9 Metalsmithing Tips from the Experts of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Magazine
Every time the new issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine arrives in the mail, I do the same thing. I skim the table of contents to see who is featured, I look at the “Their Turn” gallery for a little dose of metalsmithing inspiration, I see what new metalsmithing tools Helen has found (that I’m going to want) in “Cool Tools & Hip Tips,” and then I skim for metalsmithing tips and write them all down. Then, once the “work” is done, I start again at the beginning and enjoy the whole thing from start to finish.
Here are a bunch of the metalsmithing tips I’ve collected recently. All of these tips are from just a few issues of only one year of LJJA!
- Soldering prongs on a back plate: It can be nearly impossible to hold wire prongs upright and in their exact place during soldering to a back plate. Lexi Erickson shares a brilliant solution, of course, in her Midnight Black Drusy Pendant project in the March 2015 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. Drill a hole in the back plate where each prong needs to be, making sure it’s only a hair larger than the prong wire, and insert the wire through the hole into the soldering brick underneath. The soldering brick will hold the wire in place while you solder. (Be sure to put the solder right against the wire.) After quenching, just snip the excess wire off level with the back of the back plate, file clean, and continue.
- Add interest to your bezels: From the Resin Sea Urchin Pin-Pendant project by Barbara Briggs in the April 2015 issue, I learned a quick and easy way to create unique bezels. Barbara uses a #4 knife file to gently file notches along the edge of the bezel wire. She files notches in a variety of depths and widths apart for an organic look, but you can also file uniform notches if you want.
- Using social media to sell your jewelry: Give each image a caption, especially on Facebook. “The post itself will quickly become buried, but people will continue to access the images by clicking through the photo gallery at the top of your page,” says Cathleen McCarthy in her “Net Profits: Facebook Insights to Boost Your Following” column in the April 2015 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. “What you wrote in the original post will vanish, in other words, but the captions will remain.”
- To fabricate triangle wire: As part of his moonstone ring tutorial in the December 2015 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine, Roger Halas forms a kite-shaped back plate outlined in triangle wire. “This ring includes one of the more complicated metal stock shapes: triangle wire, which tends to twist when bent or forged,” Roger writes, before sharing the metalsmithing process to achieve perfect bends in triangle wire without twisting. Using a protractor to create precise angles, he cuts notches in the triangle wire. These open notches create negative space that gives the wire room to bend during fabrication.
- When working with multiple stones and bezels: Jeff Fulkerson suggests numbering the stones to match your design sketch and then scratching the number of each stone inside its corresponding bezel, so you won’t get them mixed up. This will prevent lots of headaches later when you’re trying to fit similar stones into similar bezels. The numbers on the stones will be hidden by the back of the bezels, and the numbers inside the bezels will be hidden by the stones, so no one will know your trick.
- If your stone won’t fit in your bezel: Jeff recommends handling bezels with tweezers to keep from deforming them until they’re soldered down to the back plate, but sometimes they still get out of shape during the soldering process or otherwise. All is not lost if this happens. “Even though you try very hard to keep your bezels from deforming, sometimes they are just a hair off and your stone won’t fit,” he says. “If this happens to you, use a cheap flat diamond file and some water and file off the bottom rim of the offending stone until it fits in the bezel.”
- When gluing a pattern to metal for sawing: Beatriz Fortes prefers tracing paper and spray glue. “Spray glue is water soluble, easy to clean up, and gives a thin, even coat. The saw blade won`t shred the tracing paper as it does normal paper, making it easier to see the design especially during intricate piercing.” Beatriz also recommends leaving the paper on the metal as long as possible, because it helps prevent scratches during metalsmithing processes.
- Metal stamping advice: In her “Cool Tools & Hip Tips” column about metal stamping in April 2015, Helen Driggs shares some valuable metal stamping tips. “Well-annealed, clean, smooth, and dry metal is a must. Sand out all scratches or spots before you lay out your design, and,” Helen continues, with my favorite part of this tip, “tape the metal to the block to prevent movement, so you can focus on positioning the stamps for your design instead of holding the metal still.”
- Forming textured or etched metal: Use steel tools on textured metal will flatten the texture out of it. Jewelry experts, including Helen, recommend using wooden tools for metalsmithing tasks with textured metal. “Wood is gentle to your jewelry metal, and if you are forming something that has been etched, hammer textured, stamped, roll-printed, or otherwise surface-textured, wood will allow you to gently shape that metal and not harm it with unintended marks,” Helen says in the March 2015 “Cool Tools & Hip Tips.”
I’ve recently added a step to my little Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine-savoring ritual. I save digital snapshots of projects in my own personal inspiration gallery. I title each file with the designer’s name and the issue of LJJA it was featured in, so I can always go back for the project instructions, etc. That’s easy to do when you have the issues in digital format, which you can have with the 2000-2015 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Collection. You’ll have every info-packed issue of LJJA from the past 15 years in a convenient, easily browsed, space-saving digital format–and at a very special value.