Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Guest Post: Making Your Own Tools by Laura Jane Bouton

I have been wanting to make a new tutorial on a piece of jewelry but I thought I should write one about the tools I have made for myself or had made for me to help me in my metalwork journey. I have only been making jewelry for about a year now and needless to say I don't have all the tools on my wish list, and my list is very long. As we all know tools can be very expensive, and when you are just starting out sometimes it is hard to afford  them. My desire to create is strong, so having the right tools to make my designs is very important and has pushed me to find solutions to help me in my metalwork.

I always like to add some dimension to my pieces, I have your average disc cutter and punches for doming, but I could not limit myself just to circles. I wanted to be able to make any shape I wanted and therefore was dreaming of a hydraulic press. I think we all know how much they cost so it was out of my reach. I was showing a picture of a press to my husband and telling him this is what I want for Christmas, ha ha, he then said I could make one with a car jack. Well needless to say I wanted to make it then and there and here she is.

So, know that if you have a car jack and know how to tig weld, or know someone who does,  you can  make your own manual press for doming your metal into shapes. I  am also very lucky because my husband is mister handy man in person and I also get a lot of help from my co-workers at my day job. I work in a factory that produces motorcycle parts, so I have quite a few welders on hand who can help me in these projects. I guess you can say that I make motorcycle parts by day and jewelry by night.

My one recommendation is to make sure that when you drill the four corner holes on the three steel slates that they are 100% lined up or it will not dome your pieces evenly. The columns are welded to the bottom and top bases, where as the middle block slides up and down on the four columns when cranking the car jack. In the picture above you can also see that there are loops welded to the corners of the top base and the middle block. Attached to these loops are spring coils that help guide the middle block up and down while using the press. Naturally the press is bolted to my work bench.

You can also make your own dies out of  cast acrylic or various objects. You can cut out any shape with your jewelry saw but  you need to use a spiral blade on your saw.

Here I cut out of the acrylic piece an oval shape. I also cut the same shape out on a piece of  brass metal sheet. After Taping the two pieces together I then sanded the inside edges of the oval cut out to make sure that they matched. The brass piece helps make your domed piece comes out more defined after pressing.
Don't forget to anneal you piece of metal, here I annealed a piece of copper.

You will also need some pieces of rubber too. When the press comes down it helps push the metal through the oval shape. I cut up some pieces of a rubber hot pad from my kitchen, it works just great!
Then put your metal piece on you acrylic die and the rubber on top as shown in the photo to the left.

I also tape everything together some what like a "sandwich" so things don't move around when you put it in the press.

Put everything in the press, obviously in between the bottom base and middle block. I also put a piece of green plexiglass on top of my "sandwich" which helps push the rubber and then forces the metal to push through the die. Eventually it will get harder to crank the handle, and the middle block can no longer move downward, that is usually a sign that the piece is domed.

Here is the piece after doming in the manual press. Now the possibilities here are endless, you could cut the piece out, enamel it and set it in a bezel or leave a small edge around the shape and cold connect it to a backing. My favorite is always making hollow forms, you could make another oval piece and solder the two together.

Here I used this steel die to dome out my sun pin. Once again my work came in handy, this piece is assembled to the exhaust pipe of a motorcycle. I used it also to dome out the sterling silver cover on the pin.

Here I have a smaller cast acrylic die that I used to make these small oval pieces. This is a project I am working on now. The oval piece will be cold connected with a wire rivet to the tear drop shaped backing. I have put it on hold because I can't seem to decide on what enamel color I would like, so I am still in the experimental  fase which is always so much fun!.

With this other piece from work I made these copper earrings. I form folded and textured them first and then I domed them in the press. This is  one of the good things about using the press, you don't loose your texture like you would with the punches.

With this piece, I cut out a triangle shape and made the domed part of this pendant.

Here I cut out the heart always using  a piece of cast acrylic and domed it in the press just like I describe above.

Now I realize that not everyone has a job like mine and all that is available there, so if you can't make a manual press know that you can get the same result with your bench vise. Follow the procedure I described above, make your "sandwich" (tape together your die, annealed metal, rubber, plexiglass ) and put everything in your vise. Even in one of my favorite metal smith books, "The Complete Metal smith" by Tim McCreight, he explains in detail how you can make your own dies and use your vise. If you don't have the book I highly recommend it, it has helped me many of times.


For the domed heart on the left I used the press, and with the domed heart on the right I used my vise. The heart made with the press is slightly higher than the one with the vise but I think they bother came out nicely. Before I made my manual press, I would use this vise which belongs  to my father-in-law and it is outside near the chicken coop.  I would have to go out there every time to dome my pieces, yes the desire to make jewelry is strong!!

As I mentioned before  I love to add dimension to my pieces, but I also love to create texture. I usually  use liver of sulfur on my pieces to oxidize them, I love how it brings out the texture. There are texture hammers available at jewelry supply stores but they can be expensive. Luckily both my husband and I are tool junkies and I had a few extra hammers that I could play with.

I used my disc cutter on my dremel to cut out a criss cross design on the square flat end of this hammer.

Here are some pieces I made using that hammer. I textured the side of the bezel on the ring and the side of the hollow form pendant.

Here, I still used my disc cutter to cut lines in the smaller end of the hammer. For the piece of copper on the right I did random strikes. With the piece of copper on the left I held the head of hammer in my hand like you do with stamping, and used another hammer to strike with. This way the texture comes out more uniformed.

Another one of my favorites is the screw driver. Those little squares are quite nice. I will admit that I did buy a texture hammer once,  however I have never used it. I like to use things I can find in my surroundings, I feel the final result is more organic which I prefer.

My final little invention is something I made to help me with enameling. I do not have a kiln and I don't know how to make one, at least not yet. Therefore I torch enamel and I needed some kind of grid to put my pieces on so I could torch from underneath, and this is the contraption I came up with.........

I drilled holes in the bricks to hold the two steel rods. Steel wire was also welded to some small steel rings which can slide onto the rods.This way I can adjust the space between the wire according to the size of the piece I am working on.

Here is a close up of how the wire is welded to the rings. If you can't tig weld, you can use some binding wire which is thinner and wrap each end around the rods. That was my previous set up before I moved on to this one. However I found with the micro torch, the thinner wire held up, but with my big girl torch the thinner wire would melt. This little invention can easily be set up and removed when you are not using it.

Torching enamel.........

Some more fun with enameling, here are some of the domed hearts I enameled on my grid. I did some sgraffito with the white heart and over torched it  in hopes of getting  "broken heart" look. Now though I have the urge to make another heart and solder the two halves together for a hollow form. The desire to create just never ends.........

Hopefully my little tutorial will help someone out there just getting started on their metal smith journey. I know how frustrating it can be sometimes when you want to create something and you don't have the right tools.  I am a self taught jewelry maker and I have learned such a great deal from online tutorials and books that are available out there in this world. I guess it is my way a giving back, and saying thanks to all those fabulous artist out there who so generously shared their knowledge.

Rusty and Lula

My two favorite studio friends when I am hammering, bending, torching metal into something fun to wear!!

You can find me here:



Julie Holmes said...

Wonderful post Laura! You obviously have a very imaginative mind. Your inventions are great and show how much you can accomplish when the will is strong. Your jewelry is lovely and unique...and those are two awesome studio buddies!

Shannon Chomanczuk said...

Just wow! I am showing this post to my dad (an auto mechanic and ham radio operator) and my husband a carpenter and all around diy'er) I just know I can raid their workshops.
Also, can you point me in the direction of some good tutorials for enameling? I have a kiln and a torch so I can do it either way. I have been working with copper for a while now and want to add some color!
Thanks and awesome post!

Lela said...

Your work is beautiful! Love the funky heart shape...and those two studio friends are cuties. :)

Unknown said...

So happy you agreed to do a guest post for us, Laura...your work and creativity are amazing, and I am going to pour over this post and see about making my own press too!! Thank you!

mairedodd said...

fabulous, laura! your work and process are so inspiring - you are inventive and so very talented... this was a terrific post -

stacilouise said...

Awesome information! THANKS!

AliMc said...

Awesome info, thank you! Now I have to source some acrylic, yet another item for my jewelry making wish list :)

Unknown said...

What an informative post! I'd love to have a press! And you have renewed my interest and given me the know how:) Your pieces are gorgeous! Hard to believe you've only been creating jewelry for a year.
I'll be marking this post and rereading again and again, I'm sure. Thanks for sharing!

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Wow! I'm going to take the time to read this in more detail tomorrow. I just got home after a very long day and don't want to miss anything due to exhaustion. This is right up my alley :o)
Shannon, we have some tutorials on enameling right on out blog. Just click the tutorials page and look under "metals." Hope that helps. You might be able to find some on YouTube also.

Anonymous said...

Laura, you are incredibly inventive and I am also amazed that you have only been creating jewelry for a year, your work is so good!! I would have thought you have making jewelry for several years. You are a natural!

LjB said...

Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments, hope I could help someone out there, Shannon here is a link to a enameling book, one of my favs

Barbara said...

This is just incredible Laura! I love that so many of your tools are handmade and the result definitely shows in your work! Thank you so much for posting! Now I'm off to get a job in a motorcycle factory ;)

Unknown said...

GREAT post!

Kelli said...

Incredible!! Just incredible!!!! Makes my head spin with new tool ideas!!

jelly andrews said...

I love this post! This is really amazing. I really like the copper earrings. Thanks for posting something like this.

Skyblue said...

THANK YOU, Laura. Another proof that where there's a will, there's a way. "Improvisation"-- that is key, and we ALL appreciate you "artistes" who so unselfishly share the methods you've discovered and your love of creating, so that we can experience that joy for ourselves!

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