I originally learnt to silversmith in Sri Lanka, so had a good
introduction to making stuff with very little equipment. As a
hobbyist I have continued this trend and now find myself getting
almost as much pleasure from making the tools to do a job as I get
from actually making the piece.
Obviously, this all depends on what kinds of kit you are making, and
professionally made nice tools will save you a lot of time (for
instance, I do have a Durston rolling mill and love it dearly), but:
Pliers - you can buy standard hardware shop pliers and file the teeth
off of the inside, then finish the inside with emery to get a non
marring set of jewellers pliers. Needle nose ones are good to start
with as it is easy to get to the teeth. You can also then shape them
Hammer - second hand ball peen or rivet hammers are good to start
with. File and sand the head to the appropriate shape and then polish
with white diamond (called HiFin sometimes, available from all good
jewellery shops). A good planishing hammer should have a cusp on it
that follows a circle with a diameter of about 3 to 5 feet. Bevel the
edges a bit harder to prevent marring the work.
Anvils - you can start with a standard one, finish the surface with
emery and then polish with white diamond. I have also used left over
bits of steel plate and polished up one side and this works a treat.
For curved anvils I have used different sized carriage bolts to good
effect, and nails make excellent small punches and bezel pushers.
Steaks (anvils with very specific shapes) can be made out of pretty
much any old bit of metal, shaped and formed. You can also use wood
if it is not going to take too much abuse, I do all of my anticlastic
raising using a metal hammer over an oak bar that has some saddle
shapes rasp filed into it. Generally, whenever you see a bit of metal
lying about start thinking about what you can do with it - to give a
feel, my first ever ring anvil was a section of the barrel of an old
Torch: A standard plumber’s propane torch will work for items up to
about 5 inches across. If you want to anneal bigger then you will
need a hearth (look for blacksmithing groups on the net, there are
easy ways to make these) or a bigger torch. Having a separate O2
source or air blower is lovely from a control point of view, but is
not necessary. I quench into a plastic bucket filled with cold water
and do have a proper acid pickle pot, but a container with some acid
(H2SO4 drain cleaner or swimming pool acidifier are good sources, but
I have used warm lemon juice before), or even warm Silver Dip will do
the job. You can also solder small stuff using tweezers and a gas hob
if you have to. For small and very delicate operations you can use a
blow pipe, either a bought one or a bit of brass piping about 1ft
long with a 3mm diameter hole - put one end in your mouth, the other
in the middle of a sooty kerosene lamp flame and blow.
Bench Peg: G clamp a bit of wood to your bench or table. Works a
treat but is best with some kind of hard wood.
Polishing Motor: Get a cheap grinder from a hardware store that has
a drill chuck at one end, you can then attach polishing mops to that
end by putting spindles on them. Old CDs with emery paper glued to
them make acceptable lapps as well, as do circles cut from thick
leather. I have an old box over my wheel to cut down on dust.
Hand Polishing - impregnate (rub) cloth, wood leather, string etc
with polishing compound and rub vigorously on your work, or your work
on the polishing stick. This works surprisingly well, and the HiFin
you polished all of your tools with will give you an excellent finish
and a fairly fast cut (on silver, copper and gold).
Drawing wire - not that necessary anymore, but when required I still
use the method I was taught as a kid and put my feet either side of
the draw plate and pull through with the draw tongs. For draw tongs I
use a set of vice-grip pliers. If you have a lot of time on your
hands you can make your own draw plate from some sheet steel and a
centre punch - anneal the steel, drill varying sized holes in it, pop
the centre punch into the holes and bash it down so that the taper on
its shaft causes the inside of the hole to taper. Do this from both
ends. Temper and then polish the holes by fitting a bit of wooden
dowel in them coated with HiFin, stick the other end of the dowel
into your drill and spin until shiny. Tips on annealing ferrous
metals and tempering are in the orchid archives - it is worth
how to do so that your tools last.
Drill - an old hand drill works a treat, and the battery powered
ones are fairly good too. You can also make your own drill bits out
sewing needles if you are really hard up. There are instructions on
doing this in the orchid archives. Eventually you will want a proper
pendant drill and a drill press as well, but they can come later.
Files and sanding - hardware store files will do, butyou will want
to treat yourself to some nice new ones eventually. Sandpaper for
metal from a hardware store or automotive shop is ideal for most
jewellery work, get grades 200 to 1,200 - back it onto sticksfor
specific jobs and it will last longer and work faster.
Sawing - one thing where you do need the right kit. Get a decent
jewellers saw frame and a good selection of blades.
Cleaning up - a toothbrush, some toothpicks, warm water and a mix of
white spirit (gloss paint thinner) and washing up liquid will get
rid of ingrained polishing compound fairly effectively.
Generally, I think that one can be as creative in making one’s tools
as they are in coming up with finished pieces, though it does require
time and patience to do. It can also be very cost effective and allow
you to build up a shop slowly. Do take your personal safety into
consideration and exercise care - there are some things which I am
very lucky to have walked away from unhurt. However, don’t be afraid
to experiment and occasionally get it wrong - the shelves of my
workshop are littered with bits and bobs which proved not to work at
the time but are awaiting recycling into something helpful at a later
Hope this helps.