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How to Get Started in Jewelry Making & Metalsmithing

Updated on May 3, 2013

A guided tour to beginning in metal work and jewelry

Want to make jewelry? I'll let you know where to learn, what to read, how to take pictures of it once you've made it, how to sell it. What is casting? PMC? These answers and more will be yours. I've been making jewelry since 1990 and studied in trade schools, college and by doing apprenticeships. In this lens, I'll share the best books, blogs and sources to save you lots of time. My years of experience will benefit you and give you a head start as you begin to learn jewelry making!

Safety First! Read this before Continuing!

Metalsmithing is a potentially risky activity. You are admonished to read "The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report" by Charles Lewton Brain before attempting anything.

Follow all safety instructions. Do not attempt to operate machinery that you have not received instructions on.

Never wear gloves while operating a polishing motor or flexible shaft machine. Never operate machinery when you are tired or alone. Use good judgement and caution. Wear appropriate safety gear, including eye protection.

The author cannot be responsible for any injuries, losses and other damages that may result from the use of the information in this Lens.

Metalsmithing: How to Learn It

Some things are easier than others to learn on your own. Though many say they are self-taught, sometimes they just mean they didn't get a degree in it. They still took classes, or had informal mentors. Taking a class will save you time and money in mistakes that you won't make.

The best way to learn metalsmithing is in person, with an instructor. Second to that is to learn from really high quality instructional videos and DVDs. It will take a lot of them, and it will add up. Supplement that with a lot of books.

If you can only buy one book on metalsmithing - make it this one

Complete Metalsmith: Student Edition
Complete Metalsmith: Student Edition

Get this one if you are on a budget.

 
Complete Metalsmith, ProPlus Edition
Complete Metalsmith, ProPlus Edition

Best one! My top recommendation.

 

What's your all time favorite metalsmithing book? - Vote! Add yours if you like.

The Encyclopedia of Jewelry-Making Techniques
The Encyclopedia of Jewelry-Making Techniques

I like this one too, great color photos.

 
Jewelry Concepts and Technology
Jewelry Concepts and Technology

Expensive, but comprehensive!

 

My List of Tools for Beginning Metalsmiths

Beginning metalsmithing students often ask me, what's the minimum amount of tools I need to get started? What should I buy and where? The choices are overwhelming, so

I've written this short, easy to understand (I hope) list.

Soldering:

Propane only torch with short hose, from home center

Handy or Batterns flux (I prefer Batterns)

Sparex pickle and glass or ceramic container, preferably with lid, to put it in

(Spa Down may be used instead of Sparex); Copper or bamboo tongs for pickle

Charcoal or magnesia block

Tweezers with wooden handle

Soldering pick

Sawing:

Quality sawframe (German made, for example)

"Bench pin with V-slot," the kind that clamps on to your table

Sawblades - Herkules brand quality or better, size 2/3 or 3/0

Beeswax or Bur Life for lubricating saw blade.

Sanding

Sandpaper: black wet/dry sandpaper from the hardware store

Grits: 180, 320, 400, 600

1500 grit is available from some auto supply stores

sanding sticks

Nice, but optional: 3M sanding pads, 3M polishing papers

Pliers, Hand tools:

Needle nose pliers (aka chain nose)

Round-round nose pliers

Flat nose pliers

Rawhide Mallet

Ball pien hammer

Flexible Shaft Machine*

Foredom CC Flex Shaft system

Mandrels, grinding and polishing wheels

Cheaper choice: buy a not-a-name-brand flex shaft from Contenti.

Tumbler*

"Rio Grande Mini Rotary Tumbler" plus media, such as stainless steel shot.

This is the little red tumbler sold elsewhere as the Thumler's Tumbler.

Cheaper choice: check out discount tool supplier Harbor Freight. The quality is not as

high, but the prices sure are low.

* Optional, or, plan to get one later.

Where to buy:

Rio Grande, request a Tools and Equipment catalog. They have everything you need, in an easy to shop, educational format.

There are also other choices, you can find them via ads in your favorite jewelry magazines or by checking the listings at Ganoksin.

How to Add Sandpaper to a Sanding Stick

You can buy sanding sticks with sandpaper already on them. When this wears out, you can re-wrap it. Here's how.

Items needed:

- sanding stick

- black wet/dry sandpaper

- a scoring tool

- scissors

Buy sandpaper from the hardware store. You want the black "wet/dry" paper, this is for metal. The tan is for wood. Hardware stores carry up to 600 grit, which is the finest they carry. If you want even finer than that, some auto supply stores carry 1500 grit.

Lay the sandpaper down in front of you on the table, landscape position. Now place your sanding stick on the left edge, placing the handle end closest to you. When you wrap the sanding stick with new sandpaper, you want the handle to be exposed, so it may be necessary to trim down the sandpaper. Cut it to about the length of the brown sandpaper that comes already on the sanding stick. You can use scissors or an Exacto knife.

Now you're ready to wrap. Again, lay the sandpaper down in front of you on the table, landscape position. Now place your sanding stick on the left edge, placing the handle end closest to you.

Holding the sanding stick down with one hand, drag a scoring tool down the right edge of the sanding tool. What's a scoring tool? Anything you have that's not too sharp. You don't want to cut all the way through the sand paper, you just want to score a line so you'll get a sharp edge when you fold it. An end of a metal file, a burnisher maybe, a kitchen tool, whatever you have on hand.

Score a line, and holding the sandpaper onto the stick with your fingers, move the sanding stick so that it is resting on its skinny side now. Score another line, and lay the sanding stick down on it's other wide side. Repeat on the next skinny side. Now you should have the whole thing wrapped with one layer of sandpaper!

Repeat until you run out of sandpaper. Secure the ends. The traditional metalsmithing way is to wrap the ends (top and bottom of the sandpaper) with wire. Practically though, this can get in the way. An easy method is to open a stapler and staple the ends down, top and bottom, front and back. You've really got to wack the stapler. Masking tape will also do the job, but stapling is ideal.

As the sandpaper gets worn out, just rip it off on that side of the sanding stick and throw away the piece of sandpaper. It should rip off cleaning because of those handy scoring marks you made.

What is casting?

Casting, or lost wax casting is the process that takes a wax original and replicates it in metal. How? Well, that's a big question. Basically, you put your wax model into a flask - picture an empty can, with both ends open. Then fill your can with high temperature plaster. How do you do that without the wax model getting lost?

Well, there's a rubber lid for one end of your can. Take a stick of wax, called a sprue, attach it to your wax model and you stick that onto the middle of the rubber lid. How? With melted wax of course. Then you pour your special plaster, called "investment" over the wax model and let the plaster harden for a long time.

A note on investment plaster: Most investment plaster contains silica, which can cause silacosis. Use appropriate safety equipment when you use investment plaster. You can also buy investment that does not contain silica. Only work in a well ventilated area. Keep a clean shop. Read "The Jewelry Workshop Safety Report," by Charles Lewton Brain before you attempt to use investment plaster.

Once the investment is dry, you need to get rid of the wax, by melting it out. This is done with a kiln or a steam dewaxer. You can buy a steam dewaxer or build your own. See, the wax is now lost, hence the name, lost wax casting.

Now the fun part. Now you've got to melt some metal (bronze, silver, gold, whatever) and get that metal into your plaster filled flask, to fill that space where the wax used to be.

You could just pour it in, but the speed at which the metal cools and solidifies means that the metal wouldn't go all the way into all the areas of the plaster mold.

What to do? Some of the methods for making the metal go all the way in are: vacuum, centrifugal, sling and steam.

Sling casting is dangerous, please do not attempt it. Vacuum casting is the method most commonly used in the jewelry industry. Centrifugal casting is most used in school settings and by hobbyists. It is also potentially dangerous. A centrifugal casting machine should be mounted in a large metal container to contain any dangerous fly offs that could seriously injure you.

Basically, any of these methods forces the metal all the way into the mold. Vacuum does it by pulling the metal in. Centrifugal does it by forcing it in with great speed.

This is just an overview to help you understand casting. If you wish to attempt it, you need to read a book on the subject, sit down with a catalog and read the whole casting section.

Free eBook!

The Jewelry Maker by Elaine D. Luther

If you like this Squidoo Lens, you'll probably like my free eBook, The Jewelry Maker.

You can download it FREE at my website, Creative Texture Tools.

Best Books on Casting

The AJM Guide to Lost-Wax Casting
The AJM Guide to Lost-Wax Casting

A more trade oriented guide from industry group MJSA.

 

What is an hydraulic press?

(Image is popcorn, squished in an hydraulic press!)

An hydraulic press is a super cool tool that uses an hydraulic jack in a welded steel frame. Then you use the jack to squish metal between two steel plates. In between those steel plates are your metal, something you're using to cut it or shape it, and (usually) urethane in one of three hardnesses. Or durameters.

Cutting non-ferrous metals with an hydraulic press. (non-ferrous means not steel)

You can use the power of the 20 ton hydraulic jack to cut out shapes that would otherwise take longer to saw out by hand. Sure, there are other ways to cut things, such as laser cutting, but this is an affordable (relatively) technique you can do at home yourself.

To cut you need a "pancake die," that's cut out of steel in a very specific way and then tempered. It's pretty hard to do yourself. It's recommended that if you do it yourself you buy a saw frame guide to help you.

The producers of presses is Bonny Doon Engineering, which has since sold to Rio Grande. Boony Doon still maintains a web presence and has user forums.

Find them at Bonny Doon. The one and luckily, best book written on how to is "Die Forming for Metalsmiths" by Susan Kingsly.

Best Book on Using the Hydraulic Press

Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths
Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths

Only available 2nd hand, scoop one up while you still can!

 

What is stone setting?

You probably know this one. Stone setting is how you put stones into a metal holder, which could mean a bezel setting or a prong setting. Most folks learning metalsmithing start with bezel setting. I don't think I can effectively explain it without pictures. It involves solder and fine silver bezel wire. You'll cover it in your first class.

If you want to try it on your own, you'll need to order bezel wire (fine silver) in a few heights, a burnisher and a cabochon or two. Oval cabs that are not too big, not too small, are nice to start with.

Big tip of the day: glue your cab down to an index card while you start forming your bezel.

What is Precious Metal Clay?

What is PMC?

PMC is Precious Metal Clay, a material made in Japan that contains tiny particles of silver, each one finer than a grain of salt, plus water and an organic binder. You work with it pretty much as you would clay, then fire it in a kiln and the water and binder burn off and the metal sinters together. Your completed object is fine silver!

Pretty cool, huh?

Find a class in your area by looking at:

PMC Guild

PMC Connection

There is also another brand of metal clay, called Art Clay Silver. You can find their classes at ArtClayWorld.com.

Learn more about PMC at my website Creative Texture Tools, at my blog, and at this comprensive Squidoo Lens by MSchindel: Squidoo.com/preciousmetalclay.

Best Book on PMC - If you can only buy one.

My List of Tools for Beginning with Precious Metal Clay

Basics:

- work surface

- roller (acrylic, polystyrene or PVC)

- Saran Wrap

- Glad Press 'n Seal

- Playing cards or other method for rolling out a specific thickness

- Slip jar

- Squeeze bottle for olive oil

- paintbrush

Ring Making:

- pre-made ring forms (such as Hattie's Patties)

- or a mold for making your own

Finishing tools:

- eye shadow brush

- acrylic nail boards (black and pink)

- 3M polishing pads

- 3M polishing papers

- little white square polishing pads from Rio

- tumbler and stainless steel shot (from Rio, or cheaper, lower quality one from Habour Freight)

Firing tools:

- Kiln

- Kiln shelves

- Kiln stilts

- leather gloves

- Tongs

- Mini flower pots and saucers

- Vermiculite

- Or other firing method: Hot Pot, Ultra Light Bee Hive Kiln, Speed Fire Cone

For applying Liver of Sulphur:

- Liver of Sulphur, lump form

- Heat source to heat jewelry

- Paintbrush

- Recipe for iridescent patina is at Ganoksin.

Heavy Metals -- Where to learn blacksmithing

Check out this list at my blog, here: Blacksmithing

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Copyright

(C) 2007 - 2013 Elaine D. Luther All Rights Reserved

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    • profile image

      Nicks99 5 years ago

      Your lens is a great guide to jewelry making. Jewelry making is a very difficult art to master. Brilliant information on metalsmithing.

      Nick

      affordable engagement rings

    • profile image

      lorasmith 5 years ago

      handcrafted jewellery at affordable prices - handcrafted bracelets

    • profile image

      Eshabell 6 years ago

      For some Metalsmiths process, micro welder are the indispensable tools.

    • profile image

      norm7b8 6 years ago

      Awesome lens with very informative information on metalsmithing. I found the information I was looking for. Thank you.

    • profile image

      goody123 7 years ago

      Thanks for all the information you delivered this has kept me occupied I

      hope you have more information in the future thanks cool!

      snap on pliers

    • profile image

      Metalsmith 9 years ago

      A great site, looks like you've spent a lot of time making it useful and entertaining.

    • profile image

      LeslieBrenner 9 years ago

      Very nice lens, with a lot of useful information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Great website - found it very useful for a range of my interests. Think you have really managed to put together most of the things I want to know about.

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      Thanks for a lot of great tips!

    • Karendelac profile image

      Karendelac 10 years ago

      I gave you 5 stars for your lens. You did a very good job of organizing resources for this hobby. All the Best, Karen at Karen's Kinkade Art Store