- 1 What is a Mandrel?
- 2 Practical reasons to anneal
- 3 Moving the Metal Around
- 4 Types of Mandrels
- 5 Alternative Mandrels
- 6 Mandrel Sizers
- 7 Articles and further information on Mandrels, Ring, Bracelet and Necklace Sizing
- 8 Related Web Pages
- 9 Boy, am I bored with mandrels and their holders now! If I missed any let me know.
What is a Mandrel?
Please see my page on Mandrel Holders for ways to hold these little (and not so little) darlings.
***Note: always buy the best tools (for your needs) that you can afford BUT don’t hold off learning a technique until you can afford the “perfect tool”. Usually, “good enough” will get the work done.
In the jewelry world, a mandrel is basically a rod that metal, wax or clay is formed around. There are a variety of shapes available for the jeweler and a few different sizes – which will be discussed below.
I like mandrels with handles – they do come without. I like the handles because I can crank down my pipe vise on the handle and not scar up the mandrel. See my page on Mandrel Holders for links and more information.
Mandrels can be made of plastic, wood, aluminum and steel. The material that the mandrel is made of, somewhat dictates what can be accomplished with it. For instance, a wooden mandrel is soft and the blows of a hammer, onto metal, will dent it. But, it doesn’t rust and can be drilled in so, it’s great for metal clay work, polishing or for drilling into rounded shapes. (Handheld Ring Mandrel at Rio Grande) Wooden mandrels are great for wax work too. Carving waxes doesn’t involve water or high pressure so, a lighter mandrel works fine.
Plastic is similar to the wooden mandrel but it’s a bit more fragile and you don’t want to drill on it. I don’t own one.
Aluminum mandrels are generally used for wax carving and, if covered with wax paper, parchment or other product, can be used with metal clay. Aluminum and metal clay don’t get on well together! Aluminum can touch metal clay briefly but should not be left in contact with it for long. Please read more on contamination with aluminum and metal clay in this article by Mary Ellin D’Agostino at Medacreations.
You can use aluminum mandrels with metal but, as aluminum is a softer metal than steel, they will eventually need to be replaced due to denting. Hammering metal over a dented mandrel will result in the inside (the part touching the mandrel) of your ring or bracelet developing the same dents that are on the mandrel. This is especially true when hammering on steel. If your steel block or anvil is marred, the marks on the steel will be transferred to your metal.
Texton 6737 Extra-Long Taper Punch Sets, will do in a pinch or if you are just starting out, as ring and bezel mandrels. You get a set of 4 different sizes and they are inexpensive. Amazon sells them.
Urethane, plastic, leather, brass or wood mallets are often used when forging sheet metal or wire around the mandrel. This is because these softer hammers move the metal but don’t distort or mar the surface of the metal you are hammering.
Metal hammers are also used on mandrels and are great for stretching rings, for planishing metal (video of Sage Reynolds finishing a cup) and for texturing, among other things.
For basic shaping, I recommend a mallet that is made of either leather/rawhide, urethane or wood. I usually use a leather/rawhide mallet. The size of the mallet you use is determined by your strength, how thick the metal you are forming is and personal preference. Bigger mallets, held correctly (with the hand almost to the end of the handle) require more lifting strength but, less hammering strength as the mallet does most of the work. A small mallet will require more muscle to move the same amount of metal that a large one does – and usually – it will take longer with the small mallet.
Before hammering metal around a mandrel, it’s best to anneal it.
Wait! What is annealing?
***Please see my video How to Anneal Silver Sheet for more information on annealing.
Annealing (as far as jewelers are concerned) is a process wherein heat (see my Annealing Temperature Chart) rearranges the molecular structure of the metal. Annealing forces a realignment of the molecules – into evenly spaced, symmetrical positions. Simply, think of it as making the metal soft and pliable. Work hardened metal – which is basically the opposite of annealed metal – has areas of tightly compressed, disorderly, displaced molecules.
Practical reasons to anneal
1. You don’t have to work too hard as the metal will be much more pliable when annealed.
2. Your hammering will create sharper shapes and angles. Hammering work-hardened metal, besides potentially causing stress fractures, won’t allow the metal to follow the shape of the mandrel – you’ll notice curves where there should be corners. So, anneal your metal often and save both of you (you and your metal) from developing stress fractures!
Moving the Metal Around
When using a graduated mandrel (an elongated conical shape) it is important to flip, the material being hammered, so that one side doesn’t become larger than the other. This is much more evident in a wide ring. Remember the metal takes on the shape of the mandrel so, if you have a conical shape, the metal will have a conical shape. Flipping a ring
Conversely, if you are making a basket or a crown (tapered bezel where the prongs are made by filing into the sides of the bezel) setting, you’ll want the conical shape. The shape of the mandrel mimics the shape of a faceted stone.
Types of Mandrels
- Bezel mandrels are used to form bezels and other small shapes. These mandrels come in a variety of shapes and are lighter, thinner and smaller than ring or, especially, bracelet mandrels.
You can make teardrop bezels and settings that are square, emerald, oval, round, etc. These small mandrels are also great for making interestingly shaped jump rings and while wrapped with a strip of sandpaper, can be used to sand the interiors of small shapes.
Ring mandrels are used, usually, to shape rings on. They come in a variety of shapes – though not as many as the Bezel Mandrels do. In case you haven’t looked recently, let me remind you that your fingers aren’t actually round. Sometimes, it makes sense to create rings that are shaped more like our digits. The Finger-Shaped Ring Mandrel is aptly named. It’s narrower at the bottom and wider at the top. The idea is that the ring won’t roll as much – it does work.
There’s also the Rounded Square Ring Mandrel that mimics a finger’s shape. The non-round mandrels are a bit trickier to shape rings on as, the center of the ring needs to be spot on, otherwise, the ring will be off center. It takes a bit of practice and even then…
You can use a forming mandrel to create ring shanks on as well as using them for forming metal shapes.
Other shapes of ring mandrels and forming mandrels:
- Cut-Corner – Rectangle
- Cut-Corner – Square
This set sold at Amazon has an interesting bench vise that holds a ring mandrel, bracelet mandrel and a bench pin. It includes the ring, bracelet mandrels and the bench pin.
You can also use mandrel pliers like these triangular mandrel pliers by Wubbers. I love Wubbers. They are really well made pliers – just an FYI!
Most ring mandrels that have sizes marked on them that are often not very accurate. It is best to have a calibrated ring sizer set that matches your mandrel. Rio Grande carries a line of ring mandrels called “True-Size” mandrels, designed by Kate Wolf of Wolf Tools.
True-Size Ring Mandrel at Rio Grande
This is the calibrated ring sizer that goes with it. True-Size Ring Gauge Set at Rio Grande.
If this set is too pricey (it’s $150.00 without the mandrel – $189.00 with – prices at 8/2014), there’s always the metal or plastic ring gauges. As long as you match the gauge to your customers hand, it will be the right size. There are also wide band ring sizers which are very handy when making wide bands. Wide bands are more difficult to size as the extra width may take up several half sizes on the mandrel.
Wide-Shank Finger Gauge at Rio Grande
When sizing, with my old, funky mandrel, I slide my ring sizer on the mandrel to check where it lands. I usually mark that area with a Sharpie marker. This is especially important when sizing a customer’s ring. Not much fun resizing over and over again – makes you look a bit foolish.
There are unmarked ring mandrels which are great for forming/forging without worrying about picking up the sizing lines. (Of course, you could hammer on the unmarked side of the mandrel too!) I slide the ring sizer on the plain mandrels and mark, just like with the sized mandrel.
Large Size Mandrel at Rio Grande
There are large size mandrels too. The one above, from Rio Grande, covers sizes 16 – 24. Great for men’s rings.
Grooved Mandrels are for rings that are stone set. Frankly, I rarely ever used mine and finally got rid of it. The groove kept getting in the way. Also, I didn’t – and still don’t – do a lot of resizing or (gawd forbid) repairs. You might need one, if you do.
Kate Wolf’s True-Size Mandrels are marked with 1/4 sizes.
What to do with an old Ring Mandrel
I turned mine into a sinusoidal stake for forging shapes. Lots of hot steel and sweat involved in this process.
See this article by Michael Good on Anticlastic Raising. (So much to learn and explore in this field, eh?)
See: Articles and further information on Mandrels, Ring, Bracelet and Necklace Sizing at the bottom of this page, for information on how to make your own.
Bracelet mandrels are for forming, well, bracelets. But, they are great surfaces to shape larger oval or round pieces of metal. You can make containers, hammer patterns over large areas of metal, maim an intruder. There’s a lot of steel in these mandrels and they are heavy.
There are two basic shapes: Round and Oval. Round is very useful and great for things like bangles but, our wrists/arms are actually more oval shaped. I use my oval mandrel almost all the time for cuffs. But, if you have a round mandrel you can shape your bracelet into an oval shape with some hammering and a little manipulating.
I have used stainless steel travel coffee mugs for bracelet mandrels too. Much cheaper than a bracelet mandrel (the second hand store usually has a nice selection) and they are a lot lighter too. They may not last forever but, for $1.50, who cares? IF you are lucky, you can find them in graduated shapes and parallel shapes. If the coffee mug has a handle, make sure that it won’t be in the way of your hammering. If it isn’t in the way, the handle can be clamped in a vise for stability.
There are bracelet mandrels made from steel and cast iron. Steel is stronger and is more resistant to dings from hammer blows. The steel is about $10.00 more than the cast iron. Buy the best that you can afford.
This “tangless” (no handle thingy) mandrel is “plated steel” I don’t know what it is plated with or if it is solid steel. This, Steel Round Bracelet Mandrel is from Rio Grande (surprised?). I own one and it works great. It’s very smooth and doesn’t leave marks on the inside of my bracelets. The mandrels come in oval and round. You can make a wooden stand to hold it or place it on a wooden surface to use. It is heavy so, less bouncing.
Another option to the stand: I’ve cut holes in heavy cabinet drawers and placed either end into them. Let me clarify more: I cut two holes, one for the large end and another for the small end. You want a tight fit and a decent percentage (1/6?) of the mandrel needs to be in the drawer. Insert the mandrel from inside the drawer and cut the hole the same size as where you want it to stop. Doing this with oval mandrels will involve some chiseling and swearing.
This “Solid Wood Oval Bracelet Mandrel” at Rio Grande is good for bangles and thinner metals. Also wax and metal clay. Protect the wood from delaminating/warping, when using metal clay, by wrapping wax/parchment or other type of water resistant paper/plastic around the mandrel. I wouldn’t want to be whaling away on heavy gauge metal with this as my mandrel – dents will occur.
Here’s a Stepped, Wooden Bracelet Mandrel at JewelryTools.com
Shank Size Bracelet and Ring Sizing Template at Esslinger.com. Use this plastic template to measure the right amount of metal for rings, bracelets and more.
See link under Articles and further information on Mandrels, Ring, Bracelet and Necklace Sizing below, for determining bracelet sizes.
I have never owned or used a necklace mandrel which may or may not mean anything! I could never figure out WHY I needed one. But, maybe, if I tried one, I’d like it. I don’t do a lot of hammered necklaces and I find my own body a pretty good test as to whether or not the necklace lies properly. Although, it would be a good tool for wax carving necklaces.
Cast-Iron Economy Necklace Mandrel at Rio Grande. This economy mandrel is iron with plating. One reviewer stated that the casting was rough.
Cast Iron Necklace Mandrel Italian at Rio Grande. Only one review but a good one.
Necklace Mandrel Italian at Otto Frei. This mandrel is made of highly polished cast iron. It looks like the same one that Rio carries. Rio’s is $149.00 and Otto’s is $195.00.
Hoop Earring Mandrels
I have one of these, actually mine’s a blacksmith’s cone mandrel (similar to this one) but, same concept. I use it a lot because it has such a wide range of sizes and it’s smooth. Great for forging curved shapes, rings, bracelets, necklaces, etc. Mine is 14 1/4″(36.2 cm) long with a size range from 5/16″ (7.94 mm) to 2 7/16″ (6.19 cm).
- The top Steel Hoop Mandrel has a removable tang. The page says that it is 12″ long but, don’t know whether that’s with or without the tang. Range of sizes is from 3/8″ to 2″ (9.5mm to 51mm). $30.00 as of 8/2014.
- The bottom image is the Steel Hoop Mandrel – without a removable tang. 12″ long and the size range is: 3/8″ to 2″ (9.5mm to 51mm) – the same as the other. $28.00 as of 8/2014.
Otto Frei carries a similar or the same Steel Hoop Mandrel. It too is 12″ long with size ranges from 3/8″ to 2″ (9.5mm to 51mm). $29.00 as of 8/2014. I like this photo because it shows the size. I am a very visual person, afterall!
Wax and Metal Clay Mandrels
Matt Ring Tube Sizer at Otto Frei. This mandrel shaves the inside of a wax ring or tube to resize it.
This MultiMandrel below is for metal clay and/or wax carving. Have not tried it.
MultiMandrel – Wood at Contenti
Jump Ring Mandrels
Harbor Freight also carries a set: Transfer Punch Set – $9.99 at 8/2014
Jump Ring Mandrels at Contenti.
- Wooden dowels make good drilling platforms/mandrels too.
- Square, round and oval steel, brass, bronze or aluminum stock also make good mandrels – when cut to size.
Clear Acrylic Tubes at Tap Plastics
Multi-Mandrel from Bead Smith at FDJTools. Limited usability (in MHO). Might be okay for wire work. You can’t use heavy wire and get crisp edges as your fingers aren’t strong enough. You can’t hammer on these. I have one (why I bought it I’ll never know) and have used it once. Might be okay for metal clay work too.
Dazzle-It Multi-Shape Mandrel Necklace by John Bead (Canada).
Bracelet Sizing Mandrel at Beadery DeStash at Etsy. This is a vinyl, you-put-together cone for sizing beaded or other bracelets. I guess I don’t have to state that hammering is not a good idea on this one. $9.95 @ 8/2014.
Amazon carries a similar product called the EZ Sizer for necklaces. $14.45 @ 8/2014.
Articles and further information on Mandrels, Ring, Bracelet and Necklace Sizing
- MJSA – Social Media Roundup: Mandrel Madness by Peggy Jo Donahue. A discussion on the variance in ring mandrel sizes.
- Jewelry Making Tools: Best Ring Mandrel to Buy by MakingJewelry
- How to Determine Bracelet Size by Rio Grande
- Accurate Ring Sizing by Rio Grande
- Adjustable Ring Size Chart by Nancy LT Hamilton
- Ring Blank Chart by Nancy LT Hamilton
- Video: How to Make a Ring Part one, Part two, Part three by Nancy LT Hamilton
- Video: How to Make a Domed Ring, Parts 1, 2 & 3 by Nancy LT Hamilton
- Michael Good – Anticlastic Raising
- Alberic.Net – Making Your Own Steel Sinusoidal Stakes
Related Web Pages
- Adjustable Ring Size Chart
- Adjustable Ring Shank Patterns
- Mandrel Holders
- Q&A: Rings
- Ring Blank Chart
- Saddle Ring Pattern
- Stones and Stone Setting
- Texturing Metal
Boy, am I bored with mandrels and their holders now! If I missed any let me know.