Simplified Metalsmithing Techniques for Fabulous Jewelry
Simple Metal Work Ideas to Add "Wow" to Your Handcrafted Jewelry
Does your handcrafted jewelry shout out, "Wow! Look at me, I'm fabulous!"? If it doesn't, you can change that by changing the way you do things: Stop borrowing designs dreamed up by someone else. Make your own bold clasps, earwires and beads instead of relying on manufactured findings. Try a few simplified metalsmithing techniques.
Metalsmithing can be complicated, but it's the best way I know of adding a "wow" factor to your jewelry. I've made it a little easier by simplifying a few metalsmithing techniques, so you can master them easily. The tools, cost and time you need depend on the projects you choose.
- Jeweler's saw and bench pin
- Blades: brands labeled "gold" cost more, but they're easier to work with.
- Metal files
- Padded emery files for smoothing
- Manual punch or drill
- Metal shears (optional)
- Anvil or metal bench block
- Fine line black marker
- Sheet metal of your choice
- 20 gauge wire
Working with your jeweler's saw
If you already have a jeweler's saw, pull it out and practice. You'll break a ton of blades at first, but eventually you'll be inspired to create jewelry that's truly unique. Draw your designs directly onto metal, either freehand or with a template; then cut them out with your saw. Use files to smooth rough metal edges.
See "Now Cut That Out! Creating Jewelry With a Jeweler's Saw" for tips.
If you'd prefer not to saw, try metal shears. They cut metal the way scissors cut paper, but are best for cutting simple shapes only. A die cutter is a more expensive cutting option. It's a metal block that uses a punch. You add manual pressure to create a simple, uniform shape: circles, ovals, hearts. If cutting metal isn't your thing, search online for "blank metal shapes for jewelry making."
Metal stamping for added textures
With stamping, it takes very little effort to enhance metal with decorative patterns.
You can buy textured, patterned, or alphanumeric punches from from a jewelry catalog or online supplier. Or you can improvise with interchangeable screwdriver bits or punches you find in a local hardware store. You can also create a pattern on metal by striking it with a ball peen hammer.
Add a gentle curve to a large metal piece, by using a ball peen hammer and an anvil or block. Hold your piece at an angle, turn slowly and gently strike the edges all the way around
To curve small pieces, you'll need a dapping block. Michael's sells an inexpensive wooden version for under $20.
- Select one of the six curved sections on the block.
- Use a punch to hold your metal piece in place.
- Strike it with a hammer. One good blow should do it.
Adding beads and wire details to simple shapes
For metal earrings that are full and dangly, add holes to your metal pieces with a drill or a manual punch. Add earwires and figure 8s or jump rings to dangle wire shapes and beads.
Cutting out a fantasy
- If you're already comfortable working with a jeweler's saw, take your skills to a higher level.
- Draw your fantasy design on metal with a fine line marker.
- Drill or use a manual punch to pierce holes in the sections to be cut away.
- Insert your blade into your saw, then through a hole.
- Fasten the other blade end into place, tighten, and then saw.
- Leave enough metal in place to hold your piece together.
Soldering layers of metal
A basic plumber's torch is all you need to generate a flame that's hot and big enough for most jewelry soldering operations. Once you learn basic blowtorch safety, try the simple technique of fusing several layers of metal in a single soldering operation. Fuse silver onto silver or layer it with copper, gold-filled or brass sheet or wire for fabulous "wow" pieces.
- Silver-bearing solder from a hardware store is fine for simple soldering techniques.
- It flows at low temperatures when you hammer it flat and clip it into small pieces.
- Use a small paint brush to add flux to the front and back of metal pieces you wish to fuse together.
- Use your brush tip to place a pattern of solder chips on the back of each layer.
- Layer, then solder.
- See "Working With Your Blowtorch: Ten Safety Tips Jewelry Designers Need to Know " for more information.
Add a bezel-set stone the simple way
When you're striving to be a jewelry making superstar, it's okay to cheat a little. Instead of bezel-setting small stones the hard way, try using bezel cups: calibrated silver metal ovals and circle cups that are form fitted to hold calibrated semi-precious cabochons.
- Add flux and solder to the back of the cup.
- Solder into place on a metal piece or...
- Make it the final addition on a layered, fused piece.
A few more tips
- Don't get frustrated by trying too many new techniques at once.
- Metalsmithing tools are expensive. Buy only what you really need.