Ask Betsy: January Edition


Q: I’ve had bone spurs at the base of several fingers on the palm side of my hands on and off since I graduated with a degree in metalsmithing. Because I constantly work with my hands, they never fully have a chance to go away. What can be done about bone spurs?


A:  I am not a doctor so I can’t offer you specific advice about bone spurs other than to see your doctor about them. They could be an indication of arthritis or some other medical condition, so seeing a professional is a good idea to diagnose the situation and determine if there is a medical solution that is acceptable to you.


What I can do, however, is talk here about finger and wrist ergonomics. While we are often instructed on how to sit properly to keep back and shoulder pain at bay, we aren’t always told about how to keep our wrists and fingers limber which can help prevent pain and fatigue when working on a small scale.


When sawing and hammering, make sure you don’t use a death grip. Hold your tools firmly with your fingers but not tightly and don’t tense up your wrist and arm. Make sure your work is at an appropriate height for what you are doing. If you are hammering, your work should be where your hammer strike lands with your forearm at close to a 90 degree angle from your upper arm. Your upper arm and elbow should be close to your body, not out at an angle. You don’t have to anchor it to your torso, but don’t let your elbow fly outward. When sawing, make sure that you don’t have to contort your wrist at the beginning or end of your saw stroke but rather let the strokes be smooth and keep your wrist relaxed. And it’s always a good idea after sawing or hammering to shake your fingers and wrists out, clench and release your fingers or search online for finger and wrist exercises you can do to keep them limber.


If you are working on small pieces and have to scrunch your fingers to place or hold components, consider using tools rather than your digits. Use tweezers or picks to place or move items around. Use tape, clamps or even clothes pins to hold items together. There are a number of commercial options available such as ring clamps, inside (sometimes called outside) ring clamps, guillotine clamps, hemostats, pearl-holding vises (for drilling), cushion clamps for wire jewelry. Most of the jewelry supply houses carry a variety of these things which can be found by searching for “clamps” at your favorite supplier. And looking at the offerings may prompt you to MacGuyver something useful from tools you currently have.


Metalworking should be enjoyable, not painful, so stay aware of how your body is feeling while you work. 

You shouldn’t have to be a contortionist to ply your craft.


Happy New Year to all, and don’t forget to send your questions to!