Stone Jewelry Methods
An overview of several of the most popular methods of creating stone jewelry
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Rockhounding and the lapidary hobbies are an enjoyable and satisfying hobby, and many of us who have been at it for a while tend to accumulate quite a hoard of pretty polished rocks. A natural progression in the hobby occurs when we begin to wonder what do to with all these rocks and how to create something useful with them. Often we have a loved-one who admires our beautiful creations as much as we do, and we become inspired to present them with their favorite piece in the form of wearable jewelry.
This simple guide to creating stone jewelry and the methods we will discuss here vary greatly in terms of the amount of time you will need to invest in learning, as well as the financial investment required for tools and supplies. Some of these methods can be accomplished for very little out of pocket expense, from literally under $20 for some prefabricated bails and a tube of glue. Other skill based methods such as silversmithing can lead to an initial investment of thousands of dollars to get started properly.
Simply put, wire wrapping is the act of wrapping wire around a rock or other object so that the object is supported by the wire and can be worn as jewelry. The beauty of a wire wrapped stone pendant does not come simply from the wire, or the rock, it comes from the imagination of the artist as they focus on the beauty of the stone and sets out to capture it and showcase it elegantly. Stone and wire in the hands of this artist can be used to create all manner of wearable adornments from pendants to rings, bracelets to tiaras, brooches, etc.
Almost anyone can do some form of wire wrapping if they set their mind to it, and it doesn’t require a large financial investment getting started. It can feel a bit overwhelming at first, especially for those of us who feel artistically challenged. We highly recommend that you start with the basics and use a less inexpensive craft wire, or copper wire that can even be purchased as your local hardware store. Maybe start with Tela Formosa’s free Wire Binding Tutorial and practice these techniques over and over.
Starting out, several basic tools are needed and a quick search of Amazon reveals a complete set of wire wrapping tools, some of which even come with crafting wire, can be purchased reasonably. As your skills grow and you gain more confidence, consider upgrading to more expensive and elegant wire such as .925 Sterling Silver. Be sure to read this Wire Wrapping Tools article, and as you work pay attention to your tools and decide which ones are working for you and which ones needs to be upgraded. We have many member who are experienced with the wire wrapping process, wire, and tools, so please feel free to ask for advice on the RTH Forum, wire wrapping board. We want to cheer on your progress so please post pictures of your beautiful creations on the RTH Forum.
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Metalsmithing to produce a piece of stone jewelry is the method that requires the highest degree of training, skills, and investment by far. The result however is jaw dropping gorgeous creations that most of us would love to own. The art of metalsmithing is a deep subject about which volumes of books have been written and so for the purposes of this article we will give you a brief overview of what you need to get started, along with a bunch of helpful links.
As you get started with metalsmithing, you don’t want to overlook how important it is to have a good place to work. With metalsmithing involving soldering there will be fire and fumes and filing and drilling, so choose your work area wisely and make sure that it has adequate ventilation and a good rugged surfaces that can hold up to it. In other words, starting this project on your family’s dining room table is probably not a good long term strategy for success.
Metalsmithing stone jewelry at it’s core is basically using a torch and solder to join pieces of metal together to create a finished piece of metal that can make a rock wearable. To achieve this goal, you will need to first purchase a torch that will do the job. The cost of an adequate torch varies widely, from a capable Dremel 2200-01 Versa Flame Multi-Function Butane Torch for around $45 up to refillable tank and hose systems that can easily run you over a thousand dollars. We recommend starting small and building your skills to the point where you can recognize that you need to upgrade your soldering equipment.
Of all the equipment you need, the one thing that we do not recommend skimping on is a very good quality pair of safety glasses with side shields. If you are like many of us who are middle aged young and find ourselves relying on reading glasses, consider looking into safety glasses with built in readers like this 3M pair with a 1.5 power magnification.
Regarding individual tools we do not recommend that you start with an inexpensive kit found on the mass market of Amazon or Ebay because it’s quite typical that these kits will contain cheaper quality tools that you’ll end up breaking or tossing. Figure out what you need and shop for individual items as you go, in the best quality that you can afford. A really good place to start getting an idea of what you will need is to visit a site known for quality products like RioGrande and search for terms like metalsmithing tools, and soldering tools and just read through the lists of what comes in the various kits and compare prices.
Rio Grande is an excellent source of metals and materials to get you started. A basic soldered bezel pendant consists of metal sheets and strips trimmed, shaped and joined together and RioGrande has an excellent selection decent prices. Metal prices fluctuate based on the cost of the metal in market trading, so look around and make sure you’re getting a fair price. For basic silver solder and other supplies you will need you can get many of these at get at Amazon and other marketplaces like Ebay, so again, shop around and make sure you’re getting a good price.
It never hurts to have a good book to read, and even more important a collection of references manuals as you begin your journey into a new craft. There are literally hundreds of books for sale on Amazon on the subject of metalsmithing, and even we don’t know which ones to trust enough recommend spending money on. One reliable reference book that we can recommend was published in 1991 but it has stood the test of time – Complete Metalsmith : An Illustrated Handbook by Tim McCreight.
Says one Amazon reviewer: This book covers everything you wanted to know about metals,stones, tools, history, procedures, techniques, workshop furnishings, etc, and then some. It is not a beginner’s how to book, though it shows many techniques and procedures succinctly and provides a wide foundation of knowledge, with nice hand drawn illustrations. It it a wonderful reference to add to your metalsmithing library. The binding allows it to lie flat for easy reference. You have the option of attaching plastic tabs to the various chapter headings which are marked on the edge of the page, for quick access to the material you are seeking.There are numerous charts and tables. I consider this one of the best books in my metalsmithing library, and I highly recommend it.
Drilling holes in rocks is a relatively inexpensive method of making rocks ready to receive a chain, cord or string, whether it is inserted directly through the hole or attached via prefabricated pinch type bail or a simple jump ring. The most common drilled rocks most people think of are round beads of various materials, with a through hole to facilitate stringing together. Random shape tumbled rocks, or flat rocks and cabochons, that have been drilled with holes and fitted with a hanging device, also make gorgeous finished pendants with very little expense after the initial purchase of the drilling device.
Regardless of the type and shape of rock you are working with, choosing your drilling tool requires some thought and planning. The most common devices used to drill stones are handheld such as the Foredom with flex shaft which is fairly expensive in the $300 range but is a highly regarded machine, and seldom do we ever see a bad review about it. The simple hand held Dremel, which can also have a flex shaft added, starts out in the $40 range and is known for a massive array of accessories and devices such as this drill press unit that provides a good steady operation.
Among the most important decisions you will make regarding drilling holes in rocks, is what size of hole you want and what level of quality you will spend for on the bit. Breaking bits during the process of drilling rocks is extremely common, inevitable in fact, and so there is something to be said for purchasing a large quantity of inexpensive diamond coated bits so when they break it’s not that big of a deal. Using a pulsing technique and a graduated hole size approach as we will teach you in this ‘drilling stones’ article (coming soon), even a cheap diamond coated bit can be made last for a number of holes.
Drilling round beads or tumbles is arguably the most complicated rock shape to drill and requires specialized equipment such as a bead drilling vice. Drilling tumbled flat stones, as discussed in detail in this article (coming soon), is easier and can be accomplished without special holding devices, as long as you have the means to hold the stone stationary in a shallow container of water. This is one example of a DIY flat rock holding device that was created by an RTH member.
We will dive much deeper into this subject in our ‘drilling stones’ article (coming soon) but for now we are happy to provide this information and to answer any questions you might have about drilling stones on the RTH Forum.
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Glued on Bails and Bell Caps
Gluing bails and other hanging devices to a stone is a super easy and inexpensive method of taking your beautifully polished rock and making it wearable. Cabochons, or other stones that have at least one flat surface can have a bailed added to it, secured with a good quality glue. Our best advice is to purchase the highest quality bails you can justify for your project and you wont be disappointed. The mass markets are flooded with adorable but very cheaply made glue-on bails that tend to break, oxidize or delaminate very quickly. For high quality, durable glue-on bails made from metals such as sterling silver, you may have to source them from a specialized site such as Rio Grande.
Bell caps and leaf caps are another type of glue-on bail but they are shaped differently and are typically flexible for conforming to the shape of the rock. With a little bit of rock shape planning before you tumble, bell caps can be quickly and easily shaped and attached to any conical end of a rock, making it wearable. Attaching bell caps to tumbled rocks can be a memory making craft activity to share with your kids or grand kids. Bell caps on the mass marketplaces are commonly cheaply made which can be OK for a kids crafting project, but if you are looking for long term durability we would recommend seeking out better metals. At the time of this writing we were able to find several sterling bell caps on Ebay.
Whichever type of glue-on bail you decide on, using the right glue is very important. Many folks in our community recommend E6000 craft glue which dries clear and isn’t supposed to reflect in photos. For long term durability on flat glue-on bails, a strong epoxy such as JB Weld works great but it dries dark gray so be very careful in the application and how much you use because any excess adhesive that squeezes out will be visible forever. There are many other types of glues that will get the job done so please feel free to describe your specific project to us on the forum and you’ll get a number of excellent responses on which way to proceed.
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Prefabricated Findings and Bezels
Cabochon ready findings and bezels are prefabricated pieces to which a stone, usually calibrated for size and shape, are fastened into creating a pendant that is meant to resemble an artisan metalsmithed pendant. There are many types of prefabricated findings and bezels, some require glue and some do not, and all are designed to transform a rock into wearable jewelry. There are way too many styles to list here in any detail so we will highlight the most commonly encountered types here and encourage you to explore the jewelry supply sites and see what you come up with. If you find something really unusual please feel free to share it with us on the forum.
Most stone pendant trays require that the stone be glued in and they are designed specifically for a cabochon shaped stone, most commonly round or oval. Other styles such as those with a decorative crown trim are designed for the stone to be set inside before the trim is burnished with a bezel roller securing the stone in place. As will be the theme through this article, if you want to dabble and experiment there are many products to play with on the mass marketplace. If you are looking for elegance durability and longevity we encourage you to seek out bezels crafted from fine metals such as sterling and above.
Pinch bails are a very popular method of creating wearable jewelry from a stone that has been drilled. This type of bail is adjustable and is meant to be spread apart so the built in prongs can be inserted into both sides of the drilled stone. Once the prongs are lined up with the holes the bail is pinched back together firmly with your fingers to secure the prongs inside the holes. There are many thousands of these listed on Amazon in a wide array of styles and colors, but again, if you are looking for metal quality of Sterling and above, we highly recommend the equally impressive inventory you will find at RioGrande.
Empty stone holders are as quick and easy as it gets to give your favorite stone a crafty wire or macrame wrap look and feel without having to learn to create the piece from scratch. The necklace cord is typically built in so you also don’t have to fuss with jump rings and attachments and closures in the creation of a cord. Kids in particular love empty stone holders because they are hands on and so versatile a person could have a different rock for every day of the week – or year in our case. These are also a great way to encourage a young person to learn to tumble rocks so they can pick their favorite pieces for wearing.
Spiral bead cages are another type of empty stone holders and are a unique and fun way to instantly create a wearable necklace out of your favorite small to medium size tumbled rocks. These are made of spring type wire that allow a rock or bead or other object to be quickly inserted between the wires and into the cage. We were not able to find any spiral bead cages made from any kind of upgraded wire like Sterling, but a search on Amazon does reveal a large selection of styles and colors enough to keep a young person busy for a very long time.