A couple of years ago, I found an interesting little tool for making heads called a claw setting jig. It came in a nice little wooden box with a page of arguably the worst set of instructions ever included with a jeweler’s tool. The tool itself was intriguing. Enough so that I overlooked the offending instructions long enough to purchase it. Afterall, it wasn’t expensive. I estimated that if I made even one prong setting with it, I’d probably make back my investment. I can get into tools like that.
Did I mention that the instructions are crap? Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve tried to understand why someone would take the time to produce or market a tool and then not provide decent instructions. Perhaps the tool was made for jewelers whose language has yet to be translated into a known tongue. Perhaps the tool was left behind by extraterrestrials. I don’t know; but apart from those two possibilities, there’s no excuse to sell even moderately obscure tools without proper instructions.
However, after using the tool and achieving what I felt were particularly good results, I thought I’d share my thoughts, and some ad hoc instructions. First, a little bit about the tool. You can find it from Stuller (#53-1425 $29.95), Frei and Borel (#153.194 $39.95), Gesswein (#816-1465 $34.95) and maybe another company or two. I don’t know if they are always sold in a wooden box. You might want to ask when you’re ordering.
The parts are made of steel, though it’s a soft steel. The grooves in the jig parts were too small for the size of wire I needed to use, but they were easily reamed out with a round bur. I’ll show you some modifications that can be made to the jigs that will make them even easier to use. Modification of some tools is not a good idea. I don’t like ruining tools. However, this tool is inexpensive enough that I can afford to buy another entire set and retool the extra sleeves and base to make it even more useful.
I have a lot of problems with the instructions, but if I analyze them point by point, this blog will be entirely too long. So, I’m going to cut them a little slack, despite the misspelling and half baked directions.
Since the power of blogs lies in sharing photos, and since I think this little tool is otherwise worthy of it, I’m going to provide pictorial directions. Maybe a few other people will find this little tool worthy of use, too.
Something to consider here as a critique is that as far as I’m concerned you can’t accurately make a 2 ct head with this tool as the instructions state. The only way you could possibly make a 2 ct head with this tool is if, after you solder the wires together, you manually spread them apart. At this point, you might as well have made it by hand. You’re not going to get the accuracy that you’d achieve if you could leave the prongs unaltered. The maximum size stone that you can set in this jig can’t be much than about 1.25 ct, maybe 1.40 ct IF the stone’s angles are thick. Anything more than that and you have to start spreading the prongs, thus reducing the accuracy and it’s integrity. If you’re going to sell a tool, especially a tool like this whose whole purpose is to make something hard easier, then it’s obligatory that you don’t make it more difficult by trying to spread the prongs evenly by hand. Hey, I bought this tool to make my life easy!
The 5 jigs included in the set can be segregated into 3 sets. Two smallest jigs can be used to make heads up to a half carat in 4 and 6 prongs. The medium size set can be used to make 4 or 6 prong heads up to about .75ct. The large jig can be used to make heads in 4 to eight prongs up to, as previously noted, about 1.25 ct.
I’m going to show you how I made a 4 prong head in the half carat size. Each set of jigs require a certain length of wire. The instructions don’t tell you what that size is. For this size jig you need a wire length of 10 mm. I used my Bergeon No.6677 sawing jig (Frei and Borel #126.448 $134.95) to cut the wires to length. I’ve modified mine by removing the thumb rest from the lever and replacing it with a rubber band. I wrap the rubber band around the base of the jig. This frees up my hand to hold the tool without having to use my thumb to secure the wire.
Once the wires are cut, use a cup bur or a fine file and clean off the flashing from the saw cuts. Place the jig in the stem base and a sleeve over the jig. There are 3 sleeves included in the set. Either of the sleeves with the smaller holes will work with the half carat jig. The sleeve you choose will depend on the thickness of the wire. A thinner wire will necessitate the use of the sleeve with the smallest hole, but a thicker wire, like the one I’m using which is 1.29 mm (16 ga) needs the sleeve with the second largest hole. You want to use a sleeve that doesn’t sit too close to the terminal end of the exposed wire. If the sleeve is too close to the end of the wires, the heat sink nature of the steel will oblige you to use more heat than you need to solder the wires together. The mid sized sleeve is the only one that is practical with the mid sized jig. If you buy 2 sets of this tool you can modify one of the extra sleeves by opening up the hole a little more to accept heavier wires.
One by one insert the wires in the grooves between the jig and the sleeve, making sure the wires are sitting solidly on the stem base. Once you’ve got the wires lined up, you can use your saw to make the wires meet up for soldering. Using a saw with a 4/0 blade, run the blade between the wires. Once the blade passes through the wires, release the blade to remove it from inside the setting, then turn the jig 90 degrees and run the blade through the next set of wires. Here’s a photo of what the wires will look like after the first pass of the sawblade.
Your ready to solder the wires together. You’ll need a good amount of heat. Flux and firecoat the wires lightly if you’re using silver of gold wires. I found that I don’t need firecoat on the wires below the jig, only on the exposed area of the wires. The sleeve doesn’t seem to allow the wire below to get hot enough to react to the oxygen and excess flux will cause the wire to adhere to the jig. You’ll need to use a fairly large neutral flame for silver and gold, but for platinum or palladium you’ll need a sharp reducing flame. I have made more platinum and palladium heads than gold or silver, and have always been able to use my Smith little torch and a #7 tip. For gold and silver I used a Hoke torch. I normally use the easiest solder I can get away with for this procedure, unless I plan on keeping this end to solder onto a shank or an earring post, then I use a hard flow solder.
Once you’ve soldered the wires together you can remove it from the jig. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL. THE JIG WILL BE VERY HOT. Use tweezers to remove the sleeve. I like to try to retain the hardness of the metal at this point, so I don’t quench the wire, let it air cool. If the wire has stuck to the jig due to excess flux or firecoat, don’t place it in pickle. This will only contaminate the pickle. Try putting it in an ultrsonic for a while. If that doesn’t do the trick, heat the jig and wire just until the flux flows and gently pry it off with tweezers. Don’t deform the wires, have patience.
This is where my advice most radically differs from the enclosed directions. According to the directions, if you want a smaller head, you adjust the length of the wires you insert into the jig. This doesn’t make any sense. If the wire isn’t long enough to reach the base of the stem, any disruption of the sleeve will cause the wire to slip. I couldn’t find any way to avoid this from happening other than supergluing the wires onto the jig. Even then, I wasn’t as satisfied with the results. I saved a tiny bit of metal, but couldn’t get the wires to line up, meaning the height of each prong was slightly different from the one beside it. The genius of this little tool is that it allows the tops of the prongs to be perfectly level with the others. If you mess with that, you lose one of it’s major benefits. Far easier and more accurate is to place the stone you want to use in the newly formed setting and mark the top of the prong. Then, using calipers or a compass, mark the remaining prongs to the same height. Use a saw to remove the excess metal.
The photo (right) shows a .30 ct diamond sitting in the same set of prongs. Mark the excess and remove it with a saw.
Now you can move on to the next step, creating and adding the undergalleries.
First we need to make the rings. I made the top ring 95% of the diameter of the stone. The top ring has to be low enough that when the stone has been seated you haven’t removed too much or the ring. If you remove too much of it, you lose a great deal of support. You may even distort the entire setting when you push over the prongs during setting.
I want to make the top ring out of the same size material as the prongs, 1.29 mm (16 ga). 95% of 5.2 mm is 4.94 mm. Double the thickness of the wire and subtract it from 4.94 and you arrive at 2.36 mm. This is the size of the arbor that I will use to wrap the wire around. Conveniently, this is also the thickness of a 3/32″ shank for rotary tools. Because I want the lower ring to be made from the same gauge of wire, I’ll cut enough material to make two rings. Cut the rings and solder one of them.
Now for a modification — One of the more time consuming processes in making a head like this is accurately cutting the grooves in the rings so they match exactly with the prongs. I’ve solved this by drilling a 1mm hole in the center of the jig. I took an old broken 1mm twist drill and removed the the fluted area, leaving only the solid stock below the shank. Then I cut the shank to about 1mm. By placing this tiny mandrel into the hole I drilled, the now soldered ring will be centered on top of the jig. A little superglue ensures both the mandrel and the ring stay put. Now I can use the jig as a guide to file the grooves in the ring.
Before soldering the ring to the prongs, make sure you stress relieve it so it doesn’t pop open when heated. As you file or grind the grooves into the ring, you can occasionally fit the ring into the prongs until it sits at the proper level.
For this setting the lower ring should be about 65% of the width of the stone (3.5 mm). 1.29 doubled and subtracted from 3.5 is just under 1 mm. That is a pretty small arbor to wrap wire around, so I’m going to take the extra, large ring and make it smaller by overlapping the seam and closing it until it’s the size I need. After cutting the lower ring to size, soldering it and shaping it, it’s ready to have it’s grooves cut. Remove the mandrel used for the larger ring and replace it with 1mm wire. The wire doesn’t have to be steel, it can be whatever 1mm round wire you have on hand. Glue and cut the grooves as you did previously with the top ring.
Once you check to make sure the rings fit and are at the desired height, you can solder them to the prongs. Finally, cut the bottom of the wires off flush with the lower gallery wire and file.
Now you’re ready to add an earring post, a bale or a shank onto the setting and set the stone.
I hope you’re able to see the possibilities this little tool presents. By adjusting the thickness of the wires, the size and position of the undergallery, you can accommodate many sizes of stones, even if you can’t easily create settings as large as the provided instructions, and the marketing literature states.
What would really be nice is a set of these jigs that would allow you to make settings with curved prongs, rather than simply straight ones. Still, for $30 to $40, this is a great tool.
A couple more things that you need to know when you use this tool. Of the 4 sleeves that are included, only 3 are used to secure the wire in place for soldering. The 4th sleeve is placed on the base before the large jig and centers the large, wire securing sleeve on the stem. When you use this sleeve, you should superglue it so that it sits just under the large jig. Otherwise, the wires will slip down too far and be uneven. The photo I’ve included here shows the sleeve resting on the base, and not in it’s proper position when glued.
You can experiment with the percentage reduction of the undergallery rings. If you look at basket heads, you will find various ratios depending on the angle the prongs are positioned in. Most of the commercial settings are less shallow than the prongs you make with this set. Therefore, the bottom ring could be much larger than the 66% reduction I used here.
If you are making a setting based on the largest of the jigs your prong wires will need to be 14.6 mm in length. If you are making a setting using the medium jigs you’ll need 1.5 mm wires for the prongs.
I’m going to give this little tool 7 out of 10 diamonds ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦. It could use better instructions and has it’s peculiarities, but who doesn’t? You need moderate fabrication skills but relatively few tools. If you are creative you can find lots of ways to modify it and it’s inexpensive and fairly easy to find from suppliers.
Here is the contact information for the tools suppliers mentioned in the blog:
Frei and Borel, www.ottofrei.com, 800.772.3456
Gesswein, www.gesswein.com 800.243.4466
Stuller, www.stuller.com 800.877.7777
Also, the setting I made for this tutorial used Hoover and Strong’s tru950 palladium alloy and their palladium solder.
Hoover and Strong, www.hooverandstrong.com, 800.759.9997