Must-Have Metalsmithing Tools for Jewelers

What if I did more than think about making metal jewelry?
I’ve been guilty of what-iffing everything to death lately. . . . What if I would have pursued that med-school degree? What if I had stayed on the coast? What if we got rid of our mortgage and cars and all the trappings that come with the suburban life and moved to Tuscany? Ah, the what-ifs: So cliché, so typically middle age . . . 

But one what-if I haven’t been able to get out of my head is this: What if I got off my rumpus and did more traditional metalsmithing? I started my jewelry-making trajectory that way, so why not get back to that, or at least brush up on some of those old skills to inform my beadwork?

Then a miracle happened: Leslie Rogalski sent me a huge brick of a book called The Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques. In this fantastic textbook––over 300 pages––author Anastasia Young describes and illustrates dozens and dozens of jewelry-making techniques, from setting bezels to enameling, from riveting to soldering, from fusing to electroforming—all in one big hardcover book. It's a lifelong, jewelry-making reference source, dotted with inspirational eye candy, with wonderful sections on design and business to get that what-if jeweler inside you off the couch and into the studio.

Basic Tools
Like most good jewelry-making books, Young includes a comprehensive Tools and Materials section. She’s got everything in there, from bench pegs to emery sticks. But if you’re a beader, chances are you won’t need those right off when you start dabbling in other, more beefy jewelry-making techniques. So let me suggest five tools from my metalsmithing days—beyond the selection of pliers that I know most of you have—that I find myself using with my current work, even though it’s primarily bead-related. I’d consider these must-haves as you plump up your stash for your next step into jewelry making:

  Chasing hammer
This type of hammer (on left), with one flat face and one round face, works well for riveting and texturing metal.
  Nylon mallet
I use a nylon mallet (on right) for work-hardening bent wire as well as for tapping metal into shape without marring it.

Steel block
Use a steel block (I use the face of an antique iron) as a base for hammering and riveting.

Needle files
These fine-toothed files not only come in handy for smoothing the edges of cut sheet metal but also for nicking the burrs off the ends of cut wire.

Rotary drill
It’s great to have a full-on drill press in a jewelry-making studio but not always practical. A small variable-speed rotary drill such as this one is a great substitute.

What other tools have you brought to your bead table that might qualify as metalsmithing tools? Share with us on the website. In the meantime, I think I’m going to dash away that what-iffing and fire up the torch!

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About jeancampbell

Jean Campbell is the founding editor (and currently the senior editor) of Beadwork magazine and has written and edited more than 45 beading books. She has written for Beading Daily and has appeared on the DIY Jewelry Making show, The Shay Pendray Show, and PBS' Beads, Baubles, and Jewels where she gives how-to instructions, provides inspiration, and lends crafting advice. Jean teaches jewelry-making workshops throughout the United States and calls Minneapolis home.

19 thoughts on “Must-Have Metalsmithing Tools for Jewelers

  1. I found my grandfathers old antique steel bench block and it was pitted and mard with being used throughout the years. My husband took a grinder to it and made it completely smooth again. It’s a great surface for jewelrymaking and now I don’t have to worry about my metal being marked after shaping it, plus the surface it much larger than what you can buy at any jewelry shop. If you don’t have the tools to refinish an old bench block, a metal shop in your area might be able to do it for you.

  2. If you have a Dremil rotary tool, they make an attachment that turns it into a drill press. Any hammer can be used as jewelry equipment if you have the tools to grind it smooth and polish it to a mirror finish. If you do metal smithing you probably already have what you need

  3. I’ve added the “Third Hand” which helps with soldering items in tough spots. Also helps with filing. Other tools I’ve added are dentist’s picks, and an inexpensive bracelet mandrel.

  4. Oooh, this book is making me drool–I would LOVE to own it–but–having been out of work all of 2009 and the job prospects in 2010 so far looking just as bleak–I’ll have to pass. But at least I have most of the tools pictured–my hubby says he has a piece of steel, possibly a small anvil he thinks will work–and if I dug around in his tools I’d probably find a nylon mallet and a ball-peen hammer–I do have a flat face/nail-pulling hammer–He gets a look of fear on his face when I mention playing with power tools–even the Dremel– and he is trying to talk me out of wanting to learn to solder as well– anyway– I have most of what I need and a degree from the “McGyver School of Engineering” where the motto is–“necessity is the Mother of Invention–and we don’t mean Frank Zappa”. 😀

  5. From time to time I use a miniature butane-fueled torch, soldering equipment, a standard-size drill and bits, a center punch to dent the metal workpiece so as to prevent the drill bit from spinning off course, a scribe to mark the metal workpiece for drilling or cutting, Micro-Mesh polishing pads, plus a small vise and small clamps; also, as others have mentioned, a rotary tool with flexible shaft and bits (especially stone grinding bits and rubber polishing points) as well as a variant of the third-hand device. In the future a jeweler’s saw and bench pin should come in useful.

  6. I’m new to metal work, but love what I’ve done. I just purchased a deluxe set of letter punches in 3 sizes. I haven’t even received them yet, but can’t wait to experiment. I also have my eye on a dapping block and punches as my next purchase…


  7. I would like a guide to the Dremel rotary tool. I have one but cannot even figure out how some of the attachments…attach.

    This book is a great suggestion and I’m grateful to read this blog and have the basic tools narrowed down. As a beader, my work is so time-consuming that I don’t have a lot of time to devote to learning to work with metal. I want to make my own findings so that’s a real problem. Thanks for writing about the basics. I’d be interested in seeing more along the lines of (just a suggestion) “Metal Working for Complete Idiots who would rather be beading?”

  8. Definitely the Dremel drill press stand Suzie mentioned! Also a good set of shears – cutting a more manageable size out of a huge sheet has led to reduced headaches. A clamp with nylon or rubberized grips can hold work in place without shaking and aching the way my hand does!

  9. Can anyone suggest a specific type of Dremmel tool that would be good for jewelry use? I have a bunch of 1/16″ diamond bits that someone gave me years ago but I could never find any tool that they would fit in. It looks like most of the other bits are 3/16 or 1/8″. I had a small cordless Dremmel, and someone at Home Depot sold me something that was supposed to make the tool fit any size bits, but it never gripped the bits tightly enough, even when tightened, and they always wobbled. It was a total waste of money – unfortunately, I know nothing about Dremmels. Help!

  10. Jeanne,
    I knew that I had an old iron and it drove me nuts trying to locate it. Hee Haw !!!
    I did locate it and have already started to use it. The metal block that I normally use is small and not always practical when working on a project.
    Other items that I have located on my yard sale scavanger hunts are. An awl that
    someone had made out of an old railroad tie. This works great and puts an awesome design on my projects. Another great tool I located was a boat anchor
    that I use to form my bracelts. I love going to tool yard sales and I always seem
    to find a great tool that is very inexpensive, but on the other hand they seem to have charachter and are very useful.
    Thank you so much for the tip and by the way, your articles are great and I really
    enjoy reading them. They inspire my inner soul and rejuvinate my desire to be creative..
    Janine Brown

  11. It’s me again, I bought a Third hand. I not sure this qualifies as a metal smith tool but it sure comes in handy when I solder jump rings and findings. I find that when I make bracelets, I tend to put a lot of beads, metal swirls and charms on them. To ensure that the bracelet doesn’t break easily under the weight, I will solder the jumprings. I finally got a metal bench block and nylon mallet. I couldn’t wait to harden and flatten some copper wire charms. My next purchase will be a torch, butane hand torch, I’m too much of a scary cat to get anything else.

    Crazy to bead

  12. Hi there Ms. Jean,
    I just read yourarticle and found it interesting. I am still learning and have the problem of not being satisfied with my results (I’ve been practicing for over three years). My question is when working with round wire (dead soft or half-hard), how do you keep the wire from twisting or/and kinking. I’ve tried taping it and that makes it difficult to form or wrap for cabachons. When I work my seed beads the finished project doesn’t have the stability that I feel it needs, It feels “floppy or flimsy” like it will fall apart or the work can be spread with the fingers. How do I leave enough slack for movement without losing the necessary tension. Thank you in advance for any suggestions. foxfyr64

  13. I borrowed my husband’s safety wire pliers (which is used to properly twist safety wire so that bolts, etc. don’t fall of racing motorcycles). The pliers lets me grip one end of a folded piece of wire and with the other end clamped to something solid, be able to quickly make twisted wire which has perfectly spaced twists in it. I LOVE this tool and told him where in my jewlery work table he can find it when he needs it again!

    I also now have the materials to make a sand bag for workhardening pieces withouth changing their shape. I couldn’t find one so decided that with heavy leather, my sewing machine and fine sand, I could make one.

  14. I see that you actually wrote this in January, but I’m responding now because I have finally gotten myself a drill press. I have been investigating them for years and then stumbled on one on Amazon for $31. It’s called the Dremel workstation and covers basic functions, but I am thrilled. I think it will suite my needs fine.
    Now I just have to get it assembled. I know it gets difficult being able to afford these larger tools, but by shopping around, I always find a good deal on what I am looking for. A mill roller is next. I actually found one in the Otto Frei catalog for $250. Not the Cadillac of mill rollers, but again, I’m sure it will serve my rather humble purposes.

  15. Foxyfyr wrote: ” When I work my seed beads the finished project doesn’t have the stability that I feel it needs, It feels “floppy or flimsy” like it will fall apart or the work can be spread with the fingers. How do I leave enough slack for movement without losing the necessary tension.”

    If you want a stiffer piece, try using Fireline. The finished project does not give as much drape as when using Nymo, but it does yield a more stable project.

    If you prefer Nymo (which I do), you might want to try this: Cut a length of thread you plan to use. Quickly run it through a heated hair flat-iron, by tugging the Nymo a bit at a time. Or, you can secure the thread into the barrel of a heated curling iron, and then wrap the thread around the closed barrel once, then gently tug on the end. The idea is to heat the thread and stretch it a bit simultaneously. You’ll end up with a nice, straight piece of thread which will not be too stretchy. Your seed-beaded piece will have the drape of Nymo, but will not stretch out of shape.

    For somewhat complicated stitches, such as St. Petersburg weave, or spots in other weaves/patterns that seem to lose tension: follow your thread path once again. Going through the beads the second time helps to firm things up.

    These tips should help stabilize your beadwork!