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Explorations in Metalsmithing: Creative Chain Making

Lesson 1 of 22

Prerequisite #1: Basic Metalsmithing Tools


Explorations in Metalsmithing: Creative Chain Making

Lesson 1 of 22

Prerequisite #1: Basic Metalsmithing Tools


Lesson Info

Prerequisite #1: Basic Metalsmithing Tools

Hey, everyone! I'm Megan Auman, designer and metalsmith, and in this lesson, I want to show you guys all of the tools you need to get started in metalsmithing. I know that one of the biggest misconceptions is that you need a ton of tools or maybe even a torch to get started and that is totally not true. In fact, all of the projects that you see here were created using just the tools that I'm going to introduce you to in this lesson. Now, if you happen to purchase or RSVP for one of my hands-on classes, you will also get a PDF with links where you can buy all of these tools. But, for now, I just want to show you guys so that you're really familiar and comfortable when you start working with them. I'm gonna show you some basic tools first and then I'll show you a few extra things if you want to dive in and get a little bit more creative but as I mentioned, everything here you can create with just the tools I'm about to show you. So, let's go ahead and get started. Now, the first thing th...

at you're gonna need is a saw frame and this is really the most important tool for creating all of this work because it lets you cut out all of these shapes. Anything you can imagine, you can do with a saw frame. Now, saw frames come in a couple of different depths. So, this is a three inch saw frame. This is a four inch saw frame. Really, the only difference is how deep you can cut into your metal. I think when you're starting out, unless you want to make something completely giant, and, let's face it, you're probably not going to make something any bigger than the earrings I'm wearing here. You can get away with a three inch saw frame. It's gonna give you a lot of control. So, this is our most important tool but it doesn't work without our saw blades. So, saw blades are tiny. They come in, usually, these little packs of 12. They come in a lot of different sizes. So, the way that our saw blades work is that they're numbered. They go up from zero to, I don't know, something pretty high, like eight and in those cases, the higher the number, the thicker the saw blade. But, they also go down from zero and something that's labeled 1/0, which is actually pronounced one-aught. Don't worry if you've never heard that before but now you know. If it's 1/0, it's one-aught. If it's 2/0, it's two-aught. So, from there, they get thinner the further you go down so an eight-aught is gonna be much, much thinner than a one-aught. Now, most of what you see here was created out of either 20 or 22 gauge metal so we're working with a fairly thin gauge of metal here and we'll talk about that more in the classes because choosing the right metal really depends on the project that you're doing but for all of these kinds of projects, I usually recommend about a one-aught saw blade. What you're looking for is something that's not gonna break too easily for you but you also don't want it to be so thick that it's hard to make these really delicate shapes. So, something like this, you want a thinner saw blade so that you've got room to maneuver. Now, we're not gonna get into actually how to saw here, but I do want to talk about how to put your saw blade into your saw frame so that you're not totally clueless. So, we've got our saw blade here and you can't see this because it's tiny. I'm actually, quite frankly, holding it up to my face. It's pretty hard to see as well. But, if you run your fingernail down your saw blade, you can feel that it's directional. Our teeth actually point in a direction and what I want are for these tiny little teeth to point down which means when I run my fingernail across it, I'm not catching. If I were upside-down, my fingernail would catch and it would do horrible things to my nails. So, I'm gonna make sure that my teeth are pointed down and then when I'm putting it in my saw frame, I'm gonna make sure they're also pointed out. So, down and out. Then, I'm just gonna go ahead and put this here into the top piece of my saw blade. Now, if you're watching this and you've tried to saw in the past and you've broken a lot of saw blades, it's probably because you had the tension wrong so before I tighten the second half, I like to make sure I've got a little bit of room here to flex my saw blade so this doesn't hit the end of this piece. I've got about maybe a little under half an inch there. So then, what I'll do is I'm gonna go ahead and I'm gonna lean on this a little. What I like to do, some people put them right against their sternum and that hurts, so I like to hold it in my hand and actually then push my sternum against my hand. Push this in here and get it nice and tight. If you feel like it's not tightening for you, we can take our pliers, which we'll get to in a second, just give it a tiny little turn. Now, what I'm looking for is if I hit it with my fingernail, I've got this nice little high-pitched ping. That means we're all set up and ready to go. All right, now, to actually make your saw frame work, you are going to need a bench pin. So, there are lots of different kinds of bench pins and in a jeweler's studio, you might find that it's actually mounted in the table, but I like a clamp-on bench pin because you can use it anywhere. So, this is one example of a bench pin. It's got a nice little plate for it, saves you some time. The one thing with this one is we really want a V notched into our bench pin, because that's going to allow us to get in and make those intricate cuts so if you get a bench pin like this, you'll just need to take this to a band saw and put a notch. But, I've got a second bench pin set up here on our table and you can see this bench pin, which is very inexpensive, is also pre-notched and then just clamped right to our table. The most important thing when you're getting set up to saw is that you want to try to put your bench pin at a table so that you're sitting about chest height. The reason for this is that we are actually going to saw vertically. I actually had someone tell me that the first time they tried to saw, they were sawing like this. We don't want to do that. We're gonna hold this nice and vertically and again, we're not getting into how to do that in this video. But, if you've got your bench pin mounted chest height, a counter, a bar, something like that, or just make your chair lower. Now, we're all set up and ready to saw. Now, two more things that we're gonna want for sawing. First of all, we're gonna want a lubricant. I like Bur-Life. There's Cut-Bur, there's all kinds of different things that you can use or, in a pinch, I like to steal a bar of soap from my hotel room. So, that will work in a pinch but these actually do work a little bit better because it's what they're designed to do. If you find that you're sawing and it seems like you're having to do a lot of hard work, just give this a little swipe and now it's gonna be really easy. The other thing I always recommend for sawing are safety glasses. In a second, we're gonna talk about drilling, because sometimes we have to put holes in things. I like to wear them also when I'm sawing because, occasionally, your saw blade breaks and the last place we want it is in our eye. So, speaking of drilling, you'll notice that in some of these projects, we have holes that are cut right out of the center. Even if you're not planning on piercing designs out of the center, you can see that these are all connected with jump rings and I had to drill a hole in those as well. So, at some point, you're gonna need to make a hole in your metal. Now, the best thing to use is anything you can drill with and then actually drill bits. These guys are tiny because we're drilling pretty small holes. You can see I've got some drill bits here, some nice, tiny, little drill bits that are gonna do the size holes that we need. So, in order to use our drill bits, we're either going to need a drill or something like a Dremel, so if you already have a Dremel on hand, you can totally use that, or the other tool is a flex shaft, which is basically a fancy jeweler's Dremel. It's got a little bit more power and that's why people like it. So, with this, I can simply mount my drill bit in here, use my chuck key to tighten it up, and now I'm ready to drill. So, when you drill with a flex shaft, even though it can be held at any angle, you always want to hold it vertically like a drill. Again, always with the safety glasses. So, when I'm using my flex shaft as a drill, I like to just go ahead, hold it vertically, and you just want to drill onto wood. Conveniently, your bench pin is made of wood. So, we can just drill that right in there. So, when you're drilling, whether it's with a flex shaft, or a Dremel, or a drill, you will also need to make sure that you're center punching your metal. We need to make a tiny little divot in our metal in order to make that happen. So, in order to center punch, you're going to need a center punch, which is basically any kind of piece of metal that's ground to a point here. The center punch gets hit with any kind of hammer and you're going to want to do that on a steel block. So, I would put my piece of metal that I wanted to drill, put my center punch and give it a little tap with my hammer. That's an essential step when you're drilling so that's why you need these tools as well. Now, that said, I am all about getting you guys started quickly, so if you don't have a drill or a Dremel at home and you don't want to make the investment in a flex shaft, you can also just get these little hole punch pliers. They're really inexpensive. They cost maybe six or seven dollars and you can use these to put holes in and actually most of these holes, truthfully, were done with these pliers because it's so quick and easy. Now, that said, they only work up to about 22 gauge, so if you're using heavier metal, you are going to want to find something to drill with but if you're just getting started and you don't want to spend $100 on a flex shaft, these $6 hole punch pliers will do the job. But, with everything else that we're doing: safety glasses. Because little bits of metal could fly. All right, so a couple more tools that I like to have on hand, just for finishing and working, I usually keep just a rawhide mallet handy. It's great for bending. It's great for forming. You don't need one, but it is just a nice little tool that we can use to do a little bit of hammering. Once we've got our metal cut out, we will need to do some filing and some finishing. In addition to your saw frame, we are gonna want to get a few files. I like a nice, big, half-round file. It's called half-round because it's flat on one side and half-round on the other. This is great for going around our edges and really shaping our metal. You're also going to want to get a set of needle files. So, they come in a lot of different shapes. This guy looks like a square. We've got a little flat one. Usually they come in a set of 10, so you don't have to make decisions about this. What these are for are for filing and cleaning up the inner shapes of our designs or any little details that we might have. So, you'll need a set of those as well. Then, additionally, you also want to have a few pliers, wire cutters, things like that handy. If you've already been doing any kind of wire work, you probably have these. I use my pliers a lot so I'm a big fan of these kind of fancy parallel pliers. You can see these are narrow, these are a little bit wider. Really, what you're looking for in a good pair of pliers is that this little piece here is flat and not serrated because if it has those little ridges in it, it's going to mar your metal so what I love about these is that I can use them to grip a piece of metal and it's not going to leave any texture in it. I also like a pair of either round, or these are round and flat on one side, because they're great for bending wire and just making little curves. Finally, you should also pick up a pair of wire cutters. That's what we use when we make jump rings and ear wires and anything where we're cutting our wire. So, a couple last tools that you're going to need, here you can see I just like to keep some dowel rods in a variety of sizes. These are perfect for making jump rings, so all our little jump rings here made on a dowel rod. Or, you can even use them to bend shapes, like these cute little hoop earrings that we've got. So you can even make these hoop earrings with just what we're doing in this class. Finally, the last thing that you're gonna want is some sandpaper and this is what we're gonna use to finish our metal. This is gonna take that rough, scratched-up metal that you've been working on and turn it into not super-shiny, sandpaper doesn't do that, but a nice even matte finish. So, in addition to all our basic tools for working, I also want to talk really quickly about some design tools because when we're in this class, I'm not just gonna teach you guys how to copy one of my designs from start to finish. I'm gonna teach you some design skills so that you can create earrings, necklaces, or whatever jewelry you want that matches your aesthetic and your design vision. So, a few things that you're gonna want to have on hand are a ruler. Always good to have. Really does not matter. Any nice straight-edged ruler is gonna do the trick for you. But, I also like to have some dressmaker's tape, just something that's a little bit flexible. It's really great if you're working with wire. I like this kind that rolls up so it's not a big mess of measuring tape on my bench. You're also going to want some tracing paper and I realize some of us haven't used tracing paper in a while but in jewelry, it has a really specific purpose because what you're gonna do is draw out your designs on tracing paper, usually with a Sharpie, and then we're going to rubber cement them to our metal and that's what's going to allow us to follow along with the pattern as we're cutting. All of the jewelry that you see here can be made with just these basic tools. But now, I want to go ahead and introduce you to just a few more tools that will even help take your jewelry designs to the next level. So, now I just want to show you a couple more nice-to-have tools. Again, everything I just showed you is all you need to create all of the jewelry that we've got here but a few more little things that you might want. You can get yourself a sheet and wire gauge. So, this little guy is just really helpful if you've got different gauges of sheet you don't remember, this will actually measure them for you. Handy little tool to have. A few other things that you might want are a ring clamp, which is perfect for holding small pieces. You can see, I can put this guy in here, clamp it up, and now I don't have to hold it with my hand. I can hold it with this nice thing. Great for filing edges, finishing, things like that. So, the other thing that you may want to get are these little things called cup burs and I know it's really hard to see but in here, the reason they are cup burs, is we've got a little hollowed out shape and what they do is that they actually ball the ends of wire. So, you can see here on an earwire, we want to give it a nice, rounded edge and you can certainly do that with your files but the cup bur works much faster. So, what we do is we just take one of these cup burs, we mount it in the end of our flex shaft. You can see here we just run the edge here and it's gonna round our edge really quickly and we're done. The other thing that you may want to get if you've invested in your flex shaft is there are all kinds of different little wheels, buffing wheels, finishing wheels, polishing wheels, that you can get. So, if you get a flex shaft, you can start to dive in and find some of these things which will make it so that you don't have to necessarily manually sand or finish things. Now, speaking of finishing, the other tool that you may want to have is a tumbler. Now, we don't have one here because I flew from the other side of the country and I was not about to bring one but you can see from this image that this is what a tumbler looks like. If you think about those old rock polishers when we were kids, same thing. There's a couple different styles but they all work the same way. So, basically, what a tumbler does is it mass-finishes your piece. In our barrel, we can put different kinds of media. The green that you can see is actually plastic, so it gives you more of a matte finish, so you can use it for a nice soft, matte, easy finish or, more commonly, people use steel shot. What steel shot does is it gives you this really nice, kind of shiny finish without having to do a ton of polishing. So, this cuff bracelet here, that was finished with the tumbler. So, that's a great tool to invest in if you're doing a lot of work because not only does it make it shiny but it also work-hardens. Sometimes, your metal's going to be really soft. You can see if I hadn't work-hardened this, it would want to kind of bend right here at this spot. So, by tumbling it, now it's work-hardened. I don't have to worry about it bending where it's not supposed to when I use it. All right, a couple more just little things that you might want are some forming tools. So, you can get mandrills. I have a wood one because metal ones are really heavy to carry in your suitcase. But, I have a wood one and this is actually for bracelets. So, I can take my flat bracelet, take my rawhide mallet, bend it right around here. They also make mandrills for rings, so if you're shaping rings, you can buy mandrills for these as well. One last little thing. If you are working with copper or brass or bronze, which are metals that can tarnish over time, you may want to get something like Renaissance Wax and that's gonna seal and coat your metal so that it doesn't tarnish. So, that's it. That's really all you need to get started. So, now that you've got your tools, if you want to learn how to take those tools and turn them into projects just like this, make sure you tune into all my hands-on classes here on CreativeLive.

Class Description

Go beyond the basics of handmade chain making and discover your own creative voice.

There’s no need to buy boring, store-bought chain. In Explorations in Metalsmithing: Creative Chainmaking, you’ll learn the basics of creating your own handmade chain (including how to get comfortable soldering with a torch) and how to take the basics of chain making and add endless variations to create designs that are uniquely yours.

Designer and metalsmith Megan Auman has built her own jewelry line by discovering her signature style in chain making, and now she wants to help you do the same!

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Make and solder jump rings into a basic link-in link-chain.
  • Create variation in your chain making through wire gauge, link size, shape, and more.
  • Hone in on your aesthetic to find a style that’s uniquely you.
  • Finish your chains so they’re sturdy and stunning.
  • Turn your chain making explorations into amazing earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

Whether you’re just getting started in metalsmithing, or you’re looking to inject some creativity into your jewelry designs, you’ll leave this class with the skills and ideas necessary to create your own unique chain. Plus, you’ll explore your ideas by creating a series of chain-link statement earrings - perfect to wear, share, or sell!



Megan' an excellent instructor and lays things out very clearly, with a lot of good tips based on her extensive experience. I've experience making wire wrapped chain and have taken a beginning metalsmithing class before, and this class had some good refresher information. I particularly appreciated seeing her techniques and process for streamlining production.

a Creativelive Student

Megan is an awesome teacher! She is genuinely enthusiastic about sharing her metalsmithing skills with us. I am really looking forward to trying my hand at designing and making a chained necklace on my own soon.

Vernell Bevelander

Another excellent class! Thank you Megan!