by Virginia Vivier.
(Esprit Mystique Jewelry)
Would you like to create a line of jewelry that looks professional with a very limited amount of tools?
Investing in a hydraulic press can save you hours of labor creating a unique line of jewelry that looks as if it were made by hand, one-at-a-time.
In my last article, You Don’t Need Expensive Tools to Make Beautiful Jewelry, we discussed how to cut duplicate shapes out of sterling silver, copper, brass and gold using pancake dies (also referred to as shearing dies, or blanking dies).
This time, I would like to go one step further and share the benefits of using a hydraulic press to quickly create 3-dimensional shapes from a flat piece of metal.
I bought a “used” 20 ton hydraulic press in 2001, after reading Susan Kingsley’s book, Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths. Susan’s book explained how to duplicate original shapes quickly, rather than cutting out and hammering each shape, tediously, one-at-a-time.
Back then, I paid $500 for a second-hand press. If you were to buy a new one today, it would run quite a bit more.
You can probably find DIY directions on how to make a 20 ton hydraulic press, on the internet, if you have the equipment and “expertise” to do it. (I certainly didn’t.)
Since then, I discovered a local genius, Kevin Potter, who has greatly simplified and improved the design of a 20 ton press used for jewelry making.
Kevin’s site, PotterUSA, carries hydraulic presses and all kinds of metal forming tools at very reasonable prices. (I am not associated with Kevin Potter – usual disclaimers – just a big fan of his jewelry making tools.)
I would like to share how you can make sterling silver puffed hearts for Valentine’s Day jewelry, quickly and easily, using a hydraulic press.
This heart would normally take much longer to produce if you were to cut out the shape with a jeweler’s saw and form it using hand tools.
This “puffed” heart, made from a flat piece of 18 gauge brass, took less than 5 minutes to complete, start to finish.
It could be made into earrings, a pendant, or bracelet, by drilling holes and adding jump rings. Simply gorgeous.
Silhouette dies are available in the shape of circles, triangles, diamonds, teardrops, crescent moon, hearts, ovals, hexagons, stars and many more!
What I like best, is that you can use a silhouette die to form different sizes of the same shape.
For example, you can use a large heart silhouette die for a pendant, and a smaller version of the same heart to make earrings to match the pendant, as well as bracelet components.
One thing that may be misunderstood, is that the silhouette die doesn’t CUT OUT the shape, it forces the metal to puff through the negative opening of the die.
You can put extra pressure on the die which gives you a clearly defined outline of the shape, but it doesn’t cut it free of the die.
You can use metal shears (or a jeweler’s saw for thicker gauges of metal) to cut it free.
I rarely need to use a jeweler’s saw. I use Joyce Chen shears to cut off the excess flange. Joyce Chen shears work very well on metal. You can file down any rough edges if you need to.
I used a flat piece of patterned brass to form this star. You can purchase flat sheets of patterned brass from Metalliferous.com.
This one has a fun elephant design:
Run the rough cutout shapes in a rotary tumbler, filled with water and stainless steel shot, for 2 hours, to smooth down the rough edges.
The rough pieces can be polished by hand, but a rotary tumbler will save much of the time-consuming handwork. The rotary tumbler produces a bright, shiny surface and smooth edges.
You can get them on sale at Harbor Freight. Lortone.com also carries a wide variety of rotary tumblers.
One other thing you need, is a urethane “pusher.”
The urethane is placed on top of the metal that is sitting on top of the silhouette die.
The urethane can take all the pressure you can muster on the 20 ton press and it won’t break. It squishes down into the open space of the die and forces the metal to “puff” out below it.
It’s really an amazing process to watch.
PotterUSA carries the urethane “pusher” and container to hold the die.
(Sometimes I just use a piece of urethane sheet on top of the metal, without the container, to push a shallow shape through the silhouette die. If you want a very deep “puff” you can use the container to force the urethane deeply into the die.)
If you just need a small piece of urethane, contact Kevin Potter at PotterUSA and he will include it with your order. It’s relatively cheap.
Here are some photos of the metal “puffing” process.
The photo below shows the silhouette die sitting on top of a flat metal base (optional).
The piece of metal to be “puffed” is placed on top of the silhouette die. On top of the metal is a piece of urethane. If this sounds confusing, it is explained very well in Susan Kingsley’s book.
Note the bulging of the urethane on top of the metal and die as pressure is exerted from the press (photo below).
This is at about 3500 pounds pressure, which is about maximum pressure for the gauge of metal I was using. Further pressure may tear the metal.
Each of the jewelry pieces (shown below) required less than 5 minutes of handwork using a hydaulic press, pancake dies or silhouette dies, and a rotary tumbler.
You can create a lot of gorgeous jewelry designs in an 8 hour day, using a hydraulic press.
Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts are a built in markets for you ….
Be creative and have fun!
Please contact me if you have any questions!
Esprit Mystique etsy shop
contact: Amulets at Esprit-Mystique dot com
Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your knowledge and resources for this project.
Your photos are also great and easy to follow.
I know you’ve gotten a lot of us excited with the possibilities for this cool metal jewelry technique!
Thanks again for sharing.
by: Katie B.
at how cool this jewelry is and how easy you make it sound!
My mind is an excited whirl of possibilities after reading this and seeing your pics.
Just got a great inspiration from your tut here, espeically at the end where you say
“Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts are a built in markets for you”
Bingo! Thanks a million for sharing all this.
Thanks a bunch, Mistique friend, you’ve opened my eyes as well as doors to all the creative possibilities that smell like money-makers. I’m so glad, and appreciative, to learn how to make Little look Big (puffy). A revelation. I’ll be looking for more of your wisdom-from-experience. Thank you !
Metal jewelry making
I’ve been wanting to get started with metal jewelry, whenever I do shows there’s so much beadwork that I want to expand into something more unique.
I didn’t have any ideas except for wire, which i have trouble controlling and getting nice results with, until I saw this and your other tutorial. Now I feel excited that there are a lot of things I could do with metal that wouldn’t be to expensive to get into.
I’m sure there’s a lot of people like me, reading your great tutorials and going, Wow, here’s the answer! Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas and incredible jewelry.
I’m so thankful for your article. I just ordered my Potter Press last week. It’s due to arrive soon and I can’t wait to get this new process started. Thank you for your clear and informative piece and the great pics too!