Anyone Can Make Silver Jewelry - Really!

Oct 23, 2011

Tammy Jones is the online editor of Jewelry Making Daily.

From Jennifer: The closest I ever came to making silver jewelry was the time I decided to take a class in making sterling silver beads, but had to back out at the last minute because I couldn't find a baby-sitter. So when it comes to silver jewelry-making, I have to live vicariously through my silversmith friends. If you've ever been curious about the steps in making silver jewelry, Jewelry Making Daily's Tammy Jones has a great overview of the five basic steps of making silver jewelry. Enjoy!

If the word silversmithing intimidates you, get ready to get excited!

I once had a discussion with Jewelry Making Daily's Facebook friends about what we wish someone had told us when we first started making silver jewelry. What do I wish I had known years ago? Silversmithing is not that hard. It's not an extremely difficult process for only the most advanced jewelers, using scary jewelry-making tools. Thanks to a great teacher, I learned to do it quickly, and soon you'll see that you can do it, too.

5 Steps of Silver Jewelry Making
There are basically only five steps from the design in your mind to the ring on your finger-or whatever piece of jewelry you want to make. Many silver jewelry-making projects won't even require all five steps. By breaking silversmithing down into manageable steps and learning them one by one, I realized that creating custom silver jewelry is an achievable (and extremely fun) process.

Sawing: A good silversmithing teacher will tell you that the keys to successful metal sawing are to have a good saw with the best blades you can afford and to master an effective sawing technique. Start with a 2/0 saw blade for best all-around use, and move on to a 4/0 once you get the hang of it. Later, a 6/0 saw blade is best for intricate silversmithing work. Lube your saw blade with Burlife, beeswax, or Gemlube and strive for a steady rhythm with a fluid sawing motion. 
Filing: The better you get at sawing, the less filing you'll have to do. The hardest part about filing for me was remembering which direction to move the file. Hint: It's not like filing your nails! File only in one direction: away from you. Files are generally flat or half-round, and they are sized by number. The higher the number of the file, the finer the cut it will make. Therefore, #0 and #1 files are large-tooth files that will rapidly remove the most metal in the least amount of time. If your sawed piece has a very irregular or flawed edge, these are the files you'll want to start with to fix it. If you can only buy one file, buy a #2 file; it's a good, almost-all-purpose, medium-tooth file. For finer work, move up to smaller-tooth  #4 and #6 files. Clean metal bits from files after use with a file card.

Metalworking (Forging, Hammering, Texturing, Dapping and Doming, etc.): A rawhide or plastic mallet can bend and form metal into just about any shape you like to make a ring, bracelet, or necklace. Silversmithing hammers are available with just about any texture you can imagine, to create any effect you desire. Practice the hammering, texturing, and other metal-forming aspects of silversmithing on less expensive metals such as copper and then move onto silver when you're familiar with what effect each hammer creates. Or use dapping blocks - these are like molds that help you turn flat pieces of metal into domed pieces of metal. That's simple enough, right?

Soldering: The more you work with a torch, the more comfortable you'll get with it. You'll learn to tell the difference between an oxidizing, reducing and neutral flame; how to move the flame at just the right speed and just the right height as you pass over your silver jewelry piece to heat it; how much flux to use to adequately protect your piece but not make a mess of your fire brick; just the right spot to place your bits of solder and what it looks like when it melts and when it flows; and how to determine the temperature of your metal by the appearance of the flux. You'll also learn how to use pickle solution to clean silver jewelry before and after soldering.

Finishing (Texturing, Burnishing, Buffing, Polishing, Patinating): After soldering, you'll probably have to file some more, sand a bit, and clean off any firescale that the pickle left behind. Depending on what you're making, you might add more texture to your silver jewelry designs at this point. The next step in finishing your silver jewelry is to use rouge and a buffing wheel to polish the silver to a smooth, perfect shine or to buff out small imperfections. Adding patina to your silver jewelry designs with liver of sulfur or through some other means can create an antiqued look, enhance texture and details in your designs, and completely change the look of shiny white silver to dark. (It can also highlight flaws, so you have to make sure that any finishing techniques are done before you apply patina!)

Naturally, this is a simplified version of silversmithing, but it makes sense, right? And now that you've seen that making silver jewelry isn't a scary, impossible undertaking, you're ready to make some silver jewelry of your own. If you've ever wanted to learn how to make your own silver jewelry, this is the book for you! Elizabeth Bone's Silversmithing for Jewelry Makers includes everything you ever wanted to know about making silver jewelry including basic silversmithing techniques as well as more advanced projects using metal clay and delicate filigrees. Pre-order your copy of Silversmithing for Jewelry Makers and add this valuable jewelry-making resource to your library.

Have you ever tried silversmithing techniques? Have you ever taken a class in silver jewelry making? What were your experiences? Did you love it or hate it? Leave a comment on the blog and share your thoughts with us!

Bead Happy,


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LynnB@52 wrote
on Oct 24, 2011 8:26 AM

Good article Jennifer!

Having said that, I 'd like to point out that the use of the term "silversmith" is used incorrectly both in your article and in the title of the new book. It is a common misconception to use the term to describe anyone who makes jewelry using silver. Silversmithing is the art of turning silver and gold sheetmetal into hollowware (dishes, bowls, cups, vases, urns, etc.), flatware (silverware), and other articles of household silver. A person who makes smaller scale items such as jewelry is known as a goldsmith.

The essential difference between a goldsmith and a silversmith is not the material they work with. A goldsmith can do the job in silver and a silversmith can do the job in gold. The difference is in the size of the objects they work in.

studio47 wrote
on Oct 27, 2011 10:35 AM

I am a professional Metalsmith  sometimes it "other" metals... sometimes its silver, sometimes it's gold, ...and I am disturbed by your demonstrating such an approach to what is a much more involved craft, Saying that this is a simplified version is an understatement. You mention nothing about safety! If you have an image with a TORCH in it you should impart the safety precautions necessary when using a torch. You have an image with a power tool in it. You have an image with a saw in it telling people to develop a rhythm. Do you have any idea what can happen to beginners while they are trying to develop a rhythm. SAFTEY IN METALSMITH ING SHOULD ALWAYS BE FIRST!!! You mention nothing about MSDS sheets or disposal and handling precautions which must be taken when using chemical pickles and flux as well as solder. Ventilation information is a safety essential no mention of that either.  You don't tell people what a fire brick is and why it is so critical in the torching process. You are doing your readers a major disservice not providing more essential details. Many amateurs out there will see this as "easy" and go head long into it without knowing the proper precautions necessary in handling these hazardous materials. It is unfortunate that those with simplified knowledge of this craft are giving others information that is so lacking. You know...a little knowledge is a...........Following your lead readers will never produce high quality metalworks I understand you are posting this to sell a book with more details but there are people who will see your demonstration and try it without the book! A lot of books I have seen over the years don't cover the essential either. One without experience should find an expert silversmith or metalsmith and take classes before trying this on their own! It will be well worth the investment.

As to the comment from LYNN is obvious that you are neither a silversmith , goldsmith or a metalsmith....a Wikipedia definition not accurate and is for the unskilled trying to project that they know something about a craft but they don't . It is important that persons who are not experts in this craft do not give amateurs "canned" definitions from sites that are not experts in this craft either.. To all those amateurs who are reading this. SAFETY FIRST. LEARN FROM AN EXPERT..IT IS NOT AS EASY AS YOU THINK!