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.

Polishing:
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.

6 comments:

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

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

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  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.
    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Erika, thanks! My ring mandrel is this one from Cookson Gold: http://www.cooksongold.com/Jewellery-Tools/Round-Steel-Marked-Triblet-A-z-Plus-6-prcode-999-823

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

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  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?

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  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?

    ReplyDelete

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