6 Tips for Easy Metalsmithing: Make Metal Jewelry Without Soldering or Sawing
It’s festival season in much of the country, with food, art, and music events happening every weekend. Between all those festivals and our local weekly farmers and artisans market, I get regular doses of handmade jewelry. All of the jewelry artists selling at shows has made something clear: metal jewelry is HOT!
Just a few years ago, most of the handmade jewelry I saw at local markets was strung or wire jewelry. There was little or no metal jewelry. But now, with the growth of beginner-friendly techniques like micro torch soldering and torch enameling (and sites like ours!), more and more jewelry makers are moving into metal. Or, at least they’re adding metalwork to their strung and wire pieces.
Another big step into metal jewelry came with Denise Peck and Jane Dickerson’s book, Wire + Metal: 30 Easy Metalsmithing Designs. Without a jeweler’s saw (they use metal shears), without soldering (they use cold connections and a micro torch for annealing), and without fear or costly tools, Denise and Jane have built a bridge from wirework to metal jewelry making.
Here are six metal jewelry tips taken from the dozens of helpful hints and suggestions found throughout the book. These are in addition to technique articles and 30 projects!
6 Metal Jewelry Tips from Wire + Metal
1. If you don’t want to quench metal in water to cool it, you can place it on a steel anvil or bench block to draw the heat out of it. Cooling takes longer this way than quenching, but it is faster than simply air cooling. (Quenching copper can change the patina you’ve achieved with a torch, which is less likely with air drying. Also, not using water helps reduce your chances of ending up with rusted steel tools.)
2. Hole-punch pliers are used throughout the book, eliminating the need for drilling. To keep the punch from marring the metal, place a Pro-Polish pad, scrap of thin leather, or thick paper/cardboard between the tool and the metal before punching.
3. If you’re using metal stamps to texture small metal pieces or wire, use transparent packing tape to affix the metal to your bench block. Then stamp on the metal as usual without risking your fingers to hold the piece in place. If you’re using a detailed stamp, you might have to hit a little harder than usual. (There’s also a great tutorial in the book for metal stamping with coins!)
4. Pickle is an acid solution (sodium bisulfate) used to remove oxidation and fire scale from metal. You can make an organic pickling solution with 1 cup white vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt, which should be kept hot, just like standard jewelry pickle.
5. If you use standard pickle, always add the acid to the water–NOT the other way around. So put water in your pickle pot first and then add the pickling compound to it. Keep baking soda handy to neutralize pickle (just add baking soda until it stops foaming and bubbling). Always neutralize pickle before discarding.
6. After using a micro screw and nut to cold connect two or more pieces of metal, you typically trim the screw flush with the nut and add a drop of super glue to the back to help secure it. Another option is to leave a bit of the screw remaining beyond the nut. Then hammer it to rivet the end of the screw flush with the nut.
More from Wire + Metal
In addition to these great metal jewelry tips, many other handy tips, and the 30 designer project tutorials in Wire + Metal, you’ll learn a variety of metalsmithing techniques along the way. Texturing and forming metal, cold connections, annealing, creating patinas on metal, and properly finishing your designs are all available to you. There’s also a great Metal 101 primer about various kinds of metal you might use in your metal jewelry designs and info on how metals are measured and cut with a variety of tools.
Wire + Metal is a must-have resource for anyone ready to learn and add metalworking techniques to their jewelry repertoire–as well as for those of you who enjoy working with metal but already know how, who’ll be inspired by the 30 great projects by Denise, Jane, and other talented jewelry designers.
Updated May 14, 2018.
Learn more about making metal jewelry with Denise Peck and Jane Dickerson’s inspiring and informative book!