Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Working in copper

A general question for all those who work with Copper:

What gauges do you most commonly prefer, and why?**

I realize this might be a loaded question, and all answers will, in
large part, be based on personal preference and/or job type.

I’m just curious to know a) the most common (or UN-common!) uses for
various gauges by our illustrious members, b) any out-of-the-box
uses for them, especially the thinner foils, (ie, 36ga), c) random
tidbits of odd curiosities, fool’s fodder, tall tales and the
downright scandalous!

**Note: I’m not really asking for ‘standard’ uses, though I’m sure
that’s the majority, lol. It’s more an open-ended question to help
stimulate my creative juices. Thank you for participating!

Nudge nudge, wink wink,
Becky Purcell

I take different sizes of copper pipe and pound/roll it flat. I now
have a thick piece of flat stock to texture, pound, and manipulate in
whatever way I want to to make a bracelet. I do try to solder the
ends as they will have a seam. You can buy copper buss bar from
electrical suppliers and use this to make a bracelet. It is usually
fairly thick (1 - 1.5 mm). I use my propane/O2 torch to fuse the
edges. It is kind of like drawing with a torch. Add some other
textures and you might like what you get. I have also enjoyed rolling
it very thin and experimenting with fold forms. My two cents. Rob

Rob Meixner

18g/20g sheet for standard stuff like rings (I make lots of
flourish-y rings with swirls out of one long ring blank. These
gauges work perfectly.

16g sheet for pendants/bezel backs.

26g for fold-forming and forging work (love those colors!!) 16 wire
for stackable rings…

18 and 20g balled wire for pistils and stamens in my forged flowers.

6 ad 8 g wire for forged bangles. (Electrical wire - NOT jewelry
supply sourced. No coatings on the electrical wire and WAAAAAY

I love copper.

Too bad non-jewelers don’t appreciate it as much as metalworkers.

1 Like

So, with a post such as yours, one must take it on its face value,
which, appears to be frivolous to the point of being a j0ke

Despite that, it tickles my creative juices to try and see why your
asking it, as any will tell you, you have to think of a product
suited to your proposed market, work out how to make with the
material suited to product. In that order.

Not think of a material and try to decide what to do with it, unless
your just playing around for the fun of it. nothing wrong with that.

There are a 1000 things one can make from copper, it seems the
problem is what to make, not what material to use.

Along with gold and silver, copper was one of the first metals to be
found by man in its shiny metallic state, which would yield to being
wrought cold into another shape to which it was found.

To give you a simple example, I had a period of years where I
explored the art of the bracelet, making many hundreds in all metals,
reflecting the main historical periods.

Copper features in this series and one design was from 1/2in wide by
1/4 in thick, copper strip which I deeply incised with punches many
different designs, no 2 were the same, they were suited to purpose,
and were made sometime whilst the customer waited, with their name
inside as well. But I always have a fully equipped workshop in my
exhibition unit, where I can make almost anything.

However, you need to make your own punches with any design you think
is appropriate Thats another story.


Let see…

Foils I do not use much. I tend to start at about 30 gauge. Those are
great for aiglets. From there I use many gauges for all kinds of
things. chasing, jewelry, hollow forms. The thickest I have tried to
use is about 4 gauge. At that thickness I am mainly cutting out
shapes and using as a base for something else. I tend to use for most
things between 18 and 30 gauge.

For wire, whatever I can get and how it looks in my projects.

Gerald A. Livings

I was casting a series of pieces in silver for a customer when they
called and asked if I could cast a comfort fit, half round band out
of copper.

Sure, no problem was my response, just like when another customer
asked if I could work in cast iron.

The copper customer specifically did not want a band cut from a
piece of tubing, which is what most of the examples out there seem to
be made from.

I turned out a wax, sprued it up, cast it, and it worked! Then I
read about how difficult it is to cast copper on a small scale (just
like cast iron). The really difficult part was polishing it. If I
looked at it wrong it would get a ding or other imperfection.
Eventually I got it to a point where I was happy with it, wrapped it
up and delivered it. Like they say in the Nike ad, just do it, and I
will add, then read what everyone else has to say about after,
otherwise you might get discouraged and never try it to begin with.

Be well,

I have access to some interesting copper found objects at my day job;
copper ribbon for connecting solar panels makes good bezel wire. I
also have some strips of copper with little holes regularly punch in
it from the scrap bin, which is fun to work with. In addition, I have
scrap copper lead frames for connecting integrated circuits in
packages that I have sweat soldered on to red brass to make geeky
bracelets and pendants.

Ted, your intro here made me grin:

So, with a post such as yours, one must take it on its face value,
which, appears to be frivolous to the point of being a joke
question.  "Despite that, it tickles my creative juices to try and
see why your asking it, as any will tell you, you have to think of
a product suited to your proposed market, work out how to make with
the material suited to product. In that order.

To further tickle your creative juices, here’s a hint to why I asked
such a question.

First, imagine you have no tools, and no customers - no reason to
make anything in particular. Second, imagine the only metal you have
is copper.

Pick your (3? 5?) most favorite tools, and tell me what you’d like
to make.

As for reality’s sake, I’m kind of in such a position. I’m
homebound, in a manner of speaking, with a lot of time on my hands
and a strong desire to work metal. And a wicked sense of humor that
doesn’t always come across in writing. And though I have plenty of
tools, I don’t have all the jeweler’s basics I need. I can make do,
however, until I can afford the rest! I also have other metals, but
I’ve developed a true fondness for copper and there’s not a lot of
material out there on how to work it. Plus it’s cheaper than

Lastly, I have absolutely no training. No bench training, no classes
(except I once took a twenty minute ‘make some chainmaille’ class).
There aren’t any in my area that I can locate and/or get to. I don’t
yet own very many books, but I’m getting there. What I have had is a
lot of time on Ganoksin’s site, reading through essays/articles; tons
of youtube videos and other internet sites. Not to mention input from
this wonderful group, and plenty of time on my own to practice. :slight_smile:

A girl’s gotta hitch up her pants, give it a go and start somewhere!

Cheerfully grinning,
Becky Purcell
Maniac with a hammer in Huntsville, AL

Hi Rebecca,

I like to work in copper as well as brass. I use them both as mock
up metals as well as jewelry metals. You asked about five tools. I
look at tools alittle differently than some. Here are the five I’d

  1. A torch that can blow some serious heat. I find sugar melters
    from the kitchen to be cute little toys but learn on the tool that
    wont leave you disappointed. The tackle that comes along with
    soldering like fire brick, flux, solder, the pickle of your choice
    are not tools and don’t belong on the list.

  2. A good hammer with properly domed and polished surfaces. Mine is
    a 16 Oz. ballpean. Finding a good workhorse of a hammer is like
    finding a good guitar. You’ll know when it fits your hand.

  3. An anvil. I use several different sections of rail road rail all
    with polished surfaces and some with various shaped grooves for
    shaping wire.

  4. Mandrills for rings and bracelets

  5. Cutters nd pliers. And maybe a good saw frame and blades. The
    cutters have to fit the metal yo are cutting. A small pair of dykes
    wont get through a piece of 10 ga. wire.

There many good books to have as a starter. But for me the best
beginners, intermediate, and professional reference book is The
Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight.

Have fun. Some great jewelry has been made on a kitchen table.

Don Meixner

Since Don and I learned the same way from the same person, my list of
essential tools is the same as his. Study the good tool catalogs, but
don’t be afraid to buy a common tool from the hardware store or even
a yard sale. I used the same ball peen hammer for years. I bought it
for $1.00 at a yard sale and with the modifications that Don
describes, it will serve you well. A couple files with different cuts
will be needed. In my previous post I suggested sources of copper. I
forgot to mention that you can buy bare copper wire down to 4 gauge
at most larger hardware stores, Lowes, and Home Depot. If you are
working with heavy stock, you will have to cut it. The tool that I
would add to Don’s list is a good quality, but smaller size, bolt
cutter. Save your good wire cutters for smaller gauge wire and
precious metals. Finally, with some caution, look at the tools
available at A. C. Moore and Michaels. Some will look just like the
ones that you see in the jewelry catalogs. I bought a couple pair of
pliers there very inexpensively that I use all the time. Rob

Rob Meixner


Methinks you know a bit more about this trade than you let on.

Why choose just 3? or maybe 5? tools? to start with? Your 3rd
paragraph makes me think you might just be trolling us here.

Be that as it may, with your bounteous spare time and strong desire,
your quite capable of answering that question yourself, to that end
I ask you to google for Ted Vaughan tin smith in Ireland, and watch
his 40 min video, preferably more than just once, then come back here
with answers to the following questions.

  1. What are the 3 tools he is using that are essential to his work?

  2. that would be to you if you wanted to make say, a simple round
    pot or mug?

  3. I want you to also study the various processes he uses to make
    the small bucket he demonstrates and list them, also why he works the
    sheet the way he does, to make the watertight joints needed…

Ill then respond with suitable comments!! OK? Now I dont expect you
to know where he got his copper sheet from, so ill help you there.

Most domestic water systems here in the UK have a bulk storage tank
of cold water in the roof space, feeding by gravity a hot tank made
from copper sheet. This is usually around.7 to.9 mm thick. they tend
to spring leaks around the connection points and get scrapped. they
make an excellent source of sheet copper.

Thats what he is using.’ You remind me somewhat of Walt Disney’s
sourcer’s apprentice! You could also google for Ted Frater
Bronzesmith and Minter.


Okay, I need to resolve something here. I didn’t intend for the
question on “pick 3-5 tools” to be taken so literally. In fact, the
way I asked it was also incorrect as far as what I was after. My
apologies for that! I’m not always good at clearly explaining myself,
or clarifying what I’m after.

With just that part, I was trying to ask (for conversation,
inspiration and enticing creativity’s sake) what one’s favorite part
of ‘making’ a specific piece is - ie, the shaping of a shank?
designing a [blank]? sawing a form? watching solder flow? hammering?

All tied together, the intent was to hear everyone’s favorite uses
of copper, and what their favorite part of making such an item is. I
can see that didn’t come through in my second email at all, lol. Oh
well, I still got wonderful feedback and inspiration. :smiley:

But let me thank everyone who’s responded so far! The original email
I started with and all of the responses to this point have led me in
some great directions in my quest for

Ted Frater, I guess I am a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, after
all, hahaha! I am a novice metal worker attempting to gain my first
solid foothold in the huge mountain of available knowledge, and
trying not to land in a slippery slope of bad habits to start. And
not only is the mountain very tall, it’s just as wide, leaving me
boggled at where to place my axe to begin the climb.

My introduction to making jewelry was wire wrapping, which I started
a while back. Even at the beginning, I knew that wasn’t enough for
me. So I started expanding my tool-set and skill-sets. I’ve since
made a few pieces I liked, tinkered around, and am currently playing
with a butane torch. I plan to move up, likely to propane/oxy, but
the wallet has to catch up first. I’ve been practicing soldering and
my sawing, among lots of other techniques that all tie in to making
quality work.

Mostly, while I practice, I’m trying to figure out what I like to
create, so I can start with those basics and move forward. Like the
saying, “I know enough to know that I don’t know enough,” so I come
here for learning and inspiration. I’ve got a little room set up with
tools and supplies, and have so far just been randomly ‘playing’ at
it making jewelry with what knowledge I’ve been gleaning.

And now, with all these recommendations/responses from you, Rob,
Don, Lori, Lorraine, Dana, Gerald and Karen, I’ve some great leads to
follow up on!

Becky Purcell
Glad to be here instead of there!

Hi Rebecca,

an error in my last post. Its NOT Ted Vaughan its Ted Maughan.


Way back when I first started learning metals, I was given copper to
work in and learn. Today it is still what I use most, because of what
I do.

I’m lucky enough to have a nice little niche. I’m one of the two
artists/performers of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. On stage I
demonstrate old Renaissance metal working. In amongst the history,
jokes riddles, and just playing off the crowds, I smash a whole lot
of copper.

If you are looking for inspiration, I have three favorite ones. This
is not because of the 3 to 5 question, it just works out for me to be

One is a long hot shower. Seems I come up with my best ideas and
inspiration soaking my head.

Next is my rolling mill. I have an electric one mostly because my
body is telling me that other than bits under attack by gravity, I’m
getting older. The rolling mill is mind numbing when you are running
wire through it for 4 to 5 hours a day. When a good idea comes up, I
stop oftern with a length part way through the mill and go work on
the idea before I forget it.

Lastly is when I get tired at night, and I’m pushing myself to
complete a job. I know others never do dumb things when they are
tired (insert scrunched up crossed eye look here). It was how I
stumbled on a lot of interesting things I can do with copper but not
silver and gold. One being I could solder a piece of copper I work
with without pickling it again.

Yep you read that right. Now others will say it can’t be done, but
it depends on the solder you use, and what you are soldering. I was
pissed at myself when I decided the mess I had just made of a piece
was going to become an even bigger mess and i would torch and solder
it into a big blob to remind me not to work when i was tired. The
ugly duckling turned into a swan, literally. The swan ornament is one
of my best sellers.

What works for me, may not work for you. Inspiration comes usually
when you are not thinking of getting inspiration, but when you just
let your mind wander.

As for tools I like, One is my electric rolling mill. My Lenk LPT
500 butane torch (I have 7 torches fro oxy acytlene to propane and
compressed air). The lenk is the Godzilla of hand held butane
torches, used by plumbers. It’s not the cutesy little butane torches
that Jewelry suppliers and kitchen supply houses sell. I’m not
affilliated with them at all.

It’s adjustable but it takes playing with it to understand it. Then
there are my pliers. I have pliers for all sorts of little fiddly
things I do with metal. Each one is different in hand feel, and you
do not take my pliers away from me, or I might take a pair to your
nether regions.

I hardley make any jewelry from copper. People I’m exposed to market
wise, think that because copper is cheaper than silver or gold, it
should be cheaper to buy for them as well. You’ll find out real
quick, that you spend as much time on a copper piece as you do any
metal. It’s bad enough that I have to fight with cheaper imports that
claim to be silver and are not silver. Then there is making a larger
piece out of copper and suddenly the perception is that it is more
valuable because people are out there stealing copper. Mindset of the
customers you will have are strange things. When you get to know your
market area and their buying biases, you will also get different
inspirations. Don’t be afraid to take workshops that you may think
are redundant. You will learn little gems of from every
person you meet. You might even distill two separate ways of doing a
job into one that will be unique to you. Have fun and torch the hell
out of a lot of copper.

Aggie the old and pissy

Hi Dana, Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your post and
photos about your fabulous Frankenbench!

What an inspiration and a great way to save old furniture. You
couldn’t buy something that great. I’ve got my share of
Franken-studio stuff and seeing what other people have done is really

Thanks again, hope you are doing well!

Debbie Engle
D. L. Engle Sculpture

Hi all

we just set up a bench for my students at school. It is very basic
and cost less than $100.

It does have a benchmate though so is a professional bench. Equal to
what I have in my workshop, it is a copy of my bench. I see no point
in students using less than the best equipment.

Luckily I had a spare benchmate for them to use. Google benchmate
and you will see why.

I will be using many of my hand tools for the students to use.

all the best