I remember my first tool order in 2007; I was working through my Freshman year at RIT's Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design. In a well-appointed classroom, we were each outfitted with John Frei jeweler's benches and flex shafts, and every tool we could imagine was stocked in the studio tool library. There were rooms filled to the brim with anvils, hammers, and files. Trying to decide what I needed for myself, not to share, was a challenge. Which tools were going to be worth the investment just starting?
Unlike most 18-year-old freshmen, I would actually go on to use my degree for life's work. As we look back, Liberal & Fine Arts degrees tend to be some of the most useless and expensive documents. I'd decided very early on to be a goldsmith and it's consumed me. Thankfully for you, this has become my life's work.
So back to that first order. Was it a Hammer? Dapping tools? Ring Mandrel? I honestly couldn't tell you, although I do still use those original tools today, 15 years later. I want to help guide you to buying what I refer to as "Lifetime Tools" little investments that will survive your goldsmithing career, and likely continue to be quality tools for generations to come.
Green Lion Saw Frame: Manufactured in the USA by the original designer (tattoo artist & maker) BJ Johnson. The lines of a tattooing gun clearly inspire these single steel frame saws. I love the minimalist design of the black-on-black and two screws for tension. If you're a leftie, these screws change sides! I don't remember the exact date I got my Green Lion as a gift from my Uncle Dan Valencia, seasoned goldsmith and owner of JewelryClassDC, likely 2014/15. This baby saws like a dream, and the handle is a firm, soft-touch plastic. Surprisingly, the price has stayed roughly the same since their introduction to the market about a decade ago and the saw has shown no wear!
Revere Pliers: This set of 4 pliers includes Round, Chain, Flat, and Half Round pliers. This set may not be for everyone, the "naked" steel handles are grooved for grip. Many jewelers prefer steel handles over plastic coated - I am one of them. I feel I have better control and connection to my tools without the slippy coating. Also worth mentioning, these are a smaller size, which means they are an excellent fit for my hands. If your hands are very large, you may or may not enjoy their size, I still know many large-handed jewelers who do prefer this set. The original designer of these pliers, Alan Revere is a well-respected traditional fabrication instructor from California. We swear by his book: Professional Jewelry Making**
Foredom SR**: While there are other flex shafts on the market, Foredom has become synonymous with "Flex Shaft." Manufactured in Bethel, CT for over 100 years, these tools are designed for the correct torque, upgraded handles, adjustable speed foot pedal, and forward/reverse (helpful for lefties). I've had my original freedom for 15 years; it works great with regular shaft lubrication and inspection. I recently upgraded to the special limited edition for the 100-year anniversary, which is blacked out to resemble the first models!
Fretz Chasing Hammer: My sophomore year of school, I fell in love with Chasing & Repousse, a technique where artists sculpt sheet metal into 3-dimensional art by pushing metal from the front and back with a hammer and shaped punches. Chasing hammers are designed for this repetitious rocking in your hand and make for a great bench hammer. Fretz pays close attention to the design and finish, making these hammers just as nice to look at, as they are to use. Designed with different weighted heads, I prefer a medium weight. This hammer is useful for beginners to strike your maker's mark and purity stamps.
Pepe Tools Ring Mandrel** Ring mandrels are a bench staple, not just for rings, but also useable as a shaping tool for larger heavy bezels, bracelets, and earrings! This mandrel is manufactured in the USA, and inscribed in a full range of sizes. After over a decade my shoes no signs of wear or rust. Avoid striking it with your hammer to keep it looking like new!
** This is an affiliate code for Pepe Tools which Marquis Jewelry Academy would profit from if you purchase through our link.
Each one of these tools in my studio is working just as well as the day I bought them with a bit of love & general maintenance. I would suggest if you're getting started with setting up a jeweler's bench at home and want to splurge on something, here's where to start. All my students have access to distributor discount codes if you are or have been enrolled in one of my classes and aren't sure where to find them, send us a message and we will hook you up with 10% off all these items at Gesswein.com! We do not profit from you using our discount codes.