Who were your favorite teachers in school? If you think back, I’m sure you’ll notice that the ones who made the biggest impact on you didn’t merely teach you a list of predetermined points. Rather, they taught you how to take in new information and think for yourself.
ABOVE: Andy Cooperman is known for using his flex shaft in creative ways, such as creating a pebbly texture on steel to roll against a softer metal.
Metalsmith Andy Cooperman fits this instructor model perfectly. In his own words: “My job as a teacher is to open doors for people and get them to think a little outside of the box.”
Andy remains true to his philosophy even in his two online workshops for mastering the jewelry flex shaft. Instead of directing you step by step, he takes you through a series of varied techniques to spark your own discovery into how to take advantage of the flex shaft.
Let’s take a peek at just a few examples of unique ways Andy wields his go-to tool.
Texturing with the Ball Bur
In Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft: Volume 1, Andy covers a lot of territory, including more types of burs than I ever imagined existed. One of these is the marvelously versatile ball bur.
To see Andy’s mastery of the ball bur in action, check out this excerpt from his volume 1 workshop (now available in a special value bundle master class with volume 2):
To create the look of alligator scales, he demonstrates using the bur to make indentations in steel. If you roll it out against something soft, such as sterling, you’ll be able to see a beautifully raised pattern. This is how Andy created the pebbly surface on his series of Fibonacci Pins.
Routering with a Cylinder Bur
Along with its many other capabilities, the cylinder-shaped bur can be used like a router. Come from beneath the work and vary the speed as you cut in. This is how Andy made the catch on his Fibonacci Pin and the grooves on his Hummingbird Tongue ring.
Notching with Separating Discs
Separating discs are among some of Andy’s personal favorites. These wheels cut nearly anything: steel, glass, stone, bone, and plastic. Be safe; wear a mask and safety glasses while you work.
Separating discs are great for cutting notches. While they can be used for practical purposes such as sizing down a ring or making prong settings, separating discs with a spacer between them can create decorative picket lines in a piece. Multiple discs stacked together will make wider notches, useful for mating two pieces.
The Many Talents of a Hammer Handpiece
In Master the Jewelry Flex Shaft: Volume 2, Andy wastes no time before diving into additional tips and tricks. Since the ability to swap out handpieces is one of the flex shaft’s greatest strengths, Andy introduces you to on of his favorites: the hammer handpiece.
This tool allows you to balance force and accuracy without compromising either. Praising the quality and affordability of the Number 15 Foredom hammer handpiece (affiliate link), Andy demonstrates setting a stone in a heavy-walled tube by striking around the edges at low speeds.
He also demonstrates how to create wonderful stippling with a harder-than-steel carbide stylus in the hammer handpiece. Traditionally done with a hammer and punch, stipling with the flex shaft allows you to focus only on accuracy as the machine provides the force.
What’s a Pit Pounder?
You can purchase rotary burnishers, margin rollers, and the like, but making your own is easy enough. Andy buys steel eye screws or eye bolts at a hardware store and removes the zinc coating by using a snap-on disc or a rubber wheel.
After removing the zinc, you’ll have your own pit pounder! You can use it in your Foredom #30 (affiliate link) to burnish and compact surfaces, squeezing metal into the pits. Since the pit pounder allows you to see through it as it spins, you can watch how your piece is changing.
This pit pounder can also be used as a general hammer, as it has slightly more force than a hammer handpiece for certain situations. In upsetting (also called edge forging), you pound the edge with a hammer to thicken it and provide a nice finish.
Typically with the flex shaft, the work stays stationary while the tool spins. However, Andy shows you how to flip that around, putting your work in the handpiece and holding your tool steady. In this way, you can use your flex shaft as a lathe.
You can make flared tube rivets by inserting tubes into the flex shaft and shaping them with center punches or burnishers. In a process called swaging, Andy demonstrates how you can squeeze the tube with round-nose pliers to reshape the metal. No material is lost—rather it is compressed.
These six examples are just a glimpse into how Andy Cooperman looks to his flex shaft to creatively solve problems. Learn far more in his workshops. Alternatively, check out Interweave’s online workshops for on-demand access to an ever-growing library of courses.
Go be creative!
Originally published on January 18, 2019. Updated April 5, 2022.