When you make jewellery by hand you’re usually fabricating it. This simply means that you’re making your jewellery directly from metal wire, tubing and sheet rather than making models and molds and then casting with metal grain.
There are at least a couple of dozen categories of tasks involved in jewellery making and well over a hundred pretty standard tools within them. Below you’ll find a quick look at a few of the tools involved in metalsmithing at the beginning, middle and end of making a piece of jewellery: cutting, assembling and finishing your metal.
Jewellery Tools for Cutting Metal
Forming metal often starts with cutting a shape from a sheet of metal. For very thin metal this may be done with snips however, snips can curl, twist and deform the sheet. Most often cutting is done with a jewellers saw and blades. Simple holes are cut in metal with drill bits, by hand or with a motorized tool. Depressions in the surface of the metal are cut with burs or with gravers. Stamping cuts the surface — typically in a decorative pattern — unlike a punch, which merely moves the metal. Files are the first step in finishing metal and come in a range of shapes and cuts from coarse to fine.
Cutting is really a misnomer when it comes to metal. Because of the malleability of metal it typically breaks or chips, rather than cuts depending on what tool is used to cut it. Snips and shears compress the metal to the point where the sheet severs at the place where it is pushed so thin the molecules break apart. Saw blades chip away tiny shards of metal.
Saw blades are available in a range of sizes to suit the type of metal being sawn. Blades are held by clamps at each end of a U-shaped saw frame. The base of the U is adjustable for the length of the blade. Placing the blades teeth down are very important as well as the tension of the blade.
Jewellery Tools for Soldering
A torch is a device that mixes fuel (natural gas, propane & acetylene) with air/oxygen to produce intense heat. It is possible to fabricate jewellery using only cold connections such as rivets. However, almost all jewellers use some kind of torch for soldering, texturing (such as granulation and reticulation) and colouring metal. Torches are also used to heat metal for casting.
Torch tips are available in a variety of sizes for different applications. When using a torch you’ll also need supplies such as metal solder, borax flux, pickling solution to remove oxidation caused by the torch, a charcoal block and a third hand (or two) to hold the pieces you’re soldering.
Jewelry Tools for Finishing
The final step in jewellery making is finishing. Finishing may include texturing a surface as well as polishing. Finishing may be done by hand, with sanding and polishing sticks, with a flexible shaft motor tool or with a dedicated polishing machine.
The basic tools for hand finishing include:
Burnisher: a small hand tool with a steel or tungsten carbide tip that is used to push down and polish bezels or burnish (polish by rubbing metal on metal) prongs or other areas on a piece of jewellery.
Sanding buff sticks: flat wood tools fitted with a variety of grits of sandpaper for use in addition to or instead of files. Reusable plastic sanding sticks allow jewellers to replace sandpaper without replacing the stick.