Last updated: 7/21/20, 4/13/20, 5/10/17
Let me state this up front because, I am asked this question, frequently: You can use the 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! Check out my video: How to Remove a Flex Shaft Handpiece and More!
As a jeweler, I find my flex shaft irreplaceable! I use it for drilling, cutting seats in stone settings, sanding, polishing, grinding, shaping metal, carving, creating twisted/fancy wire, etc. You can also purchase a variety of attachments that extend the usefulness of the flex shaft, even further, like a jump ring maker, a wax carver, a pearl and stone drilling system, etc. You can even turn your flex shaft into a drill press! Read on…
Micromotors usually cost a bit (or a lot) more than flex shafts. They are generally smaller and are easier to transport. Often, they are quieter too. Most micromotors have a speed controller as well as a foot pedal speed controller. The motor is in the handpiece so, cheaper micromotors can heat up and make using them uncomfortable. Also, you don’t want to drill in water, as you would when drilling pearls or stones, with a micromotor as there are electrical connections in the handpiece.
Micromotors are FAST! Because they don’t have an internal metal shaft, as the flex shaft does, the cable is softer and much more flexible. They are also stronger machines, generally, than a flex shaft and are great if you are often using a hammer handpiece. Micromotors run smoother than a flex shaft does. If you are looking for an all-around, affordable (ish) flex shaft, think about Foredom’s SR series (see below).
Up to 50,000 RPMs.
You CANNOT use your flex shaft handpiece with a micromotor since the micromotor’s handpiece IS the motor and with a flex shaft, the motor is in a different part (that heavy cylindrical thing!). So, if you need a hammer handpiece or a quick release, you will need to purchase them in addition to your Micromotor.
Takes up less space, more portable. Very flexible cord. Motor in handpiece.
Up to 38,000 RPMs.
Takes up even less space and is uber portable! Rechargeable battery.
The biggest differences, to me, between the Dremel and the Flex Shaft system are comfort and the bit holding system. Dremel uses a collet system while the flex shaft uses a chuck key or quick-release method for holding bits and burs. With Collets, you have to replace the collet, if your bit doesn’t fit. That requires a lot of unscrewing, switching out collets and screwing it back on. There are also keyless chucks that open and close by twisting and you can also purchase a mini, keyless chuck adapter (see below) to use bits with varying shaft widths.
Adjusting the jaw opening with a flex shaft involves opening up or tightening down the adjustable, internal collet with a chuck key.
The quick-change handpieces are even simpler but, they do require that bits are all 3/32″. You can purchase a collet insert (a mini, keyless chuck adapter) for larger or smaller bits that fit into the adjustable jaws of the flex shaft.
The Dremel probably has more additional attachments and accessories than the flex shaft does. There are Dremel router attachments, saws, dust extraction, circle cutters even a dog nail grooming attachment!
Comfort-wise, a flex shaft is easier to work with, compared to a Dremel – unless you also have a flex shaft attachment for yours. There are also motor differences and torque variances that I will, perhaps, cover someday!
- Dremel. Choose one that has the power needed for metalworking. My Foredom flex shaft has a 1/6 horsepower motor (and runs up to 18,000 RPM – backward and forwards. You’ll want something with at least that much power. You also want a tool that can run for a while without overheating.
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.
Flex Shafts – Other
*Note: No matter what type of flex shaft that you have, you should always leave a bit in the collet. This protects the jaws from damage.
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. I use this for flex shaft accessories like the belt sander and jump ring cutter. My Foredom is my daily workhorse.
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 an SR Series Foredom, the Power Graver and 3 Harbor Freight flex shafts. Visit Foredom’s page titled: “Which Foredom is right for me?” Note that the SR Series is a good, all-around choice for most applications. The LX series, high torque, low speed is great for powering a hammer handpiece – if you use one a LOT. The TX series has high torque and high and low speeds. Good for stone carving, woodworking, etc.
- Foredom – Foredom has three types of speed controls: 1. Foot-operated in a plastic housing, 2. Foot-operated in a metal housing, 3. Table-top dial operated in a 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. Find more Foredom flex shafts at Foredom’s website and at PepeTools.com.
Foredom Power GraverDesigned for engraving and stone setting.
- Check out Andy Cooperman’s site: The Mysteries of the Flex Shaft Revealed for an in-depth 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)
PepeTools has an assortment of handpieces and accessories available. Pop on by!
Foot Pedals/Foot Controls/Speed Controls
I’m looking for a new foot pedal to recommend. I actually liked the Lucas Foot Pedal. But, I just received the WORST, most ABUSIVE customer service that I’ve ever experienced. The customer service guy, Dick (an appropriate name) lectured me on the phone today for 10 minutes. I accidentally canceled an invoice they sent me (on Paypal) and within 14 minutes, he had the order stopped and had it sent back to them. The shipping was originally like $5.00 and then it jumped to 80.00. I had sent 3 emails explaining how I had accidentally deleted the invoice and please don’t cancel the order – 3 of them – that he never read/saw/or bothered to understand. I paid the invoice on Paypal. But, for some reason, he couldn’t figure out how to collect the money. He sent me 4 emails that mansplained and berated me about what a bad person I was. So, I’m done with them. I’m ordering one from PepeTools.
Foredom has started making their foot pedals from plastic and it is a bit disappointing. The subtle control is lost. I don’t love it – of course, I may have a funky one so, I can only speak for the one I own. But, you can still buy their metal pedals online. (Ah, poetry). *** The Harbor Freight version is like: “I’d like to go a little faster but, whoops, I just went from 10 mph to 125 mph. No subtlety. Once you’ve used a good pedal, you’ll never be satisfied with a crappy one again!!!!!
I need to get one of the PepeTools foot pedals asap as the cat peed on my sticky (before the cat pee incident) Foredom plastic one.
I tried purchasing this inexpensive one from Amazon (the LineMaster T-21) but, it had a few issues – for me. A. There was no subtlety – 0 to 100 MPHs – we skipped 10 through 90 MPHs. B. Way, way too small. C. The plug system is huge, especially in comparison with the foot pedal.
Manual Speed Controls
Foredom also makes an EM-1 Manual Dial Speed Control – which I have also not used. It is 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
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).
These handpieces fit only one size shank – 3/32″. But, you can purchase a mini keyless chuck adapter for smaller or larger bits.
The Foredom H.15-D Hammer Handpiece. With my smaller hands (compared to a man’s!), this handpiece works better for me with the Lion Punch Forge Adapter. The spring, for some reason, makes it less cumbersome to hold. Both hammer handpieces work great for stone setting and other applications too.
Other Hand Pieces
Foredom’s Slim Line Hand Piece H.28. Slimmer than the standard H.30.
If you have a European-Style flex shaft, with slip joint-style shafting and want a hammer handpiece for it, this is it. The Foredom Hammer Handpiece Slip Joint.
Miscellaneous Attachments (just a small sample)
Some of the additional tools that can be used with the flex shaft are:
The PepeTools Jump Ring Maker 2 (JRM2). This is one of my most used tools!
Don’t know if you can consider this an attachment, well, it kinda is – the Foredom Drill Press. They carry them at Amazon, among many other jewelry suppliers.
The dreaded Chuck Key. Actually it is called: The Comfort Handle Chuck Key.
(GRS Benchmate) Kate Wolf has a great video on How to Make a Wax Lathe with a Flex Shaft. She uses a Matt Wax Centering Tool (see Durmatt.com), a GRS BenchMate, and a Wolf Collar on a #30 handpiece to turn the flex shaft into a wax lathe.
Durmatt (aka Matt) makes quite a few wax manipulation tools for the flex shaft like the Matt Mini Lathe, Trimmer, Reamer, etc. You can find them online.
Flex Shaft Holders
Flex Shaft Double Motor Stand. I like the Handpiece holder – although I rarely use mine. It’s amazing how many flex shafts a person can use! Get these double holders because you know you’ll be purchasing another flex shaft down the road!
Here’s another motor stand by Foredom:
Foredom Double Motor Hanger with Base Mount – This hanger comes with a bunch of REALLY COOL accessories like the following items. BTW, I NEED THIS!!!
Bur Holder, (NEED THIS!)
The Jar Holder Arm Accessory, (I don’t NEED this but, I’ll take it!)
The Tray Arm Accessory, (NEED)
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. The image below is sideways to take up less space on this page.
I’ve also, in the past, 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.
Hand drills are great for drilling but, they won’t work with a lot of attachments. If you live off the grid, need to make two holes a year and have limited funds, these drills are fine for basic work.
IF you need or want a hand-drill, buy the sturdiest that 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 the power to spare, I’d buy an electric drill, Dremel, or a flex shaft. I used to own a hand drill and found the fact that I had to use two hands, annoying. Also, it’s a bit of work and for a lazy jeweler, like me, that’s not good.
You probably already have one of these 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 weight make it less than ideal for fine, detailed work – if used in lieu of a flex shaft. But, a drill is useful for other things like drilling holes in wood to make things, making bolt holes for your new 6″ guillotine shear, (I love mine!) or making jump rings – fast!
I recently purchased a DeWalt battery operated drill for when I make a ton of jump rings and don’t want to crank my winder.(Ha!) I also use my drill to twist wire, when making fancy wire and of course all that hole drilling, as mentioned above!
You can also use larger buffs, sanders, and other attachments with drills. Just be careful, as those electric drills can get away from you! You are of course wearing goggles and a mask as you do every time you operate any rotary tool????
(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 switch isn’t blocked by the jaws of the vise.
Never polish chain on a large rotating wheel. The drill can grab you and the chain and can cause serious injury. If you’d like weird, extremely painful bald spots, get your long, unencumbered hair wrapped around a drill’s shaft. Even the little flex shaft or Dremel can do this! I’ve witnessed it happening.
You can wrap your drill in leather or purchase/make vise jaw protectors. I have a DIY video on how to make magnetic jaw guards (among a bunch of other things). It’s called: The Weird Movie: Tips, Tricks, and Insanity in the Jewelry Studio.
See my video: Making the most of your Jump Ring Maker for another use of the flex shaft!
Also See: How to Make Jump Rings (about 10 minutes into the video) for a demonstration of how I use my vise and drill.
For another use for your flex shaft, check out my video: “Fancy Wire”. You might as well pop on over to my 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)!
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 (like unfired polymer or metal clay), a pin vise is okay. If drilling thick gauge metal, large holes, or twisting wire above 22 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.
- Making the Most of Your Jump Ring Maker
- Fancy Wire
- How to Remove a Flex Shaft Handpiece and More!