Metalsmithing Magic: Build Rings, Bezels, and More with Bill Fretz

Hollow Form Bezel Ring by Bill Fretz.
Photo: Todd Murray

I had so much fun in my classes at Bead Fest Philadelphia a few weeks ago! I had three full days of playing with a torch (annealing metal, flame-painting copper, and enameling), hammering the dickens out of (and into) metal to texture and shape it, dapping and doming and punching–all kinds of fun metalsmithing techniques. If you haven't tried your hand at metalsmithing yet, I encourage you to try!

Even if you're intimidated by soldering (I was, too, at first), you can still create gorgeous metal jewelry with simple metal-shaping techniques like those that master metalsmith, jewelry artist, and toolmaker Bill Fretz shares in his DVDs. As each new one comes out, I'm more and more amazed at Bill's ability to move and shape metal just by hammering in specific places and particular ways. The domed, curved, and fluted jewelry that results is so inspiring, and I've learned more about how metal works (and how to work metal) from his DVDs than I ever imagined I might.


Even through the basic act of hammering (and who hasn't used a hammer?), Bill shows how easily magic can happen on metal–and when anvils and stakes join the mix, look out! After more than a year of watching Bill's brilliant metalsmithing DVDs, at Bead Fest I finally had the pleasure of meeting him and seeing his entire line of hammers, anvils, and stakes. When I stopped drooling over his beautiful tools (one anvil in particular, which is now on my list for Santa), we had a nice chat about his metalsmithing tutorials and a new hammer that will be available soon. For those of you who don't know Bill, here's a portion of an interview I did with him when his first metalsmithing DVD came out.

JMD: Where do you get your inspiration?

Bill: "I like to think of jewelry as a three-dimensional art form, so sculpture is my main area of inspiration. Texture and color can be important but the piece holds up by the shape and form that the design employs. I was very taken with Clive Bell's book called Art in which he describes 'significant form'."


JMD: What tip(s) do you find yourself sharing with students most often?

Bill: "Raising and planishing metal are the main focus of my workshops and articles. If you get these concepts, the process of forming metal becomes a much broader area. "

JMD: Can you share why you were drawn to forming with hammers and stakes?

Bill: "I like the primitive quality of the forming process while still making very sophisticated contemporary shapes. It is still a valid way of crafting art objects from metal. Also, the same tools can make so many different shapes by using them in different combinations. Watching the process unfold as a direct result of repetitious hammer blows can be mesmerizing."


JMD: What advice would you give a beginning jewelry maker or one who isn't having a good response to their work?

Bill: "Start by copying work of accomplished craftsmen that you admire. Draw variations of a theme and pick the design that works the best. It's much cheaper in both time and money to leave the less inspired designs on the paper. Cutting designs out of paper is another variation of drawing."

JMD: What is the one essential hammer that a beginning metalsmith should have?

Bill: "For convex work, the planishing hammer with flat and slightly rounded faces. The same hammer sizes rings, flattens stock, forges, coins edges, and makes bezels."

JMD: What's the best thing you've ever learned from a jewelry-making student?

Bill: "To be reminded constantly of how much fun it is to create things." 


In addition to that brilliant advice, one of the best things I've learned while watching Bill's metalsmithing DVDs is this: When hammering on an anvil, move the metal, not the hammer. Keep the hammer bobbing in a straight-up-and-down motion and just turn the metal. Hold the hammer lightly in your palm and let it bounce off the metal in a fluid motion.


The projects in Bill's metalsmithing DVDs are fine examples of the high-quality metal jewelry that can be created with little or no soldering. Add a little soldering to the mix and you have great new options in his newer DVDs, Metalsmith Essentials: Forming Hollow Rings and Metalsmith Essentials: Expert Bezel Forming. With Bill's techniques of precise and thoughtful hammering and use of hammers and stakes, you can shape metal into just about any shape you could desire–and Bill's DVDs show you exactly how.

You can read the rest of my interview with Bill in the Jewelry Making Daily archives.

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