A Safety Note

It’s been brought to my attention that I was pretty light on the safety issues in my first tutorial. On reflection, I find I agree. My most sincere apologies.

When I advocate using one hammer as a flatter for another, there is a measure of risk involved. A hammer is a tool for hitting another tool, or a piece of metal. So it is “hardened” using heat and certain properties of metallurgy to make the steel involved harder than it might be normally. Hammers are hardened. Hitting one hammer with another can cause fractures and steel splinters to fly out and injure the smith or surrounding observers. This is indeed dangerous. I was very remiss in not fully stating this before. ANY time you hit a tool with a hardened tool, there is a risk for splinters and damage to the tools involved.

What can you do to prevent this? Well first and foremost, you should WEAR your safety glasses. Don’t have any? Then don’t use any tools. It’s that simple.

Second, you can make sure that the tools involved are soft, such as brass, copper, or un-hardened steel. This is not fool proof! I have been injured using brass tools, but you are usually less likely to receive damage than you might if you used fully hardened tools.

Thirdly, you can inspect the tools involved. Are there weaknesses in the tools? Are there visible cracks, pits, or other indications of something wrong with the tool?

Last- use common sense. I will say it again- ANY time you use a tool, you are doing something that can be dangerous. BE CAREFUL. Don’t swing your hammer like you’re trying to forge through your bench! You will break a finger, break a tool, destroy your project, and host of other bad things.

I’m in the midst of writing a full article on shop safety for the next batch of things I’ll be discussing- punches, a torch, things like that. In the mean time, please leave comments!


— 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…

I am probably one of the most obsessive people when it comes to writing. Even though this is a totally informal blog and not a full hardbound printed reference tome- I am struggling with actually allowing the content to flow. I’m getting distracted by all the things I want to tell people about what I do, and why, and how much fun it is, but I keep changing my mind about half way through because it’s not clear enough. It was amazing to me that actually committed to yesterday’s post, and allowed myself to even partially publish it…

You’ll notice that the second half didn’t come out today.

What I have instead are not one, not two- but ten failed attempts to introduce initial metalsmithing concepts. When I have this much trouble with a project, I know of course, that I’m doing something wrong. So here are my thoughts- I want to show people what they can make, and how to do so safely, inexpensively, and with a minimum of specialty tooling. But I also want to share information that I’ve been asked for- the parts you my readers really want to learn.

After thinking about this while I struggled… I realized that I went a little to far too fast. I got so flustered with the idea of finally sharing my passions step-by-step, that I totally ignored the ground work that leads up to creating. It’s not enough to have a materials list, or to simply own the tools. Understanding metalsmithing is primarily all about understanding the “whys” behind what you’re doing, so that you can adapt the results into what you want.

And so my confession is this- I will be publishing the rest of this tutorial, but not until after I explain the concepts already covered yesterday. I know- it was really easy, and what possible concepts could I be talking about, right? Seriously, they’re there, and if I explain now, it will give you all a better understanding for what’s coming next.

Please bear with me as I try to figure out how to write all this stuff. I may know how to swing a hammer, and set a gemstone- but I’m still learning this how-to stuff.

I have been informed of a serious oversight on my part involving safety. Pleas visit this post on tool safety before attempting this tutorial.

Today I’m going to be starting my first tutorial on jewelry making, with the absolute minimum of specialty tools and materials. For the first project, we’re going to need some preliminary basics, and these can be found in just about any household.

Jewelry people will tell you that you need all sorts of fancy tools. I disagree. This is not to say that I don’t personally have and use all those fancy tools- but until you’re bitten by the metalsmith bug, you won’t actually need to do that…

The basics are, something to beat with, something to cut with, something to connect bits together with, and something to make the surfaces pretty with. For jewelers, this equates to a stunning array of hammers and raising stakes, easily into the 1,000s of dollars worth, in fact. Also a jeweler’s saw and various blades, soldering setup with ventilation and lots of chemicals, and polishing machinery.

These are the tools you need

My tool recommendations for your first project

What you actually need is- a ball peen hammer and a wood block, a pair of sharp scissors(think tin snips, or kitchen shears), wire, and some sandpaper or scotchbrite scrubby. The wire I’m talking about can be anything of sufficient gauge (thickness). 18 gauge would be best, for this project, I think. I’ll be using copper because that’s what I have, but you can use copper, silver, or coated craft wire which is available practically anywhere, just keep in mind that the coatings will come off during this project. If you have a choice, make sure you get the wire that’s labeled “half-hard”. This will make sure it’s stiff enough for the project. If it’s not labeled, it’s usually safe to assume it’s half-hard, which is an industry standard.

The only bits you may not have on hand is the actual metal, such as copper or silver sheet. However, for this particular first project, you can use anything you have lying around of sufficient thickness Disposable pie pans are too thin, trust me, I experimented extensively for this post. If you really don’t have metal just lying around longing to be used, you can find copper, brass, steel, and aluminum sheet at hardware supply stores like Home Depot or Lowes, or at your favorite large craft store. I recommend at least 24 gauge, like I’m using, but no more than 20 gauge.

If you don’t have the bench block I’m using, a wood block, which is just a piece of two by four will work, or you can use anything that’s pretty solid and sturdy. The bottoms of cast iron pans work well too.

I don’t normally use anything but silver and gold any more, it’s true, but I happen to still have some nickel silver on hand, which I’ll use as my demo metal because you’ll be able to see the possibilities of real silver better in the photos.

Things to remember before starting this project. Metal is sharp. When you cut metal- especially thin metal, it’s VERY sharp. Please be careful. I wear gardening gloves when I do fine projects like this, so I don’t poke myself too often when cutting out the metal. You will get paper-cut type injuries from thin metals, and they are deeper and more irritating than you would ever believe. Always wear safety glasses when doing any metalsmithing project, and ear plugs or shop muffs as well. Please be careful.

Extra tools needed for this project
1. A spoon
2. A pointy screwdriver(or center punch if you happen to have one), or a pointy screw
3. A flat headed screwdriver or other marking tools
4. Sharpie
5. An extra hammer or other tool with a flat face(yes this makes two hammers)
6. A pair of flat nosed pliers, and a pair of round nosed pliers- OPTIONAL

First step- take a sharpie and draw near the edge of your metal a series of simple shapes. I’ll be using ovals and random shapes for my project, but you can use anything your heart desires. Make sure you leave space between your shapes so that you have a border to cut out, as we’ll be cutting a little larger than the finished shape.

My design as traced out on Metal

Second step- cut out the pieces. You’ll note that I’ve cut out my pieces with an extra border of metal. It’s about 1/8 to a 1/4 of an inch. I didn’t measure it, I just estimated, and there’s no need to be precise.

Now place your largest piece (which will become the back piece) on your wood block or beating surface, and using the edge of your spoon, gently but firmly push along the line you’ve drawn. This will cause the edge of your metal to raise up from the surface of your block a little bit. That’s what we want- so that’s good. Now hold the tip of your spoon along the line, and using your hammer, or your fingers, or flat nosed pliers if you have them, firmly push the metal over the back of the spoon, working your way around the shape.

Your edge will start to wrinkle. That’s fine. You’re forcing the metal to compress itself in this step, and it will fight this process a little. Once you get it all pushed over the spoon, use your hammer(or fingers depending upon the thickness), and push or beat on the bits that are higher than the rest. Our goal is to get it completely flat and without any folds. This step will give us a nice safe edge to our piece, so no one will get cut on the finished product.

Take your next piece, and we’re going to start beating on it. You can use your hammer, a screwdriver or anything else that will leave an interesting mark. I’ve used the edge of a flat blade screwdriver here.

So this is where I’m going to leave you for tonight- happily bashing away on innocent bits of metal. Tomorrow I’m going to show you how to put your bits together with cold-connections, and then I’ll show you one of my fancy pieces that uses the same techniques that you’re learning here in this practice piece.

Lot’s of fun, and I’ll see you all tomorrow!

Welcome to my new tutorial blog! My name is Kaelin, and I’m a metalsmith. I specialize in Art Jewelry, and luscious forged metal pieces. I truly love metal, and what I create- I even dream about new designs and ideas to try! I’ve discovered, however, that alot of artistic people find this whole area intimidating, confusing, or both! When I realized this- I was very upset. What I do on a daily basis is one of the pure joys of my life, and is not nearly as complicated as people think.

Unfortunately, I think generations of humanity have watched jewelers create masterpieces of intricate detail and astonishing beatuy and have drawn three conclusions. First, that being able to do so is an amazing skill- which is true. Second, that creating jewelry requires highly specialized knowledge that requires years and years to acquire- sorta true, but not really. Third, that the creation of Art Jewelry is beyond the talents of most individuals and should be avoided like the plague- totally false. Let me address those last two “conclusions”. Yes, creating jewelry requires specialized knowledge. Almost everything in life does, in fact, but you don’t need to know ALL of it to start with! You can start with a little project that doesn’t even require soldering to learn tool techniques, and that’s Art Jewelry as well! The idea that this field of expertise is beyond most people is absurd. Really, it is. I will be showing tutorials about how to use basic tools that everyone knows how to use to introduce concepts that help build confidence.

You will see- anyone can do this! So in this blog, I am going to do my best to demystify the whole process of art jewelry creation by publishing tutorials and my personal experiences with creating jewelry. If you’d like to know more about me as an artist, you can find my studio blog, and on my studio website. I will be open to suggestions for posts- so please let me know what you’d like to see!