Like most bench jewelers I do a lot of bead setting and like most bench jewelers I take pride in my work. When I bead set I want crisp and clean beads.
Recently, I was setting one pointers into white gold skirts that would become a pair of earrings. I hadn’t gotten very far when I noticed that the beads were getting raggedy and there was quite a bit of finning between the edges of the bead and the melee.
I knew this meant that my beading tool was becoming dull. I would like to share with you a tool tip for sharpening a worn out beading tool.
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This picture is of a dull beading tool. The tool has been used to set about ten stones, which is approximately 30 beads. You can see that the edge of the tool is rounded from having come in contact with melee. A tool that is worn like this one cannot produce a good bead and will leave a raggedy edge.
The problem has always been that beading tools are made of hardened steel and thus difficult to sharpen. Traditionally, these tools were heated to soften the steel then they were tapped into a beading block and finally re-tempered. This process is so time consuming that today most bench jewelers simply throw the tool away and buy a new one. I’ve got a less expensive way.
In the last few years many bur manufacturers have began to make carbide ball burs. These can be found in most tool catalogs and are available in sizes from .05 mm up to 1.5 mm. Carbide burs are hard enough to cut your beading tools with out softening them. In my beading tool tray I keep the correct size bur next to each of my beading tools.
If any beading tools gets dull then I can quickly re-cut a new edge into it with the correct size carbide bur and my flex-shaft. You do need to be careful though because carbide burs chip easily. They must be run at a slow speed and you shouldn’t be aggressive with them.
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After the face of the tool has been re-cut I simply put the beading tool into a flex-shaft and run it over a wet stone to clean up the outside walls.
This is the same beading tool as in the first picture. You can see that the tip is sharp and ready to go. I can normally re-cut about a dozen beading tools before I either dull or chip the carbide bur and have to replace it.
This method is a lot cheaper and much more handy than having to purchase new beading tools. Carbide burs usually sell for about $2.50 each.
This close-up picture shows how a sharp beading tool can produce a well rounded and crisp bead.
I hope you’ll try this tool tip as it’s one of my favorites. The center diamonds in this picture are ½ carat each and were set using a watchmaker’s lathe.