Setting up a Jewelry Studio

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There’s a ton of information on my website.  Just browse around and you might find the answer to your question.

Questions and Answers

What tools, materials and supplies should I get for starting out – especially for Chasing and Repoussé?

Question

“I want to learn all I can about jewelry making especially chasing and repoussé. What affordable tools do you recommend?”

Answer

Tools:  Hmmm…. well, of course, there is Harbor Freight.  They have very inexpensive tools that are either for the jeweler or can be adapted.  I started with mostly their tools.

If you want to do chasing and repoussé, you’ll need a torch for annealing.  You can start with a small portable system like this from Bernzomatic . Don’t buy propane gas for it – use Mapp gas instead it burns hotter.  You’ll need a striker to light it too and the gas tank which you should buy locally as I don’t think they ship the little tanks.  Please check out my techniques page – especially the page titled:  Soldering.  I discuss some of the tools and materials used to solder. BTW, never use a lighter or a barbecue lighter for your torch – too dangerous.

You can make all of your own chasing and repoussé tools.  I assume you’ve seen my video and looked at my webpage?

On hammers:  a chasing hammer will serve many different needs.  I use mine for small scale forging as well as chasing and repoussé and a bunch of other stuff.

You’ll need a few pliers:  round nose and flat nose, at least.  Rio Grande has many tools. You can also watch ebay and check with places like Craig’s List.

For a pitch pot I’ve used a small metal baking dish, a dog dish,  the top to a large candy can (round). You can use a wheelbarrow tire as a base to hold the pot.  The pitch, you can make it but, I wouldn’t. It’s not cheap but, will last forever.  I like red German pitch. Check out Otto Frei for that and other tools. Pepe brand makes a lot of inexpensive, quality tools.  I’d give their site a look over.

Pickle pots are about $5.00 US at the junk store.  Buy a ceramic-lined crockpot.  I also buy my pyrex bowls there for quenching and neutralizing the pickle.  Make your own pickle and flux with inexpensive products.

Check out: Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop by Charles Lewton Brain. Actually, I’d just google him – he is a wealth of information. Also: Ganoksin for advice and ideas on all things jewelry related.

You’ll need a jewelers saw frame and some saw blades.  As a newbie, I’d buy by the gross.  Start with maybe a 2/0 or 3/0 – a pretty useful size for general use.

You’ll need a file or two:   A half round file is great as it has two different shapes: round and flat.  Maybe buy one standard size 1/2 round and 1 needle file 1/2 round.  That said, I would also get a round needle file – great for enlarging drill bit holes and other uses.

Get some good wire cutters:  my favorites – PowerMax.  They last forever and cut up to 8 gauge.

Always lubricate your tools like saw blades, drill bits (not files), other types of bits, they last a lot longer.

A piece of advice: buy only what you need.  Figure out what you want to do, buy the bare minimum, make do, make it yourself, scavenge, beg and borrow.  I spent maybe $200.00 US a year on tools, in the beginning.  Doing things like making my own hammers – a large nail (sanded smooth and polished – round the edges a bit) hammered through a small hole in a rod makes a nice, small hammer, or try a carriage bolt.

Get a used Dremel or get an inexpensive flex shaft from Harbor Freight (I’ve had a few of mine for about 8-10 years.  Do you have a metal recycler in town?  If so, get on over there. Lots of usable metal to make anvils, hammers, etc.  Do you have a Maker community?  An arts center?  Visit local jewelers, get into that community – there’s lot of trade and back and forth sharing available there.

Materials like metal:  the recycler in your neighborhood.  Your local dump.  There’s ton’s of copper wire, aluminum, steel, brass, etc there. Great material to make beautiful art with. Junk stores also have a lot of metal in them:  an old copper planter, cut up and reused as sheet metal, tin, steel, etc.  Old irons in a vise make great anvils.  Check out Metalliferous (many types of metal) and Online Metals. (also, many types of metal).  Back to Table of Contents

If you had a $1,000 to spend, to start up your studio, what would you buy?

Question

“Here’s a quick question… If you were starting out in your studio and had $1000 to spend on tools, what would you purchase?”

Answer

I have a question and answer page that covers some of the answers to that HUGE question you asked.  Of course, you read the Answer to Question #1, above?

There are so many issues that will determine what that 1000.00 buys. Do you want to pattern metal? Etch, solder, saw, forge, chase, enamel, rivet, crimp, use a hydraulic press, bead, work with glass beads, electroform, cut waxes, do casting, etc.?  So much depends on what YOU want/like to do.

I would start out by buying just what I needed to complete one project.  If you find a project where you need a new hammer, buy the hammer.  Go slow and don’t buy tools you don’t know what to do with (like I did).  I hope this helps.

BTW:  a saw, a hammer, a small piece of wood and a flex shaft are a good place to start.  Order a Rio Grande catalog and drool on it.  I used to write up imaginary shopping lists and then order the bare minimum of what I wanted. Today, after moving my studio from one place to the other (for the past month), I’m aghast at how much money I’ve spent over the years. If I could go backwards, I’d buy way, way less stuff.  Good luck with the tools! Back to Table of Contents

How to utilize a floor lamp to mount a flex shaft.

Question

“Several months ago I was at Goodwill on the clearance day and spent $1.50 for a heavy  base brass floor lamp.  The arms are segmented with swivel hinges so it goes where you want and gets out of the way when not in use.  I used plastic covered 12 gauge wire and wrapped my Foredom to the arm and if I need additional light it can also be used.  The arms are heavy enough and long enough to add  additional machines if I necessary, plus the lamp adjusts in height.”

Answer

Thank you for your great idea Sharon! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your floor lamp idea.

I made a video on flex shaft holders (it’s silly but, has some good ideas!)  One of my flex shafts hangs off of a long paint roller too! 

Updated: 2/23/17
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 Recommendations on setting up a vent system

Question

“I have my workshop set up in my basement and have most things, but I don’t have a vent system. What you recommend I do to set one up?”

Answer

There are several types of ventilation that jewelers need:  one is for dust and particles and the other is for fumes from soldering, pickle and other chemicals and causes of harmful fumes.

With particulate collection, you can use something like the Dura Bull Ductless system at Rio Grande.  You have to buy the filters.  You can also set up a particulate/dust catchment system similar to what woodworkers use.  Others hook up a shop vac.  Always be aware of what kind of particles you have and how you are venting them.   You don’t want a system that sucks up particulates, like copper particles, that dumps them on the ground.  Copper can be hazardous to marine life.

For fume collection, you want to place the fan behind the soldering/work area.  I like my fan low because the fumes don’t go across my face – they are sucked out, away from my face.  The system at Chimera is behind and on the soldering area’s table.  So, avoid systems that are over your soldering area as they will be drawn up and into your breathing zone.

 Rio Grande carries a Benchtop Fume Extractor that moves the air away from you when soldering.  I have not tried this system. There is also the Hakko system.

For more information:

Here’s a video and a web page link, of mine, on the ventilation that I have for fumes.  This kind of setup might work for you as you can snake the hose out of a basement window or into a dryer vent – you can get a “T” fitting  (if you have one of either in the basement).

In the jewelry studio, that my friend Sugar and I set up at Chimera Arts, the fan is outside the shop.  Here’s an image of the setup.    We pieced together various ducting and used a found metal “hood” that looks like it was a gutter at one time.  I found it at our local metal recyclers. Ariel, our fabulous handyman, took out the window pane, replaced it with plexiglass and cut a hole for the ducting to fit into.  Works well!

Updated 2/23/17

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How do I inexpensively start up my jewelry practice?

Question

“How do I inexpensively start up my jewelry practice?”

Answer

With the tool thing:  I always recommend buying tools as the need comes up.  Also, buy the best tools that you can afford as you will probably have them for your whole life.  If you are trying to create a design and you can’t figure out how to do it, with what you’ve got, perhaps then is the time to shop.  That said, one of the skills of a jeweler (or artist) is to be a creative problem solver.  When designing, that is my main focus.  I ask myself:  How to get this to work, how to fix that, how to compensate for this, etc.  The same applies to tools.

How do you create what you want when you don’t have the right tool?  What can you use instead?  Is there another craft, skill, practice that has a similar tool?  Jewelry tools are often a lot more expensive than other tools.  I use many tools from the woodworking industry, plumbers, aircraft makers, etc.

Some ideas for cheap tools:

  • Use a stainless steel coffee mug as a bracelet mandrel or a soup can – with the soup in it.
  • Make tools from nails and a dowel.  Some tools made this way are:  small burnishers, scribes, punches, etc.
  • Adapt old pliers
  • Use dowels as mandrels for making jump rings
  • Use dowels as punches
  • Make a sandbag from clean sand and an old pair of blue jeans
  • Use pieces of scrap wood for forming metal:  draw plates, swage blocks, drilling/hammering block
  • Alter old hammers as patterning tools.
  • Turn clothespins into pearl clamps
  • Plumb bobs, nail sets and other conical, everyday tools are great for tube riveting
  • PVC has many uses – bracelet mandrels, ring mandrels
  • Make tiny hammers from chopsticks and nails
  • Turn steel stock into chasing tools, hammers, stakes
  • Old irons (without steam vents) make good anvils when held in a vise.  Actually, any flat piece of steel will do.
  • etc. and etc.

cheap-tools Click to zoom.  Some cheap, homemade tools.

There are so many ways to create tools.  I’m going to write a book!  Charles Lewton Brain has written one called:  Cheap Thrills in the Tool Shop.  Lots of ideas there – many involve some specialized skills though and also a bit of time.   Hope this helps to get you fired up.  I am always making new tools – usually with what I can scavenge, beg or borrow.  It’s all part of the game.  Have fun.Back to Table of Contents

Setting up a Jewelry Studio and Jewelry Business

Question

“I  am a single mom looking to start an at home business. What tools would you recommend to start? Is there any particular recommendations you have for starting a business?”

Answer

Business Advice (with Tool Suggestions Further On)

I think the first thing to consider is:  what type of jewelry are you making?  Is it soldered?  Beaded?  Using stones?  What are you good at?   What do you love making?
  • Ask yourself:  What type of business do I want? Am I selling retail or wholesale?  Who is my customer?  What price point would I need to charge to: a. make a living or b. get by or c. make enough to buy more material or d. get rich (good luck with that one). How much will it cost you (including overhead, time and materials, travel, tools, disposables) After determining your price range, decide on where your market is and who your competitors are. Look at people’s shops, stores, galleries.  Check out prices.  Check out sales techniques. Learn about marketing. Learn about sales.
  • Being a business owner, especially in the beginning, is tiring but exhilarating.  It takes time and persistence.  It also takes a pretty clear vision of what you want, what you represent and what your product is.  It’s not just jewelry it’s…… (fill in the blank) jewelry. Tell people why they NEED your jewelry.
  • As far as starting the business:  are you already a jeweler?  If not, you need to learn how to make jewelry before you start selling it.  If you are, then you can start by putting together pieces and visiting galleries – call first.  You can also apply to craft shows.  You’ll need a booth or someway to attractively and invitingly display your work.  Many artists travel, several times a year to shows outside their area.  How will you do this or will you concentrate only on shows near you? See Q&A: Business.
  • Business cards are imperative.  A website and/or blog are also a very good idea.  Try a Craftsy store but, be prepared to work hard at promoting your work.  There are other online places to sell your work – research these. Get your work out there and keep producing new, interesting, thought-provoking, beautiful art.  Post to Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
  • Get your name out there.  Be creative about it.  There are a zillion jewelers in the world.  Why should people buy your work?  Find an angle. Advertise.
  • Design an inventory system to keep track of each piece, what gallery has it, when it went in, sold or got returned.  Almost all galleries and shops, these days, will only do consignment.  Which means, no money until it sells.
  • Learn to photograph your work.  Create professional looking photos.  These images will be your work’s spokesperson so, they should be amazing! You can also hire a photographer.
  • Set up an accounting system.  Apply for a resale license, if you are selling directly. Get a business license if your area requires one.  Learn about taxation in your area and selling inter-state and country – if that is your plan.  Research shipping rates.
  • Set up a daily plan.  Plan to work at least one hour a day (preferably a lot more) where you focus all your energy in creating your business.  Ideally, most of your free time will go into creating your business.  Study, research, organize, read or listen (my personal favorite while working or in the car) to business/marketing/sales books, watch videos.
  • Break your plan up into little bites:  what can I accomplish today.  A chart that lists your final goals at one end (sort of like a family tree) and shows all the steps (branches) you need to take to achieve those goals.  As you learn, add or subtract items from the chart.  Be prepared to fail often.  Get up and start again.  Keep focused on your goal and let nothing stop you from realizing it.  You deserve it – if you work at it.  As an example, I work 10 hours a day, usually 7 days a week just to keep things moving along.  That time doesn’t include all the things that I’d like to do!
  • Get up earlier than the kids or stay up after they are in bed and work – or both!  Finding time will be one of your biggest challenges.  Get a cleaning person.
  • Consider having your work cast or learn how to do it yourself.  Casting allows you to produce many pieces, in less time, for more money.  If you have a great design, that people like, you might consider this.  Research casting, talk to places that do casting, take classes, read etc.  There are a lot of resources out there.
Studio Tools

 If I were setting up a new studio (which I have – several times) I’d buy the best quality tools that I could afford.  The cheap ones are that:  cheap!  That said, the Harbor Freight flex shaft works fine.  I’ve had several for over 7 years now.  But, I upgraded the foot pedal.   Here’s a link to: Flex shafts, Dremels and Drilling Tools.  Crock pots from the junk store are great pickle pots.  Making your own pearl vises from clothespins or hammers from nails and dowels, is not only frugal but rewarding. So, consider making your own, alternative sourcing and read up on everything before purchasing.  Probably, most of all:  understand what a tool is for and how you will use it.  It is very common to purchase tools that you think you need and you don’t!   If you aren’t saying:  wow, sure wish I had a ___________ now, you probably don’t need it.

Links to Related Pages
 Kits are another way to set up a studio but, they don’t always include what you’ll need or what you’ll want.
Files: Rio Grande’s file page:  on bottom left, click “type” to see what they have on offer. Otto Frei also has a great selection of hard to find and specialty  files as well as standard files.
A few notes on files:  The lower the number, the rougher the cut.  You generally want at least two cuts either a medium cut and a fine or a rough cut and a medium or rough and fine.  Ideally, you will have three cuts of every file but, that gets very, very expensive!  So, start by looking at what you are doing and think:  do I need to remove lots of material or do I just need to refine edges?  What are you using the files for?
  • Escapement files:  half round, flat, square, triangular (aka:  3 square) and round – ideally a rough cut #0 and a medium cut #2.  You can buy in sets.  These files are smaller than needle files.
  • Needle files:  same as escapement
  • Habilis Files:  one of my favorites.  It is sized between a needle file and full sized files.
  • Full Sized files:  medium and fine – flat.  one double cut, one single cut
  • Ring file – you’ll probably want a rough (#0 – #2) and a medium (#3-#4) or a fine (#5-#8) (Swiss grading system).  Ring files are used for filing the insides of rings (as well as other uses).  They are 1/2 round and larger than Needle, Escapement or Habilis files.
  • Joint files (if doing hinges or stone setting)
  • Barrette needle or Barrette escapement file in #2 and #5 cuts or other mixture of fine and rough (5 being finer than 2).  Barrettes only have one cutting edge.  They are good for filing tight spots where you don’t want to remove metal from surrounding areas.
  • Chenier or Joint files – used for stone setting, hinge creation and other uses.  They only have teeth on their rounded edges so are great for cutting channels and grooves.
Pliers
  • Flat pliers – 2 pairs is best.  Used for moving metal, opening and closing jump rings, holding material while sanding – a zillion uses.
  • Round nose pliers – making rounded shapes in metal, making a small number of jump rings, curling wire and metal, many, many uses.
  • Chain nose pliers – used in prong setting also many other uses.
  • 1/2 round pliers – used to creating interior bends and flattening exterior surfaces.  A variety of shapes and sizes.
Measuring Tools
  • Digital calipers – imperative for accurate measurement
  • Ruler with millimeters – start working in millimeters – if you aren’t already.  It’s a system of 10.  10 millimeters make a centimeter.  That’s basically all you’ll need to know.  Smaller increments, easier to add, subtract, multiply and divide than fractions.  Most suppliers and jewelers use the metric system for its simplicity.
  • Center finder – useful for centering discs for making domed beads and other uses.
  • Dividers – imperative for accurate measurement.  Measurement is transferred from a ruler to the dividers.  Dividers can then be used to scribe straight, parallel lines, checks distance, make circles, many uses.
Mandrels
  • Ring – many shapes.  Used to form rings shapes and other forging/forming.
  • Bracelet – larger than a ring mandrel.  Usually comes in round or oval.  A baseball bat can be cut up and used as a mandrel as can an axe handel.
  • Bezel – these are small mandrels used to make differently shaped bezels.  They are also useful for forming small shapes.  They come in a pretty wide variety of shapes.
  • Mandrel Holders – you’ll need one of these to hold the mandrels.  An alternative holding system involves drilling holes in a board to the size of the mandrels far end.  The board is then secured to your bench.  See this article at Art Jewelry Magazine.
Steel Block – used for forming metal, squaring metal, flattening metal – a variety of uses.
Wood Block – a small scrap piece of wood is great for drilling on. You can also use it to hold bits, sanding disc mandrels.  I also use it for supporting prongs while stone setting.
Flex Shaft and pedal – Probably the most used tool.  I have several.  Their uses are many and there is a large number of tools that have been created to run off of them like Wolf’s Belt Sander, Jump Ring Cutters, Engravers, etc.  Having a good foot pedal gives you more control.  Consider investing in a decent one if your’s doesn’t have one.  My favorite is the Lucas Pedal.  You can also use a dremel but, the wider body makes it less intuitive and comfortable to use.
Flex shaft accessories – all part of the usefulness of this rotary tool.
  • Silicone points and discs – for removing scratches, refining, polishing, etc.
  • Sanding discs – same as silicone points – much speedier than hand sanding.
  • Drill bits – we are always drilling holes in metal for one reason or another.
  • Quick release handpiece (I love having one but, not imperative) – makes getting your bits in and out of your handpiece much quicker.  You need bits that fit the size of your handpiece.  Mine uses bits with 3/32″ shanks.  I hate using the chuck key with the standard handpiece.  But, others like it.
  • Cotton and felt buffs – load with a little rouge or a more aggressive compound and polish/finish away.  Don’t mix compounds on the same buff.
  • Rouge – a polishing compound that polishes metal – after it has been well sanded.
Magnification Aid – imperative if you are over 40.  But, recommended for everyone.  There is so much you can’t see but, think you can.  To test this:  photograph your work and zoom in on it.  You will be shocked.
  • Magnifiers
  • Optivisors
  • Camera – Use for that “wow, did I miss stuff” moment.  Great for stonesetting.
Jeweler’s Saw and Blades – we must saw metal so, we have this fabulous saw and little teeny blades.  Blades come in a variety of sizes which are based on the size and number of teeth.  Normally, jewelers use sizes from 1 – 8/0.  1 being the roughest and 8/0 being the finest.  8/0 (prounounced eight-aught) is usually used for piercing out patterns in metal.
 
 
Miter Cutting Vise and Jig
 
Vise
  • Harbor Freight – 4 – 6″.  5″ vise:  Item#  61551.
Lubricant
  • Beeswax
  • Liquid Bur Life
Hammers:
  • Leather mallet
  • Steel ball pein
  • Chasing hammer
 
 
Sandpaper
  • Grits:  320, 400, 500 or 600, 800, 1000
  • Polishing papers (optional but, awesome)
Torch Setup
  • Torch
  • Tanks
  • Regulators
  • Flash back arrestors
  • Method to attach tanks to wall
Soldering tools
  • Cross lock tweezers
  • Charcoal Block
  • quench bowl
  • neutralizing bowl
  • flux
  • sm. paintbrush for flux application
  • tweezers
  • soldering pick
  • Pickle pot (crock pot)
  • Pickle
  • Turntable or lazy susan
  • cement board or other fireproof surface
  • Solder in:  Hard, Medium, Easy, Extra Easy
Safety Equipment
  • Dust Mask
  • Protective goggles
  • Dust collection
  • Fume ventilation
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Extinguisher
Workbench
  • Bench that is at least 34″ high – you want a desk that is higher than normal.  Most work is done at about chest height.  There is a book called: “The Jeweler’s Bench Book”  which has great examples of bench setups and bench pin adaptations.
  • Adjustable, comfortable chair – some work is done in a higher on the desk (like drilling)  and some, like sawing or chasing and repousse, require a low position relative to the desk. So, having an adjustable chair is the answer.
  • Bench pin – This is where a lot of your work will take place:  sawing, drilling, filing, shaping, sanding, etc.  Don’t be afraid to customize your pin with grooves for wire and tubing, slots to pierce delicate pieces, etc.
  • Good lighting – daylight colored bulbs (in the blue range)
  • GRS Benchmate system for holding rings, objects, stone setting
  • Scribe – to mark your metal
  • Center Punch – to make divots for drill bits to rest in.  If you don’t have a dent, the drill bit can (and usually does) skitter across the metal – marring it.
Stone setting
  • GRS BenchMate Inside-Ring Holder – This is an overall clamping system.  I find it invaluable for all types of work.  There are many attachments that one can purchase like soldering setups, bench pins, etc. 
  • Bezel Pusher – used for bezel setting, prong setting
  • Jett Sett – a thermoplastic used for a variety of things:  tool making, jaw protecting, holding work, etc.
  • Setting Burs – High Speed Steel – HSS is recommended because of its long life.  Always use your burs with a lubricant.  I recommend using a liquid lubricant like Liquid Bur Life or 3-In-One Oil.  Used for cutting seats for faceted stones
  • Round Burs – High Speed Steel – used for cutting seats for faceted stones, azures, cleaning burs, etc.
Bench Shear – this is used to cut large pieces of metal.  If you don’t do that, you don’t need it.
 
Hand Shears:
  • French shop shears – will cut up to 20g metal (even though they recommend 26g or less but, personal experience has shown they will cut 24, 22 and 20 0 it’s up to you.) You can use them to cut smaller pieces of metal and wire but, they will leave an uneven, rough edge which will need to be flattened and smoothed.  I also use mine to cut solder.
  • Wire Cutter – flush cutters  These are more like clippers.  Generally used to cut wire.
Tube cutting vise
  • Bergeon Tubing Cutters – a clamp to hold tubing and wire while cutting.  The cheaper cutters leave too much wiggle room for the blade to move in,  resulting in uneven tubing and wire cuts.
Design and other
  • Grid paper
  • Tracing paper
  • Pencil
  • Good eraser
  • Scanner
  • Computer
  • Circle, Oval and Square Templates
I know this list seems overwhelming.  You can acquire just a few tools as you need them.  I listed these because, to me, they are essential.  This is a partial list.  There are many more tools that seem to attach themselves as you grow in the craft.  You can buy second hand, adapt, go to junk stores, borrow, join a makerspace, a studio, any place you can borrow tools.  There are many options.
Please don’t let it discourage you. Everything looks overwhelming when viewed in its totality but, if you break everything down into small pieces, it’s amazing how much you can get done.  I like the analogy of cleaning:  you don’t clean a big mess, all at once, you start in one spot, clean that, move to the next spot, clean, repeat…Back to Table of Contents

Where to Source Cheap or Free Tools for the Shop

Question
Maybe you could recommend me where I could get some tools that I may need . making jewelry is my hobby, I work with individuals who suffer if disabilities. Such as autism and down syndrome.
Answer
Harbor Freight has inexpensive tools.  I also like making my own and visiting resale shops for odds and ends.  They usually have some funky hammers, old files and a crock pot or two.  Dentists will sometimes give you their old dental tools.  Scrap metal yards, hardware stores, ebay, Craig’s list, are a few I can think of.  Do you have a Facebook, Instagram or other type of social media site?  You can always ask the public.  I’m always looking for donations for Chimera.  I ask everyone I know.  You never know when someone is quitting the business or tired of this tool or that.  Good luck on your quest.  If I hear of anything interesting, I’ll let you know.  P.S.:  See the question above for specifics.

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How to Afford Jewelry Tools

Question

My question is how do you afford all the tools? I am just getting started and I want good tools but, holy smokes, they are expensive.  Any advice and suppliers you’d recommend would be appreciated.

Answer

First off, I’ve been accumulating mine for over 20 years. I’ve slowly built up my tool hoard.  So, I say:  add tools slowly and as needed. Determine if you will use the tool often and if it will advance your skills and range. Know all about the tool before you buy it – maybe take a class that utilizes the tool.  That way, you will know what you do and don’t want/need.  

Ways to source tools

Sometimes, when you need an expensive specialty tool, you can use another’s.  Find a local, friendly jeweler and trade something for the use of the tool.  Check in with jewelry classes, makerspaces, metal shops.  You don’t have to own them all!  Check Craig’s list, ebay, the newspaper.  I’ve gotten tools as donations, by trade, at jeweler’s-going-out-of-business sales, by making my own, etc.  I also save up for a few good tools like I did with my miter cutting vise.  The cheap ones are terrible.  So, I put a little aside each week until I could afford it.  

Remember to buy what you NEED.  I always knew when I needed a new tool – I would think:  “Boy, wish I had a tool that…”.  Then, I’d go looking for it.  I used to peruse the Rio Grande catalog and make fantasy shopping lists.  They often totaled in the thousands but, I’d actually spend 100.00.  Sometimes we make do with the not-so-great-but-good-enough tools.

The well rounded jeweler thinks out of the box, is a problem solver AND can make and design tools or find a way to work around their limitations. We are creative after all!  We sometimes forget this and just buy.  One of my favorite examples of working around, not having a tool I wanted, was my pitch pot.  I couldn’t afford the 35.00 (or something like that) Rio wanted so, I bought some pitch, melted it into a conical tin lid and set it in a toy truck tire.  I used it for many, many years – until I started teaching the technique.

Another idea is to send your silver and gold scrap in and get credit at Rio Grande or other Jewelry Suppliers, that also takes refining. You can save up your metal, refine it and then splurge on that pricey, beautiful tool!

If you ever think you can’t make beautiful jewelry without good tools, check out the tools that the people in this book use and what beautiful work they produce!  Legacy:  Jewelry Techniques of West Africa. Humbling and so very impressive. Back to Table of Contents

Any Thoughts On A Basic Shopping List For Setting Up A Jewelry Studio?

Question

“I am a newbie jeweler (well, newbie smith, I have been making jewelry forever). I have saved money to buy supplies, and I have put together a long shopping list with both Rio Grande and Foredom (with the help of your videos of course).

I am stumped on actual materials though. I have a healthy budget, but I don’t want to purchase a lot of material that I won’t use. I’m thinking of starting with silver, and starting with rings. Any thoughts on a basic shopping list? (wire, what gauge, sheet goods…what for? etc…

I’ve also got a collection of jewelry that I have been hoarding for years until a time when I can make them out of gold….any thoughts or tips on working with gold filled material?”

Answer

Those are big questions that require a lot of space to cover.  But, I will give you the abbreviated version of my answer.  As far as metals go, practicing is usually done with brass and or copper because it is less expensive than silver.  Copper is also easier to work with yet, a bit more difficult to solder.  I generally buy all of my metals in 22 and 24 gauges with a piece or two in 20 gauge.  It all depends on what you are making. (Fine) Silver ring shanks are best with 20 gauge as fine silver is very malleable and 22 or 24 g can get bent out of shape.  Sterling is stronger and more capable of handling stress.  Argentium Silver is my new favorite silver – it has the strength of sterling, doesn’t tarnish and fuses like butter.  Love it.  Here is my page on metals  – arranged alphabetically by metal type – (which is in progress and therefore, not complete)! Copper, should be thicker as it is also very malleable.  So, go up a gauge with it.  Brass is very strong and you can get away with 22 or even 24 gauge.  Golds (not gold filled) can be thinner yet as gold (except for 24 gauge) is pretty tough stuff.  White gold is very strong.  

So, if you are making earrings, you want the metal light:  22/24/26 gauge.  Bracelets 18/20/22, Rings (for bands) 22/20/18 etc.  Rings and bracelets receive the most stress, then necklaces, brooches and finally, earrings.  Ear wires are generally 20, 21 or 22 gauge.  I use 21 g.  Jump rings – unsoldered for bracelets (I believe) should be either 16 gauge (doubled – meaning, use two) or 14 gauge (single).  Anything smaller in gauge should be soldered shut.  Bracelets receive a lot of abuse:  people get them stuck on things, they fall off, they rub on tables, etc.  So, to protect your work, use large gauge wire or solder them closed.   Necklaces:  single 16g is fine.  Some use 18g but, I don’t like getting my work returned to close a jump ring so, I use 16g. What gauge of metal to buy and how much, depends on how many layers of metal in your design, how much negative space there is, the stresses placed on it, etc.  Basically – the requirements of the design will dictate how much metal to buy.  You can make patterns for your design and measure how much space you will need to create it.  Use grid paper and draw out a 6″ by 6″ square and place your pattern in the square. Measure to determine how much to order.  Of course, take into account mistakes and making more jewelry down the road so, buy what you can afford, start out slow and add on as needed.  I keep three containers for of each type of silver:  One box is for large pieces of uncut and or relatively large, uniformly shaped pieces.  Another box is usable scrap and the final is refinable scrap.  Keep the different types of silver separate (fine, sterling, argentium) (if possible) it makes it easier to sort for refining down the road.  I also save my copper and brass scrap.  Haven’t found a refiner yet but, then again, I haven’t looked very hard.

Copper sheet, from Rio Grande, comes 2 to a pack for 22 and 24 gauges. One to a pack for 20g (don’t forget about bronze – it’s a great material too and cheaper than silver).  So buy a pack and when you get low, buy more.  You don’t need a huge stockpile unless you live in the middle of the jungle or on the edge of the polar cap. With silver, you either buy by the inch or the ounce.  I usually purchase 2X6 or 3X6 sheets – depending on how rich I feel and the current silver prices.  A 6X3 of 24 gauge runs about 45-46 (now!) and the 22 of the same size is about 57-58.  I was paying way more last year when prices were really high.  Fine silver is more expensive than sterling because it is all silver wherein the sterling is partially copper – less silver and cheaper. Argentium is the priciest with a 22 gauge, 6×3″ sheet at about 65.00 to 66.00.  I always buy my metal: dead soft as that saves me having to anneal it.  It’ s really easy to work harden the metal – just work with it!

On gold filled material:  often, you’ll see the copper or silver filling on the edges – the thinner the gauge, the less visible it is.  So, design where the edges don’t show too much.  Buy the best you can afford.  Rio sells a good type – 14/20 and also has solder for it.  When soldering gold-filled be careful to not overheat it as the gold can melt into the metal beneath.   Double clad means that there is gold on both sides – the best for making rings.

Links that may be of assistance:

Here’s a link to my website page that has information on the different types of gold/plated/filled, etc.

Metal Studio Workshop on working with gold-filled

This quote from Rio Grande Jewelry (under the tab:  More Info)

How to Protect your Gold Filled Materials

Handling your gold-filled properly is essential to maintaining its good looks and its bright finish. Made with a substantial layer of gold bonded to a base metal core, gold-filled requires some special care to keep the gold layer intact and unmarred for your designs.

1  If handled properly, gold-filled should require only buffing. If you cut it, be careful not to damage the gold layer, particularly on corners and edges.

2  Gold-filled stock should be stored in a dry place. Tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture.

3  Use tissue paper between stock to protect it against scratches.

4  Use a clean flannel cloth while working on gold-filled material.

5  Maintaining the condition of your tools is important. Keep cutters sharp; bending tools should be smooth.

6  Use a firescale retardant such as Stop-Ox II™ when soldering.

7  Clean the metal thoroughly.

On wire:  purchase what you need:  if you are making earrings, get a few feet.   If you are wire wrapping, same deal.  You can always order more.  Rio has great two day shipping prices (not as cheap as ground but, I’m always in a hurry).  If you are always wire wrapping and know you will use it, buy an ounce or more.  Making jump rings – 1/2 an ounce should do for a ton of jump rings.  Tubing – hold off on until you have a design that requires it.  Are you making a tube setting or a hinge – then order to size. Tubing can get pricey.  I have a coffee can full of tubing that I wonder if I’ll ever use.  A waste of money and space but, I wanted it all now, when I first started. Back to Table of Contents

What should I watch and read to get started making jewelry?

Question

“I love jewelry, i finally finished putting my indoor studio together, it’s basic but I think it’s good enough for a start.

My problem right now is that I don’t know what to start with. I bought some bronze and Copper sheets, some mixed wires and I started putting a design together. The design came out well but, the metal is all messy….
What I like are layered metals with different color combination.  The piece I made is copper and brass.  I am working on soldering these different metals and trying to keep their distinctive colors but, the solder globs are ugly and the metal is flaky and diry.  I made a metal bead for the top and it’s very uneven and rough.
You have a lot of videos and I don’t know where to start.  Can you please help me on this and orient me?”

Answer

Fabulous!  You have enough tools to “Make” lots of jewelry!  You also have plenty of metal.  Looks like you’ve got a nice space to play in too!  Lucky woman!

Probably the most important video to watch is Safety.  Check out my web pages on safety:  Safety and Ventilation.
Get yourself a pickle pot – a crock pot – at the junk store and some pickle.  You can check out this page on pickle (on my site).  While you are out, run over to a pool supply store and get some sodium bisulfate – ph reducer.
You should heat color your metal AFTER pickling.  The stuff left over after soldering tends to be dirty and flaky.  Check out my video Coloring metal for heat coloring info.  With those heat patinas you will need to seal them or they will continue to oxidize.  I talk about that in my videos and on my web page:  Coloring metal (video – link above) Webpage:  Patinas.
 Also check out my video Creating Consistently Sized Spheres to learn to make evenly sized balls.  Watch all the soldering videos.  Riveting would be good too!  Watch my Sawing  (2 parts) and Finishing videos.
These web pages will come in handy too:   Soldering (many links at the top of the page under Related Web pages and Videos), Finishing, Rivets, Texturing metal.
When working with brass or bronze, you will find that they become copper colored so, make a bit of this Super Pickle and it will clean up that copper in a flash!
I recommend purchasing small amounts of silver solder in Hard, medium and easy – I prefer sheet solder.  See my video and web page on this subject.  I only use gold or silver solders for everything. Good finishing will hide the silver globs of solder and sparing solder usage.  On the piece you made, the globs of solder need to be sanded off.  See my web page on Sanding  and my video – (parts one and two).

A flex shaft would be an excellent investment.  I use mine all the time.  I also have a video and a web page on the flex shaft.  I bought 6 of them for the makerspace – that I set a jewelry studio up in – for $35.00 a piece at Harbor Freight.  Also, some french shop shears will be great for cutting sheet solder, cutting up to 22 g metal and snipping wire. It would be nice to have wet dry sandpaper, (329, 400, 600, 800, 1000 grits) – you can usually get variety packs at the hardware store or Harbor Freight. If you get a flex shaft, you might think about trying sanding discs – see my web page on sanding.  I’d also get some needle files – the best that you can afford.  Here’s a reasonably good set at a reasonable price.

If you want to make a linear hammer texture you’ll need a hammer with a wedge shape like this “riveting” or cross pein hammer. Although, I like a ball peen (this is actually a chasing hammer with a ball peen on one end – instead, for riveting.

A little on pattern making might help with creating your designs.   Sketch everyday that you can.
I would pick one thing that you will learn today or this week and practice, practice, practice.  Don’t overwhelm yourself or set unrealistic goals – one step at a time!  This is going to be a learning process so, you will make many mistakes.  Every mistake is a message that you need to practice more in that area.  When you stop making the same mistake, move on.  You are training your brain – nothing more.  Failure is expected and required to learn so, be kind to yourself.  And patient!
If you haven’t already, friend me on FB – I post info and inspiration often.  If you aren’t a member, join the FB group Aspiring Metalsmiths or other groups.
Well, this should keep you busy learning for a year or so!  Have fun and love those failures and successes!  Don’t forget:  if you have a problem or a question you should check out my Q&A pages.  If your answers aren’t there, private message me on Facebook.
Added post: 2/23/17