Popular and well-known amongst jewellers of all levels, the flexible shaft machine, commonly known as a flex shaft, is one of the most versatile tools.
The flex shaft is a motorized machine designed to assist with a range of functions including drilling, cutting, carving and polishing jewellery. It can also speed and improve fabrication, open new doors into finishing, sand a range of materials, clean up and refine castings, carve waxes and act as a hammer and lathe. The flex shaft provides usefulness aside from jewellery making, with users commenting on the ability for the tool to help around the house with tightening screws and polishing and sanding.
THE DIFFERENT PARTS EXPLAINED
The tool includes a motor, a flexible shaft that connects the hand piece to the motor, and a foot pedal to control the speed of the motor.
The motor – Depending on the model, spins at a maximum speed of 14,000 – 20,000 revolutions per minute (rpm).
The rubber/neoprene outer sheath and the steel-and-brass inner cable transmits the rotational force of the motor to the handpiece. This is the “flexible shaft” that gives the machine its name. The length will vary between different brands but usually it’s approximately 3 feet long. The cable is what commonly breaks however it is easily replaceable.
Speed control (often a foot pedal) is used to alter the machine’s speed to suit the operator’s requirements. The foot pedal runs the motor. The motor turns the drive shaft, which is locked into the handpiece on the other end. Pressing on the foot pedal controls how fast the bit, burrs, discs and brushes spin, similar to a pedal on a sewing machine. There are several styles available as well as a bench-top dial speed control.
The hand piece has a jawed chuck to hold very small attachments like drill bits, burrs, discs and brushes. The handpiece can be used with literally thousands of different attachments.
WHICH FLEX SHAFT TO CHOOSE?
In order to decide which flex shaft to purchase, you need to decide what kind of work – and how much of it – you’ll demand of the machine.
For a hobbyist jewellery maker or part-time craft artist, a lighter duty motor and more basic flex shaft system would be sufficient. However those in the full-time jewellery business will need a greater quality machine that performs well across speed and power.
TYPES OF HANDPIECES
Quick-change handpiece: Suiting 3/32” shank attachments, these feature a leaver or button to remove the attachment, saving you time. However, this handpiece is not compatible with larger shank attachments.
Jacobs-chuck handpiece: A chuck key opens and closes three gear-toothed jaws that hold attachment shanks of various diameters, usually from 0-4mm. These are more time-consuming to use that the quick-change units, but the jaws are versatile, strong and really secure.
Hammer handpiece: Used for texturing, burnishing, and stone setting.
Collet handpiece: This handpiece has a slim and tapered design and is machined for precise stops and starts. Suitable for production work and bead setting.
Chisel handpiece: Designed for carvers, the chisel handpiece works like a miniature jackhammer.
WHAT TYPE OF FOOT PEDAL?
Choosing the right foot pedal is really important as bad speed control will turn you away from using your flex shaft.
There are several options of food pedals available ranging from all-purpose to non-slip, or manual and dial-controlled models. Compatibility of the foot pedal to your motor is made possible by matching up the plug and socket configurations.
FLEX SHAFT MAINTENANCE
Before performing maintenance on your flex shaft, always unplug it, and secure long hair back.
The motor will not need lubrication, however it will need to have dust and debris removed. This can be done with canned-air dusting after about every 40 hours of use.
Check motor brushed for wear. Replacing the brushes will maintain the torque efficiency of the motor.
Regrease the shaft itself after 40-50 hours of use.
Keeping your flex shaft clean and maintained will become easier each time. A well looked after flex shaft can last up to 30 years, so the time and effort will definitely be worth it.
Looking to buy a flex shaft? Western Frontier Traders sells a pendant drill only and a pendant drill kit.
Have any questions or need assistance? You’re welcome to visit us in-store or call us on (08) 9330 8311 and one of our knowledgeable staff will be pleased to assist you.