Pros and cons of nickel?


Just wanted to say this is a great list. Just got on last night and
learning so much already. I’m pretty new at metalsmithing and, quite
frankly, cannot afford silver at today’s rate. I’ve been sticking
with copper and brass (which I think are pretty great). I haven’t
tried nickel or nickel silver, should I say? I’ve heard it’s the
"problem child" of the metals from one of my teachers. I also
witnessed a student having a heck of time forming a large cuff
bracelet with it. I do understand that some people are allergic,
also. I’d just like to know what I’m getting into if I try something
with it. I do like to forge, would it be tough to do with nickel? I
like what copper does. I’d also like to get some rings made with it

  • ring shank and plate for bezel. Would that be difficult? Of course,
    my only reason for going toward it is the price. If money wasn’t a
    problem I’d stick with sterling.


I've been sticking with copper and brass (which I think are pretty
great). I haven't tried nickel or nickel silver, should I say? 


Nickle Silver is one of the many names this alloy is identified
under. A fairly typical composition is 65% Cu, 17% Zn, 18% Ni In
essence, it’s a hard, springy brass with a high nickel content and a
fairly high melting temp (1455 C/2651 F). It can be cranky stuff to
work with, but it’s not horrible.

Ron Charlotte – Gainesville, FL

Hi Ramona-

Nickle takes a high mirror polish really nice-looks like silver, not
quite as white a color. It is also a little harder to cut, form,
etc. compared to silver, copper, gold. I used to cut out thousands of
shapes for pins, earrings, etc for costume jewelry- but not anything
that would be against the skin. It is irritating when worn next to
bare skin. It keeps it’s polish and doesn’t tarnish. It’s worth a
try to begin with or for strength (it’s used for many findings), but
you will see the difference when you cut some silver after you cut
nickle. When you want to make a nice piece you might as well use a
precious metal.

Nickel oxidises to a green colour which stains the skin badly and is
poisonous. It is also awkward to solder as it doesnt wet very well.
It is very hard compared to silver. You can get cupro-nickel alloys
(nickel silver, German silver) which are easier to work and will
take solder well but unless you are practicing making boxes with
interesting hinges I would recommend using copper instead as it is
easier to work and to get hold of in most gauges of wire and sheet.
You could always have you item plated if you require a silver finish.
Bronze may be another choice for some finer work- see the thread on
bronze alloys to obtain the grade you want.


Ramona, I work with nickel-silver (as well as brass and copper).
Nickel-silver is intrinsically stiffer than brass or copper, but
usually that only means that one must anneal more often, when forging
or bending. A customer wore one of my soldered-and-forged
nickel-silver bangles with several of her sterling bangles, 24/7, and
the nickel-silver developed the same lovely shine as the sterling.

Usually, I recommend oxidizing the final product, so that it is not
likely to leave a green (or other) mark on the skin. I’ve never had
any complaints about nickel allergies (perhaps since most folks know
their allergies before they buy).

Try it; you’ll like it! It’s fun to experiment with. I understand
that nickel-silver reticulates very nicely – it’s another thing I
mean to try someday. Go to the Orchid Archives and see what other
may be there.

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman
Owego, NY (down along the Susquehanna River, which fortunately has
not flooded this year)

It can be cranky stuff to work with, but it's not horrible. 

If you don’t mind warping, that is… and building up your muscles,
as it is very stiff… and you like gray.


Nickel has one drawback not mentioned yet, well over 15% of the
population is allergic to it. And constant exposure to it sensitizes
one to it and you will possibly become allergic to it. So it is a
poor choice for items that come in contact with the skin. You stand
a chance of becoming sensitized to it from the exposure to the dust
and small particles that you will breathe in.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts