Fabricating from scratch

I wonder among the many here on Orchid, what the statistical balance
is between fabricating from scratch vs fabricating using purchased
sheet and wire.

What percentage of us begin with pure metal, and alloy it to our
specific needs, pour ingots, and roll our own stock.

How many use a rolling mill beyond forming sheet, bezel and wire.

If you have not yet alloyed, melted, poured, and rolled, how
interested are you in doing so.

If you are not, what are you doing with your scraps and filings.

Do you think that the way you learned is the only way?


If you have not yet alloyed, melted, poured, and rolled, how
interested are you in doing so. 

I buy silver sheet and wire. I’ve not yet alloyed but I’m very
interrested in doing so. I’m saving up for a Durston rolling mill,
so one day…


I would love the chance to learn to alloy, melt, pour, etc. Those
are skills I have not had the chance to learn yet, and am not
comfortable trying on my own. I am one who learns better by

I use my rolling mill mainly for texturing, less for wire, not at
all for sheet at this time.

I do melt some of my scraps to use, but often not into sheet or
wire, but into amorphous shapes which I then use.

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio


This is just my own view based on how my business runs and where it
makes money and where it doesn’t. Here I’m talking about custom work,
where the expectations are higher than mass production.

For me, I believe the cost savings are inconsequential. I get paid
to make a great product which means I need to be absolutely certain
of the materials. I don’t think small scale refining ensures long
term consistency from batch to batch. Its a genuine pain to get
halfway thru something only to find a defect in the material. What
does that do to your profit? Call it insurance if you want, by
purchasing known good material I absolutely won’t have those
surprises. I don’t believe I could produce raw material any better
than say Hoover and Strong.

There are enough commercially available alloys, I frankly don’t see
the point in trying to make some other alloy. At least not for the
product my clientele wants. That’s who I cater to.

Scrap is exactly that. Turn it in, let the refiner work it. I have
seen too many abortions come out of shops that use scrap for
allegedly new production. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I
like to eliminate even the possibility of a bad outcome. The client
is paying me in part to be discriminating.

I’m lucky in that I don’t get many people who balk at the price for
custom work. I’d like to think that is at least partially due to my
reputation for fine work. Its not a brag, its a business necessity.
If I was in an entirely different market with entirely different
imperatives I might feel different. Oops, I was, and I didn’t like

  1. clueless as to the percentage

  2. I begin largely with my own raw materials and then draw or roll
    what I need, I only buy reactive metals and the occasional patterned
    mokume-gane rod

  3. I use a rolling mill for numerous things in the studio or in
    teaching students in my classes

  4. does not apply to me

  5. n/a

  6. there is no one way to make jewelry period. anyone that says
    there is should be eliminated from the statistics!


Hi Terrie,

My rolling mill is one of my most useful-- and used-- tools. I make
much of my own stock including tube and almost all of my gold sheet
and wire.

I pour up much of the bronze rod and wire that I use, sterling too.

Taper forging, which I used to do by hand is all step rolled in the

It is truly my right hand.
Take care, Andy


I apologize for not being clear on the Alloys. I am not speaking of
making your own alloys, just alloying your own metals. If one is
precise in measurements, there should be consistency in every pour.

I was teaching a class some months ago, and a large order for a
specific product was made, and cut to size by the catalog company,
this was the individual amount ordered by each student. Once it
arrived, it was ready to go.

It was very soon, days, evident that there was a problem. The
product broke down. The company was contacted, and the product was
returned, and a new order sent out. That cost us 3 weeks of
productive time. The company was gracious in taking responsibility.
Still a very large, well known company produced a product that was


When i was in a lab in a small town with the nearest dealers an
hour’s drive away, I alloyed everything - both for silver and for
gold. Now that I work in the center of Rome and have a choice of
dealers in a five minute walking range, I buy all of my silver sheet,
wire and tubing and some white and yellow gold sheet and tubing. But
for gold I frequently do my own alloy as then I have control over the
color. After eliminating the solder areas I melt and reuse scrap.

In my earlier years as a goldsmith I used to alloy and make my own
sheet, wire and tubing. Of course, everything I did was custom one
offs and I could control the processes carefully. As time went on I
began purchasing all my materials from well known companies such as
Stuller, Rio, etc.

I have a 40 year old Chinese made rolling mill with a cast iron
frame and hardened steel rollers that I paid $50 for in Taiwan nearly
40 years ago. It ain’t pretty but it is tough, strong and accurate.
It has a 70mm flat with 7 sq wire grooves. I have used it for just
about everything over the years.

I have many students from South America and they all tell me how
they learned to make everything from scratch including their solder.
They all say, with out exception, now that they are in the US they
prefer to purchase. It uses less time, is more accurate and costs are
reasonable…well they were at least until the recent runups.

My advice,…learn to alloy, make your own, etc., its good for the
soul and very humbling… but then purchase what you need.

Cheers from Don in SOFL

If you have not yet alloyed, melted, poured, and rolled, how
interested are you in doing so. 

We buy fine gold bullion - usually shot but sometimes coins, and
everything starts from there. I make my own 18kt. alloy (80% Ag, 20%
Cu) because a store wanted me to use that alloy for consistency, and
it’s the best I’ve found. 14kt and white gold we buy alloy from Otto
Fre. Rose gold I just use 100% copper, and I’ve never had a call for
green gold - well, once, but when I told her she’d have to stock it,
she took off…

We recycle everything that’s clean. I work over a newspaper and
catch all my filings and little bits and save them. When I change
metals I clean up the paper and my benchpin (30 seconds) and start
fresh. I have a jar for mixed or mystery metals, and the only thing
that goes in the refining bins is the bottom of my bench pan, floor
sweeps and polishing.

In the rare case that I might need silver sheet of any size, or the
need to have clean sheet, I’ll buy it, but that’s hardly ever. For
the stray silver job I usually behave like it’s gold and use the
mill and drawplates.

We don’t do silver work - I refuse all of it. That means that once a
year I’ll make an exception, usually so nobody else will botch the
job and I get their mistake after.

There is a prevalent misconception that the rolling mill and
drawplates are used to duplicate mill products. We don’t care what
gauge anything is unless it matters (never). We need a piece that’s
“about like that” and we make that as needed. Square, short and fat,
skinny and wide, big, little, whatever is needed, that’s what we
make. Same for wire and tubing.

There is no “one way” by any means. People who are {well,
slaves…} to mill products are quite limited in their options,
though. I would characterize it as lumber - "I’ll use a 2x4 for this
part, and a 1x2 for the rest. We think of it as clay - infinitely
variable and malleable. Quite a different world, in truth…

I use pre-made wire & sheet, although I try not to use anything else
premade. With few exceptions I make my settings, I make my clasps, I
make my chains… In the case of some bezels, like little round ones
that just seem more trouble than they’re worth to make by hand, I do
buy, but never clasps or chains or other large components. I have
poured, rolled, etc. I didn’t alloy, though, I was recycling. I
don’t have the mega-torch to use that I did then, nor do I happen to
own the molds I poured into those times. Though I must admit to
buying most of my stock in various gauges to match what I need, I do
draw wire down & roll sheet thinner as needed, and I make most of my
own jump rings (not oval, unless it’s ones I’ve started with round &
then soldered & stretched), and I’ve been known to make my own
tubing, although I’ll admit I’m rather lazy about that since I
stopped going to school where I had a big draw bench and I usually
buy that, although I rarely use it anyway. I do end up with scraps &
filings, of course, and I save them up to either reuse as bits for
something else, melt for drop casting, send in for credit, etc. And
no, of course the way I have been learning is NOT the only way!
Sorry, but it’s crazy to think any differently. There’s more than one
way to learn anything and everything, and one way that works well for
one person may not work at all for another.

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

I fabricate from scratch about half of what I make. The beauty of
fabricating from scratch is (1) I learn more about the metals than I
would buying sheet,wire, etc. and (2) I can “control” the width,
size, etc. of the sheet and wire. Also, I’ve been experimenting with
different alloys. I learn about how different metals behave. I use my
rolling mill alot. If I were just starting out it would be the first
major piece of equipment I’d buy.

Oh and I call my work space a “studio” but when I’m granulating (and
need darkness) I refer to it affectionately as “the cave”.

Patricia Tschetter

ok, my 2 cents worth:

silver: I keep alot of prefabricated sheets, wires, tubes, etc
around, and just grab stock as I need it. with sterling, it is
inexpensive enough that I can do that

gold. costs more than silver. so I keep some raw wire, but keep most
metal in casting grain, then cast an ingot or wire mold, then roll
and draw as needed.

I cast and roll silver when i am doing something other than sterling
(fine silver, or a 05-96% silver that I have used for heavy castings
that need to be a little soft))

I also use a rolling mill when I am inlaying silver into a stone
carving, and I need to get the exact fit - I can tweak a wire
thickness in increments of as little as 0.00025" just using the
rolling mill, great when tension setting silver or gold into jade.

Mark Zirinsky

I buy sterling sheet, wire and tubing but recycle my scrap by
turning it into 80/20 reticulation silver.


Living in a small coastal town in Venezuela, I have do pretty much
everything from scratch. If I could order sheet or bezel strips etc.
I’m not sure the delivery would make it all the way to my door. When
I was learning the basics, my mentor would insist that we alloy our
own metals (mainly silver but some gold) as well as make our own
solders and fluxes.I also had to learn (and am still learning - ref
my post on Palladium white gold a month or so ago ) to try and fix
mistakes. When recycling scrap, it is easy to contaminate the metal
and a real chore to fix. For example when trying to clean
contaminated gold we throw Saltpeter (KnO3), Blue (carbolic) soap
shavings, sulphur, and Laundry detergent powder, along with Borax
into the crucible of molten metal. Some of those ingredients must
work because it usually does the trick - except for that UKP $%^&
Palladium last month. I use locally (hand)made earthenware crucibles
and up until recently only had a Bernzamatic propane/Mapp gas torch
for heat. Worked fine but since moving to Oxy/ Propane for melting
and alloying would not go back. After casting the ingot, I always
drop it onto a stone floor to ensure it rings true. I use a Vigor 50
mm flat, ten channel grooved mill which I think is great, to form
sheet or bars. I draw my own wire and tubing. At the bench I use an
ORCA torch which I think is made in Brazil or Argentina (also really
great ) and for really fine stuff a Smith Little torch.

As a consultant directional drilling instructor (oilfield drilling
not metalsmithing drilling) I travel frequently and have tried
buying factory made sheet, wire and solder on my travels (AJS in
Brisbane and Jemco in Houston) and have to say that I really prefer
to make my own.

I am a hobby Silversmith and appreciate that professionals may not
have the luxury of the time all this takes, and it does take time.
For myself, starting a project at step one and staying with it to
completion gives me a feeling of true ownership. If I could I would
probably mine my own silver and gold. My big regret is that I
started beginning to learn this art five years ago. I am fifty eight
years old and I’m not sure there is enough time left to learn
everything. I do appreciate Ganoksin and the Orchid community for not
only helping with technical advice and solutions but for sharing
their trials and tribulations as well. This lets a lot of us know
that these things do not just happen to us. Discovering Orchid let me
know that even as a late starter, I have chance to continue learning
and improving. So…

that’s my say on it… except perhaps to add that for those wanting
to go to basics and start from scratch; a huge amount of knowledge,
technique and wisdom as at your fingertips thanks to the likes of
Oppi Untracht (RIP), Tim McCreight and others who have shared their
invaluable knowledge in print.

Wow, didn’t realise that I had so much to say on these thread.

sorry for the ear bashing
John Bowling

I use fabricated sheet and wire. I make small castings in charcoal
blocks with my scraps. I got a rolling mill last Christmas (I’d say
it came from Santa, but I don’t want to start a debate about his
existence) and I am just now getting it set up. I hope to be able to
reform my scraps into sheet with it.

I am also in the process of setting up lapidary equipment. I have
mostly used purchased cabochons, and I am looking forward to
finishing my own, both from a stash of rocks left to me by my
parents and a few I have found. I am not sure if I’ll ever include
faceting, though I do use them in most of my work. Since this thread
is discussing how from scratch we work, I’d be interested in how many
members do their own lapidary work as well as metal work.

Theresa Bright
Bright’s Fantasy

I love to make things from scratch. It is the way I learned, it’s
fun, it’s economical, and the purist in me says that it is the only
way to make jewelry that can truly be called hand-made. Few things
give me as much satisfaction as making a perfectly functioning hinged
locket (or something similar) that started out as nondescript chunks
of metal.

That being said, the business of making jewelry makes it a bit less
economical, and a little less than ideal for things such as color
match and guaranteed karatage, especially when using scrap. I usually
get 5mm square wire and 12 or 14 gauge sheet and round wire and use
the rolling mill and draw plates to make whatever I need. True, I
have gotten metal from suppliers that is less than perfect and
develops cracks or splits, but their failure rate is lower than mine,
and I can return it and only lose a day or two in the process. The
only metal I order to specific size is that which I’m using for
hydroforming. I have found that it is more uniform and doesn’t crack
or develop an orange-peel texture nearly as much as what I roll out.
I also use commercial laser wire and seamless tubing. Drawing down
5mm square to 30 gauge round is just more than I can bear, especially
when I consider how much suppliers charge over spot metal for the
privilege. Commercial seamless tubing is a good investment when it
comes to time saved and quality of product, considering soldered
seams and lost tubing at the drawing end.

Recently on a dare, I made a three stone fabricated platinum ring
completely from clean bench sweeps. I melted the filings into a
button and rolled it and drew it into wire and sheet and forged a
tapered raised shoulder shank. It was a blast to do, lots of hammer
thwacking, probably only added an hour or two to the process (as
opposed to starting with commercially prepared 5mm square and 14
gauge round wire which is how I would normally do it) and it came out
just fine. No holes, pits or cracks, and it engraved just like virgin
metal from Hoover and Strong. Would I do it again? Maybe, but why?
Those lost hours probably cost me a few hundred dollars and if I
wasn’t self-employed may have gotten me more than a couple of dirty
looks from the boss. I also might not be quite so lucky next time in
getting the filings so clean. How much more time would I have to
invest if I find that the wire in the settings is cracking after I
get the shank in place because some of that low-life cobalt got in

I send my scrap and filings to High Tech in Dallas, TX. They send a
check out the same day they get your metal (except for filings and
low grade), they have no minimum (you can send them a single worn out
chain if you want), they charge $25 per ounce (I’m pretty sure I’m
remembering right) of recoverable pure gold (silver and platinum are
a bit different) and they give you a detailed print-out of their
analysis. Send it in on Tuesday, get a call with their assay and
settlement on Wednesday, get a check (or 24K grain) on Thursday.
Works for me. (No affiliation, just a happy camper)

It is my opinion that no goldsmith’s toolbox of skills is complete
without the ability to create sheet, wire and tubing from grain,
consistently and with few problems in every metal they work in (James
Binnion is exempted as casting cesium or thorium or whatever new
metal he’s playing with in an ingot mold would be above and beyond).
The knowledge gained in metal properties and the ability to save your
backside from time to time makes the skill invaluable. Still, I think
the cost savings is neglible and sometimes it actually results in an
increase in cost (when bench time is considered a cost) rather than a
real savings. But I would never try to talk someone out of doing it,
or argue about the savings. If it works for you like it does for so
many on Orchid (and like it did for me for many years), by all means
drive on. You can call your jewelry fully 100% hand made, and no one
can call you on it (except for maybe a few that consider using a
power source more advanced than a water wheel a disqualifier). Most
jewelry consumers (especially trade accounts) won’t want to pay more
for it, but you can honestly and inarguably call your jewelry


I have alloyed my own metal in the past. I found doing my own
alloying of non exotic mixtures to be of no economical value. I
fabricate the majority of my pieces. I weld everything together and
have no need for tight fitting joints, so I tend to have more metal
on the joint than I need. Often I use side cutters to hack off the
excess and then use a double ought file to rough the area to shape.
The clippings and coarse fillings are kept separate from bench dust
and melted, then milled and drawn for filler wire. The finer filings
and emery dust are kept for refining at a latter time. I use the
filings as a cash savings account. It adds up quickly these days. I
do quite a bit of shaping with my rolling mill. Tapers and arcs and
such. Most of the time my mill is used for making filler wire from a
portion of the current piece. This way I am assured that I will have
an exact material match for the welds. I have yet to work with
perfect mill products, including that which I’ve made my self. I’m
satisfied with the products I purchase though. I use Hoover and
Strong for mill products. Sometimes I start with thick stock, get
what I need from that roll it down a bit, take what I need from
that, roll it down a bit, weld two pieces together to make it wider,
take what I need from that, well, you get the idea! I agree with
John’s post referring to, “thinking of it as clay”. Right on John!
Precious metal’s a push over! Gotta admire that “Man of Steel”. It’s
not so forgiving! Try burnishing that oops out of stainless!

Kevin Lindsey

That being said, the business of making jewelry makes it a bit
less economical, and a little less than ideal for things such as

David’s post brings out an important point - life is very different
when jewelry is a career. Here we don’t teach, we don’t do seminars
and we don’t have annuities - we make 100% of our livelyhood by
making and selling jewelry. Long ago a wise man told me that he
didn;t get started in life until he realized he needed to quit
building monuments. Working for idealistic reasons, often with no
return… Nothing wrong with that, either, it just doesn’t pay the
bills… If a finding does the job, that’s what we’ll use. $5 out the
left hand, $10 in the right hand…

But I’ll pound away at it till it sinks in - the value of the
rolling mill is NOT to duplicate mill products or to save money -
it’s to make custom shapes. Whether you start with thick
store-bought stock or pour your own is of no great importance, it’s
the mill that counts. Here:


is a page of reproduction Chippendale chairs (couldn’t find good
pics of real ones, but no matter) Notice the absence of lumber. No
sticks, no s= heet metal, few straight lines. They’re not tinkertoy
chairs and too often mill products equate into tinkertoy jewelry. If
you look at the great jewelry (not necessarily expensive) you’ll see
the same thing - you can reverse engineer it and say it started as a
square wire, but it’s not that now - it’s an elegant arch in gold.
That’s the value of the mill - custom shapes, custom work.

Those who know how I work and what I teach my students understand
that I’m a very “old school” goldsmith. I make all my own wire and
sheet, and encourage my students to do the same. I buy the alloy I
like for both sterling silver and colored golds, and alloy my own
metals. My students learn to do this themselves, as well. I do,
however, buy my own solders, and certain findings, as well as
seamless tubing if needed for a specific project.

Why do I promote alloying your own metals and rolling out your own
sheet and wire???

There are several reasons. I think every metalsmith should know how
to make their own fabrication stock. You may not choose to go through
the labor of making your own stock, but there will likely come a time
when that supply house just isn’t going to have what you need, and
you are going to need to create it yourself. Regardless of how easy
it is to just order out what you need, there just does not exist an
infinite variety of stock to choose from.

For my students, I like to tell them that there are two parts to
making jewelry. The first is the design, and the second is the
execution of that design. So I start my students with designing, and
once we have determined the design in detail, I help them make that
design. If fabrication is involved, then we can custom build the
components for their piece, and not rely on parts and pieces bought
out of a catalog. This process teaches loads about the working
characteristics of metals, and most students are incredibly gratified
by having made all their parts by hand. Are you buying that 32 ga.
bezel out of a catalog, and trying to work with that stuff? It really
doesn’t take that much longer to make a sturdy 22 ga. or thicker
bezel yourself, in any width you need, in any color or karat.

One of my students bought a piece of “dead soft” sterling wire,
which she was trying to bend around a ring mandril. She was
struggling to bend it. I asked her if it was annealed, and she
explained that it was sold as annealed-“dead soft”. I asked her to
anneal it by torch, as we typically do in my studio, which she did.
She had no further problems bending the wire around the mandril. I
have trouble believing manufacturers’ claims that their metals are
annealed until I anneal it myself. I can usually feel the difference.

Jay Whaley