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Making your own stock vs. buying it


#1

I am creating a line of 18k jewelry, primarily handmade, not cast. I
am considering buying a rolling mill, alloying my own gold, and
rolling out sheet and wire. Would I save a significant cost by doing
this as opposed to just buying the sheet and wire from Rio? I feel
like my labor is cheap and plentiful-- I am able to concentrate on
this full time, so it’s really just a question of money. Does anyone
out there make their own sheet and wire this way exclusively? Or am
I crazy to consider this as a way to save money?

Thank you,
Jessica Scofield


#2

Obviously when you buy small amounts of fabricated gold you are
paying through the nose. On the other hand , it is highly unlikely
that you will get consistent quality products when you do your own
alloying and fabricating. The sophisticated devices that the large
refiners use will always outperform anything that a small shop has. I
use a different approach which is probably best called a compromise.
I buy all of my sheet and wire from my principal supplier, but I cast
small segments of ring sizing stock using clean scrap. In my case, I
am seldom doing much fabricated jewelry, but I do an awful lot of
sizing up rings ( one of the very few benefits of our American
obesity binge. Lest you call me hipocritical I will have to admit
that I m not at all happy with my own weight…255 lbs. and 6" 4"
tall. On the other hand, I have recently lost forty pounds by
eliminating starch and sugar from my diet and portion reduction. My
goal is 200 pounds.) Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.


#3

Jessica,

There are many advantages to owning a rolling mill and if you are
just producing small quantities of material there is quiet a
savings. If you alloy your own gold you can keep much less material
on hand since you will mix and roll just what you need.

Another advantage is that you can experiment with different alloy
mixes so you can get just the color gold you want. The trade off is
the time you will spend alloying and rolling your own material.

Good Luck
Greg DeMark

email: greg@demarkjewelry.com
Website: www.demarkjewelry.com
Custom Jewelry - Handmade Jewelry - Antique Jewelry


#4

I know that there are a couple of people on Orchid who make all of
their own stock for working with, but personally I think it’s a
waste of time (especially if you are wholesaling). What’s more
important to you? Creating new designs? Managing the business? Or
making up wire and sheet stock? Places like Hoover and Strong and Rio
have machinery in place (which, at least for making sheet, insures a
far better product than home rolled) which allows their costs to be
far lower than what you are going to spend on your own time. If you
value your time at next to nothing, then it’s probably fine, but if
you want to make a living from this, don’t waste your time unless
it’s something you can’t get from them, or you are in a particular
hurry. I have all the stuff required for pouring and rolling my own,
and I do use it (particularly for recycling some of my gold scrap
into usable material again) but I would never consider doing all of
my own pouring. I’d rather spend the time coming up with some new
ideas, or selling one of my customers something new. Or taking a
muchly deserved afternoon nap, frankly.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G.
Daniel R. Spirer Jewelers, LLC
1780 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
617-2344392
www.spirerjewelers.com


#5
Would I save a significant cost by doing this as opposed to just
buying the sheet and wire from Rio? 

Unless you always use pretty much the same gauges of sheet and wire,
so you’d only have to stock a couple sizes to keep you happy, the
answer is a very strong yes. Being able to do your own has the
downside that often your own sheet, especially, is not quite as flat
and clean as the commercial product, but the difference seldom
actually makes much difference in the finished product. Being able to
make any gauge you wish is a great freedom. Each individual piece of
jewelry can have the gauge of sheet and wire best suited to it’s
needs, both aesthetic and mechanical, rather than you being limited
by what you’ve got on hand. And being able to just grab some cut up
scraps or bits you can’t use, melt em into an ingot and roll out as
needed, means a lot less scrap sitting around, no waiting on an order
for metal, and generally a good deal more flexibility. Plus, in
addition to being more efficient in terms of having just what you
need and being able to reuse all the pieces big enough to actually
grab with tweezers, you also save money in that you then buy the
metal as casting grain, or just pure gold plus whatever alloys you
need, or just the pure gold and make your own alloys, depending on
your needs. Metal purchased this way, costs you little more than the
gold spot price. Buying sheet and wire already made up may give you
good sheet and wire, but you’re paying a good deal extra for that
service.

It all comes down to the value of your time, If time is critical and
limited, it may pay to have sheet and wire made for you (ie, buy it
that way from Rio). But even then, having the mill and some good draw
plates to reduce the stock you buy is a great increase in what you
can do to the metal in your work.

I feel like my labor is cheap and plentiful-- I am able to
concentrate on this full time, so it's really just a question of
money. 

For many, labor turns out to be the one thing that’s the MOST
expensive. You can always buy materials, but you cannot easily buy
more hours (well, you can. It’s called employees…) So if you’re
still at the stage where time is plentiful enough to still be cheap
(IS it really?), then it’s a no brainer. Get the mill etc. But even
when your time gets costly, you may find that being able to make your
own stock is a vital part of your craft. It does depend on what you
make, though. If all you use is 22 gauge silver sheet and 22 gauge
silver wire, and never need anything else, then buy it made up.
Otherwise, well, see above.

Does anyone out there make their own sheet and wire this way
exclusively? 

It depends some on which metal you’re talking about. Oddly, silver,
one of our cheapest jewelry metals, turns out to be somewhat harder
to get good sheet stock out of when doing it yourself, especially if
you need larger sizes. So I generally buy sheet silver when I need
it… But pretty much everything else, including silver wire, gold
sheet and wire, and platinum stock, I make my own. So does pretty much
everyone else I know who does custom fabricated work in gold or
platinum…

Or am I crazy to consider this as a way to save money? 

No. You’re not crazy. And as I said, it’s not just to save money.
Making your own stock means you can also buy stock and alter it’s
dimensions easily. That’s a wonderful addition to what you can do.
For example, you could still buy sheet and wire, but if you then need
thin bezel stock, you can roll it from a heavier wire or a strip cut
off of the sheet.

Frankly, I’ve always considered a rolling mill and the basic draw
plates to be pretty much essential, basic level tools to be acquired
as soon as the budget allows in a starting craftpersons career, and
lusted after longingly before that happens.

By the way, if you use a lot of wire, consider strongly the carbide
plates you can get these days. Even the cheapest ones from China do a
decent job, and cost a lot less these days than they used to years
ago. The produce a brighter cleaner wire than steel plates, and with
somewhat less effort in drawing too. If they cost a bit more
initially, they’ll pay themselves back quickly enough in increased
quality and ease of wire drawing.

cheers
Peter Rowe


#6

Hi Jessica,

I am relatively new to making jewelry, so this advice does not come
from years of experience, but I primarily fabricate my work in
precious metals.

I try to balance my time vs. cost by considering a number of factors
such as volume of orders, material I have on hand, time it takes to
receive ordered materials, and quality of the material. I do not
make a lot of my own sheet but I do cast ingots of scrap gold
(always add at least 50% casting grain) and draw down wire and
sometimes I make my own tubing. Being able to manipulate my
materials in the studio gives me more control and flexibility. In
Canada, at least, if you are alloying your own gold you must be very
accurate - if your jewelry is tested for karat accuracy by a
government officer and you are found to be selling jewelry that is
under karat they will fine you and advertise this in the media - not
very good for business.

All the best,

Donna Hiebert
Donna Hiebert Design


#7

Welcome to the world of “Old World Craftsmanship” !!! There are
numerous reasons for saying an emphatic YES!!! to your question. In
fact, I see little reason to buy wire - except silver. First -
finances. I didn’t want to guess, so I looked up Rio. For 18K, 18ga.
round wire, the base fabrication charge is $3.85 (1-4dwt.) With spot
at $450, that works out to 22.82% over spot - price breaks can
whittle that down, but it’s huge, and Rio has a good price. Some
vendors - priced by the inch, for sure - you might pay DOUBLE spot.
More importantly to me, though, is that you can’t buy what I can
make with the roller. You can buy, say 1.5mm x 1.75mm stock, but I
can make 1.336mm x 1.924mm stock - not that I measure it, but I can
custom roll it and get just what I want. Hand in hand with that is,
what if you are dependant on store bought (i.e. - no rolling mill)
and a job come in that requires 3mm square wire, that you don’t have

  • you going to order it special and wait till it arrives to do the
    job? Not to mention that you can blend and/or choose your own alloys
  • I make my own 18k, for example - we buy 14k white and yellow
    (“Hamilton”). AAAAAAAnway—not to go on and on - just yes, yes do
    go get a rolling mill - you’ll be a real jeweler, and never regret
    it ever. Don’t forget a drawplate or two, tongs, a stout vise, and
    an ingot mold…and a jar of vaseline for the plates…All
    set.

#8

Donna,

If you are somewhat new to jewelry making I believe making your own
stock is a great way to understand the properties of metals. When I
first started out in metal arts over thirty years ago I had no
choice but to order all my stock as I did not have the knowledge of
processes or the tools to make my own ingots or stock. I now have the
skills and tools and make most of my sizing stock except for platinum
and if you do something long enough it does not take that long to do
it. I order wire in 18 gauge and draw it down if need be. I make my
own jump rings and this does not take long at all. I make them as I
need them. I had a jeweler friend from Vietnam, one of his tests to
becoming a bench jeweler was to make 3 rings out of a gram of gold.
The rings were then weighed with the filings and it all had to weigh
a gram. Did he have to do it that way from then on? No. It was an
exercise that taught him how to manipulate the metal in such a way as
to get the most out of what he had and to have a better understanding
his tools and conservation of materials that are costly. It is the
same thought with making your own stock. Will you do it all the time?
No. You might however insert parts of the experience into everyday
tasks

Regards
J Morley Goldsmith/Laserwelding


#9

Hi Jessica,

For many, if not most of the things I do in the studioo I roll out
my own stock. The exceptions would be large sheets of sterling for
raising or fabricating large pieces-- cups, flatware,sculptural work,
etc-- and 14k 20gauge earwire which I buy by the foot. It’s straight
and clean and works great. If I need to make a piece that will have a
very fine polished surface such as a bangle bracelet, etc, I might
buy the milled material in gold or silver. I also buy copper sheet
and bronze sheet, although I pour large bronze ingots for big
forgings.

I roll my own metal to:

  -utilize scrap 
  -allow me to produce just the right gauge 
  -control or produce specific alloys. 
  -make just what I need when I need it, even after the
  suppliers are closed 

I draw most of my own tube (seamed) and doing so really lets me
control wall thickness. I began pouring and rolling stock when I had
been doing a lot of gold casting and needed just a bit of wire or
sheet. It became second nature to melt sprues and buttons or use a
bit of shot and now the only scrap I have are some filings and
compromised stock tainted with solder or whatever. I’ll even grind
off solder when it’s obvious and confined and remelt what’s been
cleaned.

I use my mill – a Durston (the third one that I’ve owned-- sold the
others)-- many times every day. It’s a great tool to have.

When we traveled in Mexico and went to the market in Merida, every
jeweler had a mill and basic tools. It struck me that what they
considered to be part of their basic tool kit was for many of us an
item that we’d only purchase later in our careers. They soldered with
gasoline foot pump torches and otherwise had very basic tools. They
did a lot of pierced, small scale gold work and used the mill to make
stock from reclaimed rings and jewelry.

Milling your own stock is, as others have said, liberating and
educational. It may lead you down paths you might not have predicted.

Hope this helps, Andy Cooperman


#10

Jessica,

I am definately an advocate of hand-made stock. I routinely alloy my
own gold, and make my own wire and sheet with a rolling mill and
drawplates. In terms of cost, it is definately cheaper than buying
it ready made. Companies who sell commercially made sheet and wire
must mark up the price because of their labor to make it, and then
you pay for the shipping costs and insurance . You must usually buy
minimum amounts , as well.

For me, I do special order work, and need odd amounts of different
shapes of wire and sheet, and usually in different carats and
colors. For me, I feel that it would not be cost effective to buy
small amounts of wire and sheet for my projects, as I would not only
pay a premium for my metal, but I would have all kinds of scrap left
over. I find it faster, and ultimately cheaper, to alloy the amount
I need, or add to it with existing metal, and make my own custom
stock. In this way I don’t have to “settle” on standard sizes and
shapes of wire, and can create stock for my specific purpose.

I buy 24K gold by the ounce or 1/2 ounce, usually, and I have an
assortment of alloys in different colors and karats, which I use to
make what I need, when I need it. It’s quite simple and fast to do.
Even changing the carat of gold, provided it is the same color, is
not hard to do.

The rolling mill is a very creative tool, and it offers you a lot of
freedom to make what you want, for the bare cost of the metals
involved. Just add your own labor…

Jay Whaley UCSD Craft Center


#11

I think you’ll never regret having the “ability” to make your metal
to your own specifications, even if you don’t use it exclusively for
that purpose. It can really come in handy, no waiting for an order
to come in, you just make your own and get the job done while you’re
on a roll! Yes, it is more time consuming, but if you get efficient
and make a supply for yourself, you will save money… time, that’s
another issue, but if it’s not a problem to you- then go for it.

I can’t imagine living without my rolling mill and melting crucible!

Laura


#12

I make my own sizing stock. But when it comes to small wire, it’s
much more cost effective to buy it then to pay me to pull it. The
wire is pure and worry free when it comes to making ear rings, I can
be sure of the alloy content for those customers with allergy
problems.


#13

Hi,

You will likely pay a premium of about $60 or more per ounce of
stock over the gold content. That is a fair estimate of cost, some
may be less some more. See how long it takes you to make an ounce of
stock, consider the consumables like gas, crucibles and above all
your time invested. Then you can see what is smart. Some of our
clients make stock most of the year and buy it during peak season to
focus on customers work. I hope this gives you an idea on how to
evaluate the costs either way.

Daniel Ballard
www.pmwest.us
800-999-7528


#14

Ok, here’s how you do it, with wire. My wife needed some 12ga. s.s.
wire just last night, and I have been short of wire (silver). So, I
got these two big blobs of silver - raw pours after consolidating
scrap - probably a couple of ounces or so, and melted them in a
crucible. Yes, I use a casting crucible and big lineman’s pliers. If
you do this and burn yourself, don’t blame me, blame your left
hand… Anyway, I melted it, and poured some into each slot of an
ingot block, till I ran out of metal - just here - there - there -
wherever there was an empty spot. I put some away, and took out a big
ingot. I rolled it down to about 4mm, annealed it, and cut it in
half. I put one half away, and rolled the other down to about 3mm,
annealed it, cut it in half, and then again with one half, down to
about 2mm, annealed it, cut it in half, put one half away, and then I
pulled one half into wire, down to about 12 ga. Wonder what I did
then hmmm. Yep, I annealed it, cut it in half, and
then I will do that again and again. As you can see in about 20
minutes (realtime), I had gained: 5 or 6 ingots ready to roll, 4mm
sizing stock, 3mm sizing or rolling stock, 2mm rolling & misc. stock,
12 ga. wire, and more wire to take down further. Since the 1/2 that
you roll probably doubles or so along the way, it works just
fine…


#15

One of the primary reasons to produce your own precious metal stock
in the studio is to become a more experienced and efficient
goldsmith. The aesthetic enjoyment of working directly with the metal
to make what you need has its own value, as does the increased
fluency and understanding of the working properties of the materials
that you will gain by doing so.

As to the financial differences involved, it depends entirely upon
what form of metal you need and how much. Fabricating it yourself
isn’t necessarily a time consuming process. Most goldsmiths can
alloy, and amalgamate an ounce of gold, pour an ingot and produce
several gauges of sheet metal in 15 minutes. Producing wire might
require 20 or 30 minutes. Fabricating tubing, including milling the
sheet, can be done in less than an hour from start to finish.

From a cost/expense comparison it all comes down to how proficient
you are at the process and what value you place on your studio time.
Making your own stock isn’t free after all, because you are investing
your time to produce it. But, you are also creating a value added
product by making it yourself. If you can do so efficiently you are
earning the fabrication charge yourself, rather than passing it on to
the refiner.

Michael David Sturlin
www.michaeldavidsturlin.com