Hi from a Jewelry Making Newbie

Hi All, I have been doing lots of research online for working with metal for jewelry making and came across this community. I'm in the process now of purchasing items for cutting metal sheets and sanding and finishing as well as doing riveting. I'm excited to learn and share with you all. My main goal is to learn how to create lapel pins and brooches for wearing on clothing and especially to place on hats (i.e top hats, trilby, fedora, porkpie, women\’s sun hats, etc)as I\’ve been decorating my own large collection of hats for years.

Welcome! That sounds like a cool specialization. I’ve made dozens of rings, pendants, earrings and bracelets but only one broach. The pin, hinge and clasp combo took me longer than the broach to fabricate. Will you fabricate your own broach findings or get these prefab?

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Hi Dan, Thanks for replying. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of items! At this point I am planning on creating all mine from scratch. Just ordered my first bench pin, fret saw and blades and some various metal sheets after several weeks of researching. I’m now going to research the other things I need to get like rivets (I plan on joining multiple layers of pieces) and pliers, hammers, and I’m not 100% sure if I will need annealing tools or not as I plan to cut out the shapes (like in the shape of a leaf) and then bend the leaf shapes in the middle and edges to make them seem more natural and to do some kind of texturing along the edges of the bottom layer. Oh and by findings if you mean like clasps then yes I would use things like magnets, pin backs and the lapel pins.

My brother Don will likely reply as he makes many pins and broaches. If you are planning on riveting, you need some sort of drill and some graduated drill bits. Don’t skimp on either as they can make or brake a riveting project. Once you decide on the size of the rivet, experiment with the size drill closest to the diameter of the rivet that will drill a hole and allow the rivet to pass through it. You will need a piece of steel to use as an anvil to head the rivets. This might be as simple as piece of 1/2 steel plate. You don’t need an anvil yet. I still use the piece of RR rail that I bought and had ground and polished almost 50 years ago. Riveting is a lot of fun and makes for interesting pieces. It allows you to make finished pieces without needing a torch or knowing how to solder. That being said, you will soon want a torch and what is needed to solder. Come back and ask questions about this topic before you buy anything. Yes, you may find that you have the need to anneal. A larger butane torch will work. Look at the Blazer GT2000. Think about how you will finish your pieces. Experiment with different abrasive grits and hand polishing techniques. You may eventually decide that you need a polishing lathe. Come back again before you buy one. Look also at ways to add different patinas to metal. Lots to talk about, but get started. Good luck…Rob

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Hey Rob, Wow some really good points on things to think about and things to research! Yes that would be great if Don could reply with some other thoughts/points. Thanks so much for taking the time for these points. I will re-read back over this and makes some notes on your points. So one thing I was going to post about was whether to invest at this point in a flex shaft and all the things that come with that or just use my existing equipment which is a dremel 8200 variable speed tool that can go from 5000-35,000 rpm as well as the dremel workstation that allows me to do precise drilling of holes and I have the variable size chuck, as well as the flex shaft attachment and I also have the right angle attachment. So perhaps I just need the specialized drill bits you mentioned and I need to research the different grinding/sanding bits and polishing bits. I need to research using sanding bits or whatever you call them to use on the edges of the metal after cutting or whether one uses those needle files or one does both. Something else to research! I haven’t gotten to researching the finishing best practices other than a brief introduction in a YouTube video about the different attachments and bits one uses with their flex shaft. I inherited my fathers tool box of a bunch of bits that he used mostly for master carving of wooden birds but he might have some things I could use. It looks like he had some polishing and those cylindrical stone bits.

Don’t let the tool catalogs get to you. Actually, I am one to talk. I regularly find myself trying to justify the purchase of something that I just want, but don’t need. A flexshaft is a good investment. I still use the first one I bought nearly 45 years ago, but have bought others as well. It does sound like you can put this investment off, at least for a while, with the Dremel tools that you have. When the time comes that it limits your creativity, start looking at the various flexshaft packages that you can buy. I guess that what I am saying about drill bits is to buy good standard sized drill bits in the range of sizes that you think that you need. Experiment with these drill bits until you find a size that works with the size rivet that you want to use and then buy some good ones, not HF or other similar economy tool outlets. Don’t get me wrong, HF makes some very good tools, you just need to read the reviews. I have a great belt grinder that came from them. You will break drill bits, so buy several in the size that you find works for you. There are lots of ways to finish the metal edges after cutting. It is good to at least start doing it by hand so that you learn how the metal and tools work together. If you are buying files, and you need to, once again, buy good ones. A #2 flat, half round and triangular file are all a good start. Then a set of needle files can help too. Find a hardware store that will sell you single pieces of wet dry abrasive paper in the 220 - 1500 range and buy them. You can use them in your hand or mount them on pieces of wood and use them much as you would a file. Paint stir sticks work well for this. Once you figure all this out, you can buy some rubber abrasive wheels that you can mount on your dremel or flexshaft and they do a quick job cleaning up edges. I use a 3X6 expanding drum with 220 to 600 grit water cooled belts or a series of 1X6 resin wheels, but that is down the road. Tools are great, but the best ones are on the end of your arms and on top of your shoulders. Start working with metal by hand with simple tools and then expand your tool box as your creative needs appear, otherwise you will have tools just hanging around with you wondering why you bought them. I know, I have a bunch. Good luck…Rob


Hey Rob, Thanks very much for the confirmation on using the Dremel and accessories for the time being and those points on sanding and filing. Perfect! Lot’s of things to research and re-reading of these points!

ON another note I was thinking for the time being without learning and buying soldering things to just do the two part JB weld and paint the back of the brooch. That might be a sacrilege thing to mention here! lol

Greetings Brian,

Be prepared to have fun and frustration at the same time. Rob and the others have given you a good line on the tools you will need. And everyone has tools they can’t work without while others will shake their heads and wonder why anyone would use such stuff. Here are my thoughts on tools.

You will need something very hard to work on. Like my brother I use a piece of Rail Road Rail for an anvil, in fact I have several. The rails have different purposes and you will learn what you need as you develop your craft.

You will need something hit with. My work horse is a polished Plumb 16 oz. ballpeen hammer my Dad used. Nothing special about it except the surfaces are polished often. The handle is just the right length for me. It never wore me out and it has moved a lot of metal. I have lately found using a basic 2 lb brass hammer from Harbor freight to be handy. It doesn’t get damaged by hitting stamps or punches and my Plumb can be used exclusively for planishing.

You’ll need cutters. A pair each of tinsnips and wire cutters are indispensable. A pair of Klenk’s shears are nice to have as is a pair of line man’s diagonal cutters.

A good drill and bits.

I learned early in my fishing hobby the lures were meant to catch fisherman. The same is true of tool catalogs. I suspect we start some great fights discussing the necessity a certain file over another.

The best advice I can give after all this is figure out what you need and what will do the job and then get what will do the job.

When it comes to the rest of it all. Designing pendants or brooches, learn that there are two types of balance. That which you can see and that which you can feel. Composition has visual weight and very often that equates to physical weight as well. Spend as much time with a paper and pencil as with a hammer and anvil. Look for illustrations of the Golden Mean (Ratio) in art. Mock up with paper and card board. Cut out shapes and move them around. Some of my favorite pins have come from staring at the scrap on the bench.(I’ll try and attach an example)

Many of my pins are large and are used as kilt pins. Look in every reference you can imagine. National Geographic for Maasai shields, Comic Books for Super Hero logos, stained glass windows, Calligraphy catalogs for the shapes of letters. Study the arts and crafts movement… the suggestions are endless.

Play with copper first before you move to silver. A few reasons. Silver is more expensive than is copper. It solders and works similarly enough that when you you move to silver you won’t be totally in the dark. And copper is a nice enough metal you may like it better than silver.

Use found material. Go to the hobby shop and get some copper, brass, and aluminum sheet. Go to your bench and play like Daniel-san, wax on wax off.
Learn the moves. Go to the Hardware and get some cut copper tacks, some solid brass escutcheon pins and very small washers. Try out some mechanical fastenings. Here is a nice article that explains things pretty well.

Keep something around your bench you can balance your metal work from while you plan the location of bails or pin backs. I use a solder pick to hang a piece from and I look hard at wear hangs. Then I decide if the actuality of the piece balances like my plan wanted it to balance. I adjust that as I need.

Also you should know that I am showing you what I do. Rob will get the same results as I but in a different manner. You take the methods and processes that others use and create your own technique.

I will stop here for now. You can message me with any questions.

Don Meixner

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Wow!! Thanks so much Mr. Don! Really great tips and advice for me to mull over and re-read your post as well. Brilliant on the idea of the two types of balance. I’ve seen some things on the internet about the Golden Mean in art but haven’t studied it in depth. Thanks for the link on the rivet making. I hear you about the fishing lures to lure fisherman! I have a bunch of high end fly rods and reels I inherited from my dad that I need to sell at some point. He was a big fly fisherman that tied his own flies. I wish I was near y’all to buy all you guys a nice stout/porter/other kind of beer in gratitude to this intro and welcome to this community. More than I would have hoped for. I appreciate this info from all of you all. That’s cool some of your brooches and pendants are for kilts. I’ve never put decor on my kilts but they are more utili-kilts. I have a black one, kaki one, purple one, and green one! Haven’t worn them in years though. I’ll keep referring back to these posts as reference! Thanks very much! So great that you and your brother are both creating jewelry! I’m sure that’s fun to geek out with each other on what you’re up to.

Hi Brian and Welcome to Orchid-Ganoksin!
Sounds like you are getting bitten by the metalworking bug. Les Freres Meixner are one of Orchid’s treasures and they have steered you well. Yes, you can use what you have and files followed by sandpaper followed by tripoli on a wheel followed by jeweler’s rouge is a typical traditional route. The various silicone polishing wheels fit on a threaded cone shaft that fits in your dremel and are convenient to change out from one level of fineness to another and from one shape to another. The ones I have are (I think) white-black-blue-pink in order of increasing fineness. They come in wheels, knife edged wheels, points and maybe some other shapes. The nice thing about the flexshaft is the lever-operated handpiece for 3/32" tools and the ability to go down very slow when you want to use stone setting burs and maybe very small drills, which can easily catch and break. There may be some dremels which go slower than the one that you have…in my area, pawn shops usually have a bunch of them for $10 to $40. I agree that you can find salvaged copper and brass at the salvage yard. They buy the stuff, but my local guys will let me root around in their barrels and buy it, too. I have a big brass kickplate off a door I am cutting sheet from right now.

You prolly don’t need to anneal now, but you will if you start hammering on your sheet, forging shapes. As Rob (Don?) said, the small butane torch will prolly work fine. The $26 one from Home Depot or a cheaper one if you don’t mind it breaking after a while.

I like the idea of riveting…I may be a snob, but I see jewelry and metalwork as being things that are pretty permanent in a throw away world…stuff where your reputation is on trial pretty much forever. So riveting or soldering, but prolly not epoxy for me. if it breaks, it’s either that it wore away or you made a mistake in soldering…that said, one of the larger butane torches will do most stuff, even some brooches…keep us up to date on what you decide to do.

I had a great time reading textbooks and tool catalogs and frequenting flea markets and garage sales looking for tools I could use and/or repurpose for jewelry making. You can learn a lot about polishing by sanding and polishing your own tools, anvil and the jaws of pliers. You might also want to consider a steel plate from ebay instead of an anvil. Some are pretty much finished and are cheap in sizes from 2x3 inches up to a square foot…1/4 to 1/2 inch thick steel…

When I started learning it was pre-internet and I read Von Neumann’s text and Sharr Choate’s and also Cirino and Rose’s Arts and Crafts era text with the step by step instructions from the old vocational school. Aside from some new innovations, it’s all there in those books and they are cheap now. Supplement them with some youtube videos and off you go! Good Luck! -royjohn

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For books that will help you along this new path you’re on, check out Brynmorgen Press.

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Hi Roy, wow another great detailed set of points. Thanks very much for this. I will def read and re-read what you said. Ah on the pin back duh…I didn’t think about that those backs come with predrilled holes and I could just rivet them on rather than with the epoxy! Right now I’m trying to finish up days worth of online research here and on YouTube for choosing the right set of files to use. I need to decide which online file company to buy from now that I’ve found some recommendations here. Then on to read back over the points you all made for these other initial tools to get and ways to store them all. I feel like I’m getting another masters degree! Thanks again for all of this info and taking the time to reply to help me!

Hi Miss Linda. Ah okay great! Thanks so much for letting me know! The first book on their page that looks interesting is the Eco Jewelry Handbook.

I was an amateur jewelry maker that used pretty basic equipment…mainly just hand tools… But I did learn how to make everything from scratch…I did buy my own ingot mold and rolling mill to make sheet and wires that i could size down using a draw plate…I started with very simple designs and evolved into more and more very elaborate designs as my skills evolved… it’s a trial and error process for everyone who starts. I haven’t made anything for a long time now, and if I had the time to resume, I’d have to start simply again…it’s not so much all of the expensive equipment (which does make things easier) but it’s learning what you can and can’t do with metal that comes with the experience… good luck on your endeavors… it’s a fun hobby and can turn into a rewarding profession, should you chose to go that route… it’s the same thing with gemology… gemology is applied mineralogy…study the basics and learn the properties of metals and minerals… having some chemistry in your background also helps a lot… knowing eutectic and ternary points for alloys will allow you make your own solder…and let you know how to work with mixed metals without melting everything down… I did a lot of work with mixed metals, including copper and brass and gold inlayed into each other…difficult to control… but all knowledge is available on your smartphone…having fun is more important than anything else!

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Hi there jsfandskh. Thanks for your reply and your backstory for your jewelry making experience and journey. Yes it makes sense one doesn’t necessarily need all of the expensive equipment first. I can see this from looking at the few YouTube videos showing a Native American jewelry maker who didn’t have fancy equipment as well as some African jewerly makers. Seemed like they made some of their own metal hammering out kind of curved anvils or whatever they are called which were attached to a stump or something like that. I have never heard of those terms of “eutectic and ternary points for alloys”. I’ll have to look that up. Yes that’s the whole thing is having fun. Thanks very much for your thoughts and sharing.

There is a very good, older book on Native American jewelry by W. Ben Smith which shows what can be done with minimal tools. There are step by step instructions and beautiful black and white drawings. There is a similar book in color by Oscar Branson, but it is more expensive, if you are buying. Many libraries have these books, too. There are also two great books by Matthieu Cheminee, one on African Jewelry, which details their techniques, all done on a small square anvil little more than an inch square and another on stamp making. He gives specific instructions on making various stamping designs. These two are available for Kindle as well as in physical books. It’s really incredible what these indigenous peoples do/have done with minimal tools and a lot of creativity. -royjohn

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Thanks Roy for these book titles. I’ll check these out.

not only is making jewelry a lot of fun, but learning the science behind recipes, is also fun and in many ways essential… physical chemistry lets you know why and how things react to form not only alloys, but all aspects of metal properties and alloy properties, and how they react with acids and other chemicals. Chemical thermodynamics may be formidable, but conceptually it isn’t that hard to understand. PTX phase diagrams (pressure, temperature, compositional variation) are extremely useful and very easy to understand… knowing things conceptually is plenty good enough, I’ve forgotten too much advanced math to do it quantitatively… my current interests have taken me from jewelry, which I can’t make anymore, due to spine problems, to geochemistry and the evolution of the solid earth. It’s fascinating for anyone interested in gemology and the formation of precious metal deposits…as well as for the evolution of life from simple organic chemicals to the complex world where life influences the deep earth and vice versa thru out eons of geologic time, which in turn, has given us the wonderful world we live in, and our very selves… good luck and have fun… learning is a lifelong joy,

PS: there was a cartoon in the New Yorker from many years ago… A man with a smart phone was asked what would he say to the people, if he could be transported back to the 1960’s… the response was " I hold in my hand this device that contains all of the knowledge of the world. I use it mostly to look at pictures of cats and insult strangers"… LOL… but everything that anyone cares to know about is on the internet… it does require some discipline to do a thorough search, but all and any questions can be answered…it does truly contain the knowledge of the entire world.