Metal Stamping Freebies: Create Custom Designs with Common Hardware-Store Tools

The subject of impressions on metal has come up a lot for me in the past few weeks. A friend told me how she inspects the faces of old hammers at thrift/antique stores because some of the wear and tear on them can make great textures on metal. Similarly, I’ve heard lots of folks talk about modifying nails and old tools–screwdrivers, punches, chisels–into tools they use for making impressions on metal. I love these ideas for reusing common and sometimes discarded objects for jewelry making–plus considering how expensive some metal-stamping sets can be, the thriftiness of making your own can’t be beat!

In this simple but versatile metal-stamping project by Tim McCreight, modifying simple hardware-store items makes for unique and economical metal stamps. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably end up like me, walking around your house looking for unique things to use as metal stamps!

 

Stamped Earrings: Beginner cold metalsmithing project

by Tim McCreight

Here is a project that gets right to basics: We set a hard thing (steel tool) on a softer thing (copper, brass, or sterling) and hit it with a hammer. As any child could predict, the tool will leave a mark. When we pile up enough marks, we make a pattern. These earrings have been designed to use extremely simple tools that can be made from hardware store items. The path of jewelry technology is a long and interesting one, but like all paths, it has to start somewhere, often with a technique as simple as place-hit-repeat.

Materials:

18-gauge sterling silver, copper, or brass sheet (or a stamping blank)
nail (preferably a 2″ concrete nail)
Phillips-head drill bit
silicon-carbide sandpaper
pencil
salon boards or steel wool
metal shears, scissors, or jeweler’s saw
hammer
anvil or vise
earwires
drill with small bit or hole punch

Steps:

1. This project requires two steel punches, both of which can be made by modifying familiar items you’ll find in any hardware store. The plus sign (+) is made by sanding off the tip of a Phillips-head screwdriver bit made to be used in an electric drill. Some have a standard flat screwdriver blade on the other end and these will work, but if possible, get one with a blunt back end like the one shown here.To make the intended mark with the drill bit, we’ll need to remove the sharpest part from the tip of the tool. Because it has been hardened, this tool cannot be altered with saws or files. Silicon carbide sandpaper, sold at most hardware stores, is hard enough to abrade the steel. Sand across the top of the tool until you’ve worn off the point, creating the plus-sign mark.
Metal-Stamping Tip: In order for the stamped impression to be crisp and uniform, the face of the stamp (the part that makes the mark) should be flat and perpendicular to the axis (A). The tip should not be angled (B) or curved (C) because these will yield a blurred mark.
2. The dot part of the pattern is made with nothing more complicated than a nail, and here you have two choices. You can use any old nail to make a crater-shaped impression. Common nails are made of relatively soft, mild steel, so after a few blows, the point will be blunted. A better solution is to use a hardened concrete nail, also available at hardware stores. I prefer 2″ or larger because they’re easy to grasp. Whichever nail you use, round the tip with sandpaper to make a symmetrical, bullet-shaped end.
3. Stamping depends on the ability of metal to displace when struck. Under a blow, the material beneath the tool compresses and pushes outward. The more metal there is, the more dramatic the effect. Stamping on thin metal is not only less effective visually but it’s more difficult, too. For this project, I recommend at least 18-gauge sterling silver, brass, or copper.
4. Draw a guideline on the metal in pencil. After you’ve made the longest line of plus signs, you will draw additional guidelines for the other marks.
5. Set the metal on a hard, stable surface. The ideal tool is an anvil, but any large piece of metal (like a vise) will do. To achieve a clear mark, set the tool in position and give it a single solid blow. I suggest practicing on a piece of scrap to check the tool and develop a rhythm. When you have a confident feel for the process, move to your work piece and strike five plus-signs in a line.
6. Draw pencil lines for the two rows that will be parallel to the first, then strike these impressions. The goal is to have nearly identical marks, but the minor variation of the human touch is a valuable part of the process. Repeat for both earrings.
7. Use the nail punch to make dots centered between the plus signs.
8. If you’re using sheet metal, cut out a square (or other shape) with scissors, metal shears, or a saw, and file the edges to make them smooth. Of course jewelers have specific tools to smooth the edges, but if you’re just getting started, you can make do with abrasive sticks used for manicuring.9. Drill or punch a hole in the upper corner of each piece and insert earwires.

For more great metal-stamping tips, read our First Tip of Stamping on Metal blog. For more great metal-stamping jewelry projects, get Stamped Metal Jewelry by queen of metal stamping Lisa Niven Kelly!

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