View Full Version : Newbie silversmith questions

10-12-2005, 07:54 AM
Hi everyone
I'm Deni, in Melbourne, Australia and I've been lurking here for over a year but have never posted before.

I have been making jewellery from lampwork, gemstones and silver or gold beads; also some wire work and chain maille. A few weeks ago I took three days of silversmith classes in Chang Mai (Thailand) and loved them. Now I want to get set up to do things here. The studio where I took my classes was equipped with heavy duty equipment like a big guillotine and drill press etc. I don't need such big stuff, but I'm not quite sure about what to buy. (I have looked at the list Barrie supplied for people attending her class.) I went looking at tools and stuff today and have a few questions.

First, should I buy an adjustable or fixed jewellers saw?

I'm thinking I will buy a Dremel for polishing (we used a bench grinder in the class), but what attachments should I get? Should I get the Flexshaft?

I also have a solder question. I'm totally confused about the Easy, Medium and Hard solder I see available. We used tiny little square of solder (cut from a sheet I assume) but I have no idea about whether they were easy, medium or hard. Which should I buy?

Prices at the jewellery supply place I went to were mostly outrageous ($77 for a rawhide mallet) so I want to buy as much as I can from regular hardware places. Are the fine files I will find there suitable, or do I really need specialist jewellery files/

Any advice would be welcome.

10-12-2005, 08:11 AM
Hi Deni, welcome to wearables. That jewelry supply store does sound a bit expensive. I am lucky that the places here are reasonable for basic stuff, but Rio Grande also have a very comprehensive Tools and Equipment catalog ( it's US$ 10 to mail order it, but you get a rebate on your first order ), www.riogrande.com . Lots of fun toys in there. Do share some of the things you made at your class with us in the show and tell thread. Fiona

10-12-2005, 08:34 AM
Thanks Fiona
Rio's tool catalog has been my bedtime reading since I came home from Thailand. That's one of the ways I know that the prices here are very high. I will order from the US for those things I can't (or won't) buy here, but some stuff is likely to be too heavy for shipping (like a rawhide mallet).


10-12-2005, 11:56 AM
Hi Deni
Welcome to wearables. I love silversmithing too, and have collected several tools over the years, I know what I like using but I suppose it depends what you want to make.

Solder should be hallmarking quality if you are working with silver. The different grades have different melting points, so if you make your first joints on a piece with hard solder and the next with medium or easy then the new joints will flow before the hard joint remelts. There are five grades that I know of, listed here by decreasing temperature, enamelling (can be fired for enamels without the joint failing in the kiln) hard (my favourite) medium (I don't use this except on complex pieces) easy (second favourite, and useful where isolating a part or joining thin wire) and extra easy (I don't even stock this). I buy solder in strip form, and keep them in separate containers so I know which is which.

As for tools, a lot is personal preference but this is what I use (of the things you mention)

piercing saw - if you get an adjustable saw you can tighten the tension a bit whenever you want without removing the blade and I find them much easier to use. Jaw depth is an important consideration as it limits the size of sheet you can use - I have a real cheapo wide one for emergencies.

leather mallet - I have one but don't use it all that much. Any equivalent rubber/plastic mallet that is softer than your metal will do fine, the only point is to be able to shape your annealed metal without marking or stretching it - your hardware store will have something suitable. Plus if you have a mallet you'll need mandrels or other formers.

files - are files anywhere. Get some decent needle files (second cut - that's just the grade of fineness) and a half round hand file for edges. Again your hardware store is fine for these.

dremel - I use one for polishing, especially rings and detailed pieces. I actually use a flexible shaft fixed in a pillar drill, but only because I happen to have a pillar drill. I do have loads of dremel tools, and recently bought a boxed set for a bargain 2.99 in my local Lidl's, but I haven't got into the habit of using them much.

Other cheap stuff I use includes firebricks as a basis for my hearth, the curves are great for stopping things rolling around, scribes and centrepunches, and a tiny vice.

Specialist jewellers tools I wouldn't be without are the titanium soldering probe and my soldering wig, and of course borax and dish.

Sorry, I seem to have run on a bit. Have a great time with your new tools, and let us all see what you make.

10-12-2005, 03:41 PM
Hi Dini, I don't want to repeat what was already said by everyone else (since its the exact same as I would have said) but I want to share my 2 cents:

You mentioned buying a rawhide mallet. Well, if you want to save some change this site http://www.ganoksin.com/ has tips on making your own tools...Including a mallet (I plan on doing this eventually but not quite yet)

Clares right about files...I use mine a lot and got the set of them at the local electronics store for $5.

For polishing...It depends on what you do but I have the fittings to polish with my dremmel tool and hardly ever use them. I use my tumbeler instead...a bit more expensive, but it polishes everything!

For a soldering pick I cut a length off of a wire coat hanger, filed one end to a point, and covered the 'handle' end with hockey tape

When looking for cheap tools also check out your local model train store. It's amazing what you can find in the strangest places

Can't wait to see the jewelery you make!!!

10-12-2005, 06:12 PM
For a soldering pick I cut a length off of a wire coat hanger, filed one end to a point, and covered the 'handle' end with hockey tape

Lol.. I think we have the same pick :D

I would say the same things as above and /\/\ so I'll just add 1 cent as well..

Dremel : One thing I bought and am delighted with is a new handpiece for the flexshaft Dremel. (Side note : Polishing with dremel small accessories is ok but for bigger surfaces, this will mean hell and if you really produces a lot of stuff you will need decent pro polishing tools... but that's another story) I bought a Faro Quickshaft swift release handpiece.. really smart stuff. http://shorinternational.com/Handpiece.htm
I think Foredom does the same thing (minus the currency conversion :p)

10-12-2005, 06:54 PM
not much to add here but, I do have a couple of thoughts. I almost never use my rawhide mallet. Don't know why but, after stewing about not having one and paying big bucks like yours sounds to be...and I rarely use it. I don't even bother with my soldering pick anymore either. I got a good pair of tweezers and use them to position the solder paillotes (the wee cut up squares) where I want them - a lick keeps them in place, just make sure you've burned off the water in the flux first so the solder doesn't want to move around.
as for dremmel attachments, a split mandrel is a must if you plan on making rings and a pink wheel sure is nice to have too. they are less than $2 cad ( should be approx $2.30 your money) so why not?
having one proper 4cut file will save you SO much time. I don't have a big one - just a small size needle nose and it does the trick for me.
a trick that I learned from Barrie, for finishing, use a manicure emery and buffer. they are great if its all you have starting out but, when you do get a tumbler they prep your pieces wonderfully.
hopes this helps.

10-13-2005, 12:34 AM
Thanks Tam, Somk, Hollie, Claire and Fiona for all your great advice.

I'm now the owner of a Dremel and Flexishaft and assorted attachments I'll have to figure out, a range of files, a torch, some cutters for silver sheet, safety glasses, some leather gloves, and probably some other stuff I've forgotten. I already had lovely Lindstrom pliers of various types and a beautiful hammer. I still need a saw, copper tongs or tweezers, a doming/dapping block and a couple of doming punches and a bench pin (unless I can find someone to make one for me).

I'm sure there are other things I'll need but I think I should get started and see how it goes. Oh yes, have to buy some silver sheet (I have some on order but I'm too impatient to wait) solder, flux and alum for pickling and a crock pot.

Can't wait until the weekend to play.

Again thanks so much for the help. I'll post something in S&T when I'm not too embarassed to reveal it.