Category Archives: Smithing Tools

Tool of the Month – My Jeweller’s Bench

Ruthie's Jeweller's Bench

 

A jeweller is nothing without a jeweller’s bench! As you can see, my bench is a busy place – I even tidied it a little for you here. My bench was made by my silversmithing teacher, Elmar – it’s robust, utilitarian, set up just how I need it – and I love it.

 

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One of the most important parts of the bench is the jeweller’s peg. This is the wooden piece that juts out the front of the bench. It is used to balance and stabilise whatever you’re working on – great for sawing, filing, emerying – anything that requires gentle force to be applied to metal. I leave most hammering for my large tree stump however! You can see the scars of filing and sawing on my peg – as time goes on, you develop your own comfortable nicks and dents for holding wire, filing rings etc. Eventually your peg wears away, and it has to be replaced – though I think mine has many more good years left in it yet.

 

 

There are so many different tools that help a jeweller – I try to accumulate only the ones that I really need and will use, but the temptation to collect is great! Pictured above are: my tri square – useful for making sure the ends of ring shanks are exactly square before bending and soldering, and for getting exact square angles on pieces I’m cutting out; a scribe and a pushing tool – The scribe is great for scoring silver before sawing it if I need a long straight piece i.e. if for cutting my own bezel, and as a general jiggery-pokery thing. I confess I don’t often use the bezel pusher, and never for bezel setting – but it’s a piece I made at a tool-making workshop I did, and I’m fond of it!; dividers – very useful for scribing a circle, or transferring measurements from one piece of metal to another; and my scraper – great for the occasional removal of pesky burrs.

 

Messy Jeweller's Bench

 

An my bench – ok, confession time, it usually looks a bit more like this! With every piece, there are periods of time where you’re waiting i.e. for the metal to cool after soldering, or to pickle, so I work on a number of different pieces at once.

 

Cloudy Blue Sky

 

Ah, my workplace – a very zen space, where the sky’s the limit! If you’re interested, you can see more posts about my silversmithing tools here.

Handcrafting a Sterling Silver Spiral Chain

The process of creating is sometimes more intricate than you might think when looking at the final object, so I thought we’d take a look at how chain is handmade.

 
To start, I use some lengths of wire (which is made by rolling a block of silver repeatedly in the same direction through a rolling mill, until it is thin enough to draw through a draw-plate down to the right dimension).

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

After annealing the wire (a process where the wire is heated to a dark red to line the molecules up, making the silver malleable), I pickle it, by placing the metal in an acid solution to remove any oxidisation, dirt, or flux.

 

Handcrafting Sterling Silver Drusy Ring 003

 

I then wrap it around a steel post of a suitable diameter (this tool is called a jump ring maker, and comes with steel posts of varying widths).

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

Once the wire is wrapped into shape, I remove it from the steel rod.

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

I saw each link with a jeweller’s saw.

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

Each link is individually created.

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

After a tidy up of the links if required, I join them together, in this case in a specific mathematical combination. (I love how science, maths and creativity collide!)

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

Once all the links are joined, I make sure the chain is the correct length.

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

Then I solder each link closed. Yes, each and every link! In this case, that means around two hundred and eighty links to be made, joined and soldered individually.

 

Making a sterling silver chain

 

Once that is complete, the final links are added which join the chain together in a specific way to create the spiral effect. Then it’s back in the pickle for another bath, followed by some time in the tumbler, to polish and harden the chain. (I’ll post about my tumbler another day, I promise!)

 

Sterling Silver Twisted Chain

 

The finished product is quite spectacular, IMHO. You can see more pics of this twisted spiral chain technique being used here and here. I love what I do!

 

Tool of the Month – Engraving Ball

Engraving BallThe engraving ball (also known as the engraving vise) is a steel ball with a slot cut out of it, and a vise clamp across it. It is seated in a cup (in this case, a leather donut, lubricated with graphite) which enables it to be rotated 360 degrees around, and around 180 degrees side to side.

Engraving Ball

Used most often for engraving (obviously!) the ball gives you a full range of movement so that as you are cutting, you can spin the piece around for ease of access.

Engraving Ball

Although I have a set of gravers, and understand the principle of engraving (and of faceted stone setting which also requires gravers), I don’t practise those disciplines. Instead, I use my engraving ball for another of its purposes – setting cabochon gemstones.

Engraving Ball

The same principle applies, in that you can rotate the piece so that you can approach the setting from all angles.I love my engraving ball, and use it all the time – I’d be lost without it!

Drusy Agate Ring Rainbow

 

Tool of the Month – Jeweller’s Stamps

Jeweller's Hallmarks

When creating jewellery and tableware, precious metal is usually stamped  to mark both the chemical composition of the metal and the origin of the piece.

There are many variations on this theme, based on what country the piece is from, and in which era it was made. There are thousands of stamps. Here in Australia, the following symbols are used to denote the composition of precious metals.

Fineness Marks

Fineness Marks (with thanks to The Gold and Silversmith’s Guild of Australia)

Because I work in sterling silver, the stamp you will find on my pieces is 925. This denotes that the content of the metal is not less than 92.5% pure silver. You may be wondering – the other 7.5% is copper. Sterling silver is used because fine silver (100% silver) is very soft and malleable, and won’t retain its shape properly when worked.

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Stamps are applied to the metal by holding the stamp onto the metal, and giving the end of the stamp one blow with a large hammer! The crooks in the handle of the stamp are there so that you can get the stamp inside rings.

My maker’s stamp is one that I designed myself, and was lucky enough to have my teacher at Goldsmith’s School create for me. I wanted to incorporate some of the many things that I am always drawn to, find beautiful and am inspired by, so the spiral and elements of the ocean are both prominent in my mark.

The Silver Forge Logo

The history and intricacy of maker’s marks and hallmarking makes for some interesting googling, if you have the time. I wonder if many years down the track, some buff on the Antiques Roadshow will be shown one of my pieces, and wonder who created it?

Next time you are looking at jewellery or tableware, see if you can find the hallmarks, and work out what they mean!

Tool of the Month – Pump Drill

Pump Drill

I was all set this month to write about what I was taught is called an Archimedes drill. While researching it online, I discovered that this tool is actually called a pump drill and an Archimedes drill is something different! So, no interesting information on Archimedes to be found here today. He was pretty amazing, though, worth researching if you can find the time.

Pump Drill

The pump drill is composed of a long drill shaft with a collet on one end, a handle with a hole through the centre, a weighted flywheel, and a length of cord. The flywheel is attached near the bottom of the shaft and the handle slides over the top. The cord is run through a hole near the top of the shaft and affixed to either end of the handle so that it hangs just above the flywheel. To use it, the correct size drill bit is inserted in the collet, one hand is placed on the handle while the other hand turns the shaft to wind the cord around its length, raising the handle near to the top of the shaft, where the cord becomes tight. Holding the drill upright and placing the drill tip against the material to be drilled, a smooth downward pressure is exerted on the handle causing the drill to rapidly spin. Once the bottom is reached, the weight is relieved and the drill allowed to rebound re-winding the cord around the shaft and the process is repeated. It is a simple concept but a skill that takes practice to master.

Ruby Ring - Raw Ruby and Sterling Silver Cocktail Ring

The pump drill is a variation of the bow drill, which has been in use for at least seven thousand years. As well as drilling holes, the bow drill can be used to start a fire using friction. My occasionally burnt fingers can attest to the heat that can be generated by a drill spinning – silver is a great conductor of heat, and I have not only heated my fingers but made burn marks in my bench peg by drilling a piece of silver before now! As well as my pump drill, I sometimes use my flex-drive with a drill bit attached for drilling holes – there is something far more satisfying about using the lovely, simple, ancient pump drill though!

Handcrafting a Sterling Silver and Gemstone Ring

I love seeing other people’s processes, so I thought it was time I shared the process that goes into creating one of my gemstone rings with you!

Handcrafting Sterling Silver Drusy Ring 001
First, I cut a strip of .6mm sterling silver sheet to form the bezel for the gemstone.

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I file one end of the strip flat.

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I heat the strip to the point that the metal ‘relaxes’ and the molecules line up so that the metal is malleable. This is known as annealing.

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After it cools, I immerse the strip into a slightly heated 1/10 sulphuric acid/water mixture. This mixture is known as pickle, and cleans any oxidisation, dirt, or flux from the metal.

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After a good rinse and dry, I bend the strip to conform to the shape of the stone.

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I cut the strip to the correct length.

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I file the other end of the strip flat, so that there is a seamless join where the two ends meet.

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I solder the strip together to form the bezel.

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After another bath in the pickle, I hammer the bezel on a mandrel to form the correct shape, and flatten the join.

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I check that the gemstone fits well inside the bezel.

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I emery the bottom of the bezel flat.

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From a sheet of 1.0mm sterling silver, I cut a plate to form the base of the bezel.

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I make sure the bezel and plate fit smoothly together.

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I coat the silver with flux (borax), and place paillons of solder inside the bezel.

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I solder the bezel to the plate.

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After it cools, the soldered parts go through the pickle procedure again.

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Once the bezel setting is clean and dry, I cut the excess material from the base.

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I file most of the excess metal from the bezel setting.

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I anneal a strip of metal around 1.0mm-1.2mm thick to form the ring shank.

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I bend the ring shank to the correct size and shape.

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I cut the excess metal from the shank.

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I file the top of the shank to fit snugly against the bezel plate.

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I solder the shank to the bezel plate, and pickle again.

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I stamp 925 and my maker’s mark into the shank.

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I file the remaining excess material flush with the bezel base.

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I mark the bezel.

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I file the bezel down to fit the stone.

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I emery the top of the bezel.

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I emery the entire ring with coarse emery.

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I emery the entire ring with fine emery.

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I place the gemstone inside the setting.

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I place the ring in my engraver’s block.

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Using my setting hammer and a punch, I set the stone.

Minty Green Drusy Agate and Sterling Silver Ring
A final cleanup and a polish with tripoli and then rouge using my flex drive (which I haven’t shown you here), and the ring is ready to go to a new home!

Tool of the Month – Jeweller’s Files

This month, I thought I’d show you my jeweller’s files. As with most smithing equipment, there are a vast array of files, and I have just a few.

Smithing Files

The largest file I have is a good old half round file, and the smaller files are barette, half round, pillar, round, three square & square needle files.

Smithing Files

Files are mostly used to shape and remove excess metal, so you can imagine there’s a lot of that going on! The larger files move more metal, of course, and the smaller needle files are more delicate and precise.

Smithing Files

After you’ve filed a piece, there will be file marks left in the metal. That’s where emery paper comes in. With each stage, you remove the marks that the last stage left, so the file marks are taken away with a coarser emery paper first.

Emery Sticks

Emery, not to be confused with sandpaper, is mostly corundum, which is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide with traces of iron, titanium and chromium.

Emery Paper

I use two grades of emery: a coarser 400 grade, and a finer 1200 grade. I use it wrapped around a metal stick, or a needle file, or just by itself in a small sheet, depending on what I’m emerying! Sometimes a piece looks great just left at this stage – it can provide a lovely matte surface. Most often, though, I brass brush after the emery stage to leave a great satin finish, as you can see on these butterflies. I really love the softer shine this gives the silver.

Twin Butterfly Sterling Silver Pendants

There are more steps after this used to create a polished finish, but that’s for another day!