By Charles Lewton-Brain
In a previous article, I talked about burnishers and their importance at the goldsmith’s bench. One burnishing tool I didn’t discuss was the simple chasing tool. Every chasing tool can be used as a steel burnisher, and all the different face shapes make for a bevy of options, though curved, rounded surfaces work best.
So how do you obtain useful chasing tools? The most obvious way would be to buy a set of commercial chasing tools. Although they are generally not very functional as supplied, they can be improved by beveling all the sharp corners on the shafts and rounding off the faces so they can’t tear and rip into the metal on which they are used. The going price this year seems to be about $6 to $9 per tool.
Nice old tools are getting harder to find and, when found, are more expensive than in the past. There are still occasional caches of antique chasing tools to be found—at auctions in larger cities as the remnants of old factories are liquidated. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on antique tools, you’ll want to grind back any mushrooming that has occurred at the back end before using them. Goldsmiths have been blinded by mushroomed-over metal shrapnel flying off the end of a tool when struck with a hammer.
If you’d like to create your own set, there are a number of odd sources for tools that can be used as chasing punches.
• Concrete nails are very hard, allowing the nail head to be easily ground, sanded, and polished to make reasonable chasing tool faces, rounded forming tools, planishing tools, and other types of useful tools. Heat and air cool the back end of the tool to avoid any dangerous brittle spots.
• Some jewelers make punches and stamps from valve stems and other kinds of hard steel. I once had access to broken fencing foils and made some great chasing tools from them. The foils were made of air-hardening steel, and simply letting them cool after heating and forging hardened them up beautifully.
• Door hinge pins with round terminals can serve as medium size dapping tools. If a more oval shape is needed, they are easy to regrind and polish.
• Carriage bolts, with their large, rounded low-domed ends, can be polished as punches. Since the bolts come with the shaft fully or partially threaded, it is a good idea to smooth off the threading on both types. I usually forge the bolts square with a heavy hammer, making them more comfortable to use.
• One of the most useful tools for forming metal while chasing is a rounded oval shape. Because it requires good hot forging skills, this tool is normally difficult to make by hand. However, carriage bolts can be quickly ground and shaped into an oval.
• Staking sets are sets of round stock punched used in a special jig to install and remove gears and parts in mechanical watches. Considered obsolete by jewelers and others, these sets of 70 to 150 tools can be found on eBay for about $30. (If you bought an equivalent set of “real” chasing tools on eBay, it would likely cost you more than $300.) A number of them have rounded ends like pearl punches, and the rest can be reshaped or carved with separating dies to become chasing tools and punches.
• Available in hardware and sheel metal stores, transfer punch sets contain approximately 30 hardened round steel rods in graduated sizes. Sets can cost as little as $7—a bargain for so many steel punches. The steel is good and the ends of the rods can be shaped and rounded. Heat the back end of the rod to anneal it.
• Screwdriver sets from China are remarkably cheap, as low as $8 for up to 24 screwdrivers. Cut them up and you have a pile of tools. The slot head kind make great lining tools and tracers after minimal grinding and polishing.
• Nail sets used for pushing finishing nails into wood so they can be covered up with putty are great for jewelers. You can find them at your local dollar store. The punches have concave round ends that make circular marks in metal. However, if you grind off one-third of the end, they become curved lining tools that are ideal for making fish scales or snakeskin textures.