More Simple Metalwork Basics - Adding Textures, Letters & Cut-Outs

If I were conducting an in-person metal class, by the end of lesson one I would have reminded you to purchase a jeweler's saw and lots of blades to practice cutting. 

And if you returned to class the following week, (some students think working with metal is so difficult they don't return after the first class) I would welcome you back, congratulate you on getting over any beginner's frustration and ask you to pull out your first practice piece.

A Simple Beginning
Hopefully you started out simply, creating a simple shape for a pendant or perhaps two pieces for a pair of earrings. By the second class you probably would have figured out that a round shape sounds simple enough, but it's one of the hardest shapes to cut; so maybe you created a triangle or perhaps an oval instead.

You've cut out your first piece, now you are ready to take the next step to turn that simple metal shape into something creative.

Smooth the Rough Edges
No matter how gracefully you perform up-and-down sawing motion, when you're finished cutting with a jeweler's saw the edges of your piece will be a bit rough. You can easily smooth them with a good set of metal files; but as a beginner, your metal work destiny may be uncertain, so you might wish to avoid that expense until you know metal work is something you're serious about.

An assortment of emery files is a less costly make-do alternative to expensive metal files. You know those thick black and pink files you use to shape your fingernails. They range in grits from rough to fine and do an excellent job of filing away rough metal and smoothing edges.

Start with a rough grit file and finish with fine until the metal edges are smooth to the touch. You may also use a fine grit to smooth away scratches and tool marks.

Use Stamping as a Design Tool

What is a stamp? Stamps are short, hard metal rods with a design on one end that can be transferred to metal by striking it with a hammer. Stamped-on designs add creativity and a three-dimensional feel to your metal jewelry.
It's a simple process. 

I used simple stamp, alternatives- drill bits and leather stamps-
to create the texture on these metal dresses
Place your metal piece on a hard surface (an anvil or metal block.) Hold the stamp upright with the decorative end resting against the metal. Hold the stamp firmly in place then strike it with a hammer until it makes a deep enough impression. Repeat as you choose.

If you have a blow torch available, you may anneal your metal surface to make it softer, which will make stamping easier. Anneal your piece by heating it until it glows. Careful!!! All that added heat will discolor the metal and you might need to use a caustic acid pickling solution to restore the color. Apple cider vinegar can be a safer, make-do solution.

Annealing will soften the entire piece, but it will re-harden as you stamp on your pattern.

Stamp Alternatives
Jewelry Tool catalogs, like Rio Grande, sell a large selection of letter, number, and pattern stamps to add design and texture. You may purchase these stamps individually or in sets, but you may also try these alternatives:
  • Interchangeable screwdrivers have removable tips (bits) that can be used in place of stamps. Don't hit the rubber or plastic screwdriver head. Remove the tip before using it. Strike the metal surface repeatedly to create a unique texture.
  • Use a manual hole-punch to create a series of indentations for a three-dimensional, polka-dot texture.
Dot created by partially piercing metal
with a manual punch
  • Use a screw to make a small dot pattern
  • Nails can create several different textures for different results
Remember these stamping safety tips

  • If you find an item you think will make a nice pattern on, metal, make sure it will stand up to a hammer blow.
  • When striking any metal surface with a hammer, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris.

Adding letters

Love? Joy? Peace? Whatever you want to say, stamping letters on your jewelry can be an easy way of sending a message without saying a word?
  • Alpha-numeric stamps are a bit awkward to use at first. Precision spacing is difficult to accomplish so plan your work for optimum effect.
  • Mark the spacing on your metal with a felt tip pen, ex: JOY a line for each letter.

  • Take your time. Make sure you have the letter or number stamp facing the right way before you strike it with your hammer. Once you strike the stamp, it creates a deep indentation in the metal. If your letter or number is upside down or sideways, it will be difficult to remove.
  • Consider drawing a mark at the bottom of your stamp as
  • a visible reminder that you have the stamp positioned correctly.

Add texture, depth, and patterns with your favorite hammer
Use your hammer as a design tool
A ball peen hammer, a hammer with one rounded end, is great for adding a simple, nubby texture. Just hammer the entire surface of a metal piece or just a portion. The texture will be bumpy, and sort of rough, but interesting.

Cut-out details
This piece and the pieces shown above began with simple line drawings. Draw a simple woman, a man, or a heart. Get complicated with a filigree pattern by drawing the design on your metal. 

Pierce the metal with a drill and cut away parts of the metal to render your design. It takes practice (and a few broken blades) to make the saw do what you want it to do. Don't get frustrated.

Tips for Maneuvering a Jeweler's Saw
Cutting with a jeweler's saw isn' t easy enough for a child to do, but this 5-year-old gave it a try
Cutting with a Jeweler's saw is like riding a bicycle. It's not very easy at first, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. And once you learn how to do it, the skill always comes back to you.

Here are a few more sawing tips to keep in mind:
  • Don't forget to use plenty of blade lubricant. It helps keep the saw moving smoothly.
  • Buy the best blades you can afford. As you saw, you can feel the difference in quality.
  • Practice cutting straight lines and curves to develop your confidence, but eventually you will want to do something a bit trickier, something with corners and angles.
  • To turn an angle, let the blade do the work. Saw until you reach the angle. Keep a smooth up and down sawing motion while gradually rotating your metal piece until the blade is facing the new direction.
  • Practice, practice, practice!!
This article was based on my original work published on Yahoo Voices.

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