If you are a beginning jeweler, you have probably heard the term “flex shaft” used more than once – but you may not know what flex shaft rotary tools are. Here, we will eliminate some of the confusion and intimidation surrounding these handy jewelry-making tools.
What is a Flex Shaft Tool?
Commonly called “flex shafts”, these systems are really just power rotary tools. These tools are used on materials such as metals, plastic and wood, and are quite similar to the Dremel tools used by woodworkers. A rotary tool system consists of a motor, flexible shaft, and a hand-piece, along with a variety of accessories – burs, bits, drills, buffs, etc. The tool is held in the hand, used with the appropriate accessory and it is operated via a foot pedal.
Parts of a Flex Shaft Setup
The motor: A flex shaft tool’s motor unit hangs from the bench. (In most cases, you’ll never need to touch the motor, so it’s kept out of the way – you can’t say this since most popular motor has a 3-way switch: forward/reverse/on – so you would be touching the motor for various reasons).
The flexible shaft: Actually consists of two components: an inner shaft encased in a rubber-like outer sheath. The cable extends several feet from the motor to the work area, allowing usage from almost any RELAXED angle.
Hand-piece: These attach to the end of the flexible shaft and can be installed or removed very easily. Jewelers typically use the No.30 that has a 3-jaw chuck at the front end that opens and closes to fit various size shank accessories. The user holds it while working.
Chuck key: This is a small part used to tighten and loosen the front portion that we just discussed. The chuck key allows users to simply and quickly change attachments, but can cause real problems if it’s lost.
The foot pedal: As the user holds the hand-piece, he or she will use the foot pedal to run the motor. When the pedal is used, the motor spins the accessory held by the hand-piece.
Jobs you can do With a Flex Shaft Tool
Drilling is one of the easiest tasks to do with a flex shaft setup. Use small drill bits to put holes in metal and other materials, but be sure to use a piece of scrap wood under whatever you are drilling. These tools are great for finish work as well; burs can be used to texture, shape and grind metal much faster than if you had to do it manually.
Foredom industrial grinding tools can be used to polish metal and stones. Heads made of silicone or felt, or small buffing wheels can be used. Simply spin the head onto a polishing compound, and use it on your finished pieces. Some burs can be used to make settings, and to set stones in different kinds of jewelry. Lastly, wax shaping burs can help you create wax models, which are useful in some casting techniques.
Flex Shaft Tools: A Real Time-Saver
A flex shaft, when used correctly, can take hours off of your fabrication time, while making sanding and polishing chores much simpler. A basic but high quality system will cost a few hundred dollars with basic attachments and burs. However, if the system can save you about ten hours of labor, it pays for itself – and you will continue to benefit from increased productivity in the jewelry-making studio.