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The Art of Jeweling

The Art of Jeweling

"Engine turning" adds a nice touch to any rifle. Here's how it's done.

By Bryce M. Towsley

"Keep in mind that you are going for a total effect. The whole is much more dramatic than a single swirl."

Jeweling is the process of polishing small swirls into the surface of metal. Also called Engine Turning and Damascening, it is usually done in an overlapping "fish scale" pattern. It adds a nice touch to any rifle and is very easy to do. It also holds oil better to prevent rust. It's sometimes done inside a gun to reduce friction, but in this circumstance, we are using it for cosmetics only. 

While recently doing a makeover on a Model 94 Winchester rifle, I jeweled the hammer sides and the top of the locking bolt as well as the link on the bottom of the gun.

The key to a good jeweling job is in the preparation. The part must be polished before starting. I polished the hammer and bolt on flat bench stones, starting with fine India and finishing with a hard Arkansas. The key is to just remove any machine marks and polish the surface without removing any more metal than is absolutely necessary. Check the progress often, and as soon as the entire surface shows the same sheen, move to the next-finer abrasive. I finished with a buffing wheel and red jeweler's rouge buffing compound.

The Art of JewelingThe link was not perfectly flat, so I couldn't polish it on a stone. It was also very rough and needed more than a simple polishing. There were a lot of machining marks that had to be removed along with the old bluing. So I clamped it in a soft-jawed vise and used a fine single-cut file to draw-file the surface. After this, I polished it with a wheel and an abrasive polish, and then I cleaned the wheel and added jeweler's rouge and gave it a final polish.

All the polished parts must be free from oil, grease or buffing wax. I used degreasing spray and a large, clean cotton cleaning patch to scrub them. Then I sprayed again with degreaser, letting it run off and air dry.

Brownells offers tools for two different approaches to jeweling. One is a small brush with metal bristles, which is used with an abrasive paste. The other method, and frankly the one that worked a lot better for me, was to use Cratex rubber rods impregnated with abrasive.

An inexpensive "Damascening Tool" is used to hold the rods. It is not necessary to use any abrasive compound; simply apply the spinning abrasive rod to the surface of the part. Keep the end of the rod trimmed with a file so it stays sharp and square. This, by far, gave me the best results. I suspect that the brush takes longer to learn, but it can provide excellent results. Still, the Cratex rods turned in a good job the first time out of the chute. This is, of course, on flat surfaces, as the rods can't follow contours as well as the brushes.

The Art of JewelingThe most important thing is to have a way to keep your lines straight and the swirls indexed at the correct spacing. The pros use a milling machine, but you can get just as good results with a drill press and an indexing vise with soft jaws to prevent marring.

Plan out the pattern on the piece. Some parts, such as the hammer spur, might have a long, narrow section. This requires that the pattern follow the part's shape. For best results, you will want to use that same line for the rest of the piece. There might be gaps, but simply skip past the gaps to keep the same lines throughout the entire piece.

The indexing vise should be clamped to the drill-press table. Set up the piece so the tool is centered at the end nearest to you. Run the piece all the way to the other end to make sure it is still centered with the tool at the opposite end.

The Art of JewelingRun the indexing vise back to the edge closest to you, and start with the tool about one-third off the edge. Turn on the drill press at a relatively high speed, and lightly touch the tool to the metal and let it run for a few seconds.

Now index so that the next swirl will overlap the first by 1/3 to 1⁄2. On my indexing vise, that is one complete revolution of the handle for the 3/16-inch Cratex rods. Form the next swirl. Watch to see how much pressure and time it will take to give you the result you desire.

The swirl will be subtle, so don't get upset if it's not as defined as you expected. Remember, you are going for a total finished effect, and the whole is much more dramatic than a single swirl. When you are finished and are able to hold the piece and turn it back and forth so that it catches the light on the entire jeweled surface, the result is more apparent.

Once you know how much pressure and time are needed, index the vise and make the next swirl. Continue until you run off the end of the piece being jeweled. Do not make the next line in the opposite direction, as all lines should be made in the same direction.

Run the indexing vise all the way back to the end of the piece closest to you again. Now index left or right to give the same amount of overlap. Make the next line of swirls, overlapping the first line. Continue with this pattern until you are to the edge of the piece.

Now return to the center and do it on the other side of the piece until that is covered with jeweling. Or, if you started on one edge, continue until you have jeweled everything to the opposite edge.

Subscribe Today!Once you are done and satisfied, remove the piece from the vise, degrease it again and then coat it with a rust preventative.

This is fine for flat parts like those I did on this Model 94. But, for a round part like a bolt, you will need a jig to hold the bolt and to index it around the center. In this case, you will clamp the jig in your indexing vise and keep the tool centered. Run the line down the length of the bolt, and then return to the start. Turn the bolt in the indexing jig for each new line.

For more information on the tools needed for jeweling, visit

Reprinted from the November 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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