Last updated: 5/10/17
Let me state this upfront because, I am asked this question, frequently: You can use most quick release, hammer handpieces, The Wolf Belt Sander, Jump Ring Cutters, etc. with THE HARBOR FREIGHT FLEX SHAFT! You just pull off the handpiece and snap the other tool on. I know this to be true, because I use these attachments with my HF flex shafts!
- 1 Dremels
- 2 Flex Shafts – Other
- 3 Flex Shafts – Foredom
- 4 Additional Accessories For The Flex Shaft (some can also be used with a Dremel or a Drill)
- 5 Flex Shaft Holders
- 6 Hand Drills
- 7 Electric Hand Drills
- 8 Pin Vises
- 9 Related Videos
- 10 Related Web Pages
The biggest difference, to me, between the Dremel and the Flex Shaft system is comfort. But, Dremel also has a flex shaft and a flex shaft attachment so, my point is probably moot. It all comes down to what you have, what you like and where you want to spend your cash!
- Dremel – This link is to their home page. You can get Dremels everywhere. Choose one that has the power needed for metal working. My Foredom SR Series flex shaft has a 1/6 horsepower motor (and runs up to 18,000 RPM – backwards and forwards. You’ll want something with at least that much power. You also want a tool that can run for a while without getting too hot – as you are holding the motor in your hand AND some jobs may require longer running times.
Dremel also makes a Flex Shaft – 23,000 RPMs, 1/5 horse power motor. This is a full kit, including the foot pedal.
Additional Accessories (Optional) – Dremel has a zillion attachments that I AM NOT covering on this page.
Dremel 225-01 Flex Shaft Attachment – Turns your Dremel into a Flex Shaft.
Dremel 220-01 Rotary Tool Work Station. This setup has a flex shaft holder, drill press and a tool holder. Drill presses are nice to have when you need precision drilling. The press holds the dremel (or flex shaft) steady and perpendicular for exact hole drilling. It is very difficult to drill by hand as accurately as you can with a drill press.
The Dremel 220-01 Rotary Tool Work Station – see above.
Flex Shafts – Other
- Contenti – Their economy flex shaft (don’t know who the manufacturer is) and their main, flex shaft page (mostly Foredom’s).
- Gesswein – They have many types and one or two that I haven’t seen before like the Suhner MiniFix (2/3 horsepower and 500 watts). Pricey but, cute. On the other end of the scale, price wise is their Pro-Flex Econo Flex Shaft.
- Grizzly Brand
- SE 979FSG and more.
- Harbor Freight Flex Shaft
The Basic Setup. Inexpensive. I have several that are over 10 years old. Maintenance is key. Upgrade the foot pedal if you can afford it. It’s pretty crappy. No reverse on this machine but, it’s not a big deal.
Flex Shafts – Foredom
There are a bunch of them and some are designed for very specific uses like the Foredom Power Graver – for engraving only. I have a SR Series Foredom as well as 3 Harbor Freight flex shafts. Visit Foredom’s page titled: “What Foredom is right for me?”
- Foredom – Foredom has three motor styles: 1. Hang-Up, 2. Bench, 3. Bench with Built-in Control. There are also three types of speed controls: 1. Foot operated in plastic housing, 2. Foot operated in metal housing, 3. Table-top dial operated in plastic housing.There are a bunch of Handpieces to choose from too. Usually, for the new purchaser, buying a set can save on money and confusion. Here’s the link to Foredom’s new line of sets and this link is for their jeweler’s line of sets.
- Check out Andy Cooperman’s site: The Mysteries of the Flex Shaft Revealed for an indepth look at flex shafts. A must read for those looking into purchasing a flex shaft!
- Here’s a board at Jewelry Artisans: Flexshaft; Which one to buy.
- Here’s a book on the flex shaft and making the most of it: Making the Most of Your Flex-shaft by Karen Christians.
- At Ganoksin: Comparing flex shafts jewelry discussion.
- The International Gem Society’s article on: What is a Flex Shaft Used for in Jewelry Making?
Additional Accessories For The Flex Shaft (some can also be used with a Dremel or a Drill)
Foot Pedals/Foot Controls/Speed Controls
- Lucas Foot Pedal (scroll down their page a bit). They are made by Lucas Dental. The Lucas is the best pedal that I’ve used. Any other suggestions for best foot pedal? Foredom has started making theirs out of plastic and it is a bit sticky. I think the subtlety of movement is lost. Don’t love it. But, you can still buy their metal pedals. (Ah, poetry). Pepe makes one but, haven’t tried it out so, I can’t give my opinion on it. Otto Frei carries Pepe’s foot pedal.
***One note on why foot pedals are important – it’s about the control. With the Lucas, you can minutely and incrementally adjust your speed. The Harbor Freight version is more like: “I’d like to go a little faster but, whoops, I just went from 10 mph to 40 mph. No subtlety. Once you’ve tried a great pedal, you’ll never be satisfied with a crappy one again!!!!!
Manual Speed Controls
Foredom also makes an EM-1 Manual Dial Speed Control – which I have also not used. Rio Grande recommends: “Recommended for use with model CC, S and SR (1/6 and 1/8hp) motors”.
This page at Amazon has a bunch of foot pedals (and flex shafts) that I assume would work with a flex shaft too.
Quick Change Handpieces
These handpieces fit only one size of tool shank. But, there are collet sets for the Foredom, that adjust to different tool shank sizes. Check to make sure that they will work with your handpiece or if you can purchase a different handpiece that will work with your motor and accommodate the collets. I have found, that all the different Foredom handpieces I own, work with the Harbor Freight Flex Shaft.
Miscellaneous Attachments (just a small sample)
Some of the additional tools that can be used with the flex shaft are:
- Foredom’s other tools for use with the flex shaft: angle grinder, belt sander, filer.
- Foredom also has an equine dental kit, if you so desire!
- Wood carving kits. (An AA link)
- Foredom H.15 Hammer Handpiece
- H.18 Quick Change Handpiece
- Koil Kutter (they, Potter Tools, also make a Koil Kutter for the Dremel)
- The cutter hand piece on the Pepe Jump Ring Maker
- Wolf Tools Belt Sander (Otto Frei:Part No: 111.812).
- Don’t know if you can consider this an attachment, well, it kinda is: Foredom Drill Press. They carry them at Amazon (using my Amazon Associates Affiliate link here!) and Rio Grande among many other jewelry suppliers.
Foredom H.30 Key-Type Chuck Handpiece. They also come in pink and blue! Pretty fancy smancy.
The dreaded Chuck Key. Actually it is called: The Comfort Handle Chuck Key.
Why do we need a quick change handpiece? Because it’s much faster than using the uber annoying chuck key that comes with the traditional handpiece. 3/32″ shanked mandrels and drill bits just slide in and out with a click of the release thingy. Remember: I’m the Not-so Lazy here (just a nice way of saying that I’m lazy).
Flex Shaft Holders
Make your own:
Mini paint roller frame and extension pole in my studio. Amazon carries the Wooster mini roller frame and extension pole as does Tru-Value Hardware and I’m sure, others. I used strips of an old belt to hold the pole to my desk. Image below is sideways to take up less space on this page.
I’ve also put large hooks in my ceiling and attached bungee cords to hang my flex shaft from (in the old studio).
Here’s an idea at Instructables using a dowel, hook and an exercise bike seat mount. You could also take a piece of 2X2 wood, drill in at an angle and glue in a dowel or three.
You can purchase flex shaft holders too.
Flex Shaft Double Motor Stand. I like the bur and tool organizers – nice idea.
Here’s another by Foredom:
Foredom MH-1 Rotary Tool Motor Hanger (holds two motors).
Hand drills are great for drilling but, they won’t work with a lot of attachments. If you live off the grid, just drill and have limited funds, these drills will be fine for basic work.
Buy the sturdiest you can afford. If they get out of balance, or the gears are shoddy, you’ve just wasted your money!
If you can afford the upgrade and you’ve got power to spare, I’d buy an electric drill, Dremel or flex shaft. I own a hand drill and find the fact that I must use two hands, annoying. Also, it’s a bit of work and for a lazy jeweler, like me, that’s not good.
Electric Hand Drills
You probably already have one in your garage, barn or shed. Seems most people have one. You can use a drill with jewelry making but, its bulky shape and heavy size make it less than appropriate for fine, detailed work. I use an old Bosch drill when I make a ton of jump rings and don’t want to crank my winder. I also use my drill to twist wire when making fancy wire. Drills are especially helpful when twisting thick or multiple strands of wire. You can also use larger buffs, sanders and other attachments with them. Harbor Freight is demonstrating my point in this image! The 4″ buffing wheel is available at HF. Item#: 34743. Can’t supply HF links anymore as they change their website too much.
(Wilton 11106 Wilton Bench Vise) Clamp your drill into a large vise and you’ve got a buffing machine. You can also attach a foot pedal to have more finely tuned control over the speed. Ensure that the jaws of your vise open enough to permit the insertion of your drill. Also, ensure that the on/off and “gas pedal” aren’t blocked by the jaws of the vise. You can wrap your drill in leather or purchase/make vise jaw protectors.
See my video: How to Make Jump Rings (about 10 minutes into the video) for a demonstration of how I use my vise and drill. My jump ring making setup: Drill in my “Big Girl” vise. Also see my video: Fancy Wire for another use for your drill. Don’t forget to check out the Fancy Wire Web Page too!
WEAR LEATHER GLOVES when using the drill for jump ring making!!!!!!! NO LOOSE jewelry, loose, flowing sleeves, etc. Tie your dreadlocks up (or other types of long hair)!
RadBear at Instructables has just one, of many, methods for creating soft jaws.
I just finished a video in which I demonstrate making magnetic, leather vise covers. Check it out! It’s called the Weird Movie: Tips, Tricks and Insanity in the Jewelry Studio.
I have yet to encounter a situation where I needed a pin vise. I’ve used my spiral hand drill once or twice – out of curiosity. Perhaps, I’d use it if the power went off but, if it did, I wouldn’t be able to see well enough (without lights), my pickle would be cold and I’d be busy trying to find our candles and camp lanterns. I think I’d take a Kindle break (love my Kindle Paperwhite), have a cocktail and pet a cat.
If you don’t have much to drill AND your material is soft, a pin vise is okay. If drilling thick gauge metal, large holes or twisting wire above 20 gauge, forget it. Get a flex shaft instead.
IF you must have a pin vise, I vote for a Spiral Hand Drill over the Swivel Head Vise . My reasoning is that the Spiral Vise at least uses some mechanical power. You push on it and the bit spins. The Swivel Headed vise is essentially a holder for the wire and then you spin the vise around in your hand. I think you could just as easily put the wire into a vise and then twist it with a pair of pliers. I have NEVER used mine. I have used the Spiral vise once or twice.
A video on using the spiral hand drill by FDJ Tool: European Made Spiral Hand Drill. (Note: he never drilled through the metal in the video! A flex shaft would have drilled through that metal in a second.)
- Finishing Jewelry playlist on the Tube
- The Flex Shaft and Its Many Uses
- The Weird Movie: Tips, Tricks and Insanity in the Jewelry Studio.
Related Web Pages
- DIY Tools and Storage
- Finishing Jewelry
- Q&A: Buffing Motors, Dental Lathes, Polishing Motors, etc.
- Q&A: Flex Shafts, Dremels, Drills and Other Things Like That