Masterful Metalsmithing: Form Three-Dimensional Metal Jewelry with the Ultimate Fretz Tools

Mention Fretz hammers in front of a group of metalsmiths, and you’ll most often hear “They are awesome!” or “Ohh, I want one!” or even “I have three, time to buy some more!” They’re one of the most specifically coveted metalsmithing tools that I know of, and Fretz stakes and mandrels aren’t far behind. I really want the high-domed anvil/mandrel; it’s such a sleek, elegant, useful tool. But I have to admit, those metalsmithing stakes! Oh my. They help you make such beautiful dimension in metal. Bill makes it look as easy as pounding PlayDoh in his videos, and I dream of being that proficient with them someday.

It’s good to know I’m not the only fan of Fretz hammers and stakes around here. Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Senior Editor Helen Driggs is a fan as well–apparently there’s a whole tribe of us!–and here’s how you can join the tribe.

metalsmithing ruffled, fluted, and domed canbles using hammers and stakes


A Dispatch From the Tribe of the Hammer and Stake

By Helen Driggs

Metal forming is an “observe and practice” technique–you’ve really got to do it to learn how to really do it. Much like soldering, there’s no vicarious I’m-just-thinking-about-it-I’ll-do-that-soon-I-hope thrill. Sorry, you’ll have to fire up that torch, watch something burn, and figure it out in action. Metal forming has the same sort of purity: stake, hammer, metal. You can’t overthink it, you’ll have to just do it. Hit the metal with the hammer and watch where it goes on the stake, pure and simple. Easy, right?

Recap: Helen says, “If I want to do it, just hunker down, give it the metal and the time, and then just practice to really understand what’s happening.” Sure, you say, I get that–but without any help, I don’t know even where to start because there are no patterns to copy. There are no hacks, shortcuts to a finished product, measurements, or even a shopping list–and then how do you tell if you made a good start or where to go next? Is this the right hammer? And, what about . . .

metalsmithing a fluted bangle using hammers and stakes

Don’t panic! In all learning, you get lost. Trust me, just factor lost in–especially here, because it’s inevitable. I’d suggest having some expert instruction waiting in the wings if you can, because it’s always smart to make room in your life to study a new technique in person with a great teacher. That way, you can observe something and try it, with your teacher right there to help you navigate when you do get lost. Everyone was a student once, and believe me, your teacher probably got lost once or twice, too–just like you. That’s how we learn. I personally relish any opportunity I get to spend any time at all with a master jeweler or metalsmith who shares their lifetime of learning with me.

One master teacher I’ve been lucky enough to spend studio time with is tool designer and master silversmith Bill Fretz, who is so well known in our field for his metal forming expertise. Bill is a great teacher, and he already knows the two places where most people get stuck when they start metal forming: (1) What tools do I need? and (2), how can I see them in action?

metalsmithing a concave bangle using hammers and stakes

Maybe I can help with this. First–metalsmithing tools. I’m pretty good at that part. It’s easy: Get a stake holder and mount it on your bench or a stump or sturdy table. Then, get a nice selection of metal forming hammers with different-shaped peens: say, a planishing hammer, a couple of raising hammers, plus an embossing hammer or two. That should cover the bases. Then, you’ll find it’s helpful to have a nonmetal (plastic, rubber, or wood) hammer so you can form your metal without stretching it, oh, and don’t forget the torch so you can anneal. After the hammers, go for some stakes: convex, fluting, concave, and shell are a great place to start. I like T-stakes, although mushroom stakes are fun once you get past the stumbling block of . . . WAIT, HELEN! YOU ARE GOING TOO FAST!

Oops, sorry. Did I scare you? Well, fear not. This is a big tool list, and it’s confusing, right? And, I didn’t even give you any technique tips or even the item numbers and hyperlinks yet. Well, forget that, because I have some great news: Remember those two metal forming questions I mentioned above? The incomparable Mr. Fretz has figured out everything for you in an exclusive bundle of metalsmithing products–the Fretz Basic Jewelry Hammering and Forming Video and Tool Set–perfect for anyone who wants to start metal forming but doesn’t know where to start. Even if you can’t study with Bill in person, he can still help you by way of video. And the guesswork of choosing which stakes and hammers to get is all gone. Now, there are no excuses for you to not set yourself up with an enviable, super-deluxe, totally awesome, metal forming collection of your very own. You’ll get to watch the magic process of taking flat sheet to 3D in the comfort of your own studio, and watch Bill hundreds of times on your TV or computer if you need to. And those tools–what’s not to love, guys? I mean, really. Try it. You’ll like it, I promise. And then you can become a member of the tribe, too.

Fretz hammers and stakes for metalsmithing

So, thanks for the read. And I didn’t mean to scare you with that tool list–I just got all enthused thinking about those tools, and I was on my third cup of java, what can I say? It’s hard not to be happy when you are writing about hammers! Anyway, that’s it for now, and I’ll catch you soon from the pages of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. —HD

The title of this video and tool collection includes the word “basic,” but there is absolutely nothing basic about the Fretz Basic Jewelry Hammering and Forming Video and Tool Set, trust me! These are among the finest metalsmithing tools in the industry. And who better to teach you how to use Fretz hammers and stakes than Bill himself? What an incredible opportunity!

Master metal forming with expert jewelry and tool designer Bill Fretz!

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