Practice metal

Hi. I’ve been lurking for a few weeks and I’m very impressed by the
graciousness with which the more experienced among you have welcomed

As a very newbie, I have a question about making practice pieces. I
have a few designs in my head but I’m not familiar enough with the
skills to know which tool or process I need to achieve the results
I’m envisioning. At this point I’m most interested in piercing,
hammering, soldering and bending. All basic stuff, but I want to be
able to practice without spending an arm and a leg. I’d like to
practice on some metal less expensive than sterling or argentium,
but similar in malleability.

What would you recommend?

Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Katherine S. Margolis

Hello Katherine

Copper and brass are similar and very easy to work with. I use these
for my students and they get great results. They are close but not
as malleable as silver. When you finally start using silver it will
be such a treat. Bear in mind that silver anneals and melts at a
lower temperature then either copper and brass and as well because
of its conductive qualities it can slump (you suddenlly have a large
melted away area).

There are many less expensive materials as well, each with its own
special qualities and beauty. Nickel silver is fun and buffs to a
very nice colour simular to silver but with a slightly deeper hue.
Dixgold (commerical bronze) is abit easier then brass to work with
and gives a beatiful 14k colour. Stainless produces wonderful
hammered pieces, but would be tough to pierce and bend. Steel is
tough to work with but you can get great colours by flame blueing.

Good Luck
Chris Gravenor

Ahh, finally a post that I feel comfortable to chime in on. I, too,
am in awe of the talent and ability presented here and appreciate
their graciousness. I’ll preface this with “I love copper.” What I
like about it is it’s “gentleness.” In my mind, I can scrounge it
from a variety of sources. I can peel away the insulation from
electrical wire and have a go at it. I’ve annealed and “opened” hard
copper plumbing pipe to provide material to practice hammering
techniques. Plus, if I screw up at this point, I am really not out
much in terms of expenditure for material. Additionally, this copper
for the most part is 99% pure so you won’t have to contend with
trying to figure how your metal is going to react each time you try
a technique or execute an idea.

I like it because a lot of people don’t use it regularly. I like
it’s warmth and one can “dress it up” to be a fashionable piece. It
allows me an opportunity to work on skills and techniques that might
otherwise go unexplored fearing the ruin of a more expensive piece
of metal. It can be unforgiving though. I am told that it works
similar to silver (please all you old timers out there, be kind to me
on this one!) and that my torch techniques should transfer to working
similarly with silver, of which I am getting ready to take the
plunge and order soon. I like copper because, to date, I’ve done
everything on a shoestring. I use and adapt the tools and materials
around me. My favorite hammer is a Japanese hammer that a Shoji
screen maker might use. It has one flat face, one with a “very”
slight curve to it. I find that it is my “go to hammer” for the most
part. Plus, I love how it feels in my hand, it “swings” very nicely.
Another alternative to consider would be brass.

I thank you one and all for this indulgence. After 52 years on this
earth, I have finally found something that not only fuels my
creative needs, but it the one thing that has instilled and sustained
a “passion” in me that to date, no partner has been able too!!! For
what it’s worth, check out some of my things at: saboiam/iWeb/Peaceman/Welcome.html


I'd like to practice on some metal less expensive than sterling or
argentium, but similar in malleability. 

Katherine, I would suggest either copper or brass/jewelers bronze.
Nickel is too different, IMHO. I like seeing the solder joints on
copper; boy, do they ever stand out! It feels a bit different to saw
it, but silver will only be easier. Copper feels a little bit
stickier to saw. Use plenty of lubricant (wax or whatever). But I
prefer sawing copper to sawing brass. Copper hammers beautifully,
and you can forge away (hammer) to your heart’s content on it for

Get a bunch and whack it up and try doing stuff to it, not even as a
project, but as a series of experimental examples. Plan to use it up
as rapidly as possible, to see what happens when you try anything and
everything you can think of to it! This helps to get over being
afraid to use materials, and it will stimulate you and give you a
lot of ideas to go forward with when you buy some sterling. Have at
it, and have a blast! Fearlessly forge ahead! It is such fun. I’d
also suggest that a book like Tim McCreight’s basic textbook would
give you a lot of ideas of what to try. Be reckless and wild, and
learn, learn, learn!

This reply is making me want to go out to my studio and wildly whack
on something, and since it is my birthday, I think that I will just
take the time to do so! The last time I did that, I made a piece
with brass, fold formed, and added a neoprene, shaped strap, all in
about 75 minutes, and sold it 2 days later for $125.00. And it was
just an experiment, a pre-prototype for later silver work, and just a
lark to make! I just told myself that I had an hour for fun, even
though I was busy & behind on other work, and I took the time (well,
OK, a little bit more than an hour). Well worth it, just for the fun,
and I got paid almost $50/hr. to boot. That’s my idea of
recreation…but then, I’m a metal nut. (BTW, this was shortly after
meeting Charles L.B. at CLASP.)

How about some of the rest of you? What would you like to do with a
stolen hour or two in the studio?

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA’louBrubaker


I'd like to practice on some metal less expensive than sterling or
argentium, but similar in malleability. 

Copper is fairly close. Nickel silver is not similar in
malleability, but is close in appearance, and you might also consider
brass, which is another that is fairly inexpensive for practice.

When you get to working with the real thing you will notice the
differences, but it is form and technique you are trying to practice
and that can be accomplished with these materials. These 3 will give
you a lot to work with and they are fairly inexpensive.

For tools, there is no substitute, you have to get fairly good stuff
or forget it. Needle nose pliers is a good example, regular types
have serrations in the jaws, they will mar your work so bad as to not
be worth while, go ahead and get the right ones. One place to go for
an inexpensive source of tools is Harbor Freight(search jewelry tools
and hammers), not top of the line, but they will work well enough,
you can tell when it is you and not the tool being the problem. If
decide to stick with it, you can replace them as time goes along
because then you will know what works for you and what don’t, and
what to look for in tools in general.

As a real cheapskate, this the path I took and it has paid well, got
to try a lot of things that otherwise I wouldn’t have. The only one I
would say buy good at the outset is the jewelers saw, blades,
abrasives, Bench Pin, torch(the torch part is subjective a simple
plumbers torch will work well) and silver solder. Look at things with
a practical eye, a lot of the tools you can make yourself with simple
items available nearly anywhere. Dowels, Popsicle sticks and tongue
depressors are some of my most used tools along with a tube of 3M
feather disk adhesive.

Good luck

Dear Katie,

If you have skills of a novice level, I can understand using
materials of base metal. But if you are intent on refining your
skills and adding to your skill set, a modest purchase in silver or
might be considered because of the ability to sell what you have
created. You can regain some of your investment via the sales.

That said, We were trained at TIJT on brass and silicon bronze for
three semesters before we moved to 4th semester and 14 K gold and
platinum exclusively. Hobby shop brass and copper in sheet and wire
might be used to practice on that which is unmarketable by intent.

At TIJT we learned to fabricate all our wire, and cast all our own
rings and findings for 3 rd. semester setting. Rolling brass brazing
rods from 1/8 in to 1.5 or 1.0 mm. wire will make you pay attention
to flame control. You will learn the real value of wire.

I would recommend adding a draw plate and small rolling mill to your
assortment of tools. Then you can melt, cast and remake your
mistakes. I have heard high praise for Kenneth Singh at 46 jewelry Supply.

If you can, support our supporters here at Orchid.

I have the first brass ring I made in class hanging by a reading
lamp. The cats have learned to hit it and make " cat music "


I'd like to practice on some metal less expensive than sterling or
argentium, but similar in malleability. 

Katie, as a jeweler who works almost entirely in base metal, I can
recommend brass and/or copper as not only practice metal but also
great as the metal you use on final jewelry products.

Copper is generally softer than sterling, but I have found brass
(red brass; Merlin’s Gold; +other names for the 15% Zn, 85% copper
alloy) to be similar in malleability to sterling. I had expected
sterling silver to be softer than brass but have not found it so.
Brass is also simpler to anneal than sterling. And, of course, much
less expensive.

Soldering is a different matter. Contact me off-line if you want to
discuss that.

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman
Owego, NY

Hi Katie:)

I would go with copper. Brass can be nice, but it’s a pain in the
rear. Copper is very similar ro silver in terms of moving it, but a
little different to solder. If you have some 20g lying around (or
thicker) you can put some deepish marks in it and flood them with
silver solder for an inlay. I love doing that one. Bronze is my
other non-silver fave. A bit harder than copper and silver, but boy
it’s pretty after it ages. And both take beautiful patinas if you’re
into that as well. When I was in undergrad, we practiced on copper
and bronze a lot (and brass, which is why I hate is so much). But
there is a lot of beauty in common base metals like copper and bronze
that no one really appreciates anymore. It’s a shame. :slight_smile: They are
cheap enough to go wild with but pretty enough that if you do stumble
upon something fantastic, you can wear it and make everyone green
with envy.


My suggestion would be brass its not perfect but it is a good starter
material. Copper plumbing materials are a good source of practice
materials as well. Most hardware stores have the copper and brass you
can get at some hobby stores.

Good luck, and happy profits