Monday, January 4, 2010


Are you looking for a way to make some extra income?  Do you like to create beaded jewelry?  Perhaps you would rather work with precious metals, but don't have the extra cash (or time for training) to invest in expensive metalsmithing tools?

Create your own line of earrings, pendants and bracelets for an investment of less than $150 in tools.  Sell wholesale to boutiques or retail as an Art Festival Vendor.  You could recoup that investment by selling 6 pendants, earrings and/or bracelets at $25 each, including materials.  If you sold 50 per month at $25 each, you could make $1250.  Sound interesting?

I found a supplier with a line of pancake dies (also known as shearing dies), in different shapes and sizes.  Pancake dies allow you to cutout a shape in silver, brass, gold or copper, repeatedly, in seconds. (If you were to draw these shapes on a piece of metal and cut them out using a jeweler's saw, it would take 10 times longer to duplicate the same shape, by hand, one at a time.  Plus, you would have the added cost of buying a jeweler's saw and blades.)

Using a pancake die is a snap.  Simply sandwich a piece of copper, brass or silver into the die and apply enough pressure to cut the metal shape out of the die.
You can use a standard vise to squeeze the die until the metal shape pops out (Total investment - $40 for the vise, and $18 for the pancake die. Plus some strong muscles to apply the pressure.)

Or, you can use a 20 ton hydraulic press which makes it much easier, but of course, adds greatly to the investment.  You can buy a 20 ton hydraulic press through Rio Grande for about $1800 plus $300 in shipping, or you can buy a more user-friendly 20 ton hydraulic press at PotterUSA for about $700.

Checkout this YouTube video on how to use a pancake die in a hydraulic press.

If you don't have the cash to buy a hydraulic press, here are some photos to show how to use the pancake dies with a standard vise  First, insert the metal in the die shape, then position the die sandwich in the jaws of a heavy duty vise.  Tighten the jaws of the vise until you hear a snapping sound.  Loosen the jaws of the vise and remove the die.  The result is a positive and negative shape from the die.

Below are samples showing how you can use the pancake dies to create finished jewelry, quickly.  You can further shape them by lightly hammering into a dapping block.  My dapping block is about 20 years old and is showing age (like me), but still works just fine (like me :   ).  You can find dapping blocks on Ebay and Craig's List in a wide variety of prices.  The block has several different dome sizes.  Dapping blocks are also available in wood (much cheaper), but do not hold up as well as steel.

I made this simple pendant in under 5 minutes, start to finish.  I stamped Italian words using metal alphabet stamps you can buy on Ebay.  It says "ridi spesso, vivi bene, ama molto" which translates to "Laugh alot, Live well, Love much."  You could make it more personal with loved one's initials, birthdate, wedding or anniversary date.

It's easy to make matching earrings and a bracelet, by punching out smaller matching shapes and connecting the components to earring hooks, or using chain links to make a bracelet.

So, for an investment of under $150 in tools, you could create your own jewelry designs.

A wide variety of Pancake dies can be purchased from for $18 each. 

Dapping block sets start at $25+ on Ebay.  Make sure you check the diameter of the dome size to fit the shape of the jewelry you want to create before you buy!

To add a shiny finish and smooth out rough edges, you can get a rotary tumbler at Harbor Freight for about $40.  I like to use a bench grinder - Harbor Freight - about $39 and switch out the grinding wheels for polishing wheels that create a shiny or matte finish. 

Last, you may want a hole punching tool (about $12) and a pair of metal scissors to cut off the tab left from the pancake die.

For cutting off die tabs you can't beat Joyce Chen scissors.  They cut 18 gauge metal like butter.  If you don't have metal scissors, you can fold the tab over and use it as a bail to hold chains.)  So, if you shop carefully, total investment is under $150.

I buy textured brass from Metalliferous and then use a pancake die to cut out the shape.  I add some stamped designs for interest.  The result is a hand-made forged look.  Metalliferous has a wide variety of textured metals at a very reasonable price.

Let us know if you have questions or comments.  There are lots of ways to sell jewelry.
We hope to "pay it forward" for all the wonderful Mentors who helped us in our journey. 
Here are some of our favorite resources for info on jewelry making, tools and supplies:

Rena Klingenberg

Have fun working - do what you enjoy!

Virginia Vivier
Tucson, Arizona

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