There are some basic principles tools and equipment to use when looking or “scrounging” outside the jewelry world. This article will describe the similarities of tools and equipment from other industries.
I’ve been doing a lot of electroforming in the last year, and my naturally skinflint ways came to the fore as I looked for the power supply. The approach works like this: first of all describe the problem. In this case, I needed a regulated rectifier (a direct current source). Then: What fits the bill? I set aside the kid’s model racing car and train transformer I used to use for plating ($5.00 at a flea market) in favor of something a little more heavy duty – a battery charger ($10.00 at a flea market).
After eight months I’ve upgraded to a really good plater: a used high tech regulated power supply from ebay ($65.00). This is normally used for electronics applications. In the same way a superb high quality rectifier for anodizing titanium (new it is $250.00+) can be had used from ham radio buffs for as cheaply as $15.00.
Saving some dollars on equipment can be really helpful to a shop’s bottom line. Often tools and equipment from other industries prove useful, and are sometimes cheaper than regular tool suppliers. I think this behavior used to be called ‘scrounging’.
When looking outside the jewelry world for tools and equipment there are a number of basic principles to use. Describe the problem you want to solve and then look for industries that have the same problem. Use contrast and comparison to understand a system faster and deeper. Look for the patterns, if something looks like something else there is probably a relationship. An example is Aquaplast, a wonderful plastic material that turns into soft putty in hot water and hardens stiffly at room temperature – just like pitch. It replaces pitch and shellac in stone setting, can be used to make handles, soft jaws for pliers and so on. Do you remember ‘Friendly Plastic’? It is the same material, and works the same way. And so does the sheet material used to make lightweight casts for broken limbs. This means you can obtain aquaplast cheaply as scrap Friendly plastic (and your aunt thought that those balled up reject jewelry pieces were wasted), and if you are willing to leave a used and cut off plastic cast on an anthill for cleaning (ooh that skin gunge) then you may be able to get some from a hospital worker friend….
It is important to ‘shift categories’, that is to look at how you (and other people) class things in your mind and see if you can break out of that ‘putting things into mental boxes’ behavior. An example is chasing tools which sell as high as $40.00 for 5 on Ebay while wooden boxes of 80-100 watchmakers staking tools (the same hardened and tempered steel, same thing as chasing tools, and easily altered to suit ones purpose) sell for $20.00. Watchmakers tools are classed as ‘obsolete’ and ‘only for fixing watches’ but shift mental categories and that box is worth a pile.
A vital principle is looking for someone (or some industry) who uses so much of something they do not value it. There are numerous examples of this.
So, providing you take care not to endanger yourself by substituting one thing for another, scrounging can be really helpful in dropping that overhead over the long haul.
Charles Lewton-Brain is a goldsmith, author, and educator. He invented fold-forming, a completely new way of working sheet metals, and is the author of several jewelry books including one on bench tricks called “Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop“. If you have any favorite tricks to suggest he is always collecting new ones. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.