newest and most impressive acquisition: a torch. It’s a Meco Midget and I think it’s the cat’s ass. For the past several years I’ve been using essentially a creme brulee torch (with a bernzomatic for the Big Jobs) and so I am what you might call an easy sell.

The primary reason I’ve been using such a poseur torch setup for the past several years is because I’m a total cheapskate when it comes to buying stuff for myself and reasoned, “Why do I need to spend $500 on a jewelry torch when I can pay $13 at the hardware store and get this half-assed but fully functional adorable mini torch?” Why not indeed. The sad fact is I think that I’ve saved easily $487 worth of frustration in the past week alone soldering tiny jump rings (quickly! and not at all melty-like) as well as large pieces and not encrusting them with such dreadful firescale that I had to then waste time scrubbing away with grinders of varying grit on my flex shaft.

So, at long last, I informed Joshua that I was purchasing a Pricey Item and bought the damned thing. Then I freaked out because maybe I needed a flashback arrestor (my studiomate has one and I know jack shit about such things and maybe I need one too because… BOOM) and it didn’t come with one and oh my god GAS and OXYGEN under pressure in my studio in a rickety old house probably made of matchstick timbers and other combustibles.

When the box finally arrived I was almost afraid to look inside because you know, NOW I had done it. I schlepped the big box to the studio and carefully inspected all the pieces, admiring the gas regulators and the handpiece! Be still my heart! I lashed it down with enough 1″ tubular webbing to restrain a semi truck and then I went online for a little how-to (there was surprisingly little literature that came in the box and the little I had was taken over with WARNING and DANGER and CAUTION, which by the way all mean different things) and I bet you know what happened then. The Internet totally put the fear of doom into me. I read all sorts of freaky accounts of flames creeping back up the handpiece and causing horrific burns and don’t even let me get started on the extensive Ganoksin articles. Studio safety. Good lord.

I selfishly invited my other studiomate in to supervise as I put the thing together so you know, if I blew up the building, I would not be alone. And… nothing really happened. I screwed it all on, turned on the gas, turned the little knob on the handpiece, and we oohed and aahed as the gas came sssing out. Pretty standard stuff really. I had a bit of trouble getting it lit at first because the literature said emphatically ‘never use a bic lighter’ (why? anyone? Bueller?). I went to the big bad welding store and got a sparker (also ordered flash arrestors) but it’s so new and stiff that it’s hard to spark, especially when 99.999 percent of my brain is focused on The Boom. And so when it does finally spark, it is like a firework exploding with all the tension I had built up and then all the gas that pooled around the room ignites and it’s, well, not a relaxing experience.

One little issue I had at first: the torch tip seemed to want to ignite behind the tip rather than in front like it’s supposed to. Not sure why and a week later, now that I’m a (cough) seasoned torch user, it never does that anymore.

Final conclusions: The torch is rad. I’m afraid of it still a little. I can’t decide if I should get a better spark deely-bobber. The spark explosion and subsequent fireball is not pretty but I am getting better at working it and I have to admit, it makes me feel badass to light my little torch with a big ol’ sparker.

Next up: I need to build myself a dedicated solder area in my studio, and maybe buy some more tools before the high wears off.