Getting Started Metalsmithing: Tool Guide

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

So you are interested in metalsmithing? You want to put the pedal to the metal and fire blaze your way through life. Congrats me dos, ha! Metalsmithing is not a hobby for me it's my lifes passion and occupation. This post will be for the individual looking to really invest there time and money into tools and a studio set up.  I will be providing the basics, a detailed list of everything I found helpful to have a full start. As time goes on you can build on your collection, I did not start with every tool I own I slowly accumulated and saved for my entire collection as is.I did however invest in the major tools right away, I would suggest taking classes at a local art league or school to learn the proper skills before investing your money to make sure this is something you want to pursue and avoid money down the drain. . These tools are the big kahunas, they will provide you with start to finish ability for soldering and finishing. I will go into detail about smaller detail tools that are essential as well to finish the job.  Tool needs will vary from person to person depending on what skills you are looking to apply at the bench. You can pick and choose which of these will benefit the projects you are looking to tackle. You may not need all of these but for me they all are my must haves.

Also for safety please have all power machines and torches set up by an experienced jeweler and or plumber to ensure you are properly using and maintaining equipment.

Space is number one, if you are limited in space you will have to make due with what you have. We all start somewhere, so whether you have an additional bedroom, garage or live in a studio apartment make sure you have a dedicated area you can keep clean and stocked.

I have a traditional jewelers bench, it was the very first thing I purchased. I purchased it from Otto Frei  (all companies mentioned are click-able links for exact products) I purchased this before I even took up metalsmithing.  I knew when I was assembling vintage jewelery that I eventually wanted to get into metalsmithing. A jewelers bench is made to accommodate tools, height, and comfort of working 12 hour days.

You can certainly shop around at various suppliers for benches. I would like to upgrade mine in the future but the one linked above works perfect for my space and needs. I would avoid particle board material make sure you are buying real wood if you are investing the money.

If you are lucky enough to know someone willing to build you a bench I would say the most important features is a catch tray, a slot for a bench pin and drawers for storage.

Other suppliers you can find jewelers benches:
Rio Grande
Otto Frei
FDJ Tools

Fire Baby
A torch is probably the most apprehensive purchase one will make. The thought of having gas in or near your workspace can be daunting. But in order to pursue this passion it calls for some heat in kitchen. I would look into your homeowners insurance or check with your landlord to see if you can have such gas set up in your home or workspace.
I like acetylene and air set up it burns a bit dirtier as they say (I don't notice a difference), I also learned with this set up. It is a one tank system and only requires a B tank for refills. I would recommend to save money looking on Craigslist for an empty tank or buying one from a local welding place. It will cost you less and you will never see that 169.00 brand new tank again. When you refill a B tank for around 35-45$ you will get an old crusty used filled tank in return so if you decide to buy a new one don't get attached.
Torch Tips: I would recommend a 00,0, and 1 tip (the 00 comes with the kit linked above)  Having a variety of tips will allow you to accommodate small projects and fine flames to larger cuffs and bushy flames.

Other set ups include Propane and Oxygen and Acetylene and Oxygen. Propane will burn much cleaner and give you a finer more controlled flame. Propane as you know is more readily available for refilling.
Rio Grande Torches

Flex Shaft
A flex shaft is one of my most used tools, I started out with a dremel years ago before metalsmithing. It was bulky, cheap and not as versatile as a Foredom. I invested in a Foredom SR Motor Kit. This is one of those tools that I use daily and probably 75% of my studio time. It has a forward and reverse switch and with a Foredom you can interchange the hand piece for a hammer set if you want to add a hammer set to your repertoire. Make sure to lubricate and maintain your shaft and sheath. A great video is linked here.

Make sure your flex shaft is secured to your work space by either a homemade piping or you can purchase on here. Make sure to get a flex shaft stand that can be mounted by screws to your work bench. A C clamp will eventually fall resulting in a broken flex shaft.

 Polishing Machine
I love polishing it is the most time consuming and possibly frustrating parts of metalsmithing. It is the point of I am almost done but not quite, I cant wait to see the finished product part of production. Nonetheless I cannot live without my polishing machine. Sure you can use you use your flex shaft for polishing and I do this quite often for smaller hard to reach areas and pieces. But if you plan to do production work or larger pieces this really cuts your time in half.
I purchased the Durabill Polishing Kit. It comes with everything you would need to start polishing, the motor, vent, compound, and wheels. Polishing machines are great for deburring castings as well as removing the addtional backplate on a bezel. Be sure to replace your filters every 6 months to ensure that your vent is doing the best job at filtering. I have a video on my favorite polishing compounds can be found here.

A saw is another tool that is small yet essential. This also gives you the ability to do a lot of projects with out any of the tools above. I started with an economy saw frame and upgraded this year to a GreenLion Studio saw frame. These are released in small batches they are hand crafted and in additional to looking sleek it is the most comfortable smooth operating saw. They are often sold out but you can go on an email list for them if they are. Worth the wait. I did a review on my youtube channel which can be found here.

I am a big believer in investing in tools the right tools. I would rather have a few great files than a large collection of sub par ones. Reason being is they wear out faster and don't cut with precision. I think a flat bastard file is essential to every collection as well as a half round, and I personally use my triangle file the most often. I have a general link for all files at Rio Grande you will want to choose files that are right for your project. Here is a FAQ regarding saws. Needle files are essential as well for clean up on smaller spaces and pieces. Great for detailed work. Some argue getting cheap files and replacing yearly or what not, but you know where I stand invest and maintain and they will last.

Again this will vary for your needs but I find if I had to choose one hammer I would pick my Fretz chasing hammer a great one to start with. You can shape, give a dimpled hammered band surface, and flatten with one hammer. I started with an economy chasing hammer and after about a year of everyday use it broke.
 For shaping and forming without marring the metal especially great for rings is a rawhide hammer.  I highly recommend Fretz Hammers they are built to last and have a beautiful smooth ergonomic feel.

This is totally a non essential for a beginner but if your looking to do production or cut down on your polishing time a tumbler is a great tool. I purchased a Durabull kit from Rio. If I knew what I know now I wouldn't repurchase this one. It constantly leaks if its not sealed super super tight and most people complain that the belt breaks. Plus it cant handle a lot of weight in it. I hear very good things on the lortone tumbler which I do not own so I cant give my personal thoughts on. But there are tons of reviews on Amazon. Different media will give different finishes on the metal, I use stainless steel shot.

Soldering Tool Essentials:
Pickle Pot - to hold the pickle solution
Pickle - Acid Solution to o clean post soldered metal (fire scale)
Copper Tongs - to remove metal from pickle you will ruin your pickle and metal if you put your stainless steel tweezers use copper tongs!
 Tweezers - for holding your pieces together and setting up pre solder
Third Hand - Really comes in handy with soldering set up for rings and various components
Charcoal Soldering Block - Great for retaining heat while heating up pieces. Get the hard block not soft lasts much longer. 
Flux -  flowing agent for soldering metals
Sheet Solder - You can get this in wire, paste, and chips depending on your preference. And in various flowing temps.
Pick - For placing solder and assistance with placement of components.
There are many other tools and surfaces you can purchase for soldering. Again I would consider these the essentials.
Tri Pod - to heat pieces from top and bottom of surface.

Other Essentials:
Ring Mandrel - To form shape, and size rings.
Vise - I like to use especially for ring setting

See my YouTube Video on this blog post~ MeShe

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