Make Successful Bezels, Every Time: Bezel Wire Tips from the Jewelry Making Daily Forums

21 Oct 2011

When it comes to making bezels, the hardest part for me (and, so I've heard, for many of you) is the piecework of cutting bezel wire to fit together just right. While soldering a bezel, the solder will flow up into the seam of the bezel wire--but it will only fill so much space. If your bezel wire ends don't match up perfectly, you'll have a noticeable gap between the ends of it that solder will not fill. So you can see why getting bezel wire ends to be perfectly straight and match up juuuust right is so important.

 
Photo by Wendi Beauford.
The key to creating perfect bezel wire ends is in the cutting. Jewelry designer, master metalsmith, and Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine contributor Lexi Erickson answered a Jewelry Making Daily member's question on our forums that is so good, I had to share with all of you.

The bezel-scissor question from Jewelry Making Daily member earthstonedesigns:

In all of my jewelry techniques that I have learned and do successfully, the most frustrating to me is getting my bezel wire ends to meet properly without a gap. On a given day, I can spend an hour or more trying to get a perfect fit, and if I just go for what I have, well, you know the results. I have gotten suggestions, mostly involving a piece of tape or sticky note to wrap around the stone, then laying it on the bezel wire to cut. For me, it is as unpredictable as my normal way. I am beginning to wonder if it is my scissors. If so, what scissors are best?

 
Photo by Micah Jones.
Lexi The Soldering Queen's answer:

The very best bezel scissors are dental scissors. They will cut a hair's width of bezel. I used to tell my students to never cut their bezel, always file and fit, and then re-file and fit. Yes, it can take hours. But several years ago I got a pair of these scissors. I haven't filed a bezel yet, and they cut such a minute amount of silver that they save countless hours.

On bezels, remember, they must fit vertically as well as horizontally. Most jewelers only fit it vertically, from side to side. But they have to fit smoothly on the top and bottom, too. Also, do not make a bezel to fit exactly. This must be one of the biggest secrets in all of jewelry-making-dom, because it's written in most of the books that the bezel must fit snugly. Then you solder it down, it shrinks, and you cannot get the stone in the bezel any more.

 
Photo by Michele Grady.
I teach this in my classes at BeadFest. When you fit your bezel around the stone, the easiest way to do it is with your fingers. Anything else just takes up time and doesn't give you an accurate measurement. You must make the bezel a "hair" (that's an explicit jewelry term) too big. The melted solder takes up a certain amount of space called a meniscus (it's like that bit of milk or water left in the very bottom of the glass), and it can take up as much as 0.5 mm of space. That doesn't seem like much, but you never knew how big a millimeter is until you make jewelry. It can keep your stone from fitting.

Also, not all bezel wire is created equal. Some bezel is not sold dead soft and must be annealed before you bend it, or it will keep springing open. Hauser and Miller's bezel is dead soft, but David H. Fell's bezel needs to be annealed. So get to know the types of bezel wire and solder that come into the jewelry supply stores and keep a record of where you buy your silver and how you like it. You will soon become a connoisseur of metal!

Jewelry Making Daily member BogIron also added a great bezel-cutting tip:

 
As for trimming the ends of the bezel after you have marked it to length, I have carried over a trick that my grandfather taught me from woodworking. When sawing a board, to get a straight cut, look at the reflection of the wood on the saw blade. If the saw blade reflection is parallel to wood, then the cut will be parallel to wood. I use the same technique when cutting my bezel; I mark it to length, use my small machinist square to establish a square mark on the bezel, and then I use my flush cutters to snip across the bezel, but before I snip, check that the cutters are at 90 degrees to the bezel by the reflection. If everything is aligned properly, the bezel wire will look like it is going straight through the nippers, and if not, it will look bent in the reflection. I know it sounds complex, but once you see it with your eye, you will wonder at its simplicity. After awhile with this method, you can do without using the square and go by reflection alone.

Now that you're armed with great tips and tools for making perfect bezels, check out our bezels eBook, 10 Bezel-Setting Projects, for 10 complete step-by-step bezel jewelry-making projects created by the expert jewelry artists and editors of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.

 Do you have a question for Lexi about setting stones in bezels? Ask your bezel questions in the comments below!

 

 


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Comments

mdittrich wrote
on 21 Oct 2011 7:08 AM

Probably a silt question but where do you get the dentist's scissors?  what do they look like?

thanks

TammyJones wrote
on 21 Oct 2011 7:14 AM

Hi mdittrich,Not silly at all! I used some of Lexi's dental scissors in her studio once, and if I remember correctly, they look like tiny scissors with long handles. If you follow the link in the second paragraph above, you'll see the whole discussion about the scissors. There are some mentions of sources, but they were all pretty expensive. Somehow Lexi had a great and inexpensive source for them, so she sells them now. You can read all about it, and how to get your own if you're interested, in the Forum thread. Thanks for your question and for reading Jewelry Making Daily! -Tammy

Jenaay wrote
on 21 Oct 2011 7:21 AM

Thanks!  I was wondering the same thing--"What do dentist's scissors look like"?  I imagine dentists have several different types of scissors.

shavalier wrote
on 21 Oct 2011 7:33 AM

Hi..

I did a dental scissor search and there is a whole bunch of different styles to chose from.

Please point me in the right direction as to style and supplier.

Thanks so much

Judy

on 21 Oct 2011 3:45 PM

In my jewelry open-studio at the local community arts center, everyone has a different opinion on how to solder bezels.  We do not have a teacher but are a group of more or less experienced metal workers.  Some people put the bezel seam down with the solder  on the inside of the bezel; other put the seam up so that the solder is on the outside.  Others stand the bezel up so that the seam is perpendicular to the soldering surface (like in your picture above).  Is that your preferred/recommended method?  I haven't done much soldering for years so I am trying to reclaim what I used to know and appreciate all ideas.

on 21 Oct 2011 8:40 PM

Tammy,

I've been making jewelry for 30 years and never heard of Dental Scissors.

Would like to try them.  Do you order them from a Dental Supply company?

I looked up Rio Grande catalog and they don't carry anything called Dentist Scissors.  Help!

Janice Fingado

jfdesigns

Tucson, AZ

on 21 Oct 2011 8:42 PM

Lexi,

Where do you buy the dental scissors you recommended?  They're not listed in the Rio Grande Catalog.  Do you have to buy them from a Dental Supply house?

Janice

jfdesigns

Tucson, AZ

stonerose wrote
on 21 Oct 2011 10:22 PM

I would like some information on making bezels from stainless steel.  I have been using flat stainles and have seen several videos of folks soldering stainless for various purposes on u-tube but can't seem to get the hang of it myself.  I use a smith little torch with propane/oxy.  Soldering stainless can't be that hard- they've been doing it forever--what's the trick to it?

innersight@msn.com

lorilacey wrote
on 22 Oct 2011 9:15 AM

there is another kind of "scissor" that works great for bezel cuts (I use them for chain making as well, where a perfect fit is also so important). They are Joyce Chins poultry shears ...a little pricey but worth every cent!

jewelry 0 wrote
on 25 Oct 2011 12:50 PM

What type of dental scissors do you have?  I photo would help me identify which ones to purchase!  Thanks for all of the helpful information and inspiration!

TammyJones wrote
on 4 Jan 2012 10:32 AM

Here's the thread again, so you can all correspond with Lexi and identify exactly which scissors she uses.

www.jewelrymakingdaily.com/.../1056.aspx

pallamalady wrote
on 6 Jan 2012 10:25 AM

Re: dental scissors. I haven't tried it but will in a few moments - how about checking on ebay? It's not often that I am looking for something & can't find it there! that's where I found my Joyce Chen kitchen shears which someone mentioned and at half the price in most kitchen stores. Maybe also if you have a decent relationship with your dentist, he can order a pair for you at cost :)

on 6 Jan 2012 2:17 PM

You stated that "the very best bezel scissors are dental scissors. " I wonder if you could be more explicit about the kind of dental scissors you use.

123margaretm wrote
on 23 Sep 2012 9:20 PM

I've just read Lexi's bezel-making article. I think I have bezel cutting down pat -- they usually fit. My problem is soldering it to the backing sheet. I gently wet-sand the bottom of the bezel on a granite tile, and I flatten the sheet by hammering it between two bench plates.But there is always space between the bezel and the sheet.

How can I make good contact so my solder will flow?  Also, how close is good contact?

margaret@vermontattitude.com

on 25 Sep 2012 9:23 PM

Hi Everyone-- About the dental scissors ...you can get them from me.  However I am out of stock for 6 more weeks or so.  I will let you all know when I get them back in stock.  Since I don't  check the forum daily because of my workshop schedule, you can email me at lexi.erickson@mac.com and tell me that you want on the mailing list and I'll let you know when they come in.

Thanks so much,

Lexi

on 25 Sep 2012 9:30 PM

HI Margaret--

I understand your frustration.  First, is the tile that you are using to sand your bezel even and flat a coarser grit or very fine?  I sand my bezels down on 3M Finishing film, using the 30 micron and then the 15 micron. Those finishing films are extremely fine.  Push down with it using the palm or your hand or the tips of your fingers which will hold the bezel down.  Sand i a circular motion, which I'm sure you are doing.  

Bezels must fit both vertically and horizontally, meaning they  must fit like a glove when you match the edges, otherwise you will always have a gap, so please make sure they fit together perfectly both side to side and top to bottom. You ever know how huge a .5mm gap is until you make jewelry!  

Good luck and I hope this helps.

Lexi

cheriphim wrote
on 2 Aug 2013 10:48 AM

Thanks for the tips!! I tried to form my first 6mm tube bezel yesterday and it was very frustrating. dropped the stone, dropped the bezel I was shaping.....argh. I have recently purchased many cabochons and I am anxious to get going on setting them. Anxious and a little terrified.

Jen

Lizartin wrote
on 25 Mar 2014 2:26 PM

What type of dental scissors do you use and where can they be purchased?

Thanks,

Liz Martin

Lizartin wrote
on 25 Mar 2014 2:26 PM

What type of dental scissors do you use and where can they be purchased?

Thanks,

Liz Martin

Lizartin wrote
on 25 Mar 2014 2:26 PM

What type of dental scissors do you use and where can they be purchased?

Thanks,

Liz Martin

CBLori wrote
on 9 Aug 2014 6:49 AM

Umm, would be very grateful and would LOVE to see:

1. A picture of what htese dental scissors look like (my dentist hasn't a CLUE as to what you are talking about - he uses professional cuticle scissors for his cutting needs...)

2. A DIRECT LINK to Lexi's webpage or email so people can contact her and order these things

Every link in this forum is just to ANOTHER forum that still keeps everyone in the dark....

Thanks in advance....

CBL

Beads111 wrote
on 6 Oct 2014 4:58 PM

I have a bezel question.  How do you know how deep to make the bezel for the stone or whatever you are setting? is there a formula or do you just eyeball it.