— EDIT 8/2/10 I have been informed of a serious oversight on my part involving safety. Please visit this post on tool safety before attempting this tutorial.
This long delayed second half of our project is going to explore cold connections. These oft overlooked methods are actually far more versatile than most people realize. So we’ll take our previously hammered pieces, layer them in a pleasing manner, and connect them using one of my favorites. The staple.
Now don’t laugh, I’m not going to tell you to grab that gizmo off your desk. No, these are metalsmith’s staples. Think of them like staples with a twist… And some curls… And ok, a few hammered details.
First off, the purpose of a staple is to put two wire legs through two or more pieces of material, which then curl around and hold the whole assembly securely, right? For a metalsmith, it’s the same thing. But why should we be content to simply have the wires curl over? Why stop there?
I’ve put together just a few of the possible ways to create decorative staples on my sample piece, and we’ll go through each one step by step so you can practice, and then I’ll address how to accurately place them in your piece-in-progress.
First is a simple taper. Using your scissors, cut the wire at a very severe angle, and sand vigorously to remove the sharp edges somewhat. If you have files, use them to round the sharp edges even further, and to blunt the sharp point of the wire slightly. If you don’t have files, you can carefully snip the very sharp end off. At this scale it won’t matter too much, but be aware this is a short cut suitable for practice projects only. It’s very important to round everything over in real jewelry!
Using your fingers or a pair of flat nosed pliers, bend the wire in a 90 degree angle. Create another angle a little farther away, and going the opposite direction, so that it looks like this:
Cut the wire after the second right angle bend, so that it approximately matches the length of the first leg we created. You’ll note the these legs seem very long for our project, but that’s because they will also be decorative, not just functional. Holding one leg still, grasp the opposite leg just at the bent angle, and rotate this leg so that it’s inline with the first leg. Like so:
This causes the little wire staple to become stiffer across the middle, or “work hardened”. This helps us to make sure our staple will be sturdy enough to hold our layers securely. Even just that half twist in a length of straight wire is enough to strengthen wire for all sorts of projects.
I’ve taken my now gently tapered and work hardened wire staple, and inserted it through a hole in a separate practice piece of metal. Holding the metal so that the legs extend through the metal and onto the surface of my metal block we’re now ready to hammer again.
If you don’t have a metal bench block, you can use a cast iron pan clamped down, or the square edge of a table you don’t care about, or anything else you can beat on with impunity. Metal filing cabinets work well, too, just wear ear plugs.
I have been informed of a serious oversight on my part involving safety. Pleas visit this post on tool safety before attempting the next step!!
Now this is going to look tricky, what with all the tools I’m using, but I’m sure you’ll find it’s quite simple once I explain. The idea is to use the weight of the first tool, hammer A, to hold the wires on the beating block, while hitting hammer A with hammer B to flatten the wire involved. In smithing circles, hammer A is properly called a “flatter” because it flattens things. Amazing terminology, isn’t it? Smiths have always called a spade a spade… or an earth turning implement.
I do it this way because trying to hold the project and the tool without smacking one’s fingers can be a bit hard sometimes. So. Lightly but firmly hit your flatter with your hammer, and flatten the wire. Try to hold the flatter at a slight angle so that the wire flattens slightly more closer to the metal. Repeat on the other leg of the staple. Lay the project flat on the beating block, and bend the legs until they are fairly flat on the surface of the metal. Then using your hammer, gently flatten the bends at their folded points so they are tight against the metal.
Nifty, huh? What’s really cool, is that of simply straight tapers like we did in taper 4, you can use round nose pliers, curl the tapers, and then flatten and fold them, you wind up with Taper 3. You could even make little fans. Here you would not taper the wire, and would flatten the wire more at the tip instead of the base, like taper 2. But if instead you use a flat headed screwdriver instead of a flatter, you can get Taper 1. You might need to tape your project in place until you get the hang of doing three things at once with one hand.
The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Experiment!
So now how do we put these in our project? Well first we have to measure our wire lengths. Decide how long you want the first leg to be, and then mark it with your sharpie. Place the mark on the center of the first hole, and use your sharpie to make a mark on the center of the second hole. Cut the second leg to the appropriate length.
Make the bends so that the corners of the bends are on the marks. Don’t forget to make the bends go opposite directions so we can work harden them! Taper your ends if desired, work harden the staple, and assemble your pieces as before, tightening the joint as needed. Voilà! Your first decorative staple is in your project! Continue in this manner until all of your pieces are assembled, and tightened.
You could have just one hole for a jump ring, or you can follow along with me. I did a curled taper with one end of my “staple”, then took curled the top of the wire around,
…and brought it through from the front to the back, and closed the staple on the back.
This time around, I’m going to take another staple, but I’m going to connect it in a different manner. I put only one right angle bend in, and forge in place, with the wire going from the back to the
front. Tighten the joint. This still leaves a rather long somewhat loose wire sticking out the front, right?
So now I’m going to bend the long end of the wire up and over the top of the piece to where I’ ve curved around my first staple, and wire wrapped the end in place. Now I’m going to double check the joints, and shape the extra wire with fingers and hammer until I get a pleasing result.
At this point you could steing it on a chain and wear it, or hang it in a window, or take the techniques you’ve learned and some basic tools and make something like this:
I made this pendant using only the techniques I described above, and these materials:
20 gauge silver sheet, a little scrap of 22 gauge silver sheet, a 1 inch piece of 12 ga wire, two ball headpins, 1 CZ headpin, one 1/16 drill bit in a hand egg-beater drill(although you can use a hand held pin vise too), rough files, a pair of round nose pliers, and of course a hammer. I strongly encourage you to invest the ten dollars to purchase these basic tools from a discount tool shop like Harbor Freight. Shoot, spend 11 more plus shipping and get a bench block and you’ll be amazed at what you can do…