Here in Tech Support, one of our most interesting, fun, and challenging tasks is to evaluate and review new tools and equipment. But we don’t just review tools; we’re also constantly searching for new and innovative techniques that we can share with fellow jewelers. This past year we had the pleasure of testing dozens of new items and taking classes that expanded our jewelry universe. Between the testing and classes, a few tools and techniques struck us as being so cool that we want to sing about them from the mountaintop.
Here it is folks: The Top 5 Tools and Techniques of 2010, straight from Rio’s Tech Support team! Which of them strikes you?
This is one of the best casting machines we’ve seen in a long time. It’s compact, affordable and a cinch to use. When we set it up, we noticed that it’s about the size of a small coffee maker, which is great if you’re short on space. How can such a small machine cast a ring? Much less, a dozen at a time? Well it does, and with such ease! It’s also super-easy to operate.
Phil, our casting class instructor, cast some random ring patterns with lots of prongs and complex galleries and the CAST/T performed flawlessly. Every detail came out—no missing prongs! We were also impressed by how safe it is to use. The machine is totally enclosed so that molten metal cannot escape. A great feature that keeps everyone in the studio safe! It will cast gold, silver, and yes, even platinum.
It surprises me that this simple tool hasn’t appeared on the scene before now! If you’ve ever worked with metal clay, you know how it can stick to your rolling pin. These rollers are made of Teflon®, eliminating the need for any kind of oil or release. Plus, we really like the weight of it; you don’t have to use much downward pressure when you’re rolling the clay. You can let the roller do the work for you.
This is such a cool new process that we just had to include it in the list. Fusing Argentium® Silver is one of the most fascinating silver processes to come along in decades. Granted, fusing has been around for eons and isn’t exactly new. However, it’s now easier to do with sterling silver than it has ever been. We can’t give enough praise to the pioneering work of Ronda Coryell, who has really perfected this process.
The alloy composition of Argentium allows it to fuse not only with itself but with many other metals too. And it’s so easy to do! Simply lay one metal over another, add a little My-T-Flux and heat until it’s fused. After watching the fusing videos by Ronda, our teammate Mark Nelson has cut out over 50% of his soldering. He says, “This saves time in construction and finishing (no more solder to clean up) and allows me to create more complex pieces.”
First off, these are cool-looking machines! For that reason alone we immediately wanted to play with them. Each welder features a touch-screen control with a visual scale to indicate the power settings. Cool feature number one—check! Most jewelers are visual artists, so we use intuitive visual cues when soldering. With Orion’s nifty touch-screen, the visual cue is right in front of us!
Cool feature number two is the fact that the welders can be swung out of place when you’re not using them. When you’re ready to weld, just swing your welder over and begin! Cool feature number three is that this welding system is both a resistance and pulse-arc welder all in one. This means you can use the resistance welding to tack pieces together, or in the pulse-arc mode you can vary the energy range, which gives precise control. Needless to say, we are all longing to play with the Orion Welding Systems some more!
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Technical Support’s #1 favorite tool of 2010 is…(drum roll please)…
When we first saw the prototype for these saws, we were all in a tizzy! We said things like “check out how cool it looks” and “wow, it’s so light!” And then we used it, and all we could say was “wow.” Really, that was the only word we could utter. This saw frame is so jaw-droppingly gorgeous and easy to use. It’s so light, that you can sit and use it at your bench for hours without feeling the fatigue that comes from using traditional saw frames. And the tension system eliminates all the work of getting the perfect tension in your blades. Perfectly tightened blades will give you a smoother, straighter cut and fewer broken saw blades. This means less finishing, saving you time and money. As my teammate Sessin said, “It makes sawing fun and new again.”
That wraps it up for our 2010 picks! We’re eagerly waiting to see what next year brings us.
From the entire Tech Team and everyone at Rio Grande, we wish you a happy and safe 2011!