Equipment Maintenance Guidelines

 

You pride yourself on your pristine shop. Your equipment is laid out for maximum efficiency, your tools are stored in a logical, user-friendly manner, and you can monitor workflow effectively because you are so organized. But when was the last time you replaced your flex-shaft’s motor brushes? Or checked the de-ionized water level in your laser? Or cleaned the steel shot in your tumbler?

You can have the most organized shop with the best tools, but if you don’t properly maintain those tools, they could wreak havoc someday when they cease to perform effectively due to improper care.

Equipment Maintenance Guidelines

The following is a compilation of equipment maintenance guidelines or tips from some of the industry’s leading tool suppliers. (Please note: None of these suggestions supersedes the instructions from the manufacturer of the specific equipment you have in your shop. When in doubt, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations.) Use these guidelines to set up a maintenance schedule to keep your shop shipshape.

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Pliers

  • Keep pliers oiled and polished. A polished surface is less likely to rust.
  • Remove nicks as needed by filing or sanding.

Bench Blocks/Anvils

  • Keep the surface of the block or anvil clean and free from rust, dents, or nicks. File, sand, and polish the head with a bobbing or white diamond compound. The finer the surface, the less likely it will rust or imprint surface textures on your precious metals.

Vacuum Casting Machines

  • Keep the bell jar and all the rubber pads clean and free from investment. This is where the vacuum seal is made.
  • Change the vacuum pump oil when it gets cloudy.
  • Drain the water out of the pump frequently. If when checking the sight glass you see separated oil and water, open the drain valve until the fluid that comes out is all oil with no water bubbles in it. Close the valve and refill the oil reservoir to the proper level.

Flex-shafts

  • Lubricate the shaft after every 40 to 50 hours of use (or monthly) with a light application of shaft grease.
  • Replace the motor brushes when they have reached ¼ inch.
  • Replace worn shafts and sheaths.
  • If your flex-shaft has carbon brushes, always keep an extra pair on hand. Put them in a plastic bag and twist-tie them right to the flex-shaft bail so you always know where they are.
  • If you use your flex-shaft a lot, consider keeping a back-up handy.

Rolling Mills

  • If used regularly, wipe down the rollers with a clean cloth and then lightly spray them with a rust preventative spray when you’re done using the mill for the day.
  • If the mill is going to sit idle for months, coat the rollers with axle grease to prevent rust.

Laser Welders

  • Daily: Clean the inside chamber of all debris and excess items Check that all safety interlocks are working properly.
  • Weekly: Wipe out the inside chamber and clean both the lenses on the scope and the protective lens. A buildup of soot or metal on the lens can cause a reduction in efficiency.
  • Monthly: Check the de-ionized water level. The water and de-ionized water filters should be changed according to the maintenance plan for the machine, which is usually every six to 12 months.
  • Yearly: Check air/exhaust filter and flash lamp. Change is needed.

Hammers

  • Be sure to keep hammer faces polished and free from nicks or dents. File, sand, and polish the heads with a bobbing or white diamond compound.

Magnetic Finishers/Steel Shot Tumblers

  • Keep the steel shot clean by running it in steel shot cleaner or a degreaser cleaning solution (such as Coca-Cola) approximately once a week if you use it every day. It’s best to do this in multiple cycles: Tumble in cleaner for 10 minutes, rinse, and repeat several times until the solution is no longer gray after 10 minutes. This will keep your jewelry coming out bright and shiny.

Ultrasonic Cleaners

  • Change out the cleaning solution frequently—daily if needed.
  • Do not let the water level get too low. It should always be about 1 to 1.5 inches from the top of the tank. The heating element is glued to the inside of the tank, and if the water level drops too low, the element can overheat and burn out. Keep a pitcher of tap water next to the ultrasonic to make it easy to top it off as needed.
  • If your ultrasonic has fuses, keep spares on hand.

Micromotors

  • To keep things running smoothly, keep the vents clean. If they become blocked, the micromotor could overheat.

Dust Collectors

  • Keep the filters clean and change them regularly to maintain good air suction. Remember: There is precious metal in that dust, which means every bit collected adds to your bottom line.
  • Some dust collectors with bag filters have a foot pedal on the side of the machine. Every time you turn off the machine, step on the foot pedal three or four times to shake dust off the filters and into the collection pan. By doing so, you collect more gold, your filters last longer, and your dust collector performs better for a longer period of time.

Polishing Cabinets

  • Replace the filters frequently in order to keep the dust from getting out of control.
  • Pieces that fall into a dirty tray can get contaminated with the wrong compound. To avoid this, keep the trays clean and free of dust by vacuuming them frequently. Be sure to save the dust and the filter to send to the refiner.

Kilns

  • Keep the door shut when not in use.
  • Gently vacuum the interior on a regular basis to help keep the dust off the elements.
  • If the door gets stuck or becomes hard to open and close, use graphite powder on the hinge—do not use oil.

Steamers (standard boiler-type)

  • Replace the glass gauge at least once a year, as well as the rubber washers located at each end.
  • Blow down the steamer once a week according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

MJSA Journal would like to thank Elaine Corwin of Gesswein & Co. Inc. (gesswein.com), Andy Kroungold of Stuller Inc. (stuller.com), and Mark Nelson of Rio Grande (riogrande.com) for providing the information in this article.

In association with
The award-winning Journal is published monthly by MJSA, the trade association for professional jewelry makers, designers, and related suppliers. It offers design ideas, fabrication and production techniques, bench tips, business and marketing insights, and trend and technology updates—the information crucial for business success. "More than other publications, MJSA Journal is oriented toward people like me: those trying to earn a living by designing and making jewelry," says Jim Binnion of James Binnion Metal Arts.
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