Jewelry Making Tips for Beginners: Tammy’s Top 4 Tips for Beginning Metalsmiths
Hello, beginning jewelry makers! I love meeting you at shows and such; it’s always a good time for me to remember the wonderful teachers who taught me jewelry-making techniques when I was a beginner. But I also love having the opportunity to talk to you, to discover what you want to learn, and hopefully offer some advice to help you along your path.
Jewelry Making Resources and Tips for Beginners
As a perk of this job, I’m in a good place to offer book and video suggestions. I love sharing information and tips about jewelry-making techniques and tools. To start, here a few resources that have been helpful to me and I believe are great starting points for beginners.
There’s a lot to learn in Kim St. Jean’s video series on using basic jewelry tools. Through her instruction, you’ll create six pairs of earrings, but you’ll also learn essential jewelry techniques like sawing, texturing, doming, riveting, and adding patina metal while you’re getting more familiar with the tools. While the six projects in her videos are intended to be earrings, you can also turn those shapes and designs into pendants, charms, or bracelet components. And because it’s from our Kitchen Table Metalsmithing series, you can trust that you won’t need a whole studio to do these projects!
Next is a popular jewelry-making book, The Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide: Tools and Essential Techniques, by Helen Driggs. One of the things I love about this book is how extensive it is. Nearly any jewelry-making technique you can think of is in there–from texturing metal to setting stones and so much in between–as well as safety guidelines, studio setup, gemstone and metal information, plus a variety of other jewelry-making materials. The lessons are presented as building blocks, so your skills progress as you work through the book. By the time you hit the back cover, you’ll be oh-so-fabulous!
Before you start soaking up all that expert knowledge, I wanted to share some of my favorite jewelry-making tips with you. So here are some tips that I think will be especially helpful to beginners as you embark on this fun journey!
1. Soldering Tips for Beginners
After I learned to solder, the first several times I tried it on my own, I had to remind myself what Lexi Erickson taught me: “Solder flows toward heat.” That little mantra helped me remember where to place my solder and where to aim my torch.
She also taught me her five rules of soldering: Fit. Clean. Flux. Solder Placement. Heat. Lexi says that if your solder won’t flow, check the rules. If your solder joins break, check the rules. No matter what goes wrong during soldering, check the rules.
- Did you file your edges well so they fit together perfectly? (Solder won’t fill gaps.)
- Is your metal super clean? (Oils from your hands act as a resist to solder.)
- Did you flux properly? (Flux helps you gauge temperature and predict when solder will flow.)
- Is your solder in the right spot? (Place solder under the seam whenever possible.)
- Did you heat the piece evenly? (You want solder to flow, not just melt, and . . . say it with me! “Solder flows toward heat.”)
No matter what goes wrong with soldering metal, one of these things is the most likely cause. Alternately, if you’re steadfast about following these five rules, you’ll have soldering success every time!
2. Fixing Copper Solder Mistakes
Learning to solder is a challenge, though a very fun and rewarding one. It’s wise to practice on copper, but if you don’t use copper solder (and sometimes even if you do), you’ll get an annoying silvery solder “ghost” around the join. The good news is that you can easily cover it with copper plating. Simply put the piece in your pickle pot and add in a piece of steel, such as a steel tool. Presto change-o, the particles of real copper that are suspended in your pickle plate the metal surface and cover up that silvery solder. This tip works best if your pickle is really green, meaning well used and saturated. Bonus: You get to feel like a magician!
Once you’re done, just remove the steel and your pickle is safe to continue using on silver. Be sure that no steel gets in your pickle while silver jewelry is in it, or you’ll copperplate the silver. If that does happen, you can remove it in a solution of half pickle and half hydrogen peroxide.
3. Filing and Sawing Tips for Beginners
Files can do more for you than just finishing edges. If you want to create a square inside metal you’ve pierced or create a perfectly round hole, for example, shaped files can make quick work of that for you. Lexi says that since your files are essentially just a bunch of saw blades side by side by side, “Your file is just a fat saw blade.” So if you have details in mind for your metal jewelry that would be difficult or too time-consuming to saw or pierce, let your files do the work for you. I use tiny half-round and round needle files to create easy scalloped edges and concave curves–details that would take a long time to saw.
4. Make Easy Ear Wires in Minutes
This was our tip of the year when I first shared it, but it’s still so hot, I’m just going to call it the best ear wire tip ever. It’s a technique as well as a tip, so hop over to see the whole thing and learn how to make perfectly matched, quick and easy ear wires in minutes–and see the bonus tip of how to store them.
I could go on and on, but you can find links to more helpful tips for beginners below. Some final pointers: save your scraps, wear safety glasses (seriously! I mean it!), and always work with proper ventilation.
Find more great jewelry-making tips for beginners and everyone else in these blogs:
Updated March 4, 2019.