Luminary metalsmith Tim McCreight casually mentions making a bezel pusher from a golf ball and a nail in one of his books*. Turns out that pounding a nail into a golf ball is surprisingly difficult. Golf balls are very tough, and designed to bounce. There’s a simple solution, of course, as there usually is, and I offer it to you here – complete with pictures.
The list of necessary materials is short, but specific, to whit:
- golf ball
Golf balls – I am lucky enough to live close to the University of Washington Golf Driving Range. When I called and asked what happens to their used golf balls, a bemused young man said they throw them away. A very short time later, he had a sweet crazy lady story to share, and I was in delighted possession of a box of golf balls. This was a two-arms-full box so big I could barely get my arms around it. That was several years ago, and my students have been enjoying the fruits of this little procurement outing ever since. I think the moral of this story is that there are lots of free golf balls out there…
Nails – I am also lucky enough to live close to an Ace Hardware store, where I can buy nails individually if I wish, rather than being forced to buy a pound box of the things. The ones I’ve found work best for this project are either the 4″ long 20d box nails (3.8mm diameter), or the 3.5″ long 16d box nails (3.4mm diameter). Just the plain ones. No galvanizing or other coatings needed.
You’ll also need some tools:
- permanent marker or masking tape
- bench vise
- notched vise jaws (pictured)
- hand drill
- 9/64″ drill bit (pictured)
- jeweler’s saw + #4 saw blade
- sanding stick
I consider the drill bit “indispensable”, but only because driving a nail into a golf ball with a hammer is always a workout and often an exercise in frustration. If you simply must do it that way, find a corner of a concrete or stone structure where you can brace the ball to minimize bounce. Try very very hard to hit the nail squarely, and be prepared for the nail to bend anyway…
The notched vise jaws are super handy little things, and I have found myriad uses for them. The ones I have are “Lisle 48000 Aluminum Vise Jaw Pads”. Google it.
1) Mark your drill bit with a bit of masking tape to indicate how deep to drill into your golf ball. Over half way through the ball is good, all the way through is bad. Obviously. Don’t want the point of your nail sticking out the back of the ball into your hand. 9/64″ isn’t the only drill bit size that works, it’s just a convenient one. Before you run out and buy one, try what you have lying about the house that’s about the right size.
2) Stick your notched vise jaw pads into your bench vise and clamp your golf ball securely between them. Have a look from the side to be sure the ball’s really seated in the notches.
3) I like to use a hand drill to drill the hole. The material inside the golf ball is rather rubbery, so it feels a bit weird and gummy to drill into it. I like being able to take my time and go slowly. Even with the hand drill this takes less than 10 seconds to do, so there is really nothing to be gained from a power drill.
Hold the drill straight, so you are drilling right down into the center of the ball. Stop when you reach your mark on the drill bit. Back the drill bit out slowly.
If you don’t have vise jaw pads, or a vise, and you are using a HAND drill, you could get a friend or family member to hold the ball for you. I would NOT recommend this if you are using a power drill, though…
4) Pound in your nail.
5) If you have a second nail of the same length, you can use it, along with the marked drill bit, to check that you’ve pounded your nail all the way into the hole you drilled.
6) Mark your nail so that the overall length of the tool is about 3″ long. This will be shorter than the standard length for gravers. That’s okay. You want lots of control when you use a bezel pusher, and you’ll be bracing your thumb on the bezel as you work, not on the tool.
7) Cut off the head of the nail. I used a beefy #4 blade in my jeweler’s saw. Went through the nail like buttah.
8) Smooth and shape the cut end of the nail with a medium grit sanding stick. I used 22o grit. Make the face rectangular, with slightly softened edges, so they won’t gouge your metal.
9) The working face of the tool should have a slight texture or tooth to it, so that it will grip the metal a bit and not slip the way a highly polished surface would. Slipping could result in scratches on your stones at worst, and unwanted marks on your metal at best.
10) Here’s another useful tip shape. This one is for setting stones in bezels that are quite close to other parts of the piece or to other bezels. The angled tip can get down into more restricted spaces than the standard rectangular tip can.
In John Cogwell’s fabulous book Creative Stonesetting, he discusses making this same sort of simple bezel pusher. Cogswell opines that it is “the safest and most efficient tool for closing light- or medium-walled bezels,” (p.52) and offers more control than the burnisher, bezel rocker, and reciprocating hand-piece which are commonly used for this purpose.
Cogswell finishes his pitch on the subject by saying, ” Because bezel pushers are so easy to make, most stonesetters build up a collection of specially shaped pushers designed to fit into tight spaces, or that address other specific setting situations.” (p. 53)
Why not make up several “blanks” now, while you have everything out and ready? Then next time you need a specially shaped pusher, you’ll only have to shape the tip.
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* McCreight, Tim. Jewelry: Fundamentals of Metalsmithing. 1997. (p. 74)