Sep 142010

jewelry tutorial, metalsmithing tutorial, free tutorial

I have to start out with a disclaimer.

This is not a traditional jewelry making tutorial. This is more like an outline of the technique that I use. It was originally written for a friend who has quite a lot of metalsmithing experience, so it was more of an outline or framework for her to see how I go about this process. I kept imagining I would redo the photos so each step is clearly captured and rewrite the text to make more sense for those who don’t have a lot of metalsmithing experience, however that hasn’t happened (and its been a couple of years I think!) so I’m just going to put this out here now the way that it is…well, with a few minor edits.


  • Wire – 12 gauge
  • Wire – 20 gauge
  • Rondelle Bead
  • Manilla folder, water, dish
  • Hammers (forming, rawhide), bench block or anvil
  • Nail
  • Sharpie
  • Ring mandrel
  • Files, sandpaper
  • Soldering supplies – flux, solder, torch, third arm, pickle

Begin by soaking small pieces of the manilla folder in water. ( I leave mine soaking for days, but you can soak them for as little as half an hour)

Wrap the 12 ga wire around the ring mandrel about a half a size larger than you want the ring to be. (some of the size will be taken up by the bead)

Cut into rings.

Next, file ends smooth so you have a flush join to solder. (no pic)

Flux and solder joins on each ring individually.

Return rings to mandrel and use mallet to true up the ring(s) into a circle.

Forge one end of each ring on the bench block with a planishing or forging hammer just enough to create a flat profile.

Then forge the other end of the rings into a sloping area which will eventually be drilled for insertion of wire to hold bead. (sorry no picture of the second side being done)

Next prop rings open on the wider forged end so you can solder the more lightly planished ends together to form the base of the ring shank. (this photo was taken as a ‘set up’ – in reality the open ends would be planished flat as well)

Flux, solder, pickle.

Gently close the shank and file all edges to create a uniform appearance (no photo)

Mark center of top of ring, create a divet with hammer and nail.

Lube your drillbit and drill hole(s)

Cut a piece of 20 ga wire – you want it long enough to go through the ring, the bead, and form a ball on each end.

You are going to use this wire as your double balled ‘pin’. You will want to measure this wire before you melt your first ball so that you can calculate how much wire you’ll need for the second ball.

So, measure, then go ahead and melt a ball on one end of the wire. (make the ball as large as aesthetically fits your design).

Now, measure how much wire you have left. This will tell you how much wire you used to make your ball ( [original length – (current length-ball) = amount of wire ‘in’ your ball] you’re going to need to know that later).

Next you need to wrap the bead in wet manila folder paper, insert the packet into the opening of the ring, thread wire through your drilled holes.

Cut the end of the wire so that the proper amount for your ball is extending from the other side.

Thread another piece of the folder onto the wire (on the outside of the ring)

(Optional: Take another piece of the folder and wrap it around the top of the bead.)

You now have something that should resemble this:

(but the amount of wire protruding should be trimmed way back! this is left long so you can see )

Suspend the entire packet into a third arm with the exposed wire hanging straight down towards your bench top. Heat to melt the second ball. (this photo is after I torched the second ball)

The ‘trick’ is to use a HOT tiny flame. I turn the gas on very high and then crank up the oxygen to obtain a very hot very tight flame.

*NOTE* The first two times I did this, I did NOT wrap the bead first and it worked fine. Wrapping the bead DOES take up some room so when you are done you may have a slightly looser join. When you remove the folder you will have a tiny bit of space. Very tiny. If you do it that way and don’t like it, try just threading the wet paper on the outside and then wrap the outside of the bead. The end result will be tighter.

FYI: I have NOT had the paper catch on fire. At the very end it will smolder and singe a bit, but thats it. Here is a pick of the singed paper:

Here is another finished ring. This one turquoise.

If it can work on turquoise, then its probably fairly safe on a variety of stones, HOWEVER, I highly recommend you practice with stones that you wouldn’t be heartbroken to lose as with any new technique it can take some time to perfect.

This process was first mentioned to me by Karen Christians (of Cleverwerx) as she was experimenting with it after watching glass makers work with hot glass using wet newspapers. It took me a long time to give it a try but I have found it works well.

I hope you find this useful information!

Other areas you might find interesting

Tips and Tricks Main PAGE

Other helpful posts:
Patina on Sterling

Jewelry Making Tutorials – Metalsmithing and WireWorking

Melting Temperatures
Scrap Metals Refiners and Returns

Mar 122010


Lisa Weber

What is annealing, and why is it important?

When metal is hammered, bent, stressed, or otherwise “worked”, the molecules of the metal are pressed more closely together, causing it to lose flexibility. This is known as work-hardening. While we hammer our metal for jewelry, the metal will become progressively harder. If we do not stop to soften, or anneal, the metal, it will crack or split. Pieces may snap off. Stay aware of your metal, and anneal frequently when working.

How will you know when it’s time to anneal?

  • Listen to the sound when you are hammering. Soft metal makes a duller thud than hard metal, which makes a higher pitched, more ringing sound.
  • Feel subtle differences in how your hammer reacts to the metal. The hammer sinks into softer metal, and bounces sharply off of hard metal
  • Watch the shape of the metal change. Soft metal changes shape, becoming flatter or longer, responding to the pressure of the hammer. Hard metal will keep its shape and resist changing.
  • Test the metal by trying to bend it when you notice the above signs of work hardening. If the metal is hard, springy or difficult to bend, STOP hammering and ANNEAL the metal.

Setting Up an Annealing Area

On your work bench or table, create a fire resistant surface.

Some ideas are: several large ceramic floor tiles, sheet metal (try to be sure not to use zinc-plated sheet metal, this can be hazardous to your health when heated), masonite, cement board, etc.

On this surface, set up your area with:

  • a fire brick, soldering pad, or other safe, heat-reflecting surface
  • insulated tweezers (cross-locks are a good choice)
  • A bowl of water
  • Torch (a high quality butane torch is fine, as long as your metal is small enough, no more than  about 1” x 1”)

How to Anneal

1. Mark your metal with a permanent marker (such as a Sharpie) or a dab of jewelry flux (Handy flux and Dandix are common brands).

2. Place hardened metal on your chosen surface (fire brick, etc).

3. Light torch according to manufacturer’s directions. If your torch uses both fuel and oxygen tanks, you can adjust the flame so that it is soft & bushy rather than sharp and hissing.

4. Begin by warming the metal gently across entire surface.

5. Bring flame in closer until the point of the blue cone is about ¼ inch from the metal. This is the hottest part of the flame.

6. Continue to move the flame constantly across the entire piece, evenly raising the temperature of the entire piece. Don’t stop the flame on any one area.

7. When the marks you made disappear or the flux turns first white, then clear, you are near annealing temperature. Watch for changes in color that indicate annealing temperature has been reached. This is a difficult state to describe. If you have not annealed metal before, I suggest you turn off the lights and watch the metal as you heat it. When it begins to glow pink, you have generally achieved annealing temperature for sterling silver. If you can get someone to turn the lights back on at this moment, you will see that the glow is not quite visible. There is, however, a particular look to the silver at this time. With practice, you will be able to “see” this internal glow and recognize the changes in color that indicate that annealing has probably occurred. Sterling silver should not get much hotter than this temperature or you will risk melting it. Copper and brass (or bronze or Nugold) should be heated until their glow is visible with the lights on. Copper should glow gently, while Nugold should be made to glow brightly to anneal well.

When you have reached annealing temperature, back the flame away from the metal somewhat, but continue to heat it gently, maintaining annealing temperature for about 60 seconds to fully anneal the metal. If sterling starts to glow so that it is visible in normal room light, you have usually exceeded the normal annealing temp, so pull the flame back and heat more gently for 60 sec. Brass needs to be annealed for longer than copper or silver, so keep it glowing for 60 -120 sec.

  • Things to be aware of: Wire will heat and anneal very quickly, and it is safer to coil the wire to protect it from overheating.  Sheet will take longer than wire. The thickness of the metal (gauge) and the size of the sheet or wire will make a significant difference in the annealing time.
  • What happens if I heat too much?

With copper and brass, there is rarely a problem. Both are difficult to melt, and it’s nearly impossible with a butane torch. Overheating will cause more oxidation (discoloring), and drive it deeper into the metal, that is usually the worst that will happen.

With silver, both oxidation and melting are potential problems. Before silver melts, it begins to get a shiny, liquid silver look to the surface. If you begin to see this, you have raised the temperature of the silver well beyond the annealing point, which may create unwanted textures and brittleness.  I strongly recommend melting a piece of scrap silver and carefully noting the changes prior to melting. Once you have seen them, you will begin to recognize the signs, and may avoid damaging a piece you hope to complete.

  • If noting color changes just doesn’t work for you, just watch the sharpie disappear or the flux turn clear. Increase heat a bit more, then pull the torch back a little to keep the heat at annealing temperature for 60 or more seconds. Cool and quench.

8. Once the metal is annealed, remove the heat and turn off the torch.

9. Allow it a few seconds to cool a bit, carefully pick up the metal with your insulated tweezers, cross locks, or tongs, and quench it by dipping it fully into the bowl of water. Don’t be alarmed if it hisses as it quickly cools, this is normal.

10. Remove the metal from the water (it is cool enough to touch almost immediately) and dry. Wet metal on your steel tools is a quick road to rust, so be sure to dry well.

11. Check for softness by gently bending the piece. If fully annealed, it should now bend easily*. If not, anneal again, allowing the metal to get slightly hotter and hold for a longer period of time.

Congratulations, you have just successfully annealed your metal!

(*EDITOR’s NOTE: “bend easily”  can be a relative term depending on the gauge (thickness) of your metal – keep that in mind!)