Your First Metalsmithing Project: Create Textured Copper Earrings
My first metalsmithing lesson resulted in these handmade textured copper earrings. My friend and teacher, metalsmith Lexi Erickson, taught me how to saw and then set me loose, helping me quickly turn a piece of sheet metal into two pairs of one-of-a-kind earrings in just a few steps. (As a newbie, she wisely started me on less-expensive copper, but the same process can be applied to silver or other metals.)
Here’s how you can make your own handmade textured earrings:
20-gauge copper sheet metal
jeweler’s saw with 4/0 blades
bench pin sawing setup
medium tooth #2 file
flex shaft with polishing wheel, drill bit
hammer and awl or nail punch
2 pairs of ear wires
|1. Draw or trace a circle on the sheet metal. Stay close to the edge to conserve the rest of the metal for future projects.|
|2. Saw out the circle. Aim for a flowing, slowly bobbing, fluid stroke with a good rhythm for the most efficient sawing and to prevent breaking your saw blades.|
|3. Pushing the file down and away from you, file the edges (in one direction only) to smooth them and to perfect the shape of the circle.|
|4. Use a straight edge to draw perpendicular cross lines on the circle. Saw along those lines to divide the disc into four pie-shaped pieces. Slow down a bit and be careful as you saw close to edges to avoid bending and warping the metal or breaking the saw blades as the pieces bob and bounce. Repeat Step 3 on the newly sawn straight edges to smooth and straighten any irregularities.|
|5. Hammer the triangular pieces to add texture. Note that the more you hammer them, the more their triangular shape will stretch and distort a bit, so if you want their shape to keep its form, hammer conservatively.|
|6. Using a regular hammer and awl or nail punch, make the beginnings of a hole in the pointed top of each earring piece. Make it close enough to the tip to fit in the ear wire’s loop but not so close that it breaks or weakens the metal. Finish drilling the hole using a flex shaft outfitted with a drill bit. Tip: Do one hole completely and use it as a template to mark the other pieces in the same spot with the Sharpie marker.|
|7. Sand the drill holes and edges further with the sanding block. Place each piece in a dapping block and hammer it into a domed form.|
|8. Polish the surface to a high shine with a flex shaft and a polishing wheel.|
|9. Pressing firmly with the burnishing tool in a motion similar to that of peeling an apple, burnish the edges for a smooth, shining, well-finished edge. Open the loop on the ear wires with the jewelry pliers and attach the earring pieces to the wires.|
Lexi taught me so many wonderful things about metalsmithing in just two days, I could hardly learn fast enough! Between taking notes, taking photos, and actually making jewelry, it was impossible to remember everything she shared. So now, whenever I have a question about something she taught me and I can’t reach her, I rely on my backup all-knowing metalsmithing resource, Anastasia Young’s Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques. It’s the most complete jewelry-making book I’ve ever seen, and so far I’ve found every answer I’ve sought in it.
In addition to nearly 100 pages of jewelry history, a gallery of design inspiration, work space and jewelry-making tool information, reference guides covering everything from gemstone types and shapes to conversion tables and measurements, a jeweler’s glossary, and information for selling and photographing your jewelry . . . in addition to all of that, there’s nearly 200 pages of jewelry-making and metalsmithing techniques.
The techniques section covers everything an aspiring or experienced metalsmith should know. Presented through step-by-step instructions and photographs are metalsmithing techniques such as sawing and filing, piercing and embossing, soldering, creating patinas and textures, etching and carving, making clasps and findings, casting and mold making, chain making, gemstone setting, bezel making, stringing and knotting—even inlay, fold forming, and enameling! No bench or jewelry studio is complete without this incredibly thorough educational resource, so don’t hesitate to get your copy of The Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques!