Below is a list of tools that I have put together for my students to
set up a home studio for silversmithing.
Below is a list of equipment, tools, and supplies that are a “must
have” for anyone beginning silversmithing/jewelry making. This list
includes only the bare necessities, and if someone does not have or
cannot get, any of the below, it will make it very difficult to do a
good job of silversmithing. I have included the Rio Grande Inc.
catalog numbers and the pages that you can find the items on. The
catalog that I used was the Rio Grande Tools & Equipment, 1999 (Source
Code L3289). If you do not have one, beg, borrow, or call them at
1-800-545-6566 for one. I am not receiving
anything from them for using their catalog. You do not need to
purchase from them. I suggest that if possible and reasonable you
should purchase from a local supplier. I recommend that you purchase
from them after you have compared prices. I have found them to be the
best overall mail order company in regards to prices and especially
I have then added a list at the end of the other tools and equipment
that make it even easier to make jewelry. We will talk about these
more during the class and in the last installment.
Remember–do not purchase any tool if you already have one that can
do the job. If you have a question about whether the tool you already
have will do the job, let me know.
Photos of tools can be found at:
Quick Checkoff List of Must Have Tools (You will need these, or
any tool that will do the same job, to complete this course.) See
below for complete descriptions and explanations of why I suggest
____ $ 4.00 to $ 30.00 Chain Nose Pliers (used to be called
“needle nose”) with smooth jaws. (Rio Grande #11-923 on page 284)
____ $ 4.00 to $ 30.00 Round Nose Pliers. (Photo 2)
____ $ 4.00 to $ 30.00 Wire Cutters. (Photo 3)
____ $ 3.00 to $ 20.00 Tweezers with insulated handles and bent
nose that spring shut. (Photo 4)
____ $ 4.00 to $ 30.00 Sheet Metal Shears. (any kind of "tin
snips will do.) (Photo 5)
____ $ 4.00 to $ 15.00 Bastard File. (Photo 6)
____ $ 2.00 to $ 7.00 Half Round Jewelers File with handle.
____ $ 10.00 to $230.00 Torch. (Photo 8)
____ $ 8.00 to $ 10.00 Copper Tongs. (Photo 29)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 2.00 Cigarette Lighter. (Photo 10)
____ $ 0.20 to $ 1.00 Nudgit. (pencil with a t-pin pushed
through the eraser.) (Photo 12)
____ $ 4.00 to $ 16.00 Charcoal Block. (Photo 13)
____ $ 6.00 to $ 20.00 Solderite Pad. (Photo 14)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 8.00 Tape Measure. (Photo 15)
____ $ 30.00 to $130.00 Dremel Tool or Foredom Flexible Shaft.
____ $ 3.00 to $ 8.00 Tools for Dremel or Foredom Flexible
Shaft. (Photos 31 to 34 and 36)
____ $ 2.00 to $ 15.00 Goggles or eye protection. (Photo 24)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 5.00 Dust Masks. (No Photo)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 18.00 Gloves for buffing. (Photo 42)
____ $ 5.00 to $ 12.00 Sterling or .925 stamp. (No Photo)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 5.00 Plastic Spray Bottle. (Photo 26)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 5.00 Paper Towels. (Photo 29)
____ $ 1.00 to $ 5.00 Tooth Brush. (Photo 37)
____ $100.00 to $ 3000. TV. (Photo 38)
____ $ 15.00 to $ 17.00 Ring Mandrel if you are going to take
advantage of the free “Solderless Ring” Class. (Rio Grande # (112-366 on
page 208 ) (Photo 11)
____ $ 17.00 Hammer for forming ring. (Rio Grande
112-416 on page 215) (Photo 17)
Here are detailed descriptions of each of the �must have� tools, and
also why I include them on the �must have� list. I have included the
Rio Grande Inc. numbers of the tool that I would recommend if I was
buying for myself. I have also
listed the Rio Grande Inc. number for the cheapest tool that you could
get by with if you are on tight budget.
Chain Nose Pliers (Rio Grande #111-923 on page 284 ) (Cheaper
that will do: Rio Grande #111-813 on page 291. This is a full set of
3 pliers that will do to get started and very cheap! )
I suggest the 5 inch size. It is large enough to do most jobs and yet
small enough to make it easy to use. They must have smooth inner jaw
surfaces and the outside of the jaws should also have a smooth
surface. (This will be important, because I use the outer surface of
these pliers to set stones, instead of a burnisher.) Coated handles
are nice, but not necessary. I absolutely do NOT recommend that you
have them spring loaded. The spring only “opens” the pliers. This
means that you are always working against the spring. Gravity
automatically opens the pliers. You never need the spring! I will be
teaching you a very easy method of silversmithing. This method will
allow you to do silversmithing for hours every day without hurting
yourself and without wearing yourself out. If your fingers hurt,
silversmithing is no fun! If pliers come with a spring, I rip them
off as soon as I unpack them. You should do the same!
Round Nose Pliers (Rio Grande #111-923 on page 284) (Cheaper that
will do: Rio Grande #111-813 on page 291. This is a full set of 3
pliers that will do to get started and very cheap!)
When you get these, check the ends of the round nose pliers to make
sure that they come together and align at the ends. Coated handles are
nice, but not necessary. I absolutely do NOT recommend that you have
them spring loaded for the same reason listed above. If they have a
spring, remove it.
Wire Cutters (sometime called diagonal cutters or just diagonals) I
recommend that you purchase these at Walmart for about $7.00. They
should be about 7 to 8 inches to make it easy for you to cut most
gauges of wire. To see a photo in the Rio Catalog go to page 287. When
purchasing wire cutters, everyone should hold them up to a light
source and check to see if any light can be seen between the cutting
surfaces while being held shut. If you can see light or they do not
come together perfectly, do NOT buy them.
Tweezers (Rio Grande #115-050 on page 195) These must come with
insulated handles, and I only suggest the bent nose. They must
spring shut. You do not want to use bathroom tweezers. They will
wear out your fingers! You never know how hard to squeeze them, so
you are always over squeezing and wear out your fingers. Let the
spring in these tweezers do you work for you. You do NOT need the
straight ones. I have never found a job that straight nose tweezers
can do that bent nose ones cannot do. You want the bent nose so that
you do not have to bend your wrist while silversmithing. This is very
important! Remember that companies will make every tool that they can
sell. They often sell tools even if there is no real use for them.
Save your money. You only need one tweezers to get started.
Sheet Metal Shears (Any of the shears on page 307 will do) But, any
kind of "tin snips� will do, and you may want to check out Walmart or
Sears. The one in photo 5 is one that I purchases from a welding
supply company in Colorado. The name of this company is General Air
Supply. If you have one in your area, I highly recommend them. They
are only $10.00 and will cut up to 20 gauge sheet with ease. Do not
spend more than $20.00 on shears.
Bastard File I do not recommend that you purchase this file from the
Rio Grande Inc. Company. Instead, I really recommend buying one from
the local hardware store or Walmart for about $4.00. It is an 8 inch
bastard file which means that it only has one row of teeth on both
sides. If you can, find one that has teeth on both edges also. This
file will be used to do 95% of all your filing. This is worth
repeating: This file will be used to do 95% of all your filing. Just
in case you missed it: This file will be use to do 95% of all your
filing!!! Be sure that it has a handle on it!
Half Round Jewelers File I buy these from a local supplier for only
$1.00. Rio Grande is selling
only the more expensive files. Buy one of them if you like or get one
from a local supplier. I only recommend a 1/2 round file. This file
will do most of the 5% of the filing that the 8 inch bastard file will
not do. It is not necessary to purchase a lot of files. This file
just about has every angle and curve on it that you will ever need. I
especially do not recommend buying on of those sets of six or twelve
jeweler’s needle files. You simply will not use them and they will
just get in the way. If you must buy more files to satisfy your tool
craving, buy a rat tail file for making and cleaning up very small
holes, and a triangle file for making fast angled cuts. With those
two files, the half round file, and
the 8 inch bastard file you can do 100% of all filling procedures.
Handle for jewelers file (Rio Grande # 114-016 on page 160)
Torch If you do not have a torch, I recommend that you purchase a
$10.00 propane torch from Ace Hardware. They are the worst torch to
use for silversmithing. BUT, IT IS THE BEST TORCH TO LEARN HOW TO DO
SILVERSMITHING! Well, it is the worst torch except for those butane
mini torches and some other propane torches. Be sure they look like the
one in the photo. Do not buy any torch other
than the $10.00 torch in the photo. Do not purchase a self lighting
torch or one with a hose on it. They do not give you the flame that
you will need. Remember that I am going to teach you my method of
silversmithing. I use nothing but hard solder and you will need a
good flame that you can control. All teachers, especially public
school teachers and college teachers will laugh at using this torch
for silversmithing. The trouble is that they forget that with their
fat budgets (oh, I know, they complain about not having enough money
in “their budget”, but it is never “their” money! NEVER! Remember, I
was a public school teacher for 13 years.), that not everyone can
afford a Smith Handiheat Acetylene. If you can afford about $120.00
for this torch I do highly recommend it for silversmithing. See page
370 of the Rio Grande catalog, #500-105. Then purchase a “B” tank
from a local welding supplier for about $50.00. But please remember
that you do not have to spend that much money.
I will teach you to use this $10.00 torch and make better jewelry
with it than many, if any teachers can do with all their expensive
torches. I never recommend Map gas torches or oxy-acetylene for
silversmithing. They are just too hot of flame for silver. Natural
gas torches are great if you can afford one and can plumb it into your
shop. Their big problem is they are not very mobile. You must use
them in your shop.
I will cover all this in detail when we get to the lesson on
Copper Tongs (Rio Grande # 501-017 on page 358) These are only used to
take silver pieces out of the pickling solution. I know, I know, what
is pickling solution? I will cover it and other chemicals in next
Cigarette Lighter YES, I recommend a lighter to light the torches that
I suggest for silversmithing. I don’t recommend it for oxy-acetylene,
but I never recommend oxy-acetylene for silversmithing. I will cover
this more when
we get to lighting the torch and soldering. In the meantime, do not
believe any of the myths and rumors concerning this topic. As we go
along with this class you will begin to trust that I will never give
you �myths and/or rumors.� I will only teach you my first hand
knowledge. I may not always be right, as I am always learning, but at
least you can trust that if I say this or that way is the best, it is,
because I have tried the other ways. If I say someone got hurt doing
this or that I can give you a name, date and place. I will not
ever, simply just pass on that someone else told me or
that I read somewhere. I will present you with proof.
Nudgit (pencil with a t-pin pushed through the eraser) I invented this
tool and one of my students named it. I will give you detailed
on how to make your own and how to use it later.
Charcoal Block (Rio Grande #502-020 on page 357) I believe charcoal
blocks are the best soldering surface for silversmithing. As you
solder, it seems to release a gas that helps surround the silver piece
and keeps oxygen away from the hot metal, thus helps prevent
oxidizing. It also does not absorb as much heat as most solder
surfaces. There will be more on this later. (Note: be sure to wrap a
wire around the block before using. Heat will crack these blocks and
if not wired tightly together they will crack apart. And, if you
thought Humpty Dumpty was a problem to put back together, try putting
a charcoal block back together. Not only impossible, but you will get
covered with black charcoal dust.)
Solderite Pad (Rio Grande # 502-063 on page 356) I use these mainly to
set the charcoal blocks on top of to prevent accidental burning of the
counter tops. It is also recommended for using under charcoal blocks
just in case they begin to burn as charcoal. I have never had this
happen, but I suppose they could and then start a fire in your shop.
is worth it to me to be able to close up a classroom or my own shop
and go to bed without worrying about one starting a fire.
Tape Measure Buy one for a dollar at the fabric store and then cut off
the first 10 inches. I have never needed more than 10 inches for
measuring anything for silversmithing.
Dremel Tool or Foredom Flexible Shaft I suggest that you purchase a
Dremel tool at a Target store if you can. They are cheaper that
anywhere else. If you are going to use the Dremel tool for mostly
silversmithing, I suggest that you just get the single speed. You do
not need the multi speed models. When you touch the Dremel tool to
silver it really only has one speed anyway. The battery operated ones
just do not have enough power to be useful in silversmithing. If you
want to spend about $200.00 or more, a Foredom or similar flexible
shaft system is the right
way to go. (Rio Grande # 117-527 on page 162) The cheap Dremel tool
can do the job while making enough jewelry to sell to pay for a
flexible shaft system.
I will discuss burrs, polishing wheels and buffing wheels during the
class on finishing and polishing.
Gloves for buffing. Cheaper is better here because you are going to
wear them out anyway. Brown jersey gloves work well, but really wear
out fast. I prefer the cheapest leather gloves that I can find at
Walmart. For now just remember that if you are buffing without
gloves on you are not buffing! You are just goofing off and smearing
compound on to your project.
Dust Masks The ones at Walmart, welding supply shop and/or a medical
supply store will work fine.
Goggles or eye protection Always wear eye protection when working with
any power tool for silversmithing, at home or at work. You can
purchase them at Walmart, or a welding supply shop is a good place to
purchase better ones.
Sterling or .925 stamp (No Photo) (Rio Grande #112-177/01 on page
Plastic Spray Bottle (Photo 26) We will use this to spray on the flux
before soldering. Yes, we will spray on the flux! You will love this
Paper Towels (Photo 29)
Tools for Dremel or Foredom Flexible Shaft I like 1/8 mandrels for
holding the polishing wheels.
I only recommend one pre-polishing wheel. It is called the
“Brightboy Wheel” (Photos 31 to 34) (Rio Grande #332-356 on page
315) I will go over this more later, but no other wheel will do what
this one does. Remember, companies will make blue wheels, red wheels,
green wheels, every color of wheel they can to get you to buy all of
them. Do not do it! They would make a plaid one if they could get
you to buy it. You will only need these.
I also only recommend one type of miniature polishing buff wheel (Rio
Grande #330 -349 on page 318). (Photo 34) They are treated so they
do not fly apart as do most white wheels. You can choose the size,
but I buy the 1" ones.
Tooth Brush (Photo 37) For cleaning your projects after polishing.
TV (Photo 38) This piece of equipment may be optional for you, but not
for me. A video recorder and good collection of Clint Eastwood movies
is also a must for me. I always have a good movie going, but, of
course, I only look up at it for the sex and violent parts.
That is it. With the tools above, you can make thousands of dollars
of sterling silver jewelry. I will teach you how, and I promise you
that with the tools above you can make a living if you want to. Tools
that you will want to get later, especially if you are going to make
rings and bracelets.
____ $ 17.00 to $ 30.00 Hammer. (Photo 17)
____ $ 1.25 to $ 15.00 Ring Sizers. (Photo 28)
____ $ 18.00 to $ 30.00 Ring Mandrel with sizes from 1 to 16.
____ $ 35.00 to $ 50.00 Bracelet Mandrel. (Photo 16)
____ $ 45.00 to $450.00 Buffer- Home made. (Photo 21) or
complete outfit. (Photo 20)
____ $ 18.00 to $ 27.00 Magnifying Visor. (Photo 41)
____ $ 18.00 to $ 27.00 Felt Inside-Ring Buffs. (Photo 43)
Hammer (Rio Grande # 112-416 on page 215) (Photo 17) I like this
hammer for silversmithing and jewelry making. It comes with
a small plastic (nylon) head and a brass head. If you buy one always
order up to 5 of the plastic head replacements. If you do not, later
when you need one, it is very probable that you will not be able to
purchase them. They are cheap, so buy a lot and put them somewhere,
where you can find them!
I do not like “raw hide” hammers for silversmithing. In fact I do
not like them at all for anything involving jewelry making. They are
too large, expensive, and I always see a dog bone on a stick when I
see one! So if you have one, feed it to the dog, get the hammer above
and you will love it. It is small and easier to use, and you can
change the heads. With a flip of the hammer you can change it to a
brass head for really beating the heck out of something!!!
Ring Sizers (Rio Grande # (116-051 on page 251 ) (Photo 28) I
recommend the inexpensive plastic ones for beginners.
Ring Mandrel (Rio Grande # (112-366 on page 208 ) (Photo 11) For
silversmithing you will want a ring mandrel without the groove down
the middle and one with sizes from 1 to 16.
Bracelet Mandrel (Rio Grande # (112-361 on page 209 ) (Photo 16) I
have both the stepped mandrel and the tapered mandrel, but I prefer
the stepped one.
Buffer For beginners I really suggest that you go to an Ace Hardware
and purchase a $40.00 to $50.00 grinder and convert it into a buffer
(Photo 21). It must be a 1/2 horse power and 3250 rpm
(revolutions per minute). The size and speed is important to achieve
the best polish on you silver. Just take off the grinding wheels and
put on a tapered shaft (Photo 19) and you are ready to buff. Of
course you must control the dust that it will produce and protect
yourself against breathing this dust.
A buffing unit as (Rio Grande # 336-270 on page 329 ) (Photo 20)
is great if you can afford one. It collects the dust and keeps your
shop cleaner. I would still suggest that you wear a
dust mask, though. I do not, but you should!
Yellow Stiff Buffer Wheel (Rio Grande #330-050 on page 337) (Photo
22) This wheel is used to for the first buffing with white diamond
White Soft Buffer Wheel (Rio Grande # 330-108 on page 337) (Photo
23) This will be used for a final polish with Zam. More about Zam
Felt Inside-Ring Buffs (Rio Grande # 330-075, 072, 063, 060 on page
340) (Photo 43) These make polishing the insides of rings very easy
and quick. More about these later.
Magnifying Visor (Rio Grande #113-206 on page 267 ) (Photo 41) You
will only need these if you�re getting as old as I am and cannot see
anymore. I would suggest the best pair you can afford.
Lesson 1 Extended
Where you can do your silversmithing. I just wanted to discuss where
you can do your silversmithing. I have many students begin doing
silversmithing on their kitchen table. That right their kitchen table,
in apartments even. So this brings up what kind of bench or table you
need, and also the safety concerns, both for you and the kitchen!
I do not like to use a “Jeweler’s Bench”. This goes against the grain
of most teachers and schools. For silversmithing I will even go as far
as to say that you should never use a jeweler’s bench for
silversmithing. If you do not know what a jeweler’s bench is you can
see them on pages 24 and 25 of the 1999 Rio Grande tool catalog. They
are pieces of art, I really, really, really want one. BUT, I would not
use it for silversmithing. I would just put neat stuff in all those
drawers and look at it from time to time.
I do not recommend them for silversmithing for reasons of comfort,
cost, and light.
Comfort Jeweler’s bench for the most part are built so that the work
surface is at eye level while sitting on a stool. So that the jeweler
can get close enough to his work so that magnifying glasses can be
used to see very intricate pieces and perform very precise work, such
as stone setting. You do not need to get that close to your work to do
silversmithing as I teach it. I found that it was uncomfortable and
could not find a comfortable stool that could be used with them. Plus
your hands are always work up at the level of your eyes. Think about
it! If you work is at eye level, so are your hands and tools. We are
not built to hold are hands that high for any length of time. Most of
the jeweler’s that I know have back pain.
I find that my students are more conformable sitting in regular
chairs, working at the height of a regular table. I built all my
benches in my classrooms at about the height of most desks and tables.
So your kitchen table is just right. If it was better to have your
hands held at the same level of your eyes, would we have kitchen
tables built two feet higher so we could scoop in our dinner easier?
Cost I have never seen a cheap jeweler’s bench that I did not build
myself. They are beautiful! Usually solid oak! But there is only a few
reasons to have one. Here are the
“Top Ten” Reasons To Have A Jeweler’s Bench.
If you own a jewelry store they look really good to your
customers! It will give them the impression that you must know how to
repair and make jewelry!
You are a collector of tools, especially expensive ones you never
use, and you need a really neat place to store them.
Your wife or husband needs a pretty place for their underwear.
You want to help keep wood workers employed.
You want your work place to match your oak furniture.
You like to have so many drawers that you can never find anything.
You want to collect silver dust. They always come with dust
collector drawers. If you only work with silver you can save your
silver dust for about a year and you can take that extra cash and buy
furniture polish. That is about all it be worth, but at least you can
polish your really neat, pretty bench.
You will take better care of you work bench! You would dare
accidentally burn a little spot in it, or let pickle splash on it!
Your roll top desk, just does not have enough drawers in it.
You want to look like a good, prosperous silversmith.
Light Lighting is the most important reason that I do not recommend
using a jeweler’s bench. I want you to consider that if you work is at
eye level then the light that is illuminating it is almost always
coming from above. This causes that you have shadows falling on some
of the areas that you need to see. The light just is not coming in at
an angle that makes it easy to see your work. It would be great if you
could put lights on both sides of your head, or at least coming from
If you do your silversmithing on a table, the light above is
illuminating the area that you are looking down on. This makes it
easier to see what you are doing.
If you are going to do silversmithing in you home, in the kitchen or
a bedroom, there are some things you want to do for safety.
Buy some old carpet, test it for burning, and put it down over the
floor. It will protect it from dropping hot silver pieces and pickle
spattering. You can test it buy just pointing your torch at a small
piece of it outside to see how it burns. If it burns easily go buy
some that doesn’t. (Personally I would just take my $10.00 torch with
me to the carpet store and ask them to give me a small sample of each
piece of carpet for testing before buying it.) Sometimes they will
have used junk you can just have.
Buy a small piece of plywood, particle board, or paneling to cover
your table or desk. Make it big enough to cover the entire surface
where you are going to work.
Some fresh air is nice, but I do not get overly concerned about
fumes. I have not known of any jeweler with respiratory problems due
to silversmithing. Please just take some common sense precautions, and
if you smoke STOP! I am always amazed that students ask me about this,
especially smokers! I truly believe that if your really concerned
about the fumes of silversmithing or if you are a smoker, you should
wear the most expensive, largest full face respirators that you can
afford. Personally, I would take them off to do silver work and put
them on when I go outside or any where their are smokers. The fumes
from are cars and smokers scare me more than working with silver.
Cheap dust masks are just a waste of money.
Make sure you have a non combustible surface under your charcoal
Make sure you keep your pickle covered, so that pets can not drink
I would never keep out any silversmithing tools, supplies,
especially torches where any children can ever get to
Child and pet proof your silversmithing work area!!!
- To appease those that hammered me on safety, have a fire
extinguisher handy. I have never caught any thing but a paper towel on
fire, and then I just put it out with my spray bottle of flux.
The bottom line is that you can not use the excuse of not having a
shop, stop you from silversmithing.