You Don’t Need Expensive Tools to Make Beautiful Jewelry
by Virginia Vivier.
Are you looking for a way to make some extra income? Do you like to create beaded jewelry? Perhaps you would rather work with precious metals, but don’t have the extra cash (or time for training) to invest in expensive metalsmithing tools?
The Basic Idea
You can create your own line of earrings, pendants and bracelets for an investment of less than $150 in tools.
Sell wholesale to boutiques or retail as an art festival vendor.
You could recoup that investment by selling 6 pendants, earrings and/or bracelets at $25 each, including materials. If you sold 50 per month at $25 each, you could make $1250.
I found a supplier with a line of pancake dies (also known as shearing dies), in different shapes and sizes.
Pancake dies allow you to cut out a shape in silver, brass, gold or copper, repeatedly, in seconds. (If you were to draw these shapes on a piece of metal and cut them out using a jeweler’s saw, it would take 10 times longer to duplicate the same shape, by hand, one at a time. Plus, you would have the added cost of buying a jeweler’s saw and blades.)
Using a pancake die is a snap.
Simply sandwich a piece of copper, brass or silver into the die and apply enough pressure to cut the metal shape out of the die.
A Vise or Hydraulic Press
You can use a standard vise to squeeze the die until the metal shape pops out (total investment – $40 for the vise, and $18 for the pancake die. Plus some strong muscles to apply the pressure.)
Or, you can use a 20 ton hydraulic press which makes it much easier, but of course, adds greatly to the investment. You can buy a 20 ton hydraulic press through Rio Grande for about $1800 plus $300 in shipping, or you can buy a more user-friendly 20 ton hydraulic press at PotterUSA for about $700.
Checkout this YouTube video on how to use a pancake die in a hydraulic press.
Using Pancake Dies with a
If you don’t have the cash to buy a hydraulic press, here are some photos to show how to use the pancake dies with a standard vise.
First, insert the metal in the die shape, then position the die sandwich in the jaws of a heavy duty vise.
Tighten the jaws of the vise until you hear a snapping sound.
Loosen the jaws of the vise and remove the die.
The result is a positive and negative shape from the die.
What You Can Make
with This Technique
Below are samples showing how you can use the pancake dies to create finished jewelry, quickly:
You can further shape them by lightly hammering into a dapping block:
My dapping block is about 20 years old and is showing age (like me), but still works just fine (like me : ) ).
You can find dapping blocks on eBay and CraigsList in a wide variety of prices.
The block has several different dome sizes. Dapping blocks are also available in wood (much cheaper), but do not hold up as well as steel.
I made this simple pendant in under 5 minutes, start to finish:
I stamped Italian words using metal alphabet stamps you can buy on Ebay.
It says “ridi spesso, vivi bene, ama molto” which translates to “Laugh alot, Live well, Love much.” You could make it more personal with loved one’s initials, birthdate, wedding or anniversary date.
It’s easy to make matching earrings and a bracelet, by punching out smaller matching shapes and connecting the components to earring hooks, or using chain links to make a bracelet.
The Tools You’ll Need
So, for an investment of under $150 in tools, you could create your own sellable jewelry designs.
* A wide variety of pancake dies can be purchased from PotterUSA.com for $18 each.
* Dapping block sets start at $25+ on Ebay. Make sure you check the diameter of the dome size to fit the shape of the jewelry you want to create before you buy!/
* To add a shiny finish and smooth out rough edges, you can get a rotary tumbler at Harbor Freight for about $40.
* I like to use a bench grinder (Harbor Freight, about $39), and switch out the grinding wheels for polishing wheels that create a shiny or matte finish.
* You may want a hole punching tool (about $12).
* Finally, you’ll need a pair of metal scissors to cut off the tab left from the pancake die. For cutting off die tabs you can’t beat Joyce Chen scissors. They cut 18 gauge metal like butter.
If you don’t have metal scissors, you can fold the tab over and use it as a bail to hold chains.)
So, if you shop carefully, your total tool investment is under $150.
Metals You’ll Need for the Jewelry
I buy textured brass from Metalliferous and then use a pancake die to cut out the shape. I add some stamped designs for interest.
The result is a hand-made forged look.
Metalliferous has a wide variety of textured metals at a very reasonable price.
Questions or Comments?
Let us know if you have questions or comments.
There are lots of ways to sell jewelry.
Thank you so much for sharing this great technique and how to make it affordable!
The pieces you create with this are stunning.
Incredible that the pendant took only 5 minutes, start to finish. It would be a good item to actually make at shows – demonstrations always increase interest and sales of our jewelry, and it wouldn’t be difficult to do customized lettering for customers while they wait. People love to buy something they watched the artist make!
Anyway, a great post, Virginia – very inspiring and loaded with do-able ideas!
Thank you. :o)
by: Patricia C Vener
5 minutes? There’s nothing in bead weaving that takes only five minutes… I’ll have to invent something because that idea is awesome. Your work is very professional looking and I am sure that having a good eye fro design is another imperative that makes your work unique.
What gauge metal do you use for these pendants? And are the other designs done freehand, or did you have stamps for them as well?
Thank you so much for this amazing technique! I’ve been wanting to try some basic metalsmithing for quite some time now, but have always found it to be a bit intimidating. This technique (and your wonderful tutorial) has provided me with a more “approachable” (and much less daunting) starting point.
Thank you so much for these wonderful links to some great sites. Your article has a wealth of information. Thanks for sharing it with us all!
Although I won’t call it a resolution, my end goal for 2010 was to expand from beadwork to Metalwork – only I had no idea where to start!
Then bam! Rena literally sends the information direct to my inbox, with this amazing guide to lay everything out for me! Ladies thanks so much for prayers truly answered!
So happy to hear …
how much Virginia’s great info is helping and inspiring everyone!
She must have felt how much this info was needed when she was inspired to generously send it in to post here!
I hope to see some of the wonderful things you all create with her cool techniques!
Additional info on this article
by: Virginia Vivier – Esprit-Mystique.com
This is in response to questions regarding the jewelry in the photos above.
The pancake dies (shearing dies) work best with 16 – 20 gauge brass, silver, copper and gold.
My designs (above) were made from pre-formed textured brass, purchased from Metalliferous (see links to this supplier in the article above), then I embellished the textured brass with Southwest Native American Indian designs, using hand stamping tools. This adds some symbolic mystery and a personal signature to the design.
You can purchase a wide variety of hand stamping tools from Indian Jewelers Suppy in Albuquerque, and other jewelry supply companies, like Rio Grande. Most design stamps cost under $10 each.
Number stamps can be found at Harbor Freight, and alphabet stamps are available at many jewelry supply companies.
Additionally, you can design your own custom stamping dies, but they are pricier. Search Google for “jewelry hand stamping tools” and you should find a variety of suppliers and articles on techniques.
I hope this helps. Feel free to contact me with any othe questions: amulets @ esprit-mystique.com
by: Lisa W.
I would love to know where you found your dies! Did I miss a link in your article? I have been looking for these for quite some time! I love what you have done with them. Your work looks professional and yet hand crafted, well done!
Even more, thank you for being so forthcoming with your ideas. So many have commented that they are happy to find a way to break into metal smithing. How good of you to provide it!
These pieces are fabulous, simple and unique…thanks for sharing.
But wait! There’s more …
Virginia has very generously shared “part 2” of this technique:
How to Create Multiple Valentine Jewelry Hearts Quickly – Using a Hydraulic Press.
(Actually, it applies to all kinds of shapes in addition to Valentine hearts!)
Thank you so much, Virginia! :o)
Jewelry Making Technics
by: Liz Love-Designs by Love
Thank-you so much for sharing. I would’ve eventually paid full price for these tools, but you have saved me a lot of money and time.
Thank-you and God bless you!
Thank you for sharing. Your pieces are magnificent. You are truly a creative spirit. May you never run out of ideas!
large metal dies used in these designs?
These designs are beautiful although it would take me probably 5 hours instead of 5 minutes 🙂 Are the metal pieces pre-stamped with large swirls, squares, etc., from large metal dies or are these pieces pre-stamped and if pre-stamped, where could I find them? Thank you. Mary
I found the patterned pieces
I answered my own question. I located the pre-stamped pieces that Virginia generously shared with us – like she mentioned, they’re at Metalliferous.
Once on the site click on “base metal” (along the left side), click on “brass,” click on “brass stampings,” and then on “brass stampings Aztec.” Thank you again, Virginia for sharing. Mary
Questions about tumblers
The person at the Harbor Freight store talked us away from the rotary tumbler, and into buying the 5 lb. vibrating tumbler (said he knew lots of jewelry makers who ended up returning the 3 lb. rotary tumbler for the vibrating one). Next he said we needed to use metal shot to polish the metal jewelry pieces, but first we would have to thoroughly polish the shot with the walnut piece stuff . . . now my husband is doing internet research, and it looks like much of what he told us is incorrect, or at least not quite correct. Can anyone comment regarding the rotary vs. vibrating (which works better, and also how long they last), and also on what compound you use for tumbling (or vibrating) your metal jewelry pieces? We were trying not to have to use the walnut (except for cleaning the shot) because we have a 12-year-old who is deathly allergic to nuts, especially walnuts. Has anyone used porcelain shot to polish your jewelry pieces? Thank you so much!
Rotary Tumbler for polishing metal jewelry
by: Virginia Vivier – Esprit Mystique.com
I had 2 vibratory tumblers and wound up donating them to my local Lapidary Club. I found them too noisy and limited in use for making silver & brass pendants. However, many people DO use them for polishing rocks.
I purchased a 3 small Lortone rotary tumblers that worked very well, but I found them a PITA to open/close. I finally purchased a wonderful rotary tumbler from Rio Grande (item #202019) that is very easy to open/close and is clear, so you can see how your pieces are doing without having to open it.
Rio Grande now carries great rotary tumblers that are clear and fairly inexpensive. If I were starting out again, I would purchase them. (Dura Bull -Item 202210). I would not buy Lortone black rubber tumblers again.
As far as using steel shot. I never had to “break them in” with walnut shells. I just ran them for a few minutes with a tsp. of Tri-Sodium-Phospate (TSP) and water. YOu can also clean your shot in dishwasing soap (tsp). Make sure you buy only stainless steel shot! Steel shot will rust and is not worth the trouble just to save a few $$$.
I love buying SOME tools at Harbor Freight, but your Hubby is wise to research as much as possible before taking 1 person’s advice.
An excellent resource (free) for all jewelry techniques/tools is The Ganoksin Project (www.ganoksin.com). Better known as The Orchid Forum. They have 220,000 pages of resources/tips/how-to articles in their archives.
Of course, Rena’s newsletter/publications offer a wealth of inspiration and information for ALL!
I received conflicting advice from three different stores as to which is best, rotary or vibrating.
So I went to Michael’s with a 40% coupon and bought a child’s rock tumbler. It is amazing!! and as soon as it breaks (the motor is sounding a little rough after a lot of use for three months), I’m going to purchase a professional one that is easy to open and close. (BTW, I use Dawn detergent.)
Please help me ihave a design i would like to create a penndant with . I would like it to be inexpensive as possible.How can i do this.
How do you make the embossed designs
by: Dan Webb
It is beautiful jewelry. I was wondering How you make the embossed designs on copper or brass.
Embossed brass sheet
by: Virginia Vivier
You can emboss sheet metal (brass, copper, silver, pewter, etc.) by running it through a rolling mill between 2 sheets of metal, like a sandwich. A Google search on how to texture metal will explain a wide variety of ways to do this.
I believe you are asking how I textured the pendants that were pictured in the tutorial. It’s really easy! I purchased textured sheets of brass from Metaliferious, cut them into shapes, then stamped designs on top of the textured metal sheets. You can find the link in my tutorial.
Hope this helps!
Patina on brass pendant
Love your work. How did you get the gorgeous patina on the one pendant???
How to add patina to Brass
by: Virginia Vivier — Esprit Mystique.com
I’m not sure if you were referring to my brass pendants, but if you were, here are instructions on how to add dark brown patina to emphasize embossed designs or stamping on brass:
For Brass, I use Jax Brown patina (here’s the link: http://www.jaxchemicals.com/). You will have to pay hazardous shipping charge if you order this online.
You can also make a similar patina solution using a Ferric Chloride etching solution, which can be found in electronics stores – sometimes Radio Shack carries it in liquid form. Just make up a 1/2 cup or less of distilled water by using this recipe: 10 parts water to 1 part Ferric Chloride. It can be stored in a plastic or glass container. Never store in a metal container or use a metal lid.
Paint the patina solution on to your brass piece, let it sit for about 5 minutes, then wipe it off. It will darken the entire piece wherever you apply it. All you have to do to achieve a beautiful finish, is to tumble it in a rotary tumbler for about 30 minutes, or polish it on a buffing machine, or use a small Foredom handheld device with a polishing wheel. You can also use ultra fine grit sandpaper to polish the higher areas.
Polishing will remove the patina from the higher surfaces, and leave the depressions (stamps & embossed areas) dark. This is a great way to achieve a unique “aged” look to your jewelry.
Make sure you clean your jewelry piece thoroughly with soap and water before you wear it. The patina can lodge into tiny crevices and continue “etching” into the brass if it is not completely neutralized. You can also neutralize it with a washing soda or baking soda rinse before you polish it. Use about 1 Tbl soda to 1/2 cup water to neutralize patina. It will not remove the patina, just stop the acid action from working.
Please feel free to email if you have any questions: amulets at Esprit-Mystique dot com.
Have fun and make lots of jewelry!
Patina on brass pendant
Thanks for the info.
The particular pendant I was admiring was the brass pendant just underneath the section “Metals You will Need for the Jewelry”. In the photograph, it appears to have a gorgeous dark patina. I wasn’t sure whether you used a torch or chemicals or both to get it. I didn’t see it on your website either. I was just very curious as to how you achieved it on brass. Thanks again.
I am new to jewelry making and I have found I enjoy working with metal. I especially enjoy creating etched metal. I look forward to trying some of the techniques you have listed and I have ordered a couple of pancake dies.
Thank you, again!
All this jewellery are amazing. But where I can buy ferric nitrate for silver etching in Australia. Thank you
Ferric Chloride in Australia
by: Virginia Vivier, Esprit-Mystique.com
Wow. I can certainly understand your frustration in finding etching acid supplier in Australia. I lived in the British Virgin Islands for 6 years and had a hard time finding stuff too.
First of all, check out any companies that make circuit boards. They use Ferric Chloride to etch their copper circuit board designs. They would be a good source for finding local suppliers of Ferric Chloride. Also, check out your local University Chem lab. They may be able to help you find the local supplier of Ferric Chloride and Ferric Nitrate, for etching on silver.
Last, contact some local jewelers and see if they can head you in the right direction to Chemical Suppliers near you.
Good luck! I know it can be tough some times. Do everything you can to find a local supplier where you can pick up the Ferric Chloride yourself. When you get into “hazardous shipping” it starts adding up in cost.
Please share your info for others who may need the same info if you find a good supplier!
Happy New Year! You are ahead of the USA, in time, by almost a whole day! You know what is happening before we do! : )
Sunny Tucson, AZ
This is a great idea. I have been wanting to get into metal jewelry. This article will definitely get me started. Question: Can you make your own designs, if so how do you do it?
Creating Custom Design Pancake Dies
by: Virginia Vivier, Esprit Mystique.com
There are 2 ways to create your own custom design pancake dies:
1.) You can saw them out of tool steel yourself.
2.) You can have them made by pancake die specialists.
1.) You CAN make them yourself but it takes a lot of skill and practice to get it to work correctly.
I highly recommend taking a class and/or purchasing Susan Kingsley’s book: Hydraulic Die Forming for Jewelers and Metalsmiths. (You may be able to find it in your local library.) Read it first to see if this is something you want to learn how to do. It does take extra tools, design knowledge, and a bit of a learning curve to do it right.
2.) You can have your own custom designs made by those who specialize in manufacturing this type of pancake die. I can highly recommend 2 people who have done this successfully:
a.) Kevin Potter (www.potterusa.com) Contact him for a quote on the price of your design.
b.) Dar Shelton (http://www.sheltech.net/home.html) His pancake dies are expensive, but well worth the price. His dies last and last through hundreds and hundreds of cuttings. This is his specialty!
Good luck! I hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me anytime!
Warmly from sunny Tucson, AZ, Virginia – email: designs at Esprit-Mystique dot com.