Free Tutorial: Make a Hammered Wire Cuff with Bill Fretz and Covetable New Metalsmithing Tools!
When I see Bill Fretz hammering metal at jewelry shows or in metalsmithing videos, I’m amazed at how effortless he makes it look. But really, who knows how to hammer metal better than the man who has created the world’s most enviable line of jewelry-making tools?
Bill’s metalsmithing hammers and stakes are coveted by all the jewelry makers I know. They feel amazing in your hands and look super sleek, even after years of use. And most importantly, Bill’s hammers perform like a dream, allowing him and you to create professional-quality metal jewelry, like this hammered wire cuff capped with lapis lazuli. Below, you can learn how to make it using Bill’s own metalsmithing tutorial–and then check out the Fretz Maker 7-in-1 texturing hammer set and 3-in-1 texturing hammer set to enhance or start your Fretz hammer collection!
How to Make a Hammered Wire Cuff
Form a classic torque bracelet with lapis lazuli
By Bill Fretz
Originally published in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, April 2009, and featured in Jewelry Making Using Hammers and Stakes: Projects and Techniques by Bill Fretz
This project is a contrast between textured hammered surfaces and forming with hammers that leave no trace. It is totally fabricated and does not rely on casting. This bracelet takes advantage of the three dimensional possibilities inherent with handwrought work. The curves of the end caps extend the curve of the cuff with small raised rings that soften the transition from the heavy wire to the cones and end in lapis lazuli beads.
To determine what length of silver wire you need, wrap 1⁄8″ brass rod around an oval metalsmithing mandrel. Straighten the test wire, and then cut the 6-gauge sterling to the determined length. Typically, a standard cuff bracelet is about 6″ with the ends.
I’ve used my own hammers and stakes and have provided product numbers for them in the tool list, but you can use similar metalsmithing tools from another source.
1⁄8″ brass rod
6-gauge sterling silver wire: 5″
18-gauge round sterling wire: 3″
20-gauge sterling sheet: 1″ × 3″
18-gauge square sterling silver wire: 3″
Lapis beads: 10mm round 1/2 or fully drilled
Waterproof epoxy glue
Hard, medium, easy solder; flux
Fretz hammers: HMR-2 Wide Raising Hammer/ 1/4″ width cross peen, HMR-3 Narrow Raising/ 1⁄8″ cross peen, HMR-406 Riveting Hammer/riveting
Fretz stakes: H-1 Tool Holder/ vise, B-6 Stake/round bezel mandrel, F-7 Thin Shell Stake/ ground 3⁄8″ tool steel
Soldering tools: torch, tips, striker, quench, pickle, 24-gauge iron binding wire
Other metalsmithing tools: hardwood block, 1.75mm diamond drill bit, 2/0 saw blades and saw frame, round nose pliers, 1/4″ thick 95d urethane sheet, 1/2″ dapping punch, assorted mandrels
Finishing tools: 6″ flat hand file #4, 6″ crossing file #4, 320 emery paper or cloth
Metalsmithing Steps: Texture and Form the Cuff
1. Make texture marks on wire by hammering with narrow raising or cross peen hammer. Strike wire so planish marks go all around from one end to other.
An end grain hardwood block secured in a vise is a good surface for hammering texture. Hammering the silver will harden it, so annealing will be necessary for future bending.
2. Insert wire into small lathe. Use collet holder or three-jaw chuck to drill perfectly centered 1.75mm hole for bead pin.
If a small lathe isn’t available, use a scribe to mark the center. This mark keeps the drill from wandering while the 2mm deep hole is drilled. The pin will be stronger and more accurate because it is recessed into the heavy wire.
3. Bend annealed, textured wire into bracelet form. Use heavy plastic mallet so texture marks are left pristine.
How to Make a Jig for Consistent Curves
There are multiple ways to do this. This piece may be formed on an oval bracelet mandrel or a large stake such as a blow horn stake. Or, you can create a jig (see how in “Make a Jig for Consistent Curves” above).
4. Make a coil of 18ga wire jump rings on a mandrel slightly smaller than 6ga hammered wire. Then cut coil into rings. Solder rings closed with hard; remove excess solder and buff. Finally, file insides of jump rings until they fit tightly over cuff.
5. Determine cone pattern (see “Making Tapered Cones from Sheet” below, after the final step) and cut out. Rubber cement pattern onto 20ga sheet, and then cut out 2 cones.
Saw or shear the straight line of the pattern, but cut the curved lines with a jeweler’s saw. For multiple pieces, it is wise to make a brass template from the pattern.
Form the Tapered Bead Caps
6. First, form cones using round-nose pliers.
7. Hammer cone seams evenly shut with small nylon mallet, and then solder closed with hard solder. Remove excess solder with #4 file. Smooth seam with 320 emery paper or cloth. Round cone on bezel stake.
8. With small cross peen hammer, make the cone concave.
The curved, smaller face of this hammer will match the desired concave of the cone. Form by hammering all around the cone while holding it on an angle. As the hammer marks move up, the cone is rocked down to the stake to create a graceful, concave curve.
Another, easier way to form the concave is to use a concave tip of the thin shell stake, so metal is compressed into the concave cavity. The cone is hammered around the rim first as it is rotated and the piece is easily made uniform.
Repeat another 4mm band of hammer blows around the cone, and continue up the cone until it becomes both concave and round. Anneal cone before further metalsmithing. Then repeat hammering with lighter blows until cone becomes smoother and smoother. Lastly, tap lightly inside flared cone with a dapping punch to true it up.
9. Wrap 18ga square wire around mandrel so it will fit inside flared cone. Solder wire ring shut with hard solder and finish with 320 emery cloth or paper to form thick rim for cone.
10. Put ring of square wire on a 1/4″ thick urethane sheet and dome with dapping punch to about same width as circle.
This will rotate the square wire so the top surface is on a 45-degree angle to the workbench. This new shape will fit inside the cone to create a tapered edge.
11. Hold the rim in the cone with binding wire. Solder with hard.
Make Pins for Bead Caps
12. Solder pins into drilled holes on ends of bracelet cuff. Slip round wire jump rings onto bracelet blank, followed by cones. Solder rings and cones onto bracelet with a minimum of easy solder from inside cones. Remove solder residue with fine needle files. File cones and square wire smooth to form a texture contrast with hammered bracelet.
Doing this step now has two benefits: first, the bracelet becomes a handle for easy filing, and second, fire scale is completely removed because there are no more soldering steps. Final polish with restraint so as not to remove the hammer marks on the cuff.
13. Ream lapis bead holes out to 1.75mm for large pin wire.
Note: Nickel silver is a good idea for small pin diameters, because it is much harder and longer-wearing than sterling.
14. Texture rims facing lapis beads with sharp end of a riveting hammer. Glue beads to stems with waterproof epoxy and rivet tightly with flat head of riveting hammer. Polish rivets smooth.
Making Tapered Cones from Sheet: Create a Template
You’ll make the bracelet end caps like tapered bezels. We use 3x diameter instead of pi (or 3.14) x diameter because the metal will stretch during forming. Here’s how to draft out your paper pattern:
1. Draw the final, desired cone shape on paper with a straight line going through the middle of the drawing. Then, extend the taper’s sides so they intersect on the middle line. This spot is “Point A.”
2. Point A is where to place the point of a compass. Next, swing the compass to make arcs at the top and bottom of the cone. On the top arc, take the measurement of the diameter of the come. Then plot out 2 more diameter lengths on the top arc, positioned on either side of the drawn cone. The left intersection is “Point B” and the right “Point C.”
3. Draw a straight line from A to B and another from A to C. The shaded form you’ve drawn is the template to make the cone from flat metal sheet.
About the Designer/Author:
William (Bill) Fretz, from Bucksport, Maine, began to develop his line of jeweler’s tools in 2001, including miniature stakes and a line of new jeweler’s and silversmithing hammers. A graduate of The School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology, he gives summer metalsmithing workshops in his gallery/workshop.