Everyday in the workshop silversmiths sit surrounded by the tools of their trade. Each tool is particular to its user, familiar in its weight and feel, some tools do a specific job some are multi functional, but which one does the silversmith reach for time and again and would dare to call it a favourite?
‘A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop’
My favourite tool….. so difficult to choose one, as I have a terrible tool fetish. It has to be a hammer. I call it my ‘Toolbox’ hammer, as it’s 3 hammers in one really. I adapted it from a car boot sale find. I love rescuing rusty old hammers from dereliction; they are almost always good quality steel (drop forged, not cast), it’s environmentally friendly, and not to mention, so many old forms just aren’t made anymore. I think this one was £2, and had no handle. I have ground the back of the round face away, so it can be used for both raising and planishing, just by altering the angle. This saves time by not swapping hammers, as well as weight if I’m working away from the workshop. It can also get into some awkward places for planishing right up close to edges. The narrow end is a creasing hammer, but a bit curved. It can be used for fold-forming sheet and forging out a bar. That’s value
This is a tool of my own making. It weighs somewhere in the region of 100kgs. It is steel 360x360x160mm with 16 semi-circular bowls ranging from 40-170mm diameter. I had the bowls turned in wood, fitted together and cast on our local industrial estate. I do a lot of hand raising and this tool gives no end of assistance. Sinking of course but also effectively swinging the edge in during the raising process which can help to avoid any splitting. It is a great support when thickening edges. And much more besides.
I have always made tools to do the job. At college you have the privilege to have tools ready made for almost any circumstance. Outside you have what you have and some will design within their own tool capability or have to out-source. I recommend making your own tools and taking pleasure from the unique results achieved.
No tool is a favourite. One tool helps another to reach the desired result but some just make the process a joy.
I reckon I have several favourite tools, but the most useful is Polymorph. It’s a reusable plastic which can be softened in hot water and moulded like plasticine, but sets again like nylon at room temperature. As you can see in my picture, I use it for file handles, formers, hammer heads etc. It’s around £15.00 for a 500g tub, but you can keep reusing it. It’s also biodegradable, so green as well!
After some consideration of various hammers and stakes I have decided my favourite tool is the much coveted tree stump which sits next to the work bench. Ok its not quite a tool as such but is an integral part of my workshop equipment. When I first set up in a shared workshop with a jeweller we each brought along our own benches and various other tools. The stump was all that remained from a tree, cut down sometime before, that had been left by the back door and was begging to be installed in our workshop. In the spring of that year a large number of insects emerged from its interior and we had to get the infested tree stump treated. Since then it is at the heart of the workshop and has been with us for three workshop moves and twenty five years of well absorbed hammering.
My favourite tool ….. my soldering torch together with hearth and turntable.
It is essential for my way of making things and wonderfully combines those fundamental elements of fire, water, air and material together with the physical drama of noise, action, judgement and dexterity. During the ‘soldering’ process, everything is at stake at that moment of chance when solder is melting …. It may go well, unbelievably well, even fantastic, but sometimes the result will be a disappointment, a ‘disaster’ even and one may sink inevitably into a despairing frame of mind.
This is something of experience that all Silversmiths understand, a process when one is truly ‘living in the moment’.
My favourite tool… what a dilemma. I have many but on this occasion I’ll have to go with ‘new and innovative’ and my scoring tool is exactly that.
I began, like we all do, making one from the end of an old file. I then progressed to using steel and loved the process of shaping, tempering and hardening before finally choosing a handle. I used them for ages until I got fussy.
When I was Working in Howard and Alfred’s workshop I was introduced to a really convenient scoring tool. It was designed so that the bit, which had 2 cutting angles, could be removed and flipped round and it could also be housed in its nylon case to keep it sharp.
I used it for ages until another change was made to the design: a faceted handle and a ‘pistol’ style housing for the bits. This innovation means that it’s easy to see when the scoring tool is off centre or skewed, so it’s simple to correct.
When I was teaching at West Dean one year I met the furniture making tutor who took our entire class on a whistle-stop tour of how to sharpen tools. So now with a better, newer scoring tool, a variety of angled bits and the ability to sharpen them I have great satisfaction in seeing the metal curl smoothly under the point, and I rarely slip!