One of the best -- and cheapest -- resources right at your
fingertips is the Orchid Archive:
and Ganoksin's 'Tips from the Jeweler's Bench':
I'm fairly new here myself, but spending as much time as I can
wading through the thrillingly vast amounts of free info on the
Orchid site -- many articles are excepts from books (some written by
fellow Orchidians) so this may also be a good way to see what kinds
of info you'll find in the various books and which to invest in
first (there are so many worthwhile, but unless your budget is a LOT
bigger than mine, you'll have to try to determine the MOST useful
for early purchase).
Go to the 'Tips' page, and you can either Search or go down to the
table-of-contents area, including the 'Beginner's Corner' -- I'd
suggest reading everything there eventually (I've made a good
beginning myself), but specifically, Charles Lewton-Brain has
written an article on 'Some basic metal working tools for beginners'
This is a pretty good overview. I'd also second Jon's suggetion of
Tim McCreight's "The Complete Metalsmith" as a first book -- there's
a bibliography of useful books somewhere on the site, but it's vast
and overwhelming for one whose benchtop library is only a half-dozen
books so far. But I'm getting ideas for my Christmas Wish List!
Also, the Rio Grande catalog ( http://www.riogrande.com/ ) is a
great resource, not only in that you can order their (very good)
tools, but they also have tips for using them and handy references
scattered throughout. So even if you opt for cheaper starter stuff
or make-do, keep the catalog handy.
While taking classes is definitely the best way to learn, if you
can't afford that, you might also check out your local rock club (
http://www.amfed.org/ ) (
http://www.amfed.org/mwf/states/Illinois.htm ) -- often they have
informal classes or workshops in basic silversmithing. Be aware,
though, that many of those teaching are themselves self-taught, and
may not know the 'proper' or 'best' ways to do things; some are very
good, and some are blind-leading-one-eyed, depending on the
membership of the club near you, but they are generally all friendly
and helpful to the best of their ability. So I'd look at this more
as a way to see - use - evaluate tools you may not have yourself yet
than as a substitute for taking a jewelry course. Of course, you
may also be able to learn to cut some of your own stones -- not a
bad thing, either!
Welcome and Good Luck -- there seem to be a reasuring number of
less-experienced folk here, as well as a blessing of generous
more-experienced folk who share their knowledge/experience with the
rest of us. And even a new-comer can have something to contribute.