6 Metalsmithing Tips for Our Sixth Anniversary: Metal Forging, Soldering, Pickle, Show Displays & More
Woohooo! It’s Jewelry Making Daily’s sixth anniversary. At milestones like this, it’s common to look back over the best or most popular this or that–but we’ve done that before. Instead I wanted to share one of my favorite parts of Jewelry Making Daily: all the time-saving and money-saving tips that we’ve learned along the way. So here are six new metalsmithing tips that I’ve pulled from my personal tip file.
- If you’re soldering a piece that needs support, T pins work well, but you can also carve out a space in your solder brick to sink part of your project into. Then the surface of the brick can support your solder join like a third hand. If you carve a snug enough spot, it can also hold your piece in place for you, since sometimes components can move during soldering when the solder flows.
- You probably already know that you can drop a bit of steel (a steel tool or piece of steel wire, for example*) into very blue/green, well-used pickle with copper items and the copper in the pickle will plate any areas on the copper that aren’t copper, such as visible solder seams. (That’s why you never use steel tools in pickle with silver, or it will also get plated in copper.) After you remove the steel, the pickle is fine to use on other metals–it isn’t ruined. However, if you put brass in very saturated pickle, it might come out with a pinkish tint. You can avoid that thin layer of copper plating by adding hydrogen peroxide to your pickle before pickling brass.
* I don’t recommend using steel wool for the copper plating trick above. It’s so wiry and messy, I think it would be nearly impossible to know if you’ve gotten every little bit of it out of the pickle–until the next piece of silver you drop in the pickle comes out with copper plating. Yikes.
- Someone recently told me an interesting way to enlarge holes in pearls. (You didn’t think I could celebrate six years without pearls, did ya?) Undo one end of your jeweler’s saw blade, “string” pearls onto the blade (use the largest saw blade they’ll fit on), re-secure the other end of the blade, and then move the pearls up and down the blade slowly, turning them a bit as you go. Wear a dust mask and be VERY careful not to cut yourself! I think doing one or two pearls at a time will help prevent cuts. Just “saw” a couple of pearls up and down the blade a few times (you’ll see the pearl dust falling away if the holes are getting bigger) and then move on to the next couple of pearls on the blade. This will enlarge pearl holes a bit; it isn’t meant for enlarging pearls to large-hole pearl sizes for leather, for example. But it’s a great way to remedy those few pearls that are always leftover from a strand that the needle and new cord won’t go through!
- I saw this at a craft show and the artist was kind enough to let me photograph it to share with you. She repurposes those foam pool “noodles” to display bracelets. She cut them in segments about a foot long, painted them black to match her booth, and slipped a black knee-high sock or stocking on for a nicer finish (tuck the excess into the holes in the ends of the noodles). You can get them in a variety of colors or paint them any color that suits your style. It’s inexpensive and lightweight for travel! You could also do a similar thing with a wreath form from a craft store.
- Did you know you can use a Sharpie marker as a resist for LOS patina? Just draw a design on the metal when all metalsmithing and finishing is done and then apply LOS as usual. When the color is where you want it to be, use an alcohol swab/wipe to remove the marker–but it doesn’t remove the LOS. Be sure to test your particular marker and alcohol swabs on a scrap of metal, as there are some variables there, but in general, I love this idea!
- If your vise has teeth on the grips, it can and probably will leave marks on any metal you hold in it for forming. There are a couple of ways to work around that, which I learned in our bracelet-making video by Richard Sweetman. First, you can make jaw protectors by putting a square of clean, smooth copper in the vise, hammering it to one side, putting a second piece in, and hammering it to the other side. Voila! Jaw protectors that will protect the jaws of your vise as well as hold any metal you secure in them without leaving marks.
Another option is to insert a big crescent wrench (with no teeth) into the grips of the vise so that the vise holds the wrench securely. Then use the smooth jaws of the wrench to hold your metal for twisting or forging. You can also cover the jaws of the wrench with tape if you want to be extra careful. I like this idea for using small pieces of metal, too; sometimes the vise jaws are just too big to hold a small piece of metal or wire, but the “secondary vise” provided by the wrench is more size appropriate.
It has been a wonderful six years and I can’t wait to see what we all learn and make in the next six years. In celebration, we’ve put together the Ultimate Metalsmithing Essentials Anniversary Collection of 15 (15!!!) metalsmithing videos, hosted by experts like Lexi Erickson, Michael David Sturlin, Helen Driggs, and Travis Ogden, covering all kinds of metalsmithing techniques: soldering, texture, patina, sawing, hand and machine finishing, fold forming, bezel making, using a flex shaft, and more–all at an unbelievable value. That’s why there are only a limited number of these special bundles available. Hope you can get one! This collection provides expert instruction on all of the essential metalsmithing tasks, including everything from sawing and texturing to finishing and adding patina–plus some in-depth lessons on special metalsmithing techniques like stone setting, etching, making artisan bails, and forming spirals, tubes, and other curves in metal.
Cheers to our sixth anniversary and many more! Thank you for being part of Jewelry Making Daily and for sharing this incredibly fun experience with us.