Intro to Jewelry Making: Tools
I have worn a few different 'hats' in my life from wildland firefighter to RN to goldsmith (and a handful of others). Each of them has brought a ton of enjoyment and fullfillment, but I have to admit, goldsmithing/silversmithing is where my true passion lies.
I have been a jeweler for ten years, now. Throughout that time, I often get one specific question: How do I get started making jewelry?
My answers are usually this: What kind of jewelry do you want to make? Do you want to set stones or just make metal art? Do you want to do wax carving, fabrication, CAD design? Do you have any experience working with metals and stones? Do you want to engrave?
I tend to get a variety of answers, but figuring out what tools to obtain to get started is generally a good place for anyone looking to make jewelry, to start.
Below I have made a list with links to tools which I find and have found useful throughout my career. By no means are these the only tools one can use (as we all tend to find different things that work for us), but it is a good start for some basics.
Starter Tools and Equipment
Jeweler's Bench: You can makeshift a bench from just about any desk or table. Trust me, I have successfully done it a few times. However, it is nice to have an actual jewelry bench with drawers, slide trays cubby holes and especially stability.
Soldering: Soldering is a key aspect in jewelry making. Folks tend to go with either a larger torch with big oxygen/propane tanks, or the small torch route with portable oxygen/propane bottles. I prefer the smaller torch option (as that was how I was taught) and The Smith Little Torch is my go to. There are knockoff versions that look identical and are less expensive, but I have always stuck by the name as it has never failed me in all these years. You will want to make sure and pick up some regulators (connections to the bottles with shutoff valves) as well as flashback arrestors. The Smith Little Torch comes with a few different flame tips which come in handy as different metals and sizes of jobs require different amounts of heat.
Soldering Station: Charcoal and ceramic blocks are generally the surfaces most jewelers use to solder items on. They act as surface that either displace heat or absorb oxygen (O2 can cause excess firescale when soldering and charcoal blocks absorb some of this). There are also stone platforms for soldering that can attach to your bench via things like the GRS mounting adapter and fixed plate bracket. The GRS stone platform solder station is great because it comes with two 'third hands' to help hold pieces in place while soldering without the use of binding wires. Along with a soldering platform of some type, you will need something to actually transfer your hot solder to your metal. In order to move your hot ball of solder to your metal to be soldered, a soldering pick is necessary.
Soldering Fluids: There are two handy fluids used in soldering that will save you both time and headaches (emotional, not literal). Flux is a liquid applied to precious metals before soldering at the place solder will be used. It helps the solder flow into the cracks and seems. Boric acid solution (boric acid mixed with isopropyl alcohol works) is used by dipping your metals in before heating. The boric acid creates a thin layer over your metals preventing oxidation and fire scale while soldering.
Pickle Solution (post soldering): After you finish a solder job, it is usually best practice to soak your metal in a pickle solution. A pickle solution is a mixture of acid crystals and water, which removes any of the flux/boric acid and oxidation that is now coating your metal. It works best warmed up, so having a good ceramic pickle pot is key. You will probably also want to pick up a pair of copper tongs to remove items from the pickle (acid plus fingers = not a good idea).
Lenses and Microscope: For general applications in jewelry making, it isn't necessary to purchase magnifying lenses or a microscope (metal working, cabochon setting). However, if you plan on doing any other stone setting, fine detail work or engraving, it would be beneficial to acquire a microscope. It is one of my favorite tools and is also one of my most used pieces of equipment. The headband lenses don't get near the depth of magnification compared to the microscope, but come in handy from time to time.
*Here is a vid showing a bench scope*
Flexshaft: Although I have my Foredom flexshaft positioned to my right at the bench, this is literally my right hand. I use it for stone setting, detail work, grinding and polishing. Foredom flexshafts are some of the better options available, in my opinion. You can attach so many different bits for use, it is definitely a must have in my opinion.
Bench Pin: Having a bench pin is a must as it allows you to saw/file/sand/set stones in front of your bench. This gives you added space and hand/arm freedom to work and hold the piece easier. It also allows any metal filings to fall into your slide out tray or catch. There are a few types that are popular, and I prefer both the simple wooden block pin as well as the GRS bench pin. I rock the GRS on my main bench and the regular block on my spare setup. The GRS is handy with the GRS mounting plate because of that quick connect system for easy off and on.
Burrs, Bits, Wheels: There are literally thousands of various burrs/bits/wheel types that can attach to a flexshaft. It can be pretty confusing on what to start with. Personally, for stone setting, I mostly use: ball burrs - setting burrs - bud burrs and drill bits. I recommend getting a variety of sizes as well as types of burrs. It will take some time to figure out what works best for you!
For grinding and light abrasive work, I prefer drum sanders and radial bristle discs. If I am chunking away at metal and don't feel like using a hand file (more on those later), the drum sanders do a great job of eating away at the material. For more light work (removing scratches, buffing and pre-polish) I prefer the radial bristles because they can get into almost any area needed.
*Here is a vid showing the drum sander*
I normally use cotton or wool felt polishing buffs. Polishing compounds are a definite must, and out of all the types I have tried, Fabulustre is my favorite. Polishing compounds remove surface metal (this is how it creates a flat surface for shine) and Fabulustre isn't too aggressive. At the same time, I get a mirror finish without much effort.
Files: Having a large chunker file as well as some small various shaped files comes in handy when fabricating jewelry. Large files remove a lot of metal, while the smaller files can both reach many angle points as well as remove teeth marks from larger files.
*Here is a vid showing some small files*
Jeweler's Saw and Blades: Intro level jeweler saws don't have to be overly expensive. Actually, I still use a cheap one I picked up eight years ago and haven't felt the need to upgrade at all. To me, I would rather spend more money on quality blades than the saw frame itself.
Ring Mandrel and Mallet: If you want to make rings, it is important to acquire a ring mandrel and a mallet. This allows you to size ring as well as create a perfectly round ring shank. While you are at it, grabbing a wooden ring clamp might not be a bad idea. They are incredibly easy to use, hold rings tight so you can set stones/detail with ease and are handheld.
Pliers, Cutters, Etc: There are dozens of different types of hand pliers/cutters as well as varied styles of each. I have always kept it pretty simple. Here is what I use on a daily: angle nose pliers, flat nose pliers, round nose pliers and flush cutters (none of those are the official names, I just call most items by what they look like haha).
Calipers: Calipers are a great tool to measure the exact size of your stones as well as the burrs you may be using to set them! There are 2x basic versions: brass and digital. Brass are okay for rough dimensions, but digital calipers can get you exact measurements of anything up to 6". Plus, they have MM and Inch options.
Beading Tool: If you plan on doing any stone setting besides flush and bezel, having a set of beading tools are a must. Beading tools are pencil led thin steel rods with various sized cups at the end. They are used in pavé setting as well as to adjust prong tips. My go to sizes are #4 and #6, but I recommend getting a variety until you find your favorite sizes.
Advanced Tools and Equipment
Forging for Fabrication: If you're looking to make your own stock metals instead of buying pre-made forms, you always have the option of forging. Basically, you melt whatever metal mix you choose in a crucible using a rosebud tip for the Little Smith Torch. Once in a molten state, you pour into a graphite ingot mold. Once cool, you can either use handtools to shape or use a rolling mill.
Rolling Mill: These come in various widths, sizes and roller types. Currently I have a rolling mill where the rollers can swap out depending on the shape of metal you want. It is handy because I have a set of square rollers, flat, half round and triangle (with many graduated sizes for each). However, my next purchase is a combo rolling mill, which has a few shapes (square, half round) as well as flat on the same roller. That way I don't have to continually switch out rollers.
Ring Expander/Compressor: A ring expander and compressor does exactly what it sounds like. If you need to size up a ring shank, have enough metal on the band for some expansion without thinning it too much and don't want to have to cut and add metal/solder, and expander can help. You just slide your ring over the expander bar and push up on the handle/arm. It expands the ring evenly and has ring size markers on the expanding bar as well for added visuals.
If you need to size down a solid band (rings with stones do not work in this part) there is a carousel of different compression holes to use. Simply place the ring in one of the holes slightly smaller in diameter than said ring, pull down the handle/arm and it compresses the ring. Generally, for sizing up or down, you would want to make sure the ring is annealed first to prevent breakage.
Inside Ring Engraver: Having your makers initials and metal type engraved on the inside of a ring band is pretty important. It is great to 'sign' your work, but it is also against the law to not have your metal type stamped or engraved somewhere on your piece. Using an inside ring engraver can be beneficial because you get a quality engraving that is both clean and precise. I use mine all the time to engrave short sayings, my initials and metal types inside of rings (it is way better than my chicken scratch with a hand stylus too haha).
Bench Lathe: I don't due super high volume polishing, so having one of the larger industrial type of bench lathes doesn't work for me. I prefer the Foredom Bench Lathe. It is compact, has variable speeds up to something like 7k RPM and has little rubber grippers underneath to keep it from sliding. I use mine with some buff wheels and a pumice wheel for light grind work.
I will be adding more tools of the trade for begginer and more specific uses in the jewelry world, so feel free to bookmark this page if you want to stay up to date!
***I may receive a small monetary compensation from affiliates through purchases from links provided.***