Metalsmithing Made Easy: A Beginners Guide

Get Ready BabySmith – it’s a lifelong trade

Metalsmithing is a profitable and rewarding skill set that is worth the time required to master it and money needed to invest in learning. Metal is included in all of the decked out jewelry you see in luxury department stores, it’s powerful to be able to sit down and create pieces of jewelry worth thousands. There are so many jewelry making techniques and they don’t come easy for everyone but metalsmithing may be right for you if you have time for long term projects, enjoy jewelry that will last a lifetime, can do tedious work with your hands  and aren’t afraid to occasionally use fire in a well ventilated space. With the right materials, mindset, and space – you can be on your way to becoming the next luxury designer showcasing a trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Common Metalsmithing Techniques

Metalsmithing is technically known as the process in which metal is manipulated and formed into finished jewelry. There are ample techniques you can use to form your metal such as annealing, soldering, sinking, casting and forging. Each metalsmithing technique has its own unique look that requires a different set of tools to execute. Jewelry made with sheet metal and a steel dapping block or any other accessible rounded metal forms – this would be considered the Sinking method. Soldering is a technique that uses a metal alloy, solder, to create a strong bond between different pieces of metal such as prong settings, hoop earrings, or multilayer pendants. Annealing allows you to make your metals more malleable and easy to bend without damaging the metal. Casting is a very hot and intricate technique in which wax is shaped into a mold and molten metal pours in creating a finished piece. 

Metalsmithing Techniques
Black smith at work. Free public domain CC0 photo.

Materials Needed For Building A Workbench

Every technique requires a different set of tools but there are a few staples you’ll need for building your workbench in the beginning.

  • Solder 
  • Barrier Flux 
  • Soldering pick
  • Precision Flux Brush
  • Heat Block- solderite or charcoal
  • Two Quench Bowls 
  • Pickling Pot + Pickle 
  • Copper Tongs
  • Variety of files 
  • Third Hand 
  • Bench Vise 
  • Shears 
  • Ventilation Mask 
  • Hand Saw and Saw Blades
  • Beeswax
  • Bench Vise 
  • Hand Vise 
  • Tool Box 
  • Rotary Tool 
  • Rawhide Hammer 
  • Magnifying glass / Optivisor 

Before you start buying tools – understand what kind of jewelry you like and begin getting materials to create things that fit this criteria. Ask yourself all of the hard questions a jewelry sales associate would ask you upon arrival. Do you prefer silver over gold? Which article of jewelry do you wear the most? What colors do you like to see in jewelry and what metals match that? Do you know what size you need to make? How frequently will this piece of jewelry be worn. If you have intentions of selling make sure to do market research.

It’s highly recommended that you search for the materials at your local jewelry supply store, associates often have experience using the tools you seek. If there aren’t any near you don’t fret because there are many online options for getting metalsmithing materials.

The Metalsmithing Holy Trinity – Soldering, Filing, and Sawing

When beginning a metalsmithing journey artists often take interest in the process of soldering. Soldering is mandatory for creating a stronger than life bond that pulls your jewelry design together. Manipulating the torch, selecting your solder, how much solder to use, and preventing firescale are three common problems seen in introductory soldering classes. Each metal has a different melting point and solder has different levels of hardness as well, these two measurements will assist in the soldering process. For a clean bond – use a hand saw for larger or thicker cuts, keep hand files near to ensure flush ends prior to attachment, and strongly consider a rotary tool for sawing, filing and polishing.  

Easy Metalsmithing Projects for Beginners

There are some projects easier than others to introduce you to the world of metalsmithing! Silversmithing is the easiest form of metalsmithing and it’s highly suggested you work with silver first. Try any of the following:

  • Stacked Rings – Pick the metal of your choice and grab a ring mandrel! Make stacked rings in less than an hour using minimal metal. 
  • Fun shaped earring components – Dangle your favorite gemstones from a textured metal shape of your liking. Form your shape, use a hammer or the annealing method to solidify it’s shape and attach your beads. 
  • Forming bangles – similar to making rings while using more metal, a bracelet mandrel is required. 
  • Round Sheet Metal Earrings – Using the sinking method, create shapes on sheet metal and use a dapping block to indent your shape to your liking. Hammering effects can be achieved with a chasing hammer.
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