Must-Have Metalsmithing Tools for Jewelers

What if I did more than think about making metal jewelry?
I’ve been guilty of what-iffing everything to death lately. . . . What if I would have pursued that med-school degree? What if I had stayed on the coast? What if we got rid of our mortgage and cars and all the trappings that come with the suburban life and moved to Tuscany? Ah, the what-ifs: So cliché, so typically middle age . . . 

But one what-if I haven’t been able to get out of my head is this: What if I got off my rumpus and did more traditional metalsmithing? I started my jewelry-making trajectory that way, so why not get back to that, or at least brush up on some of those old skills to inform my beadwork?

Then a miracle happened: Leslie Rogalski sent me a huge brick of a book called The Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques. In this fantastic textbook––over 300 pages––author Anastasia Young describes and illustrates dozens and dozens of jewelry-making techniques, from setting bezels to enameling, from riveting to soldering, from fusing to electroforming—all in one big hardcover book. It's a lifelong, jewelry-making reference source, dotted with inspirational eye candy, with wonderful sections on design and business to get that what-if jeweler inside you off the couch and into the studio.

Basic Tools
Like most good jewelry-making books, Young includes a comprehensive Tools and Materials section. She’s got everything in there, from bench pegs to emery sticks. But if you’re a beader, chances are you won’t need those right off when you start dabbling in other, more beefy jewelry-making techniques. So let me suggest five tools from my metalsmithing days—beyond the selection of pliers that I know most of you have—that I find myself using with my current work, even though it’s primarily bead-related. I’d consider these must-haves as you plump up your stash for your next step into jewelry making:

  Chasing hammer
This type of hammer (on left), with one flat face and one round face, works well for riveting and texturing metal.
  Nylon mallet
I use a nylon mallet (on right) for work-hardening bent wire as well as for tapping metal into shape without marring it.

Steel block
Use a steel block (I use the face of an antique iron) as a base for hammering and riveting.

Needle files
These fine-toothed files not only come in handy for smoothing the edges of cut sheet metal but also for nicking the burrs off the ends of cut wire.

Rotary drill
It’s great to have a full-on drill press in a jewelry-making studio but not always practical. A small variable-speed rotary drill such as this one is a great substitute.

What other tools have you brought to your bead table that might qualify as metalsmithing tools? Share with us on the website. In the meantime, I think I’m going to dash away that what-iffing and fire up the torch!

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