The Basics of Jewelry Making - Part 2

In this post, I would like to briefly discuss how to acquire some of the basic metalsmithing skills necessary to get started. Keep in mind that most moderate-sized cities will have at least one community college, arts center, or privately owned jewelry studio that offers classes and workshops.  Do a Google search for your area or find jewelers on Etsy from your area and email them to see where they learned their trade.  Maybe some of them offer private lessons or are looking for an apprentice.  

A weekend workshop is often all you need to get started.  You can then supplement your knowledge with books on the subject.  Most bookstores have several books that give step by step instructions for doing basic jewelry tasks like sizing rings, setting stones, cutting designs out of a sheet of metal, etc.  The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight is an excellent jewelry resource.  Surprisingly, it only really takes a weekend class to learn most of the basic skills that you will need.  Take the class multiple times if you really want to make sure you get the most out of it.  After that you will know enough to make at least crude jewelry designs on your own and from there it is just a matter of lots of practice to hone your skills and strengthen your knowledge.

I'd also like to offer up a few suggestions specifically about the soldering materials that I suggested in yesterday's post which could prove helpful to anyone just getting started:

1. I use a small hand held butane torch for most of my soldering projects.  The only things that it does not work well for are larger pieces where you need a larger flame to keep the heat from diffusing too fast before you get your solder to flow.

2. You can buy the torch fuel from Rio Grande but they have to ship it via hazardous cargo and it takes forever and costs extra. But you can readily find the refill canisters at most gourmet kitchen supply stores such as Williams-Sonoma. They come in cans about the size of your average aerosol can. Do not refuel your torch while it is hot -- always let it cool first.

3. You only need one of the soldering pads mentioned -- it all just depends on the size you have room for and the the scale of the work you are doing. I have the 12"X12" because I never work on only one thing at a time. Also, the bigger the pad, the less chance something is going to fall off the pad and make it to your floor (or worse yet, your lap!)

4. You might want to get a small, cheap rug for under your work bench to protect your floors. It's not often that something hot ends up on the floor, but you don't want melted linoleum or to ruin your carpet when it does.  Also, although the flame from the butane torch is small, you should avoid setting up your soldering station in front of curtains or other potentially flammable surfaces. 

5. The copper tongs are for the pickle pot. Never put steel in the pickle. The solution pulls copper from the silver you put in and it will turn bluish. When steel is introduced in the solution (even momentarily) it creates a charge, which will copper plate anything silver in the pot. It's a huge hassle to get it off.

By now, I hope you're feeling encouraged and a little less hesitant about jumping right in. In the final post of this series, I'll be discussing a few helpful tips I've learned along the way.

(originally posted March 2015)