Friday, 3 August 2012

Guide to really essential silversmithing tools - Part 1: Basic

When I first decided I wanted to start silversmithing after attending - and loving - my first lesson, it was a natural progression to look at what tools I should buy so I could continue doing it as a hobby at home. When I looked into the tools that were available, I was immediately lost in a sea of hundreds of unfamiliar names and types, with very little help to navigate which ones were ‘must-haves’ and which were only ‘nice-to-haves’. At the time I had one book – this one by Jinks McGrath which has EIGHT pages of ‘essential’ tools – and did a bit of browsing forums and blogs, before dipping my toe in that sea.

I made a string of purchases and naturally found that some tools are amazing and are constantly used, and some I found I really didn’t need that much. I had to wait for probably my third order from Cooksons (after about 2 months) before I felt I was really able to complete a piece of simple jewellery. Obviously, it depends what exactly you want to do and make, because each new technique invariably needs a (or several) new tool.

By no means do I have the fullest workbench or the most tools, but I think I’m at a stage where I’m fairly comfortable with the tools I do have… and this has prompted me to write a simple guide to the really, really essential tools for a silversmith.

Basic – what to buy in your very first order:

The following will give you all the tools needed to make simple items to start with, like pendants, charms, etc. Roughly, the below will cost around £160-175, including VAT.

Essential basic silversmithing tools1. Workbench – unfortunately, without this one thing, there’s not a lot you can do at home. I use a £30 pine desk table from Ikea, which lives in my spare room and works great (better pictures in my workbench post here)
2. Bench peg (preferable one with anvil) – your staple surface for cutting metal (not pictured)

For cutting / shaping:
3. Piercing saw - probably your most useful tool, allowing you to cut metal
4. Saw blades 2/0 - good all-round blade, I have had no problems using these for a variety of thicknesses, but the rule is 'at least 3 saw teeth to the thickness of the metal'
5. Nylon (or rawhide) hammer / mallet – for hammering and shaping metal without marking the surface like a metal hammer will.

Read more after the jump...
For soldering:
6. Starter soldering kit (containing soldering block, tweezers and reverse-action tweezers, flux, torch, pickling salts) – this one from Cookson’s contains all you need
7. Butane gas canister – for the soldering torch

For cleaning up / polishing:
8. Needle file - half round cut 2 is a good starter - or a set if you can afford it
9. Mixed emery / wet and dry paper - for removing file scratches
10. Glass bristle brush (optional but recommended) – will give your pieces a nice ‘brushed’ matte finish

Note: I haven’t yet found a way to get a really high shine polish by hand, without use of a Dremel / pendant motor tool, or a barrelling machine.

Basic plus - Order #2:

You want to make rings and you have a bit more cash to spend… all of the below will cost approximately £175 including VAT.
Essential basic silversmithing tools for ring making

1. Ring triblet / mandrel – make sure you buy one for rings, and not a tiny one! Unfortunately, this is a bit pricey, but necessary to form perfectly circular rings. Mine has a handy ring size chart on, so I know how small / large my ring ends up being
2. Ring clamp - useful for holding onto the ring shank whilst filing the front / setting stones
3. Half-round pliers - for bending wire or sheet into a circle for a ring shank
4. Bezel pusher - not exactly an essential for ring-making, but if you're interested in setting stones, then you need to get one of these!

Other useful basic items:
5. Jobbing / ball peen hammer – this is a useful hammer for giving a ‘hammered’ texture to metal – 4oz is a useful size, but my 1oz is pictured (it's pretty tiny)
Essential silversmithing tool barrel polisher6. Steel scriber – for marking lines onto metal
7. Metal ruler - much nicer than the big plastic ones you had when you were a kid (and much more accurate)
8. Needle file set - if you didn't get this in your first order, time to invest now - useful for getting into every nook and cranny.

9. Barrelling machine – this is a bit of an investment, but will make your life so much easier if you want to polish things to a high shine (you can also buy cones / grit to give a matte finish)
10. Stainless steel shot – needed for the barrelling machine; worth buying stainless steel so it doesn’t rust and you don’t have to remove and clean it each time 
11. Barrelling fluid – couple of drops added to the barrelling machine, but I have also used washing up liquid instead which also worked.

So - you will have splashed our £350ish by now, but that should be almost everything you need to start making your own pieces of jewellery (minus the silver). It's a really fun hobby to get into - but unfortunately, the tool wishlist keeps on growing longer the more time tools I buy!

What are your favourite tools? Would you add anything to this list of basics?

I'll continue with my guide next week in a Part 2 - intermediate tools.


  1. My favourite tool, is my Durston rolling mill, and my two Swarston disc cutters , oh and my knew concept saw, a must have.

    1. Ooh, Durston rolling mill - the stuff of dreams for me. Definitely high on my wishlist! I love my knew concept saw too.

  2. Hi Spring! Great article! Could you please tell me where you got your ring mandrel from? It is made of steel, right? It looks nice and sturdy.

    1. Hi Erika, thanks! My ring mandrel is this one from Cookson Gold:

      Yep, it's steel - I find it particularly useful having ring sizes marked on it.

  3. Hi, This is extremely helpful!!
    Do you feel as though you are able to heat the silver and do all the soldering with the butane torch or would I need an acetylene tank?

  4. How would you pierce the middle of a sheet for cutting without cutting through the edge? I'm not seeing any kind of drill listed - or can you use one of these tools to pierce it?


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