By Bob Rush
For the last few years that I’ve written the Bench Tips column, I’ve focused on lapidary topics and projects. I’m taking a breather and moving on to another of my areas of interest.
For the first few years after my uncle taught me lapidary, my focus was dedicated to making cabochons. After some time, I saw the need to learn jewelry making so I could mount some of the cabochons that were quickly piling up. I took some courses in jewelry making and away I went.
Rediscovering Lost Wax Casting
One of the techniques that I loved to do was lost wax casting, but I got frustrated with making settings for my cabs. None of the available waxes would allow me to draw a prong on the side of the cab successfully. The wax either couldn’t build up because it flowed so easily or when I made the prongs, the wax didn’t have the strength or flexibility to let me pull it away from the cab without breaking. Carving the prongs utilizing the available carving waxes was a very difficult thing to do, and I became rather frustrated with the process.
Concurrent with my jewelry classes, I started to attend more gem and mineral shows. At one show, I got lucky when I came upon a dealer demonstrating waxwork. He was using a wax that seemed tough and flexible, just what I was looking for. He was using an alcohol lamp to heat a dental tool with which he scooped some wax and applied it to the side of a cabochon as he built up the prongs. I stood there for quite a while, quizzing him about his procedure, especially the wax. I told him about my frustration with the waxes I had been using, and he said his wax was the answer to my problem. He was selling the home-made wax along with the piece he was working on, which had a triangular shape and measured about three inches long.
I don’t recall the price I paid, but I remember that I bought three pieces from him. The dealer called his wax “Tuff Guy.” When I dug my fingernail into it, it did indeed feel tough.
Working With Wax
After I returned home from the show, I immediately started working with the wax, and the desirable feature of its toughness and flexibility was evident. It was perfect for what I wanted to do in my wax buildup projects. The only drawback was the time it took to build up the pieces because of the limitations of using the heated dental tool to apply the wax.
In looking at the available heated wax pens, I found them to be expensive and not suitable for what I was doing. This started my quest to develop and build a wax pen that would do what I needed for my projects. Ultimately, I settled on modifying a wood-burning tool controlled by a voltage regulating device to reduce the temperature to a proper working level for the wax.
With this tool and the Tough Guy wax, I proceeded to make many cast rings,
pendants, and other larger objects. One of these objects was a small open box shape with carnelian decorations.
At the time, I was working for Eastman Kodak and I came across a slightly damaged optical glass photo printer light bar. I used it for a base upon which I drew the wax model for the open box. I designed it to have a carnelian cab on each side and the top. With the Tuff Guy wax, I could draw the prongs directly on the cab and then pry the cab out without damaging the wax prongs. I could also pry the glass light bar from the enclosing wax structure without damaging it. After casting the wax derived piece, I assembled the cabs into the piece and affixed the lid to the box.
In the next few upcoming Bench Tips columns, I will show how to make your own wax pen, how to formulate your own “Tuff Guy” wax and how to use the wax pen to make a variety of jewelry, and utilize the pen to draw patterns on your cabs.