Saturday, September 24, 2011

Creating hand stamped jewelry

Creating metal jewelry has been my hobby for about a year now.  I have gradually accumulated tools necessary to make these unique pieces.  I take pride in using quality products and using as few pre-fabricated items as possible.  I wanted to share with you the steps I take and the tools I use to make my custom products.

Quality tools go a long way for making consistently great pieces.  After much thought and penny pinching, I purchased the Swanstrom disc cutter set from Rio Grande (can be seen at  At $265, it's not cheap but it is worth every "pinched penny."  I can make discs from 1/4 to 1 1/4 inch.  It cuts metal up to 18 gauge thickness.

Which brings me to metals.  I like to use sterling silver and copper.  I buy them by the sheet.  I prefer 20 gauge.  The biggest challenge for me is figuring out how to squeeze as many discs as possible out of each sheet.  :)  As a side note, I really wish they would have named this a "disc puncher" or a "disc hammerer" (if hammerer is a word) because there really is no "cutting" involved.  But moving on...

 Sheet metals, disc cutter with components, 2 pound brass mallet hammer, and the Bur-Life lubricant 

After you get your disc "punched" it's tumble time.  The brand I found to have consistently good reviews is the Lortone tumbler.  Apparently they found a pretty good model style back in the 70's and stuck with it.  And I'm ok with that.  There is nothing fancy about it but it does the job.  I use about 2 pounds of stainless steel shot.  See what I mean the terminology?  "Shot?"

Tumbler full of stainless steel shot and discs

Add the stainless steel shot with your discs to the tumbler with a little soap and water for an hour or two.

Lortone tumbler

 And viola!  You have buffed, shiny discs.

Buffed, shiny discs

Next is the fun and loud part....the stamping!  There are countless metal stamps out there of all sizes.  Letters, numbers, punctuations, symbols, etc.  You only have one chance to get that perfect strike.  This is the tricky part.  Getting spacing right, names straight, and a solid imprint are skills that come with practice.  And, in some cases, a lot of replacement discs!  One thing that's made it easier is my hammer.  I've fallen in love with my "small but mighty" hammer.  It fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.  I use one side to hammer out my letters.  I use the other side, with a rounded head, to create my hammered effect.

"Small but mighty" hammer, stamps, and disc
After the discs are stamped, I punch holes in the disc.  They have to have a way to dangle, right? 

Metal stamp hole punch

And finally, I get to add the finishing touches.  In this example, it happens to be a wire wrapped jewel and a necklace, pieced together by hand.  But that's for the next blog... 

Final product