In Choosing Your Burs: Part One, we talked about burs, the various metals they are made of, and discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. Now it’s time to put the bur to the metal!
Jewelers use burs for many purposes. One reason there are so many head shapes to choose from is the variety of tasks that can be accomplished with each style, both individually and in combination. For instance, a stone setter may use five different shapes to achieve a single task. Or someone with just a ball bur could accomplish many different tasks. And often, the burs you use are a matter of preference. Some of the most common jobs for which jewelers use burs are:
Versatile ball burs can be used at any angle and get into tight areas. They are popular among jewelers because they serve so many purposes. With a ball bur in hand, you can carve recesses for sweat-soldering, engrave, texture, debur, drill and enlarge holes, cut rounded notches for stone-setting and refine bezels and prongs.
The ball burs are a favorite among the members of our Tech Team here at Rio Grande. Mark Nelson suggests grinding the tops of old ball burs flat with a grinding wheel to create a shape that is perfect for making seats for cabochons. Phillip Scott from Tech also chimed in that he has modified quite a few burs that were once ball burs.
Mainly used to cut seats for tube, bezel and prong setting, the setting bur is more straightforward and less likely to cut too deep than a hart bur (below) could. With the setting bur, though, it is much more important to choose the exact size to match the stone size. The setting bur allows you to cut a seat at the perfect angle for symmetrical stones.
“The tops of the setting burs always get dull first and, when they do,” says Mark Nelson, “I grind them off—now I have a wheel bur. I can make it a thick wheel or keep grinding it to a thin wheel. Old burs can be ground into a variety of shapes and polished to make ‘pit erasers’ and burnishers.”
Hart burs are similar to setting burs except the profiles are angled at 45°, 70° or 90°, angles that make them great for flush setting and cutting seats in prongs; the 45° and the 70° angles are especially great for cutting channels. Hart burs are a little more versatile than the setting burs because the sides can be used like a flywheel to score lines, but they must be handled more delicately than a setting bur.
These can be used for tapering holes and for cleaning up the reverse sides of drilled holes.
With an inverted cone bur, you can make flat-bottomed undercuts, cut tapered slots, and start seats in irregularly shaped bezels. Since these burs can get into tight areas, you can also clean inside bezels and channel settings. You can use them for texturing, as well.
Cup burs are awesome for rounding and smoothing prongs, posts, wire and rivet heads. In general, cup burs require a lot of lubrication to prevent clogging. Rio carries LYNX™ C-4 Burs, which are especially designed for jewelers. These burs feature a cross-cut that helps discharge cut metal and prevent clogging.
Wonderful for grinding and shaping the inside of ring shanks, cylinder burs have teeth on the sides, not at the ends and work very much like a file.
You can use a bud bur (left) to shape seats for shaped stones; with it, you can reposition, taper and enlarge holes. The flame bur (right) is similar to the bud bur except taller and more slender and can be used for engraving, carving, contouring and shaping.
If you need to remove material from a bezel to make room for a cabochon, this is the bur for the job. Wheel burs have cutting flutes on their tops and sides, which is why they are great for bezel cups.
Similar to the wheel burs except tapered on the top and bottom to a knife-like edge, knife-edge burs are perfect for scoring lines. They have cutting flutes on the top and the bottom for more versatility.
Slender and aggressive, Krause burs are designed to get into the tightest of spaces. The slim contour allows you to easily remove excess solder from joints, which makes this bur very popular for jewelry repair. The taper allows you to install hinges and to fine-tune openings in box clasps and other mechanisms. You can also create notches for prong settings.
Instead of fluted cutting surfaces, these burs have teeth similar to a double-cut file. Cross-cut burs are very aggressive and can remove large amounts of material. They are available from Rio in a cylindrical (square) or cone shape.
Usually made from tungsten vanadium, wax burs are made in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are used for carving plastics, wax and other soft materials. When working with these materials, it is important to use wax burs because they are specially designed with widely spaced flutes to prevent clogging.
If you are not really sure which burs you need, the Rio Tech Team recommends starting out with an assortment of burs. “Rio carries several sets of assortments that will fill many needs,” says Mark. “And the best way to find out what they do is to just use them—chuck ’em up in the handpiece and give ’em a whirl.”
Which burs do you use most often? What do you do with them? Have you collected any tips and tricks about burs you would like to share? We would love to hear about your experience with burs!