Beginner Interested in Silversmithing


My name is Cheryl Anderson and I’m a newcomer on the list. I am a
graphic designer interested in silversmithing, namely Navajo
Silversmithing. I love creating patterns and designs and I’ve been a
rockhound ever since I can remember. While all types of jewelry
appeal to me, I’m particularly drawn to Navajo silver jewelry. I
think the boldness and contrast of the stamped silver and stones is
what really hooked me. When I was younger, some of my fondest
memories were making seed bead necklaces with my father and bead
looming bracelets, imitating Native American patterns and designs.
My father was a painter and was particularly drawn to Southwestern
dress and life and Native American patterns, incorporating them in
several paintings that he sold.

I’m hoping that I can glean some additional on setting
up a small starter studio and what basic tools would be needed for
this type of work. I have Jewelry Fundamentals of Metalsmithing by
Tim McCreight and The Encyclopedia of Jewelry-Making Techniques by
Jinks McGrath and both have been quite informative and great reads. I
have a great, heavy and battered, yet sturdy old table that was given
to me a long time ago which seems suitable for jewelry work and I’ve
started building my library of resources and collecting cabochons and
beads. I’m really excited to get started with the basics to get a
good foundation and go from there. I’m just looking for a little
insight on going about getting started.

Thanks for the informative forums and tutorials. They’re very
helpful for those of us learning by trial and error.

Cheryl Anderson in MD

I learned my chops in the turquoise business in Albuquerque, in the
boom days - early 70’s. I made mountains of jewelry with the tools
I’ll list below. More is better, but you don’t need much.

-Prestolite torch (is air/acetylene)
-12 oz ballpeen hammer
-leather mallet
-ring mandrel
-small anvil
-chain nose pliers
-round nose pliers
-jeweler's saw and 2/0 saw blades
-flush-cut diagonal cutters
-small shears or snips
-soldering pad
-soldering tweezers - just nicer cheap tweezers and I
 like self-locking, too. That is, both.
-A fluorescent desk lamp.
-Something to drill with occasionally - doesn't have to
 be exotic, at first.
-A set of needle files
-A Pickle pot and Sparex #2. 

In Albuquerque we used buckets and cold water and just let it soak
for a bit. Whatever you can rig up for polishing - a real
polisher/dust collector is best. For stamping you’ll need decorative
stamps. And some Misc. - jars, brush for flux, etc. Silver, silver
solder, and flux (Battern’s for me)

And that’s about it, unless I forgot something. I’ve m ade thousands
of pieces with those tools alone.

Turquoise jewelry (It’s not really Navajo unless YOU are Navajo) is
generally what’s called “table” work, as in a “Table Ring”. That’s a
piece of sheet metal with a design on top, soldered onto a shank. So
you make a bezel for your stone out of Fine Silver bezel wire, solder
it together, put it on a flat sheet of proper size for your idea,
solder it and your design down, trim around it and put a shank on it.
Or a bracelet shank, or belt-back findings, or earring loops, on and
on. That flat element can become anything. There is, of course, much
more. But that’s the basic idea, and it’s not that difficult once you
get the soldering part down. You could play around with a propane
torch before investing in a prestolite, but it’s much more difficult
to control. And of course there’s skill. Saying, “make a bezel…”
is much easier than actually doing it, at first. But it’s really not
that hard to get pretty good results fairly soon…

Hello Cheryl,

I’d be happy to help you set-up a small studio. Please feel free to
call me or e-mail off list so I can get a better idea of type of
work, work area space, budget etc.

Thackeray Taylor
Rio Grande Technical Sales and Support
800-545-6566 ex 13903

Hi Cheryl,

You might find “Indian Jewelry Making” by Oscar T. Branson


If you’re interested in learning Navajo Silversmithing techniques, I
would recommend getting “Indian Jewelry Making” Volumes 1&2 by Oscar
T. Branson. I see them available on Ebay from time to time. There is
one that was published that combined both volumes, however it is
smaller and I have been told that some was taken out. The
first few pages of Volume 1 shows you how the Navajo Silversmith’s
workshops were set up. The picture and description of the 1940-1976
workshop should be quite useful to you. This will show you all the
basic tools you will need to get started. You may want to try using
Argentium Sterling because you won’t have to protect it from oxygen
as much (no firescale).

Marty Andersen – No time these days!

Hi Cheryl:

Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM offers a three week intensive course in
January as part of January Term. Jan Term is a program for college
students whose schools require them to go someplace and study
something that is not available on their campus. There is usually
room for non-credit students on a space available basis.

The Introduction to Silversmithing class starts at the beginning
level, teaching basic techniques of sawing soldering, texturing, and
finishing. From there, we progress to cabochon setting, fabricating
rings, pendants, bolos, bracelets, etc., During the second week, we
have Roger Wilbur, a noted jeweler from Santa Fe, instruct the
techniques of mosaic inlay of semi-precious stones in silver channel
work. The third week is pretty much an open studio with students
having the freedom to express their individual creativity. During
the course we make field trips to Santa Fe to visit the Museum of
Indian Arts and Culture, Canyon Road galleries, jewelers on the
Santa Fe Plaza, and Santa Fe Jeweler’s Supply.

If the Jan Term class doesn’t work, we offer a one week class in
basic silversmithing in July, and week long sessions in the inlay
techniques in July.

Ghost Ranch is located in northern New Mexico in a spectacular
setting. Accommodations are basic and the food is good. This is a
great time of year in northern New Mexico, with bright skies,
moderate weather, and occasionally some snow. In addition to the
field trips in class, students can take trips to prehistoric ruins
such as Chaco Canyon and Bandelier National Monument, visit Taos and
Santa Fe, or go skiing at New Mexico or Colorado ski areas.

If this sounds good to you, contact me off-forum and I will get you
registration course description, etc.

Good luck in your search for a start in silversmithing.
Dale Smith


Welcome to the list! I’m sure you will find it to be a real help in
getting you started. Your expressed interest in Navajo
silversmithing struck a chord with me as it was through my love for
that style of jewelry that I started on this path over thirty years
ago. The path has many branches and the branches have many branches,
so there is no telling where it will eventually lead you.

As for help in getting started, I believe there are no finer
references than these two publications: “Indian Jewelry Making”,
volumes 1 and 2 by Oscar T Branson, published by Treasure Chest
Publications, of Tucson AZ, and “Indian Silversmithing” by W. Ben
Hunt. The former is an outstanding guide to step by making both
basic and advanced pieces and the latter is an older guide, published
in 1960, which gives you an insight into earlier styles and
techniques. Both list tools and materials and procedures for making
anything from simple stamped band rings to squash blossoms, kachinas
and conchas. (That is CONCHA, by the way, not CONCHO). The latter
misspelling and misproununciation came about during the big Indian
silver jewelry boom of the 1970s when a bunch of fast buck artists
who knew nothing about Indian jewelry except that it was a hot
selling item, got into the act. >:o (Small rant. I’m done now.)

Jerry in Kodiak

Cheryl: I might suggest a couple of books that give a little more
insite to Indian Silversmithing. One by Oscar T Branson “Indian
jewelry making” and one by W. Ben Hunt “Indian Silver-smithing”. I
believe both are still in print. If you are planning on stamping
designs you will need a good solid metal stamping surface, such as
an anvil or a thick steel bench block. I use a Hardalloy steel plate
1/2" thick that is 6 X 6 inches. I would prefer a 50 pound or
heavier steel anvil. Thetable will need to be very steady and solid
one to take the pounding. Most tables and work benches won’t take the
constant heavy pounding. The stamping I do and others I’ve seen are
using 3 to 5 pound crosspeen hammers or sledge hammers with short
hammer length handles. ;You will need something to do the silver
soldering with and If you get into the casting you will need a way
to melt your silver. I know this is very basic and others I am sure
will add more to this. The “Orchid” community is very good and
knowledgeable. I am sure you will get the info you need. And in the
process you might even find a friend or mentor or two.

John (Jack) Sexton

Hi Cheryl,

You’ve made a good start and with your history of design, you should
have a good time! My best advice would be to get thee to a hands-on
class or three! The books are a wonderful reference, but until you’ve
actually had someone show you and explain why something is done such
a way, it’s hard to learn from a book. The metals have a life of
their own and behave differently from another. You’ll understand when
you’ve melted a few bezels knowing you have an instructor there with
you to guide you to your next and, perfect one! Much less
frustrating. And safer!


Dear cheryl, There is a tendency to try to start out with more tools
than you actually need. My dad always said that all you really need
is a bent nail and two rocks. Anything else was just a labor saving
device. Of course like most of us, he collected every weird tool you
can imagine. I have a store in arlington, va named Facets. I’m 64
and beginning to get rid of some things. If you give me a call, I
could probably fit you out with the basic tools you’l need. You can
then pass them on someday.

Have fun. Tom Arnold

Just from my personal experience of trying to move from jewelry as a
hobby, to jewelry as a career. Read and watch as many books and
videos as you can. Interact with as many craftsmen that will be
willing to do so.

Something very important I learned, that hard way and after way to
many years of self teaching was to that I thought I was doing well
based on the kind words of friends and family. None of which, in my
case, had any clue about making jewelry.

Then, I had a jeweler offer to help me, but that turned out to be
more me doing stuff he didn’t want to, like fixing the roof of his
building and running around for parts. Never getting any real bench
experience, and even lost some costly tools to this person. Anyway, I
finally someone who had the resources, real skills, and the real want
to help, offered me help. In the last couple months I not only
learned many of the things I had learned myself, were, not so much as
wrong, but not very effective and didn’t have the best outcome. Which
in this trade it where the final judgment comes. The finished
product, as well as the time to get to the finish.

Friends and family will almost always tell you its wonderful, they
really are a great source of encouragement, but sometimes, at least
for me, it encouraged more of what I was doing wrong. So now, I am
working on Un-learning, and with the help of a couple of skilled
bench jewelers, and as always, the great crowd here on Orchid, I am
not only learning a better way, but, I am learning it faster and with
more confidence than ever before. I know I have SO much more to
learn, and will never ever know it all, but one thing I have learned
is that finding someone who is knowledgeable, caring, and who wants
to help others learn the trade, is better than all the books and
videos in the world. Just don’t let someone use you no matter who
desperate you are to learn the trade. You wont learn it, and you only
add more problems and pressure to an already hectic life. This is
my personal experience. And I hope it helps a little.

Oh, Id just like to say that If I could have gone to a quality
jewelry trade school, I surly would have. But I couldn’t, so I have
no right to comment on that avenue at all. Im sure there are many
here that can enlighten you about schools though.


Hi all,

as one new to silver fabrication and to Orchid as well, I would like
to say that one can’t take Dan’s remarks too seriously. Oddly, at
the age of 63, something possessed me to take up lampwork lessons and
silver fabrication at a fine school in Massachusetts and one here in
Vermont. So I have had excellent teachers, but was worried about
what would happen when the classes were over for the season. Through
serendipity at its best, I stumbled upon both a lampwork teacher and
a schooled benchwork teacher, both local and both much younger than
I, but delightful, and totally devoted to the principle underlying
all fine work, and that is to take it slow, learn the basics very,
very,well (we have been working on soldering for quite a few
lessons, and I can say that I could work on it forever, for it is the
underpinning of the whole skill,I believe), and never assume you’ve
practiced a skill enough, for there are always numerous ways to
achieve the same end. I am so thrilled to be in this field and
humbled to be in the company of so many from whom I can learn. As an
aside, I’m not quite sure how Orchid works and if people email each
other independently of the forum, but if there are any others out
there in northern Vermont, it would nice to know you.

Kindest regards,
Nancy R