By on May 2, 2014
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by Judy Ellis,


Tip for May 2, 2014


We talk a lot about working with metal, but I realized the other day that we’ve never really defined what metalsmithing is. So I did a bit of research and gathered a few basics that I thought might be helpful to anyone just getting started. I hope it helpul!

If you love what you see here and want to get started working with metal, consider our Instructional DVD Series called: Metalworking 101 by Patti Bullard. It’s a great series and walks you step-by-step through several projects.

What is Metalsmithing?

We define metalsmithing as “creating jewelry through the manipulation of various metals.” Those manipulations or metalsmithing techniques include fabricating metal jewelry by forming and shaping it with hammers, mandrels, and other tools, sawing with a jeweler’s saw or cutting with metal snips, doming with a metal dapping set, forging, fold forming, drilling holes for design elements or for use with cold connections such as rivets and screws, soldering, texturing metal with hammers and other metalsmithing tools, and metal stamping.

Other specialty metalsmithing techniques include: (defintionsl included)

Metalsmithing Basics

Cold Connections:


The term “cold connections” means to join or “cold join” materials without the use of flame or solder. No heat means more design possibilities!

Using a cold join, you are able to join materials that might otherwise melt in the soldering process. (shown Left: Making Connections; a book by Susan Lenart Kazmer, a perfect handbook for artists using metal.)



Safety first. In order to make fabulous metal jewelry, you’ll be drilling a lot of holes in sheet metal and perhaps some other materials.

Protect your eyes from flying bits when you drill by wearing safety glasses. Protect your lungs with a mask when you’re filing or sanding. Little metal bits in your lungs will never make their way out once they’re in.

Be kind to your ears, and wear earplugs when you are banging and pounding your metal.

Jewelry Bench:


Set up a metalsmithing work surface that you’re comfortable with. Ideally you’ll need a drilling surface.

Clamp a piece of scrap wood to your work surface with a c-clamp and save your bench pin.

You’ll also need a metal anvil or steel bench block for punching and texturing .(shown left: Steel and Wood Bench Block)



A bench pin (shown left: Deluxe V-Slot Bench Pin) is an ideal work surface to brace your metalwork on or against when you need to file or saw interior and exterior shapes in sheet metal.



Finishing with files and sandpaper will reward you with a professional-looking finishand is well worth doing.


Use files to round off corners on rough-cut sheet metal. Sand with sandpaper in successive grits. The lower the number, the coarser the grit.

Start with the lowest number and move up to the highest number. You can make sanding sticks with sandpaper and paint stirrers.

You’ll be reaching for your small set of needle files to flatten the end of your rivet wire, and the round ones are perfect for deburring drill holes.


Flexible shaft accessories (shown left: Variable Speed Rotary Tool with Flexible Shaft) are ideal for polishing and texturing sheet metal.

Steel wool and polish pads are a great final step to highlight and bring shine to areas after patination.




Liver of sulfur is used to antique or darken the finish on copper, bronze, and silver. You need only a tiny amount in a large bowl of heated water to achieve many different effects on metal.

Use rubber gloves.

Warm your metal, dip in the liver of sulfur bath, and quickly quench in cold water. Dry it off and repeat until you have the effect you desire.

Use wooden or rubber-tipped tongs to avoid making marks on your jewelry.If you patina your metalwork, and it’s not too fragile, try a tumbler for a really nice polished finish.


Use one pound of jeweler’s shot in the tumbler with a couple of drops of dish detergent.

Fill the tumbler (shown left: Lortone Rotary Tumbler) with just enough water to cover the jewelry and the shot. Turn it on for an hour or two, depending on how many pieces and the effect you desire.



Basic Metal Forming and Shaping:

Basic forming uses metalsmithing techniques that quickly bend sheet and wire into simple or more complex forms for jewelry. Ring shanks and bangles are examples where basic forming is utilized.

Basic metal forming often involves using a combination of mallets, mandrels, stakes, and pliers.

Metal Forming Tools:

It is useful to have a good range of pliers with different profiles.


Flat-nose, snipe-nose, and parallel pliers are used for bending angles in metal.

Half-round pliers are used for making curves and are useful when starting to bend a strip of sheet metal to form a ring shank.
Round-nose are used for forming tighter curves and are particularly useful for wire.
A rawhide or nylon mallet will not damage the silver and can be used for the basic forming of ring shanks and bangles by hammering the metal around a steel mandrel.

Mallets are usually flat-faced and available in various sizes.

Texturing Metals:


Metal is soft and malleable and will easily receive pattern and texture from rolling mills, hammers, or punches. It’s important to prepare silver before texturing. It must be annealed to make it soft, which will help it to take up the texture more readily (this is particularly important for fine details), and it will also prevent the metal from splitting.

Finishing Metalwork:

Finishing generally refers to the removal of scratches and marks on the surface, as well as the nature of the final finish, such as satin/matte or polished. The type of finish given can transform a piece, so it is important to plan the finishing before and during the fabrication stages.

The finishing steps should start with:

  • Using a file to remove solder and any marks left by tools.
  • Sanding the surface with emery or wet and dry sandpaper is the next stage to remove firescale and scratches.
  • It is important that the various stages required to remove the scratches are worked through; this is a process of removing deep scratches by replacing them with finer ones until a fine satin or mirror-like surface has been reached.

If you’re interested in learning more about Metalsmithing, take a look at our collection of instructional books and DVDS. We have multiple titles that will help further your knowledge of metalsmithing and the art of making wire-jewelry!

Happy Wrapping!

Judy Ellis



Source: Silversmithing for Jewelry Makers: A Handbook of Techniques and Surface Treatments by Elizabeth Bone, Interweave, 2011


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  1. avatar


    May 2, 2014 at 5:43 am

    I have a question regarding thickness. I made a really pretty cuff bracelet but found it to be too sharp on the edge, even after filing. What thickness is best for cuff bracelets?

  2. avatar


    May 2, 2014 at 7:02 am

    thank you so much! very interesting!

  3. avatar

    Kathy Cooper

    May 2, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Thank you Judy for the metalsmithing information and the option of learning more by using your links to other sources of information.