Metalsmithing - The good the bad and the fugly
I love being a jeweller, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else with my life; from gossiping with fellow tool addicts about the latest gizmos, to that rush of adrenaline after finishing a challenging piece, it’s quite simply unbeatable. And I don’t know about you, but have you ever had a job where you just can’t wait to wake up and get into work? That’s how I feel every single day (even most Sundays).
I get such a kick out of how making jewellery is a never-ending journey of discovery. There’s always something new to learn, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more!
But after all that gushing about how much I love this, there are some lessons that when I was just starting out, I could honestly have done without!
So grab a coffee because I’m about to spill the beans on the advice I wish I had when I first started creating jewellery. Believe me, this guidance could have saved me a tonne of time, money, and headaches, and made my learning experience a whole lot more fun and less chaotic. So, without further ado, let’s get this party started….
My Top Tips for Getting Started Metalsmithing
Start with the basics
Whether you’re new to jewellery-making or not, my two cents is this: start with the basics. Every jeweller worth their salt needs to have a solid foundation in sawing, filing, and soldering.
Take your time with learning these skills, but don’t be afraid to get creative in mastering them. Honestly, the work that can be produced with seemingly simple skills and a little sprinkling of creativity really is incredible.
Take an in-person class if you can
I want to shout this from the rooftop: taking an actual class is like a shot of instant confidence to the veins – especially when it comes to soldering! Of course it’s fun (I don’t need to tell you that), but you also get to hang out with and learn from your fellow students. And the best part; you’ll get to test drive some awesome tools that, as a beginner, you’re just not going to buy outright without knowing their full potential. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about! I started my metalsmithing journey at a local community college, and that’s where I got my first glimpse of the almighty Durston rolling mill. If it weren’t for taking that in-person class, I would have never known what a top-notch rolling mill even looked like.
It's usually best to keep things simple to begin with
And this is especially true when learning to solder. Start with simple joins and get them nailed first. Trust me, you’ll want to know how to make a simple chunky chain (yep, we have that project over at the Metalsmith Academy), before diving into something more intricate like a prong set pendant. Take creative baby steps and perfect them before moving on to more complex projects.
But sometimes it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone
If you want to up your game, at some point you gotta step out of that cozy comfort zone. And it really will do wonders for your practice! But here’s the thing: not all your experimental projects will be sellable masterpieces, and that’s okay!
At the Metalsmith Academy, we kick things off with a bang by teaching you how to make a jaw-dropping saw-pierced pendant (it’s not easy). And for sure, it won’t be flawless on the first try, but that’s kind of the point. By challenging yourself from the get-go with saw piercing, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how jaw-dropping your skills really are when you ease up a bit.
All the fancy tools won't make you a better jeweller - Ouchy!
Just because you have a toolbox full of fancy gadgets and gizmos doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be able to use them (just like everything, there’s s a big learning curve to many of these fancy tools). In fact, the less tools you have, the more of a problem-solving genius you become. So, if you really want to make jewellery that will impress, start with the basics: a jeweller’s saw, a bench pin, a drill, hammer and a couple of pairs of pliers. Trust me, the more you challenge yourself with fewer tools, the better you’ll get at improvising and perfecting your skills.
Spend the time necessary to master new skills!
If you’re learning how to solder, making a couple of simple rings can be a good starting point. But if you really want to level up, go for a chunky chain (or two) instead!
Repeating a process over and over again (in a fun and creative way, of course) is the best way to master new skills in no time. Remember, practice doesn’t have to mean boring!
Learn from as many people as you can, but don’t learn from just anyone
Practice new skills with copper, brass or bronze first
Before you start trying out your fancy new (yet to be tested) skills in silver, let’s take a step back. Learning is supposed to be fun, right? So why not remove the stress of potentially ruining something with an arm and a leg’s worth of materials in it and practice with copper, brass or bronze instead? These base metals behave a lot like silver and will give you a super clear idea of how your soldering skills are shaping up as opposed to working in silver.
Don't start out thinking about selling your work
When starting out, it’s important not to focus solely on selling your work. This extra pressure can seriously hinder your ability to take risks and develop your skills. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s highly unlikely that your initial attempts will be your best work. But whatever you do, keep hold of your early pieces, in a few months’ time when you look back, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!
Think about the skills you might need in the future….
Treat each single step as if it’s the only step
Embrace the journey – it will never end
Jewellery making is not just a hobby or a career, it’s seriously a journey that never truly ends. Whether you’re brand new to wonderful world of metalsmithing or have been at it for decades, every jeweller I’ve ever met acknowledges that they are still in a state of constant learning. And honestly, that’s part of the magic! There will always be something new to discover, whether it’s a new technique, a fresh approach to design, or a novel way to incorporate materials. So, don’t get too hung up on rushing to the finish line. Instead, take the time to enjoy every step of the process.
Finally, and I want to shout this out loud for everyone to hear:
As a jeweller, even one with years of experience, we’re all going to make mistakes.
And you know what, IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD. If we don’t make those mistakes, we’ll never learn the lessons that really make a difference. It’s like until you set fire to the bog roll on your jeweller’s bench, you never truly understand what a hazard it is.
On the bright side though, it’s not like your silver goes up in flames, it just melts. And what do we do with melted silver? We just roll it, and start again!
Just incase you need a little reminder from time to time!
Ready to dive in and create your own professional looking Jewellery?
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