I make two kinds of thimbles, uniquely designed for two very important pastimes- sewing and banjo playing. It’s fun when your hobbies can overlap, and a new product is invented! I’ll show you some beginner’s metalsmithing techniques and you can see how I make these. The jewelry techniques for this could be used to make an adjustable ring or use your imagination and you could use these methods to make a tool for something you enjoy.
Solid argentium sterling silver sheet is sawn with a jeweler’s saw. Beginner tips: match your sawblade to the gauge of the sheet: 24gauge is best cut with a 6/0 blade. A little wax on the blade never hurts. I’ve used a tube of beeswax or coconut oil based lip balm, nothing really specific to the task is necessary!
Tighten your saw blade with enough tension to hear a bright sounding tone when you gently strum it. If it sounds flat increase the tension. Wear your goggles in case you break a blade. Everyone knows sharp objects and lemon juice head straight for the eyes!
Ready to saw? Hold it straight up and perpendicular to your metal by using a jeweler’s benchpin. Saw straight up and down, slowly and keeping aware that you are only removing metal on the downstroke. With practice, you will be able to use the most delicate blades to create graceful intricacy in your work. Save frustration by learning with the heaviest blades.
The next part is truly fun- hammering! I start with a jeweler’s ball peen hammer and an indentation in a tree stump to start sinking the metal. If I want a more dramatic bowl, I will need to anneal the metal. I will hammer it with a rawhide mallet on a small dapping punch held in a vise to refine the form.
Next, I will use files and sandpaper to shape the edges so they will be smooth and rounded. Remember when filing that you only remove metal on the push, it’s not a back and forth process like the sandpaper.
Metal stamps mark the metal type and copyright information. A custom monogram could be added at this point.
For now, I will leave these sanded and flat, so that they could be personalized for a custom order. After sanding and stamping, shaping is done on the ring mandrel with a rawhide mallet. Polishing is done with the flex shaft drill using tripoli, white diamond and rouge on felt buffing wheels. As a final touch, these are tumbled with steel shot and burnishing compound for luster and to harden the metal.
I hope you’ve got an idea of some new things you can try!
I got a banjo for my birthday. The happiest most fun instrument there is. I thought the ukulele was the coolest, but since a banjo requires jewelry-it wins!
How long did it take me to start making my own banjo picks? Not long. Almost instantly. I am allergic to nickel, and I have the tiniest fingers ever, so it was a mix of necessity and artistic opportunity, which often combine to mean the same thing.
How many mock-ups before I settled on the best? Countless! I made banjo picks different ways in silver, copper, aluminum, paper and foil for 2 months until I found my sweet spot.
Finally, I nailed a design that is completely original and fits like it isn’t there at all. The bonus is that sterling silver is not only beautiful, but sounds like heaven. I was playing on a pair of National’s that I inherited from my Dad. Not only were they too big and uncomfortable on my skin due to the nickel, the sound of the nickel on the strings is awful and scratchy. You don’t really notice it until you’ve heard the sound of the silver. But, once you do there’s absolutely no going back.
Here’s a view if the process, from copper mock-up to the finished product. You can purchase a pair of these from my Etsy shop. You can even add a custom design and inscription.
Here’s a view of the process in making the design, from copper mock-up to finished product.
First, it’s just copper sheet.