Nancy LT Hamilton, author
Last updated: 2/25/21, 5/22/20, 4/13/20
There’s a ton of information on this website. Just browse around and you might find the answer to your question. Check out the huge Q&A section too!
Here’s a Google Doc that lists tons of tools for the beginning and continuing jeweler. Also, see our video: Metalsmiths: Live from Lockdown II. We discuss tools, materials, ideas, safety, and a lot more in this Zoom video with Charity Triplett-Wanechek, Amber Romero Berquist, Christopher Anderson, and myself.
Questions and Answers
- 0.1 How can I learn the basics and find classes?
- 0.2 If you had a $1,000 to spend, to start up your studio, what would you buy?
- 0.3 How to utilize a floor lamp to mount a flex shaft.
- 0.4 Recommendations on setting up a vent system
- 0.5 How do I inexpensively start-up my jewelry practice?
- 0.6 Setting up a Jewelry Studio and Jewelry Business
- 0.7 Where to Source Cheap or Free Tools for the Shop
- 0.8 How to Afford Jewelry Tools
- 0.9 Any Thoughts On A Basic Shopping List For Setting Up A Jewelry Studio?
- 0.10 What should I watch and read to get started making jewelry?
- 1 Related Videos
- 2 Related Web Pages
How can I learn the basics and find classes?
I want to learn jewelry-making but, am finding it difficult to discover classes. I really want to learn face-to-face. Do you offer “live” classes? If not, do you have any suggestions for learning the craft? I’m also interested in incorporating wood into my jewelry. Do you have any ideas? Can you help me find classes in my area?
Currently, with Covid-19 still ruling the roost, I am not teaching live classes. That could change soon after I get the vaccine but, I don’t teach out of state as it’s too crazy-making for me. I teach at Chimera Arts in Sebastopol, CA.
Until then, there are quite a few great books, videos, and blogs out there.
I would say, learn the basics: Learn how to
- File and sand (finishing)
- Learn to use a flex shaft. Discover what it can do i.e. drill, using burs, finishing, sanding, etc.
- Discover how to move metal – forming shapes with a hammer and a metal shape like ring shanks, doming, fold forming, etc.
- Learn how to rivet
- Conquer soldering Those are the basics.
- Learn how to make jump rings, hinges, pins, bails, ear wires, clasps, etc.
“I want to learn all I can about jewelry making especially chasing and repoussé. What affordable tools do you recommend?”
Tools: Hmmm…. well, of course, there is Harbor Freight. They have very inexpensive tools that are either for the jeweler or can be adapted. I started with mostly their tools.
If you want to do chasing and repoussé, you’ll need a torch for annealing. You can start with a small portable system like a Bernzomatic. Don’t buy propane gas for it – use Mapp gas instead it burns hotter. There are tons of different torch setups. Here are just a few on Amazon. A creme brulee torch is ok for small stuff. If you want more heat, try a larger butane tip like this one, also at Amazon. You need fuel canister which, in some states you can order online. In others, try restaurant supply stores. I often use this instead of my acetylene setup. Its ease of use makes it great for quick jobs. It’s a rather large flame but, I can solder stone settings onto rings with it. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.
You’ll need a striker to light it. I love electronic strikers. Please check out my techniques page – especially the page titled: Soldering. I discuss some of the tools and materials used to solder. BTW, never use a lighter or a barbecue lighter for your torch – too dangerous.
On hammers: a chasing hammer will serve many different needs. I use mine for small scale forging as well as chasing and repoussé and a bunch of other stuff.
You’ll need a few pliers: round nose and flat nose, at least. Rio Grande has many tools. You can also watch eBay and check with places like Craig’s List.
For a pitch pot I’ve used a small metal baking dish, a dog dish, the top to a large candy can (round). You can use a wheelbarrow tire as a base to hold the pot. The pitch, you can make it but, I wouldn’t. It’s not cheap but, will last forever. I like the red German pitch. Check out Otto Frei for that and other tools. Pepe brand makes a lot of inexpensive, quality tools. I’d give their site a look over.
Pickle pots are about $5.00 US at the junk store. Buy a ceramic-lined crockpot. I also buy my pyrex bowls there for quenching and neutralizing the pickle. Make your own pickle and flux with inexpensive products.
You’ll need a jewelers saw frame and some saw blades. As a newbie, I’d buy by the gross. Start with maybe a 2/0 or 3/0 – a pretty useful size for general use.
You’ll need a file or two: A half-round file is great as it has two different shapes: round and flat. Maybe buy one standard size 1/2 round and 1 needle file 1/2 round. That said, I would also get a round needle file – great for enlarging drill bit holes and other uses.
Get some good wire cutters: my favorites – PowerMax. They last forever and cut up to 8 gauge.
Always lubricate your tools like saw blades, drill bits (not files), other types of bits, they last a lot longer.
A piece of advice: buy only what you need. Figure out what you want to do, buy the bare minimum, make do, make it yourself, scavenge, beg and borrow. I spent maybe $200.00 US a year on tools, in the beginning. Doing things like making my own hammers – a large nail (sanded smooth and polished – round the edges a bit) hammered through a small hole in a rod makes a nice, small hammer, or try a carriage bolt.
Get a used Dremel or get an inexpensive flex shaft from Harbor Freight (I’ve had a few of mine for about 8-10 years. Do you have a metal recycler in town? If so, get on over there. Lots of usable metal to make anvils, hammers, etc. Do you have a Maker community? An arts center? Visit local jewelers, get into that community – there’s a lot of trade and back and forth sharing available there.
Materials like metal: the recycler in your neighborhood. Your local dump. There’s tons of copper wire, aluminum, steel, brass, etc there. Great material to make beautiful art with. Junk stores also have a lot of metal in them: an old copper planter cut up and reused as sheet metal, tin, steel, etc. Old irons in a vise make great anvils. Check out Metalliferous (many types of metal) and Online Metals. (also, many types of metal). Back to Table of Contents
If you had a $1,000 to spend, to start up your studio, what would you buy?
“Here’s a quick question… If you were starting out in your studio and had $1000 to spend on tools, what would you purchase?”
I have a question and answer page that covers some of the answers to that HUGE question you asked. Of course, you read the Answer to Question #1, above?
There are so many issues that will determine what that 1000.00 buys. Do you want to pattern metal? Etch, solder, saw, forge, chase, enamel, rivet, crimp, use a hydraulic press, bead, work with glass beads, electroform, cut waxes, do casting, etc.? So much depends on what YOU want/like to do.
I would start out by buying just what I needed to complete one project. If you find a project where you need a new hammer, buy the hammer. Go slow and don’t buy tools you don’t know what to do with (like I did). I hope this helps.
BTW: a saw, a hammer, a small piece of wood, and a flex shaft are a good place to start. Order a Jewelry Catalog. I used to write up imaginary shopping lists and then order the bare minimum of what I wanted. Today, after moving my studio from one place to the other (for the past month), I’m aghast at how much money I’ve spent over the years. If I could go backward, I’d buy way, way less stuff. Good luck with the tools! Back to Table of Contents
How to utilize a floor lamp to mount a flex shaft.
“Several months ago I was at Goodwill on the clearance day and spent $1.50 for a heavy base brass floor lamp. The arms are segmented with swivel hinges so it goes where you want and gets out of the way when not in use. I used plastic covered 12 gauge wire and wrapped my Foredom to the arm and if I need additional light it can also be used. The arms are heavy enough and long enough to add additional machines if I necessary, plus the lamp adjusts in height.”
Thank you for your great idea, Sharon! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your floor lamp idea.
Back to Table of Contents
Recommendations on setting up a vent system
“I have my workshop set up in my basement and have most things, but I don’t have a vent system. What you recommend I do to set one up?”
There are several types of ventilation that jewelers need: one is for dust and particles and the other is for fumes from soldering, pickle, and other chemicals and causes of harmful fumes.
With particulate collection, you can use something like the Dura Bull Ductless system at Rio Grande. You have to buy the filters. You can also set up a particulate/dust catchment system similar to what woodworkers use. Others hook up a shop vac. Always be aware of what kind of particles you have and how you are venting them. You don’t want a system that sucks up particulates, like copper particles, that dumps them on the ground. Copper can be hazardous to marine life.
For fume collection, you want to place the fan behind the soldering/work area. I like my fan low because the fumes don’t go across my face – they are sucked out, away from my face. The system at Chimera is behind and on the soldering area’s table. So, avoid systems that are over your soldering area as they will be drawn up and into your breathing zone.
Benchtop Fume Extractor that moves the air away from you when soldering. I have not tried this system. There is also a Hakko system.
For more information:
- Ganoksin, Charles Lewton-Brain, Jewelry Workshop Ventilation, Blog.
- Forrest Trenaman, YouTube, How to Make a Powerful Fume Extractor for less than $30
- Matthias Wandel, YouTube, A Different Approach to Dust Collection.
Here’s a video and a web page link, of mine, on the ventilation that I have for fumes. This kind of setup might work for you as you can snake the hose out of a basement window or into a dryer vent – you can get a “T” fitting (if you have one of either in the basement).
In the jewelry studio, that my friend Sugar and I set up at Chimera Arts, the fan is outside the shop. Here’s an image of the setup. We pieced together various ducting and used a found metal “hood” that looks like it was a gutter at one time. I found it at our local metal recyclers. Ariel, our fabulous handyman, took out the windowpane, replaced it with plexiglass, and cut a hole for the ducting to fit into. Works well!
How do I inexpensively start-up my jewelry practice?
“How do I inexpensively start-up my jewelry practice?”
With the tool thing: I always recommend buying tools as the need comes up. Also, buy the best tools that you can afford as you will probably have them for your whole life. If you are trying to create a design and you can’t figure out how to do it, with what you’ve got, perhaps then is the time to shop. That said, one of the skills of a jeweler (or artist) is to be a creative problem solver. When designing, that is my main focus. I ask myself: How to get this to work, how to fix that, how to compensate for this, etc. The same applies to tools.
How do you create what you want when you don’t have the right tool? What can you use instead? Is there another craft, skill, practice that has a similar tool? Jewelry tools are often a lot more expensive than other tools. I use many tools from the woodworking industry, plumbers, aircraft makers, etc.
Some ideas for cheap tools:
- Use a stainless steel coffee mug as a bracelet mandrel or a soup can – with the soup in it.
- Make tools from nails and a dowel. Some tools made this way are small burnishers, scribes, punches, etc.
- Adapt old pliers
- Use dowels as mandrels for making jump rings
- Use dowels as punches
- Make a sandbag from clean sand and an old pair of blue jeans
- Use pieces of scrap wood for forming metal: draw plates, swage blocks, drilling/hammering block
- Alter old hammers as patterning tools.
- Turn clothespins into pearl clamps
- Plumb bobs, nail sets, and other conical, everyday tools are great for tube riveting
- PVC has many uses – bracelet mandrels, ring mandrels
- Make tiny hammers from chopsticks and nails
- Turn steel stock into chasing tools, hammers, stakes
- Old irons (without steam vents) make good anvils when held in a vise. Actually, any flat piece of steel will do.
- etc. and etc.
There are so many ways to create tools. I’m going to write a book! Charles Lewton Brain has written one called: Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop. Lots of ideas there – many involve some specialized skills though and also a bit of time. I hope this helps to get you fired up. I am always making new tools – usually with what I can scavenge, beg or borrow. It’s all part of the game. Have fun. Back to Table of Contents
Setting up a Jewelry Studio and Jewelry Business
“I am a single mom looking to start an at-home business. What tools would you recommend to start? Are there any particular recommendations you have for starting a business?”
Business Advice (with Tool Suggestions Further On)
- Ask yourself: What type of business do I want? Am I selling retail or wholesale? Who is my customer? What price point would I need to charge to a. make a living or b. get by or c. make enough to buy more material or d. get rich (good luck with that one). How much will it cost you (including overhead, time and materials, travel, tools, disposables) After determining your price range, decide on where your market is and who your competitors are. Look at people’s shops, stores, galleries. Check out prices. Check out sales techniques. Learn about marketing. Learn about sales.
- Being a business owner, especially in the beginning, is tiring but exhilarating. It takes time and persistence. It also takes a pretty clear vision of what you want, what you represent, and what your product is. It’s not just jewelry it’s…… (fill in the blank) jewelry. Tell people why they NEED your jewelry.
- As far as starting the business: are you already a jeweler? If not, you need to learn how to make jewelry before you start selling it. If you are, then you can start by putting together pieces and visiting galleries – call first. You can also apply to craft shows. You’ll need a booth or someway to attractively and invitingly display your work. Many artists travel, several times a year to shows outside their area. How will you do this or will you concentrate only on shows near you? See Q&A: Business.
- Business cards are imperative. A website and/or blog are also a very good idea. Try a Craftsy store but, be prepared to work hard at promoting your work. There are other online places to sell your work – research these. Get your work out there and keep producing new, interesting, thought-provoking, beautiful art. Post to Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
- Get your name out there. Be creative about it. There are a zillion jewelers in the world. Why should people buy your work? Find an angle. Advertise.
- Design an inventory system to keep track of each piece, what gallery has it, when it went in, sold or got returned. Almost all galleries and shops, these days, will only do consignment. Which means, no money until it sells.
- Learn to photograph your work. Create professional-looking photos. These images will be your work’s spokesperson so, they should be amazing! You can also hire a photographer.
- Set up an accounting system. Apply for a resale license, if you are selling directly. Get a business license if your area requires one. Learn about taxation in your area and selling inter-state and country – if that is your plan. Research shipping rates.
- Set up a daily plan. Plan to work at least one hour a day (preferably a lot more) where you focus all your energy on creating your business. Ideally, most of your free time will go into creating your business. Study, research, organize, read or listen (my personal favorite while working or in the car) to business/marketing/sales books, watch videos.
- Break your plan up into little bites: what can I accomplish today. A chart that lists your final goals at one end (sort of like a family tree) and shows all the steps (branches) you need to take to achieve those goals. As you learn, add or subtract items from the chart. Be prepared to fail often. Get up and start again. Keep focused on your goal and let nothing stop you from realizing it. You deserve it – if you work at it. As an example, I work 10 hours a day, usually 7 days a week just to keep things moving along. That time doesn’t include all the things that I’d like to do!
- Get up earlier than the kids or stay up after they are in bed and work – or both! Finding time will be one of your biggest challenges. Get a cleaning person.
- Consider having your work cast or learn how to do it yourself. Casting allows you to produce many pieces, in less time, for more money. If you have a great design, that people like, you might consider this. Research casting, talk to places that do casting, take classes, read, etc. There are a lot of resources out there.
If I were setting up a new studio (which I have – several times) I’d buy the best quality tools that I could afford. The cheap ones are that: cheap! That said, the Harbor Freight flex shaft works fine. I’ve had several for over 7 years now. But, I upgraded the foot pedal. Here’s a link to Flex shafts, Dremels and Drilling Tools. Crockpots from the junk store are great pickle pots. Making your own pearl vises from clothespins or hammers from nails and dowels is not only frugal but rewarding. So, consider making your own, alternative sourcing and read up on everything before purchasing. Probably, most of all: understand what a tool is for and how you will use it. It is very common to purchase tools that you think you need and you don’t! If you aren’t saying: wow, sure wish I had a ___________ now, you probably don’t need it.
- Acetylene gas (lots of info on torches and gas- not just acetylene)
- Safety in the Small Studio
- Finishing Jewelry
- Cutting Metal Discs
- Soldering (many other pages linked with this one).
- Punches and Daps
- Tools for Squaring Metal
- Jewelry Tools: Harbor Freight
- Mandrel Holders
- Stones and Stone Setting
- Questions and Answers
Basic Tools For The Studio
- Escapement files: half-round, flat, square, triangular (aka 3 square) and round – ideally a rough cut #0 and a medium-cut #2. You can buy it in sets. These files are smaller than needle files.
- Needle files: same as escapement
- Habilis Files: one of my favorites. It is sized between a needle file and full-sized files.
- Full-Sized files: medium and fine – flat. one double cut, one single cut
- Ring file – you’ll probably want a rough (#0 – #2) and a medium (#3-#4) or a fine (#5-#8) (Swiss grading system). Ring files are used for filing the insides of rings (as well as other uses). They are 1/2 round and larger than Needle, Escapement or Habilis files.
- Joint files (if doing hinges or stone setting)
- Barrette needle or Barrette escapement file in #2 and #5 cuts or other mixture of fine and rough (5 being finer than 2). Barrettes only have one cutting edge. They are good for filing in tight spots where you don’t want to remove metal from surrounding areas.
- Chenier or Joint files – used for stone setting, hinge creation, and other uses. They only have teeth on their rounded edges so they are great for cutting channels and grooves.
- Flat pliers – 2 pairs are best. Used for moving metal, opening and closing jump rings, holding material while sanding – a zillion uses.
- Round nose pliers – making rounded shapes in metal, making a small number of jump rings, curling wire and metal, many, many uses.
- Chain nose pliers – used in prong setting also many other uses.
- 1/2 round pliers – used to creating interior bends and flattening exterior surfaces. A variety of shapes and sizes.
- Digital calipers – imperative for accurate measurement
- Ruler with millimeters – start working in millimeters – if you aren’t already. It’s a system of 10. 10 millimeters make a centimeter. That’s basically all you’ll need to know. Smaller increments, easier to add, subtract, multiply, and divide than fractions. Most suppliers and jewelers use the metric system for its simplicity.
- Center finder – useful for centering discs for making domed beads and other uses.
- Dividers – imperative for accurate measurement. Measurement is transferred from a ruler to the dividers. Dividers can then be used to scribe straight, parallel lines, check distances, makes circles, and many more uses.
- Ring – many shapes. Used to form rings shapes and other forging/forming.
- Bracelet – larger than a ring mandrel. Usually comes in round or oval. A baseball bat can be cut up and used as a mandrel as can an ax handle.
- Bezel – these are small mandrels used to make differently shaped bezels. They are also useful for forming small shapes. They come in a pretty wide variety of shapes.
- Mandrel Holders – you’ll need one of these to hold the mandrels. An alternative holding system involves drilling holes in a board to the size of the mandrels far end. The board is then secured to your bench. See this article at Art Jewelry Magazine.
- Silicone points and discs – for removing scratches, refining, polishing, etc.
- Sanding discs – same as silicone points – much speedier than hand sanding.
- Drill bits – we are always drilling holes in metal for one reason or another.
- Quick-release handpiece (I love having one but, not imperative) – makes getting your bits in and out of your handpiece much quicker. You need bits that fit the size of your handpiece. Mine uses bits with 3/32″ shanks. I hate using the chuck key with the standard handpiece. But, others like it.
- Cotton and felt buffs – load with a little rouge or a more aggressive compound and polish/finish away. Don’t mix compounds on the same buff.
- Rouge – a polishing compound that polishes metal – after it has been well sanded.
- Harbor Freight – 4 – 6″. 5″ vise: Item# 61551.
- Liquid Bur Life
- Leather mallet
- Steel ball pein
- Chasing hammer
- Grits: 320, 400, 500 or 600, 800, 1000
- Polishing papers (optional but, awesome)
- Flashback arrestors
- Method to attach tanks to the wall
- Cross lock tweezers
- Charcoal Block
- quench bowl
- neutralizing bowl
- sm. paintbrush for flux application
- soldering pick
- Pickle pot (crockpot)
- A turntable or lazy susan
- cement board or other fireproof surfaces
- Solder in: Hard, Medium, Easy, Extra Easy
- Dust Mask
- Protective goggles
- Dust collection
- Fume ventilation
- First Aid Kit
- Fire Extinguisher
- A bench that is at least 34″ high – you want a desk that is higher than normal. Most work is done at about chest height. There is a book called: “The Jeweler’s Bench Book” which has great examples of bench setups and bench pin adaptations.
- Adjustable, comfortable chair – some work is done in a higher on the desk (like drilling), and some, like sawing or chasing and repousse, require a low position relative to the desk. So, having an adjustable chair is the answer.
- Bench pin – This is where a lot of your work will take place: sawing, drilling, filing, shaping, sanding, etc. Don’t be afraid to customize your pin with grooves for wire and tubing, slots to pierce delicate pieces, etc.
- Good lighting – daylight colored bulbs (in the blue range)
- GRS Benchmate system for holding rings, objects, stone setting
- Scribe – to mark your metal
- Center Punch – to make divots for drill bits to rest in. If you don’t have a dent, the drill bit can (and usually does) skitter across the metal – marring it.
- GRS BenchMate Inside-Ring Holder – This is an overall clamping system. I find it invaluable for all types of work. There are many attachments that one can purchase like soldering setups, bench pins, etc.
- Bezel Pusher – used for bezel setting, prong setting
- Jett Sett – a thermoplastic used for a variety of things: tool making, jaw protecting, holding work, etc.
- Setting Burs – High-Speed Steel – HSS is recommended because of its long life. Always use your burs with a lubricant. I recommend using a liquid lubricant like Liquid Bur Life or 3-In-One Oil. Used for cutting seats for faceted stones
- Round Burs – High-Speed Steel – used for cutting seats for faceted stones, azures, cleaning burs, etc.
- French shop shears – will cut up to 20g metal (even though they recommend 26g or less but, personal experience has shown they will cut 24, 22 and 20 0 it’s up to you.) You can use them to cut smaller pieces of metal and wire but, they will leave an uneven, rough edge that will need to be flattened and smoothed. I also use mine to cut solder.
- Wire Cutter – flush cutters These are more like clippers. Generally used to cut wire.
- Bergeon Tubing Cutters – a clamp to hold tubing and wire while cutting. The cheaper cutters leave too much wiggle room for the blade to move in, resulting in uneven tubing and wire cuts.
- Grid paper
- Tracing paper
- Good eraser
- Circle, Oval and Square Templates
Where to Source Cheap or Free Tools for the Shop
How to Afford Jewelry Tools
My question is how do you afford all the tools? I am just getting started and I want good tools but, holy smokes, they are expensive. Any advice and suppliers you’d recommend would be appreciated.
First off, I’ve been accumulating mine for over 20 years. I’ve slowly built up my tool hoard. So, I say: add tools slowly and as needed. Determine if you will use the tool often and if it will advance your skills and range. Know all about the tool before you buy it – maybe take a class that utilizes the tool. That way, you will know what you do and don’t want/need.
Ways to source tools
Sometimes, when you need an expensive specialty tool, you can use another’s. Find a local, friendly jeweler and trade something for the use of the tool. Check-in with jewelry classes, makerspaces, metal shops. You don’t have to own them all! Check Craig’s list, eBay, the newspaper. I’ve received tools as donations, by trade, at jewelers going-out-of-business sales, by making my own, etc. I also save up for a few good tools as I did with my miter cutting vise. The cheap ones are often not as good. So, I put a little aside each week until I could afford it.
Remember to buy what you NEED. I always knew when I needed a new tool – I would think: “Boy, wish I had a tool that…”. Then, I’d go looking for it. I used to peruse the Rio Grande catalog and make fantasy shopping lists. They often totaled in the thousands but, I’d actually spend 100.00. Sometimes we make do with the not-so-great-but-good-enough tools.
The well-rounded jeweler thinks out of the box, is a problem solver, AND can make and design tools or find a way to work around their limitations. We are creative after all! We sometimes forget this and just buy it. One of my favorite examples of working around, not having a tool I wanted, was my pitch pot. I couldn’t afford the 35.00 (or something like that) Rio wanted so, I bought some pitch, melted it into a conical tin lid, and set it in a toy truck tire. I used it for many, many years – until I started teaching the technique.
Another idea is to send your silver and gold scrap in and get credit at Rio Grande or other Jewelry Suppliers, that also takes refining. You can save up your metal, refine it and then splurge on that pricey, beautiful tool!
If you ever think you can’t make beautiful jewelry without good tools, check out the tools that the people in this book use and what beautiful work they produce! Legacy: Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Humbling and so very impressive. Back to Table of Contents
Any Thoughts On A Basic Shopping List For Setting Up A Jewelry Studio?
“I am a newbie jeweler (well, newbie smith, I have been making jewelry forever). I have saved money to buy supplies, and I have put together a long shopping list with both Rio Grande and Foredom (with the help of your videos of course).
I am stumped on actual materials though. I have a healthy budget, but I don’t want to purchase a lot of material that I won’t use. I’m thinking of starting with silver and starting with rings. Any thoughts on a basic shopping list? (wire, what gauge, sheet goods…what for? etc…
I’ve also got a collection of jewelry that I have been hoarding for years until a time when I can make them out of gold….any thoughts or tips on working with gold-filled material?”
Those are big questions that require a lot of space to cover. But, I will give you the abbreviated version of my answer. As far as metals go, practicing is usually done with brass and or copper because it is less expensive than silver. Copper is also easier to work with yet, a bit more difficult to solder. I generally buy all of my metals in 22 and 24 gauges with a piece or two in 20 gauge. It all depends on what you are making. (Fine) Silver ring shanks are best with 20 gauge as fine silver is very malleable and 22 or 24 g can get bent out of shape. Sterling is stronger and more capable of handling stress. Argentium Silver is my new favorite silver – it has the strength of sterling, doesn’t tarnish, and fuses like butter. Love it. Here is my page on metals – arranged alphabetically by metal type – (which is in progress and therefore, not complete)! Copper, should be thicker as it is also very malleable. So, go up a gauge with it. Brass is very strong and you can get away with 22 or even 24 gauge. Golds (not gold-filled) can be thinner yet as gold (except for 24 gauge) is pretty tough stuff. White gold is very strong.
So, if you are making earrings, you want the metal light: 22/24/26 gauge. Bracelets 18/20/22, Rings (for bands) 22/20/18, etc. Rings and bracelets receive the most stress, then necklaces, brooches, and finally, earrings. Ear wires are generally 20, 21, or 22 gauge. I use 21 g. Jump rings – unsoldered for bracelets (I believe) should be either 16 gauge (doubled – meaning, use two) or 14 gauge (single). Anything smaller in gauge should be soldered shut. Bracelets receive a lot of abuse: people get them stuck on things, they fall off, they rub on tables, etc. So, to protect your work, use large gauge wire or solder them closed. Necklaces: single 16g is fine. Some use 18g but, I don’t like getting my work returned to close a jump ring so, I use 16g. What gauge of metal to buy and how much, depends on how many layers of metal in your design, how much negative space there is, the stresses placed on it, etc. Basically – the requirements of the design will dictate how much metal to buy. You can make patterns for your design and measure how much space you will need to create it. Use grid paper and draw out a 6″ by 6″ square and place your pattern in the square. Measure to determine how much to order. Of course, take into account mistakes and making more jewelry down the road so, buy what you can afford, start out slow and add on as needed. I keep three containers for each type of silver: One box is for large pieces of uncut and or relatively large, uniformly shaped pieces. Another box is usable scrap and the final is refinable scrap. Keep the different types of silver separate (fine, sterling, Argentium) (if possible) it makes it easier to sort for refining down the road. I also save my copper and brass scrap. I haven’t found a refiner yet but, then again, I haven’t looked very hard.
Copper sheet, from some jewelry suppliers, comes 2 to a pack for 22 and 24 gauges. One to a pack for 20g (don’t forget about bronze – it’s a great material too and cheaper than silver). So buy a pack and when you get low, buy more. You don’t need a huge stockpile unless you live in the middle of the jungle or on the edge of the polar cap. With silver, you either buy by the inch or the ounce. I usually purchase 2X6 or 3X6 sheets – depending on how rich I feel and the current silver prices. A 6X3 of 24 gauge runs about 45-46 (now!) and the 22 of the same size is about 57-58. I was paying way more last year when prices were really high. Fine silver is more expensive than sterling because it is all silver wherein the sterling is partially copper – less silver and cheaper. Argentium is the priciest with a 22 gauge, 6×3″ sheet at about 65.00 to 66.00. I always buy my metal: dead soft as that saves me having to anneal it. It’ s really easy to work harden the metal – just work with it!
On gold-filled material: often, you’ll see the copper or silver filling on the edges – the thinner the gauge, the less visible it is. So, create a design where the edges don’t show too much. Buy the best you can afford. 14/20 is good. When soldering gold-filled be careful to not overheat it as the gold can melt into the metal beneath. Double clad means that there is gold on both sides – the best for making rings.
Links that may be of assistance:
Here’s a link to my website page that has information on the different types of gold/plated/filled, etc.
Metal Studio Workshop on working with gold-filled
How to Protect your Gold Filled Materials
Handling your gold-filled properly is essential to maintaining its good looks and its bright finish. Made with a substantial layer of gold bonded to a base metal core, gold-filled requires some special care to keep the gold layer intact and unmarred for your designs.
1 If handled properly, gold-filled should require only buffing. If you cut it, be careful not to damage the gold layer, particularly on corners and edges.
2 Gold-filled stock should be stored in a dry place. Tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture.
3 Use tissue paper between stock to protect it against scratches.
4 Use a clean flannel cloth while working on gold-filled material.
5 Maintaining the condition of your tools is important. Keep cutters sharp; bending tools should be smooth.
6 Use a firescale retardant such as Stop-Ox II™ when soldering.
7 Clean the metal thoroughly.
On wire: purchase what you need: if you are making earrings, get a few feet. If you are wire wrapping, it’s the same deal. You can always order more. Rio has great two-day shipping prices (not as cheap as ground but, I’m always in a hurry). If you are always wire wrapping and know you will use it, buy an ounce or more. Making jump rings – 1/2 an ounce should do for a ton of jump rings. Tubing – hold off on until you have a design that requires it. Are you making a tube setting or a hinge – then order to size. Tubing can get pricey. I have a coffee can full of tubing that I wonder if I’ll ever use. A waste of money and space but, I wanted it all now when I first started. Back to Table of Contents
What should I watch and read to get started making jewelry?
“I love jewelry, I finally finished putting my indoor studio together, it’s basic but I think it’s good enough for a start.
Fabulous! You have enough tools to “Make” lots of jewelry! You also have plenty of metal. It looks like you’ve got a nice space to play in too! Lucky woman!
A flex shaft would be an excellent investment. I use mine all the time. I also have a video and a web page on the flex shaft. I bought 6 of them for the makerspace – that I set a jewelry studio up in – for $35.00 apiece at Harbor Freight. Also, some french shop shears will be great for cutting sheet solder, cutting up to 22 g metal and snipping wire. It would be nice to have wet-dry sandpaper, (329, 400, 600, 800, 1000 grits) – you can usually get variety packs at the hardware store or Harbor Freight. If you get a flex shaft, you might think about trying sanding discs – see my web page on sanding. I’d also get some needle files – the best that you can afford. Here’s a reasonably good set at a reasonable price.
A little on pattern making might help with creating your designs. Sketch every day that you can.
- A Tour of the Studio – April 2012
- A Tour of the New Studio – October 2014
- Rio Grande – Basic Soldering Set-up for Jewelry
- Metalsmiths: Live from Lockdown II – Join 4 jewelers as they talk about tools for beginners and beyond (plus a bunch of other stuff!).
Related Web Pages
- Acetylene Gas – information on tanks, hoses, flashback arrestors, safety, regulators – you name it, it’s there!
- Flex Shafts, Dremels and Drilling Tools
- Making Chasing & Repousse Tools
- Metals – Basic shopping list (wire, sheet goods, etc.) for a startup jeweler
- On Pickle, Acid, Crock Pots and Baking Soda
- Questions & Answers: Hydraulic Press. Make your own or buy.
- Q & A: Riveting Tools
- Recipes – Recipes for flux, pickle, to remove broken drill bits, to remove copper flashing.
- Safety in the Jewelry Studio
- Soldering – discusses setting up a soldering area and torches
- Tools – a list of different tools, Harbor Freight starter tools, Micro-Mark tools, DIY tools, etc.