Tool Tips: Files



As with pliers and hammers, there are an astonishing variety of files on the market. They come in different shapes, sizes and cuts. Choosing the right one for the task is essential to ensure you achieve a good quality finish.

Files are used for removing excess material from a piece, such as after sawing to neaten the finished edge and to create a graduated finish to an edge. We always recommend to beginners that when sawing, work on the outside of the line and use a file to work the edge the line afterwards if necessary.

The cut of the file describes the arrangement of the teeth and therefore the amount of material that the file will remove. Cuts range from 0 which is the coarsest and will therefore remove the most material to 6 which is the finest which will remove the least material and will also leave the least marks as a result. The most frequently used file is a medium cut one, such as 2 as this will remove excess material quickly and leave only light marking which can easily be removed by emerying.

The shape of the file that you choose will depend upon the shape of the piece you are working on. If you are working on a flat edge, you will need to use a flat file. Also a convex curved edge, such as the outer edge of a disc, requires a flat file. A curved file is needed for a concave edge, such as the inside of a ring.

Needle and hand files are the ones most commonly used in making jewellery. Needle files have an integral handle and are smaller than hand files.

Files generally have teeth on both sides however, safety backed files are available with teeth in only 1 side so that tight spaces can be filed without causing damage.

The most common shapes are ‘flat’ for general use on flat and convex curves, ‘square’ for use in groves and right angles, ‘three square files’ for tight angles and spaces and ‘round’ and ‘D Shape’ for use inside curves.

As the teeth of a file only cut in one direction, avoid sawing backwards and forwards across the edge of your piece, you’re wasting your energy, blunting your file and potentially damaging your piece. Work with the direction of the teeth by filing away from you.

Never file on the same spot, work across the full length of the edge using long strokes and applying firm pressure to ensure a neat, even finish. When filing a convex curve use a flat file in a sweeping motion across the curve.

Ensure that your piece is secured in a non marking vice as an unstable working surface can lead to mistakes and inaccuracies.

Mark the point that you are working to and frequently assess the piece to ensure that you don’t file too far.

Filing is a skill that will take time to master; however with practice you are developing a precision technique that will give you great control over shaping metal.

Tool Tips: Hammers


In our continuing series focusing on essential tools, here we look at hammers. There is a bewildering array of hammers out there and choosing the right one for the job is vital to get the best finish possible and to avoid damage, both to your piece and to your other tools.

Different hammers are used with sheet metal to bend and shape it to create the desired finished effect. As you are using your hammers to strike your piece it is important that the heads are kept clean and highly polished as any defect in the surface of the hammer will be transferred to your piece with each strike. Similarly, any surface your piece is placed on whilst hammering that has any damage to the surface will be transferred to the back of your piece as you strike it. Hammering in particular demonstrates the need to show your tools as much care and respect as you do your pieces.

It is important to remember that hammering will cause your piece to become work hardened so frequent annealing is essential, as work hardened sheet will become brittle and may crack or even break.
Here we offer you a guide to the hammers you might expect to find in a silversmith’s kit and explain their individual uses.

Household hammer
A household hammer or jobing hammer is the first hammer you will need. Every other hammer that you use will come into contact with the surface of your finished piece and as such needs to be kept clean and highly polished and used only for its intended purpose. However, you will also need to hit other tools with a hammer as you work on your piece, for example doming tools or a centre punch are hit with a hammer to imprint the surface of the metal. If you use your jewellery hammers for this purpose you will damage them and this will in turn cause damage to your piece. Having a household hammer in your tool kit enables you to hit other steel tools without having to be concerned that the surface of your hammer may become damaged.

Rawhide Hammer
As the name implies, a rawhide hammer is typically made of rawhide with a wooden handle. It will usually have a cylindrical head. This hammer won’t mark your metal and is typically used to work harden your piece or to flatten it though it can also be used for planishing.

Planishing Hammer
This hammer is flat or slightly curved and used as part of the finishing process to work out ridges and imperfections from sheet metal, after it has been fashioned into its desired shape using other stretching techniques. Hitting the metal too hard will causing dimpling so a series of softer blows will achieve a more desirable finish. Other hammers can be used for this task, typically a rawhide hammer but this hammer will be less effective on significant imperfections.

Raising Hammer
A raising hammer is typically used to form sheet metal into the desired shape using a series of passes over the metal where the hammer is used to strike the sheet in a particular direction causing it to change shape. It is usually done in conjunction with a stake which helps to form the metal into the desired shape. Care should be taken as raising will cause the sheet to become thinner the more it is struck and frequent annealing will be required.

Texturing Hammer
Texturing is the process by which patterns are made in the surface of metal. There are a variety of hammers available that can be used to texture your metal from hammers that are specifically designed for that purpose with designs in the head that will imprint on the metal as it is struck, to hammers that perform other specific functions which can also be used to create a pattern in the metal’s surface. A household hammer can also be used to create a texture but take care if its surface has any marks or damage not to unintentionally damage your piece.

Rivet Hammer
A rivet hammer has one end that is flat and can be used for general purpose and one that is chisel shaped specifically for spreading rivets.

Repousse Hammer
This hammer is used on the reverse surface of the metal to create a pattern by hammering a design that will be raised on the finished side. Chasing is the opposite technique and is used on the finished side to refine the design by sinking the metal from the front.

Tool Tips: Sawing

silver_01_072Our series of articles focusing on tools looks at how to use your saw.

One of the first things you will have learnt on a silversmithing course is how to use a saw, including fitting the blade. So here’s a reminder of what to do.

A piercing or jewellers saw is used to cut sheet metal such as silver, copper or brass. This type of saw can be used to cut everything from a straight line to complex shapes with multiple piercings.

The saw has 3 component parts, a frame for holding the saw blade, a handle for gripping the saw and the blade which is held in place by 2 clamps, one at the top and one at the bottom of the frame with a further screw at the back of the frame to hold the blade at the correct tension.

It’s worth mentioning that the quality of your saw frame will greatly influence the accuracy of your sawing. Cheap frames can bend, the clamps can become loose and the blade can twist. If you find yourself sawing a perfect diagonal line, this may be because your blade is twisted; it may also be because your saw frame is not square, all difficulties associated with a poor quality saw.

To fit the blade:

Gently rest the handle onto the upper part of your abdomen so that the frame faces away from you and rest the frame in the bench pin.  You may have to adjust your seating position to achieve this.

Unscrew the clamps at the top and bottom of the frame ready to insert the blade.  The back screw will already be loose at this stage.

Take told of your blade, to make sure that the teeth are facing you run your finger up the length of it. You should be able to feel the sharpness of the teeth against your skin. If there is no resistance, then you have it either upside down, back to front or both!

There is a blank section at the top and bottom of the blade with no teeth. These ends should be inserted into the clamps at the top and bottom of the saw frame, approximately 1cm will be sufficient, and the clamps are then tightened to hold the blade in position.

Apply pressure to the bottom end of the back of the saw frame and tighten the screw to put tension on the blade.  Tapping on the bench is a good way to achieve this.

Pluck the blade like a guitar string and if it makes a pleasant twang sound then you have the correct tension to begin sawing.  Apply beeswax to lubricate the blade.

It is important that you sit in the correct position with your chest level with the metal. This will reduce fatigue in your hands, wrist, neck and shoulders and reduce the chances of snapping your saw blade by giving you more control over the saw.

Draw the saw gently up and down the metal ensuring that you hold the saw so that the blade remains vertical to your metal and that you do not force the saw forward. Again, this will cause your blade to snap. The teeth of the blade will bite into the metal and do all the work for you, all you need to do is guide it in the direction you want it to go.

Use the bench pin to support your metal. If it is well supported by the bench pin, the metal will not move and the chances of snapping your blade are reduced.

To change direction, move the metal not the direction of your sawing. You should always be sawing away from you. Gently move the metal as you continue to saw until you have turned the piece to the direction you want your saw to be going.

If you want to turn a sharp corner, saw up and down on the spot as you turn the metal through the degrees necessary to change direction before going forward again.

If your blade gets stuck, gently reverse or let go of the metal, so the blade loosens, then carry on forward again.

Remember to keep your fingers out of the way of your blade, saw blade cuts hurt and bleed a lot!

Don’t be surprised if your blade breaks, even if you are following all the advice. Despite cutting through metal, blades are fragile things and break with great frequency, even for the most experienced silversmith but with practice you will break fewer.

Saw blades come in a variety of different sizes. The size of the blade is determined by the number of teeth per inch, the more teeth, the finer  the blade. As a general rule you should choose a blade size that ensures that you have at least 3 teeth on the metal at all times.

Tool Tips: Pliers


Every jewellery maker needs pliers. Pliers are different from scissors or sheers in that their noses or jaws always meet each other.  Pliers come in a baffling array of shapes and sizes. You can buy sets of pliers and still find you need a variety of nose that you don’t have. However, a set that gives you round nose, chain nose, flat nose, crimping pliers and cutters will be enough for starters. Make sure that you choose pliers with stainless steel noses; they are harder to mark than those made with a softer metal and so will be more durable and less likely to mark your piece. Consider the length of the nose and the types of piece you want to make and also think about the size of the handle. It needs to fit comfortably in your hand and as hand sizes aren’t universal, neither are the handles of pliers! The handles should be covered in a softer material; this is to improve the handling and will also protect you from electrical conductivity when working with metal. Look for pliers with sprung handles as this will reduce the amount of work your hands will have to do.

Round nosed pliers are essential for making loops. They generally have a tapered nose meaning that the size of your loop will be determined by the position on your pliers’ nose that you make your turn, the nearer to the end, the smaller the loop. So when choosing a pair, it’s important to think about the sizes of loops you might want to be making. Small noses = smaller loops. They are also effective when opening loops and jump rings. Because of the round ends, they aren’t very useful for gripping.

Chain nosed pliers, sometimes known as snipe nosed pliers, they are flat on the inside of the nose and round on the outside and are often tapered. They are used for a variety of different functions in jewellery making so it is difficult to categorize them. They are often described as an extra pair of hands as they can be used to hold your piece whilst working on it or can be used for holding component parts of your piece, bending and manipulating wire, particularly where your fingers are too big for the job. They can be used to bend wire to a 90 degree angle and used for crimping. The tapered tip makes them very handy for getting into small spaces within a piece and for tucking in loose ends.

Flat nosed pliers are useful for gripping and finishing. Unlike chain nose pliers, they do not taper at the tip meaning that there is a greater surface area for holding your piece. They can be used to flatten kinked or out of shape wire and can be used to make deliberate bends in wire where you want to achieve a sharper angle. They can be used for crimping (squeezing ends together); the leverage created by the jaws amplifies the power of your hand and allows for greater force to be applied. Flat nose pliers can also be used help manoeuvre or manipulate objects too small to be done by hand such as stabilise jump rings and loops for opening.

Crimping Pliers, a tool specifically designed for securing crimp beads. Whilst flat and chain nosed pliers can be used for this purpose, for a more polished finish crimping pliers are essential. Take a look at the jaws; they have grooves in them which line up when you close them creating 2 holes in the nose. The second hole is used to curl the crimp bead and then the first one to compress the curl into a round shape.

Wire cutters are an indispensible tool for jewellery makers who work with wire. There is no household tool that can be used as a substitute. They cut the wire by indenting and wedging the wire apart. They are used to cut specific lengths when making a piece and for trimming excess from finished ends. There are 2 main types; Side Cutters and Flush Cutters. Side Cutters are usually used for cutting lengths and trimming excess. Flush cutters are then used finish off ends as they can be used flush to your piece in a way that side cutters cannot. They are usually more expensive but are essential to getting a good finish without sharp or protruding edges.

The right tool for the job?

silver_01_074Successful jewellery making requires the correct tools.  There are plenty of ways to improvise with items that you’ll find around the house but there comes a time in your jewellery making career when you can advance no further without a few tools.  Once you start your collection, you’ll want to keep building it.

So in a series of articles about tools, we aim to give you an unbiased guide to what tools you might need, their uses and how to get the best out of them.

Spend what you can afford.  With jewellery making tools, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ really is true. And what you spend can be limitless. It is better to spend what you can afford than to buy cheap and keep replacing them. You’ll spend more in the long run. So once you have decided that jewellery making is for you, consider spending a little more and buy something that will last you well. A few carefully chosen good quality tools will last you a lifetime. In years to come you’ll have your favourite saw frame with it’s softly worn handle but no rust or tarnishing and you’ll be convinced that no other saw frame will cut in a straight line!

Another important factor to bear in mind is that not all tools are made specifically for making jewellery and whilst there is room for household tools in your jewellery making kit, tools that are not used exclusively for making jewellery can pick up damage that will mark your piece so it’s worth keeping your jewellery tools well away from your household tool kit and taking the necessary time to care for them.

If you treat your tools with respect and care, they will provide you with years of service.

What Exactly Is 925 Sterling Silver?

silver_01_045What Exactly Is 925 Sterling Silver? By Ashley Shameli

A great deal of silver jewellery available today is called 925 silver. Have you ever wandered why we in the jewellery trade add the number 925 in front of sterling silver? Before you part with your hard-earned money buying jewellery for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, it is worth finding out what exactly 925 silver is. Furthermore, it is important to understand why you must always insist that your silver jewellery is up to the high 925 standard.

Before we look at what 925 silver is, we must first consider the properties of this fascinating metal. Pure silver is extremely malleable and therefore can easily damage. It also softens over time, even at room temperature.

Obviously, in this state silver is useless for jewellery purposes. To avoid the problems of malleability and softening, and thus to increase the life-span of your silver jewellery, other metals are added to the pure silver. The result of this blending process with alloys is a combined silver and alloy substance which is far more resistant to scratching and damage.

925 sterling silver jewellery is actually a combination of 92.5% silver and usually 7.5% copper. Sometimes the craftsman replaces copper with another material, or even a combination of materials. Over the last decade lower copper prices and an abundance of copper due to improved refining techniques have made it the first choice of many designers and jewellery stylists.

The beneficial properties gained by adding the copper to the pure silver have made the resulting product extremely popular with a host of silver craftsmen. Earrings, rings, bracelets and all other forms of jewellery can be carefully designed with the assurance that each intricate bend and turn will remain firmly in place.

925 silver is therefore a combination of mostly pure silver and a lower percentage of infused alloy metal. The addition of copper, or occasionally a similar copper-like substitute, helps to enhance your silver jewellery and does not in any way detract from its quality.

It is important to check that your silver jewellery is high quality 925 sterling silver before making a purchase. In the UK nearly all 925 sterling silver jewellery is hallmarked. All of the silver jewellery Purdice sells complies with relevant hallmarking requirements. If you are purchasing in another country, we advise you to check with the regional or national silver jewellery hallmarking body to find out if retailers can sell inferior lower grade silver jewellery without informing you.

Remember that in many countries the 925 hallmark is an assurance to you that your silver is of the highest quality.

About the Author: Ashley Shameli, the author of this article, is a director of He also contributes to the Purdice Jewellery library of interesting jewellery facts at


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Caring For and Cleaning Your Precious Silver Jewellery

[singlepic id=8 w=320 h=240 float=center]Caring For and Cleaning Your Precious Silver Jewellery

Cleaning your silver jewellery can be a bit scary. Because our jewellery is often precious to us; we don’t want to take the risk of causing any damage and will often continue to wear jewellery that has tarnished rather than attempt to return it to its former shiny state.
So here’s the science bit - silver jewellery in particular has a tendency to tarnish; this tarnishing, or a dulling of the surface which will gradually turn your jewellery black is caused by hydrogen sulphide which is present in the air. It reacts with the silver and the black substance that this reaction creates is called Silver Sulphate. So that’s what it is and how it gets there. But what can you do about it?

Whilst tarnish is more of an annoyance than a real problem there is nothing that can be done to prevent it from occurring because as long as your jewellery is exposed to the air, tarnishing will happen. However, there are steps you can take to make sure that it is reduced.
Tempting as it is to have all your lovely jewellery on display, by keeping pieces that you are not wearing in a sealed container, such as a re-sealable plastic bag with as much of the air squeezed out as possible, you are reducing the exposure to air and reducing tarnishing. Don’t use a rubber band to seal the bag because as rubber decays, it releases sulphur, newspaper, silk, clingy plastic wrapping and leather should also be avoided for this reason.

Items worn regularly, despite being constantly exposed to air, will not show signs of tarnishing as the daily activities of life will help to keep them clean. However, you should definitely remove jewellery when engaged in some household tasks as there is a possibility of tarnishing or worse!

Chlorine, ammonia and bleach will all dissolve silver and cause damage to your piece. In the more extreme cases, delicate parts such as the claws of a stone setting may become so damaged that your piece will require expensive repairs. When swimming, using a hot tub or cleaning always remove jewellery to protect it.

Chopping onions could make you cry for a different reason as onions and other strong smelling foods such as eggs and fish have a higher component of ammonia. Stoking the fire and bar-b-q-ing aren’t good for your silver either because smoke from burning fossil fuels is rich in hydrogen sulphide.

There are many suggestions for cleaning your jewellery from using household items found in your kitchen to buying expensive chemicals. But the good news is that you don’t really need to spend any money to clean your silver.

Remember, silver is easily scratched so take care not to use any abrasive products. Tooth brushes and scourers should be avoided! Don’t use toothpaste or baking soda. Your fingers or cotton buds are the best and softest options to protect your precious pieces whilst cleaning them.

A few drops of a mild washing up liquid and some warm water is all it takes to make your jewellery shiny again. Washing your jewellery will keep it clean and prevent it from building up the black tarnish covering which is much harder to remove. This is what you do to your rings every time you wash up and you may have noticed already that they rarely need to be cleaned!

Before you store your newly clean and shining pieces, make sure that they are completely dry, ideally by laying them flat and air drying them over night. A damp atmosphere will contribute to the tarnishing of silver jewellery, so storing your pieces without fully drying them will undo all your heard work!

Once washed, if your piece still looks a little dull use a cloth to create a higher shine but again, remembering that silver is a soft metal that is easily scratched, take care to use a soft cloth that is clean. Don’t rub in circles and change direction frequently to avoid creating lines.
So cleaning your silver jewellery doesn’t need to be a scary experience anymore, it’s no more problematic than doing the washing up!

Great Tips for Working with Silver Art Clay

As we count down to the launch of our June online course video's where we introduce you to Silver Art Clay for the first time, here are some great tips for working with Silver Art Clay in an article by Christine Grierer.

Silver clay? What the heck is that?

Silver clay, precious metal clay, art metal clay, and art clay silver are all different terms and types of "clay" that can be magically turned into silver and gold.

These innovative metal clays were introduced to the North American market in the nineties. Jewelry enthusiasts and hobbyists can now form and shape expensive metal as easily as plasticine.

Here is how it works. Gold and silver metal clays are composed of fine metal particles suspended in an organic binder. This binder enables you to mold and shape the clay as you would potter's clay. When you are happy with the form, you let your project dry for a minimum of 24 hours ( or more ). You then fire it in a kiln or by employing a hand torch. The binder burns away, leaving the fused metal behind in the form you shaped it.

Before you grab a pile of silver clay and go at it though, you will need to keep 1 or 2 rules under consideration. Silver clay is expensive, so you don't want to waste it.

Silver Clay Tips

Here are a number of tips for working with silver clay :

*Metal clays shrink 10-30% when fired. Be certain to check your package for shrinkage levels especially if you're making rings or other objects that need to be exact fits.

*Not all metal clays can be hand torch fired. If you will not be employing a kiln be sure to check that your type of silver clay is "low fire".

*Only little pieces should be torch fired. Pieces larger than 25g should be kiln fired.

*Silver clay isn't cheap. The gold version especially is extraordinarily costly. Be certain to shop thoroughly and follow instructions punctiliously so you do not burn your money fruitlessly.

*Metal Clay simply takes on impressions of other objects (and fingerprints too). Experiment with different textures and objects to make imprints onto the wet clay.

*Gemstones that can stand up to the heat of firing can be set into the wet clay.

*Be bound to let your metal clay dry fully before firing. Firing damp clay will not work and you won't be a content camper.

*Metal clays are sticky to touch so be certain to coat everything with a thin film of olive oil or other release agent. This implies coat your hands, your tools, and working surface. Just a touch of oil will do, so don't go too far.

*You can improve drying time by placing your piece in a low heat stove. ( 150-200 degrees fahrenheit ). Pieces finely than your palm generally take approximately 24 hours to totally dry and toughen without the oven treatment.

*Sand your dried and hardened piece before firing. If you don't like fingerprints, you won't be in a position to remove them after firing.

*Metal clay is water soluble and can be fell with water. Keep a small bowl of water or a spritzer handy while you're employed. If it begins to dry out while working, you are able to add a bit of water to dampen it.

*Buying smaller packages beats larger because you won't have to worry about the entire block drying out.

Now you have some silver clay tenets, I bet you are psyched. You need to work with this inventive material now! What will you make first?

About the Author: Want to discover more about silver clay? Read more


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Working with Silver Art Clay


In June we will be publishing our latest on line course videos, focusing on working with Silver Art Clay. This is an interesting and versatile medium that is easy to use at home. The article below by Adam Hunter - E-commerce Marketing Manager of explains more about working with Precious Metal Clay.

Silver metal clay allows for an array of jewellery designs that are not possible with traditional silver-smithing techniques. Silver metal clay is made of pure silver molecules mixed with water and organic binders to form a clay. Once fired the binders burn away to leave almost pure silver, which can make stunning pieces for you to share.

You can make almost anything with precious metal clay, with silver items looking particularly high quality. You can make anything from delicate bracelets to chunky rings. Silver clay allows you to make pieces for both men and women and looks great with any stone, gem or bead. There are varying degrees of difficulty, so you can create something yourself or follow an instruction guide depending on how easy or hard you want your piece to be.

You can shape and use metal clay best on a slick, smooth surface in the same way ceramic clay is used. It can be pressed into moulds, textured using special plates or tools, made into three-dimensional work, or flat pieces. Silver metal clay can even be purchased in a paper form, which allows items, such as origami, to be made into solid pieces of silver.

You don’t even need specialist tools when it comes to working with silver clay. Most use things from around the house to create shapes and imprint patterns onto the clay and some say using two stacks of playing cards a few inches apart on a flat sheet of plastic and rolling a piece of clay over can help you create a smooth and flat strip. There are, of course, more professional tools that you can buy for those who are truly skilled and have a lot of experience working with silver clay.

Be sure to let your clay air dry properly before firing. This will usually take overnight to be completely dry. Then you can fire your item. You can use a specialist oven or toaster oven or you could even use a hairdryer but this may take longer. Silver metal clay will come with instructions on basic handling and proper firing temperatures. And firing techniques may also vary depending on the inclusion of other materials, such as gemstones.

Once your work is done firing it will appear to be white. Polishing it with a wire brush will bring out the silver colour and a high polish can also be achieved. Beautiful colours can also be produced on the silver by using liver of sulphur at various temperatures for differing lengths of time.

Try experimenting with your own finishes to find out what works best and what you like most. A high shine on the silver makes it look elegant and expensive but a more matte finish looks better when created jewellery for men and they tend to prefer jewellery that is less flashy.

So now you can assemble your jewellery. Whether you create items just for yourself or as gifts for friends and family, you can be sure they will love the fact that you have taken time and effort to design and make something especially for them. Lots of keen jewellery makers also sell a lot of their products, by having their own market stalls and websites. So you never know, something you make today could lead to a profitable business further down the line.


Casting Using Cuttle Fish

We kick started the half term with a lesson on casting using cuttle fish in the advanced class. This was great fun, though not a 100% successful, it is difficult to maintain the temperature of the silver, or to get it hot enough to pour successfully through the funnel into the mould. We will be having another go next week though!

In our beginners class everyone successfully cut out their first piece in copper and Sarah who joined last term soldered her first piece. Another enjoyable night, I'm looking forward to seeing some new designs this term.

If you've worked with cuttle fish please let us know how you got on, we'll be taking photo's next Wednesday in the second class so look out for the update.