Metal – The Most Commonly Used Material in Jewelry
Metal is perhaps the most common jewelry material. At least, it is what we all expect traditional jewelry to be made of. Metal figures prominently even in jewelry made from other materials. Rings, clasps, pin backs, earring backs, and any other kind of jeweler’s findings are metal, often gold or silver. Attractive metals such as brass and copper are easily obtained in sheet, wire, and tubular form, and oh simple jewelry is made of these materials. Tin cans provide another readily available metal. Hardware stores carry a multitude of marvelous metals. Casting and fabrication by soldering are popular professional metalworking techniques.
This article, however, is devoted to simple techniques, so only mechanical methods such as sawing, cutting, piercing, pounding, and tooling will be considered. Sawing with a jeweler’s saw gives metal a delicate or unusual silhouette. Very thin metal like copper foil, shim brass, or tin cans can be cut with a tin snip. Piercing with a hand drill and high-speed drill bit produces an airy, more intricate pattern. Holes can be enlarged and reshaped by filing or sawing. (Insert a saw blade into the hale, fasten it into the saw frame, and saw the hale into the desired form.) Forging metal with a hammer produces a textured surface that will give the piece a more handcrafted appearance, and flattening sections of wire pieces by pounding will relieve monotonous lines.
Thin metal like copper foil can be worked from the back with a too) made of sharpened quarter-inch doweling or a similar tool with a medium sharp point. To provide a proper working surface, place a pad of felt or several layers of any soft fabric under the piece. With this technique, called repoussé or tooling, lines, texturing, or whole areas can be pushed into the malleable metal from the reverse side, producing a positive or pushed-out design on the front.
Shaping Metal for Use in Jewelry Design
Shaping provides interesting contours. Pound with a hammer or bend small items like jump rings, hooks, and details of thin metal pieces into shape with needle-nosed pliers. Jump rings are circles of wire with ends meeting but not soldered that are used as connecting links in jewelry. Combined techniques are often necessary for fastening pieces together, as in a chain. Drill holes and insert unsoldered jump rings. (Be sure that the holes are large enough to allow free action of the rings, and make sure the rings are tightly closed so they do not slip out of the hole.) Also, metal can be fastened to almost any surface with the many excellent glues, metal epoxies, and liquid solders on the market. Pin, earring, and cult-link backs with fairly substantial bases will hold securely if the adhesive manufacturer’s instructions are followed. Filing and polishing metal are finishing steps in jewelry-making. If care is taken to avoid scratches all through the construction, there won’t be too much finishing necessary. But the edges of metal pieces always need filing, and any fine-toothed file will do. Needle files are especially good for getting into small areas.
Metal Polishing Techniques
The next step is polishing with an abrasive. Try to pick an abrasive that will not add further scratches, and remember to work from coarse to fine abrasives while polishing. Emery paper and silicon-carbide waterproof papers can be purchased in grits from on a dried weed branch, coarse to fine. Steel wool also comes in various grades and is an excellent abrasive. Pumice is used next. Powdered pumice or a household powder cleanser applied with a damp cloth and firmly rubbed will remove minute scratches and polish the metal to a high brightness. Toothpaste or tooth powder will not remove scratches, but will brighten dull metal. Rub it on with a damp soft cloth or wet finger. Jeweler’s bobbing compound, white diamond tripoli and rouge, used in that order, will provide a final craft polish. All can be applied with a soft clean cloth used for buffing. Another polish for metal jewelry, which can be readily purchased in grocery stores, is household silver, copper, or brass polish.
To accent a design or texture, metal pieces are often darkened or oxidized. Then the surface in highest relief is highlighted by polishing away the dark oxide. Boiled spinach juice will darken silver and copper. Sulfurated potash (liver of sulfur) will also darken metal. Buy an ounce or so in a drugstore and dissolve a small pellet in warm water. Either solution may be applied by brush, or the piece may be dipped into it. When the metal turns blackish gray, rinse it with water to stop the oxidizing action. Then rub the areas to be highlighted with pumice and water. The oxidized surface should always be removed from the back of jewelry, too, because it can stain clothing and skin. Exciting, professional-looking pieces of metal jewelry can be made with the simple tools and procedures just described if design is carefully considered. The shape of a metal piece is extremely important. Interior cuts should relate to the firm, precise edges that are characteristic of metal and should also provide variation to the outside form. Texture, produced by pounding or polishing, often enhances the piece. Before beginning the large amount of work necessary to produce a handsome metal piece, consider design carefully and then experiment with shapes and contours, combine sheet and wire, use different metals, and try metals with other materials.
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