Metalsmithing Best Practices: 7 New Metal Jewelry Making and Finishing Tips from Lexi Erickson
Every time I watch a video from Lexi’s new video series, I discover something new or am reminded of a metalsmithing “best practice” that I might’ve forgotten or forget to use. There’s a new metalsmithing project to learn in each one, of course, but I’m picking up little sawing, soldering, metal finishing, and other tips and advice along the way that I can apply to just about any project I make, like these.
1. Lexi prefers 3M Finishing Film for sanding, polishing, and finishing metal jewelry edges. Did you know you can wash these polishing sheets when they get dusty and full of metal particles? They have a plastic backing and Lexi says they can last ages. They come in a range of “microns” similar to “grits” of sandpaper (9 micron is about 1200 grit), but don’t just use sandpaper from the hardware store. It can create gouges on your metal surface–and just when you think you’re done sanding, you have to start all over! Ouch.
2. Never underestimate the value of a burnisher! Lexi loves that “little edge of elegance” that a burnisher creates when used to burnish or rub and flatten metal jewelry edges. She calls it “that little shine that shows good craftsmanship and that you’ve cared enough to finish the piece really well.”
3. Use graph paper or a notebook of graph paper for your sketches. Lexi says it helps her keep a sense of proportion when she’s sketching designs and working out shapes for overlay.
4. Don’t forget to file and finish the interior edges of a pierced design and all edges of an overlay design before soldering. Even with a flex shaft or finishing film, you’ll have a hard time getting a good clean edge on a pierced design once it is soldered to a backplate.
5. “Nothing teaches soldering like your mistakes,” Lexi says in her new video. “So learn from your mistakes.” This is so true! I’ve been soldering for about five years now, and just two weeks ago, I melted my first bezel. Whether all those bezels before it were luck, who knows–but I promise you I won’t forget to pay more attention the next time I’m soldering decorative balls around a bezel on a back plate, which was already on a finished cuff. Sigh! But the resulting disassembly and reworking taught me a lot, not the least of which was to slow down and rethink how I was structuring and assembling this cuff.
6. When pre-soldering your solder to metal in preparation for sweat soldering, cut and keep handy a couple of extra solder chips or paillions. You never know when one will fly off, and while you’re heating metal, watching flux change colors waiting for solder to flow, and holding a flaming torch in your hand is no time to be trying to find a runaway solder chip!
7. You can flatten solder wire by passing it through a rolling mill. Using flattened solder wire will make it easier to use less when you’re soldering, reducing cost and heating time as well as reducing the chances of creating solder ghosts, big visible puddles of solder on metal that are nearly impossible to remove.
All of these metalsmithing and finishing tips came from Lexi’s newest video in her Southwestern-inspired jewelry-making video series, Pierced Pendant with Copper on Silver Overlay. In the video, you’ll learn to create what Lexi calls her 1540 pendant, a symbolic mountain-on-feather pendant that hints at her archeologist roots and uses piercing and overlay sweat soldering techniques–or you can use the technique info and best practices you learn from Lexi to make your own pendant in any style you choose. She shows how to use a hydraulic press with pancake die (not required for your pendant), reviews details about the torch, and covers other essential jewelry-making tools throughout the video. Whether you make the project as-is or make your own version with design elements that are meaningful to you, you’ll learn essential metalsmithing tips and develop good habits along the way!