Getting Started: Metalsmithing

Midsection Of Woman Inserting Wood In Ring

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Anyone who wants to get started making metal jewelry must first make an investment of a few basic tools. When I enrolled in my first metals class, I was given a list by my instructor of tools and equipment I would need to purchase. Though most metal schools have the large equipment needed for metal work, all metal workers should have their own tool box with their own hand tools.

Of course, there is no end to what you can get in the way of tools, but to get started, you’ll need to acquire the basics. The investment you’ll need to make is about $150 - $200 for the following list. However, I still use about 90 percent of the tools I bought for this class. So, if you continue to work in metal, the investment is well worth it.

Tool Box and Jewelry Saw

Tool Box or Tackle Box: Your tool box will grow in size along with your projects, so I recommend go big now. When I first started, a friend of mine bought me a little tackle box which was a very nice gesture. Of course, neither of us realized then how much stuff I’d be hauling around. A tall tackle box seems to work best for jewelry making, especially when you take classes. It’s nice to have the ones that have lots of compartments and the stacking shelves because if you’re using a jewelry bench, they aren’t always that large so you don’t what to take up a bunch of room on your table or bench. A tackle box is fairly inexpensive and can be found at most discount stores have a large selection.

Bench Pin: This is used for filing and sawing. It is attached onto the edge of the jewelry bench or table you use. This allows you to file or saw a piece of metal and have room to move your tool around and still hold onto the metal.

Jewelry Saw: Various sizes of blades can be inserted into this frame. A saw is used for cutting shapes out of plates of copper or silver metal and sawing through wire.

Bees Wax: This is very handy for rubbing on the blade of the saw. You can also use products made for saw blades as well. Vendors who sell jewelry saws and blades will also have lubricants for the blades as well.

Saw Blades: Of course, these are needed to go into the saw. Size #2 is a good size that seems to work with most projects I do. There are many sizes of saw blades from 8/0 to 8. The smaller the blade number, the more teeth per inch on the blade. We had been told to use a brand called Herkules, which I still use and have been very happy with. I've used less expensive brands, but they don't seem to last long for me.

Jewelry saw
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Pliers and Files

Set of Pliers: Chain-nose, wire cutters, and round-nose are needed for many different uses. Most jewelry makers have these already, of course.

Large Hand File: These are normally about 8 inches long and are available through most jewelry supply companies. These are used for filing down rough edges.

Set of Needle Files aka Jeweler's Files: These are used for filing down rough edges also but are best for small areas or if you need a lot of control over what you're filing. They come in various shapes like square, round, half round, and flat, so that is why it is nice to have a set of them.

Jewelry file
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Solder Supplies

Solder: You’ll need soft, medium, and hard solder. This comes in sheet and wire also, but I prefer the sheet. You have to cut it up into little pieces and then stick on the spot you want to solder, so the flat seems to work better than the round solder which sometimes seems to roll. Of course, the round can be flattened with a hammer, but why go through the trouble when you don’t have to? The different kinds of solder melt at different temperatures. This also can be purchased through most jewelry supply companies.

Flux: This is used to help the solder stick onto the metal and prevent oxidation. There are a bunch of different kinds. I’ve used two. Batterns is a self-pickling, liquid flux. It is good to use if you want to add the flux and then put the solder on the metal right away. You have to work quickly though so the flux doesn’t melt. I’ve also used a mixture of boric acid and denatured alcohol which creates a white paste. This works well if you don’t like to rush, but it takes a few extra steps because you have to add the flux, heat, then add the solder and reheat. It also dries up quickly, and then it’s hard to get the lid off when it does that.

Brush: A small, inexpensive paint brush is needed to apply the flux.

Pickle and Pot: You will need to clean metal during the soldering process. The solution used for cleaning is an acidic solution referred to as pickle. You mix it up and put it in a safe container such as a small crock pot. 

You'll also want to learn how to set up a basic soldering station.

Soldering jewelry
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We were required to get a torch tip that screwed onto a propane tank, but that can be a little bulky. I suggest something a little smaller such as a pencil torch tip. One brand I like is Benzomatic. You can purchase a small propane tank that you attach the tip to at most hardware stores. Another good option is a small hand-held butane torch. You will need butane as well to load into the torch.

Butane torch
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More Metal Tools

Vise: This is handy for holding wire while you twist it, or just about anything you need to be held steady.

Third Hand: As the name implies, when you need an extra hand or just a few fingers, this device can hold items in place while you solder them together.

Ring Mandrel: I’ve talked about this in other features. This is helpful for sizing and shaping rings. Make sure you get a metal mandrel and not a plastic one. It needs to be able to handle pounding from a raw hide hammer.

Raw Hide Hammer: This is what is used to shape the ring on the mandrel. It’s also used to flatten sheets of metal. The raw hide makes the hammer soft enough so that it doesn’t mark the metal.

Optivisor: This is used to see your work up close. It is especially handy when filing small pieces like jump rings or charms that have just been cast.

Goldsmith working with rubber mallet on wedding rings
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