The best “Sneaky Goldsmith Tricks” involve taking mundane, everyday items and repurposing them as goldsmith’s tools. Two classic tricks that are valuable to detail-finish hard-to-reach spots involve a wooden toothpick and cotton packaging twine.
An ordinary round toothpick becomes a precision polishing instrument in the hands of a bench-savvy goldsmith. Cut a toothpick to a length of about 1.75 inches. Insert the blunt end into a jeweler’s hand piece. Pinch off small clump of fibers from a cotton ball and with the hand piece running at a very slow speed wind them onto the pointed end of the toothpick. You can put a drop of glue on the toothpick first for a stronger connection. With the hand piece running, transfer the polishing compound to your new tool and begin to polish the piece you’re working on. A small amount of light machine oil may help the compounds adhere to the cotton. Make up as many custom polishing tools as needed. These shop-made tools are perfect when the usual end brushes and standard items don’t suit the job.
You can also use cotton packaging twine in a similar way. Cut a piece of packaging string about two feet long. Tie a knot in the center of it to create a small loop. Hook the loop on a nail or a thumbtack mounted on the top or side of your bench. You will have two free ends of twine about a foot long each. Pull one strand toward yourself to put it under some tension, then rub a bar of rouge against the string. Repeat this action with the other strand using Tripoli or bobbing compound. A few drops of light oil on the twine will help the compound stick. Sometimes it’s hard to get the string started; in that case, you can tape the end of the string with masking tape and cut it at an angle to make a sharp point. This will enable you to thread it through, just like a sewing needle.
Once the strings are prepared, thread the Tripoli-charged strand through the part of the piece you want to polish. Pull the string toward you to put it under tension and rub the item against the string to polish it. Remember to keep the item moving and avoid concentrating all your efforts on one spot. The string is round and will quickly wear a round groove into the metal if you don’t pay close attention. When you are satisfied with the results of the Tripoli, clean the item to remove any traces of compound and repeat using the string charged with rouge.
This technique is known in the trade as “thrumming.” It has the feel of a very ancient method, possibly used by the earliest jewelry makers. It’s easy to imagine one of our hunter-gatherer ancestors using a strand of animal or vegetable fiber and some fine sand to cut and polish a small detail into a piece of shell or metal.
Remember, attention to detail can make a piece stand out as a quality piece of workmanship versus a mass-produced or rushed-to-completion piece. Jewelry that sets itself apart from the competition is what your customer wants. If the jewelry is outstanding from the face-up view and inside and out, you will enjoy the rewards this extra work brings.