Article: Rules for ToolsArticle: Rules for Tools

Metalsmithing 101: Introduction to Metalsmithing

Article: Rules for Tools

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By Charles Lewton-BrainMore from this author

While it is clearly impossible to give a set of rules for each tool and procedure that goldsmiths use, this section gives some examples of the kinds of rules that may be helpful to review when using powered equipment. hand tools and processes have been left out, primarily because their dangers tend to be of the "don't put your hands in the way of things that might snap or slip" kind. Many specific hints associated with hand tools can be found in the procedures section.

We have a power rolling mill at the college I teach at. It was felt that it was too dangerous to allow students to use without special training. I had a number of students sit down with me and we created a list of rules for usage, then a question for each of the rules. A student has to get 100% on the test, receive personal instruction and be watched by an instructor before they get their name on a list on the wall allowing them to use the mill. It helps to have a rule set for a piece of equipment. This can seem quite a lot to remember, but most of it is very much common sense and only starts to look overwhelming if you write it all down.

There are basic aspects of a common sense approach to working with tools. Don't put yourself or others in danger. This it is a really important principle that bears repeating. Work safely electrically, physically, ergonomically, chemically and in terms of dust and exposure to materials altered by using the tool.

Hand Tools

Hand tools are less dangerous in general than power tools, though they can inflict serious injury easily. My stonesetting teacher, Walter Zeiss, told me about a friend who had put a graver right through his hand and out the other side when he slipped with it. I've hard that the most frequent injury in art schools is with tools similar to X-acto knifes?. With hand tools it is a good idea to:

  • Maintain the tool well. Poor maintenance and dull edges on cutting tools lead to many an accident.
  • Use eye and hearing protection as indicated by the tool. Using a jewelers saw for instance one should use eye protection in case the blade snaps and a piece flies into the eyes, same for much punch and hammer use. Hammering requires adequate hearing protection. And so on. Other hand tools will have their particular own safety issues.
  • Dee Fontans says "Don't put your fingers on the anvil". That means that you don't put your fingers where injury can happen to them. Don't, for instance, place your fingers in the path of a saw blade when sawing, where if the blade breaks it can plunge into your finger, or otherwise put your fingers in front of a tool. Always cut away from yourself. This advice of course counts for power tools too!
  • organize your tools for easy use and access. Your workbench should be like the cockpit of an airplane, everything organized for ease and frequency of use. You should not have to work to put something away or pick it up.

McCann notes that a 1980 survey by the U.S, Consumer Product Safety Commission found that about 250,000 people received medical attention for injuries from home workshop power tools. Most were with power saws, but about a third were linked to drills, grinders, buffers and polishers: all of which may be found in the average jewelry workshop. Most of these injuries were hand, finger or eye injuries. (McCann, AB, page 224)

There are general rules for working with power tools, and we will start with them.

General rules for power tools


  • Understand your tool - Read the owner's manual carefully-at least three times. Learn its applications and limitations as well as the specific potential hazards peculiar to the tool. If possible have a knowledgeable professional show you how to use the tool. Review the manual's information once every six months or so. Dee Fontans says that for her "How do I turn it off?" is the first thing she wants to know.
  • Eye protection. Use Safety Glasses all the time. Use a face shield as well over the safety glasses if flying chips or particles are an issue, as when grinding.
  • Use hearing protection. Make sure that you have good hearing protection with noisy tools or high pitched noises from working materials, or noise that goes on for any length of time. Ear muffs are handy and easy to use, but ear plugs sometimes have better ratings for cutting sound. Check your catalog when you order them.
  • Beware Dust! Be careful of dust producing activities, there are fire hazards from having combustible powders around (cotton, wood, titanium dust) and there have been cases of electric motors catching fire from dust that drifted into them. Not to mention the standard serious hazard of breathing in particles that will damage your lungs. Use an appropriate dust mask if your job generates dust-best though is local ventilation to remove the dust from the work area safely. Be very aware of the fire hazard with combustible dusts.
  • Ground all electrical tools (unless double insulated). Never remove the third prong from a three prong plug. Plug it only into a three hole receptacle. Don't use in a damp or wet environment. I also like to use power bars as an extra fusing device. Make sure your electrical system can deal with the tools you are using it with. If you have to use an extension cord use the shortest possible one you can. People die from electric shock when using tools. No kidding. Please take electrical safety seriously. McCann recommends installing ground fault circuit interuptors to shut off electrical current in the case of a short " whenever electrical outlets or equipment are located within six feet of the risk of water splashing". (McCann, page 226)
  • Keep all guards in place on a tool, make sure they are in working order. Numerous industrial accidents happen when people take the guards supplied off the tool. Make sure that the tool is mounted securely if it is a mounted tool.
  • Keep your work area clean. Put things back in their places as you use them. Having a crowded or cluttered work area makes accidents more likely to happen. Aim for a really clean and tidy bench area and floor. Clean as you go!
  • Keep your work area well lit. I like multiple light sources in order to eliminate shadows. Sharp shadows can be misleading. Diffuse light sources don't cast shadows which makes fluerscents a reasonable general lighting for a workshop. I like the daylight wavelength fluorescent.
  • No children. Keep children away from power tools and their use. All guests in the shop would wear safety equipment and be at a safe distance from the work area.
  • Safely store tools when not in use. Tools not in use should be stored in dry and locked-up place out of reach of children. Do not leave a tool running unattended or when not in use. Consider a power lock out for power tools.
  • Don't force a tool or try and make it do more than it was intended for. It will be safer and work better if it is not strained or you are not putting excessive pressure on it while using it.
  • Use the correct tool for the job. Don't force a small tool to do the job of a heavy duty tool - it is asking for trouble to do so. Use a tool for the purpose it was designed for, using a tool wrongly has been the cause of many an accident. Never, for instance, use a power sander for wet sanding - its a good way to get electrocuted.
  • Wear the right work clothing for the job. No loose clothing, jewelry or hair to get caught in moving parts. Keep long hair up, so it cannot get caught in machinery. Keep dust and chemicals out of the rest of your life. Aprons work well but a pair of coveralls may be best. Avoid flammable clothing in the workshop-you can easily go up like a torch from a spark. Use flame resistant (perhaps cotton) coveralls.
  • Never abuse a power cord. Don't carry a tool by its cord or pull on the cord to disconnect it from the wall socket. Keep the cord safe from heat, oil and sharp edges. Also keep it out of the way of the working tool, I've seen a number of power cords that have been sliced through by the tool itself, such as a circular saw. Inspect your power cord and plugs once in a while.
  • Hold your work securely at all times. Always have your workpiece properly anchored. A drill bit catching in something can turn a piece of metal into a propeller like a meat grinder. The same goes for other kinds of work. Use clamps, a vise, pitch or other clamping methods to hold work down while you go at it with a power tool.
  • Always have secure footing. Keep your balance and footing stable. Slipping can be dangerous. And always look behind you if moving backwards, as you do when drawing metal - one time I almost speared myself onto a blow-horn forming stake when a wire I was drawing suddenly gave way. I also had a disturbing encounter once with an anvil horn in front of a class while moving backwards.
  • Maintain those tools! Keep your cutting tools sharp at all times. Follow the manufacturers instructions for maintenance, lubrication and changing parts or accessories.
  • Keep your power tool disconnected when not in use.Unplug them before servicing and when changing any attachments such as blades, bits, cutters and so on.
  • Take out chuck keys as a habit. Make it a permanent 'check-list' item that you remove all keys and adjusting wrenches before turning a tool on. Also make sure that any power switch is off before plugging a tool into the power receptacle.
  • Don't put your hands or fingers into danger, near sanding belts, moving machinery parts and so on. A look at a medical book on hand injuries goes a long way towards encouraging more care in where one puts them. "Always know where your fingers are".
  • Never have solvents around that could cause an explosive atmosphere which could be ignited by the normal sparking of the motor. Never, for instance, use solvents or petroleum based products to clean a tool, not only is there a fire hazard but such solvents can damage plastic portions of the tool and possibly cause an early failure of such a plastic part..
  • No alcohol, medication or other drugs when operating powered equipment. It is the same as when you are tired: these things can alter your reactions. You need to stay alert, and to be afraid of what most power tools can do. Solvent exposure has been known to be an accident cause because of what it does to your mind and reactions. Remember, too, never hurry or rush a job, this can result in an accident.
  • If a part is damaged carefully check it. Inspect your tool regularly. If a part is damaged, make sure that any repairs to it are properly done before resuming use of the tool. A damaged part may be the cause of a radical failure and an accident.
  • Do not allow familiarity with using a tool to lull you into a careless mistake. Always respect your tool and fear what it can do to you in an accident. Remember that when using machinery only a fraction of a second is enough time to really cause you some serious bloody damage.
  • Review these guidelines once every six months to keep you aware of them

The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report - All rights reserved internationally. Copyright © Charles Lewton-Brain. Users have permission to download the information and share it as long as no money is made. No commercial use of this information is allowed without permission in writing from Charles Lewton-Brain.

You assume all responsibility and risk for the use of the safety resources available on or through this web page. The International Gem Society LLC does not assume any liability for the materials, information and opinions provided on, or available through, this web page. No advice or information provided by this website shall create any warranty. Reliance on such advice, information or the content of this web page is solely at your own risk, including without limitation any safety guidelines, resources or precautions, or any other information related to safety that may be available on or through this web page. The International Gem Society LLC disclaims any liability for injury, death or damages resulting from the use thereof.

Charles Lewton-Brain

Master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain trained, studied and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States to learn the skills he uses. Charles Lewton-Brain is one of the original creators of Ganoksin.

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