First Tip of Stamping on Metal: Do it the "Hard" Way, Plus More Metal Stamping Tips

27 Jun 2012

Remember mouse pads? (For our younger and future readers, they're not hip homes for mice.) When I first started stamping metal (years ago as a crafter), I assumed it was wise to use something underneath to absorb the shock--at least to absorb some of the noise of metal against metal. (That was before it was music to my ears; at that time, it was still just disturbing noise to my coworkers in adjacent cubes.) So, I hammered and stamped with a mouse pad under my metal.

And it was just fine.

A few years later, I decided to stamp a special message on a jewelry gift for a beloved cousin, and I dug though my craft room looking for my mouse pad. I ordered my sterling-silver blanks from Beaducation; I even traced my blank on a piece of paper a few times and used the metal stamps in ink like rubber stamps to practice stamping, design placement, and letter spacing on the drawn blanks. (Yep, I thought I was so clever!)

As a craft metal stamper, I'd been stamping on thin, soft metal blanks made mostly for scrapbooking, not with more precious metals used for jewelry. So when I hammered on my stamps, onto my metal blanks, onto my mouse pad--trying to stamp on sterling-silver blanks, I got . . . a dent.

Not a letter, not a swirl--but a dent. Huh.

Fortunately the dent was just a mere hint of a dent, so I figured I'd just whack it again, harder, with purpose. That time, I got a bigger dent and ruined my blank.

I'd at least been smart enough to order a backup silver stamping blank, and since it was almost time to give the gift, I had the second one engraved professionally and gave up on metal stamping for awhile, assuming the planets were in the third moon or some such that day and it just didn't work out.

Fast forward to my time in the jewelry-making world. None of the articles I saw about metal stamping said anything about using a rubber mat when stamping--and then I realized why! The rubber diffuses the metal stamp's impact on the blank. It's too soft for stamping on hard jewelry-making metals (which is why I didn't learn this lesson earlier, while stamping on craft metals)--they need a hard surface behind them in order to produce a crisp, deep impression from the stamp.

Here are some other metal-stamping tips to help you make the most of your stamped metal jewelry.

 

1. Properly place yourself and your metal stamps. You'll get the most force and the best direct hit when metal stamping if you stand directly over your work. Make a grid to help you master stamp placement, especially if you're going to be using metal letter (alphabet) stamps and stamping words or sentiments on metal blanks. Helen Driggs advises her students to use a ruler and a marker to create a grid on which to practice precise metal stamp placement. The more you practice placing stamps and stamping, using the grid as a guideline, the more successful you'll be at knowing where to place the stamp in order to get the impression exactly where you want it.

2. Hit once, hard. Stand and hammer directly and firmly once, striking the stamp hard enough to create a good strong impression in the metal. Position the stamp, make sure it's where you want it, and whack it! Avoid hitting the stamp more than once or you risk moving the stamp--and moving it even a smidge can create a blurred or double stamped image.

Experts have differing views on this point, however, as evidenced in Lisa Niven Kelly's "Tap and Tilt" method. She taps a metal stamp directly with a hammer and then, without lifting it, she titls it slightly to the side, hits again, tilts slightly down and hits again, and so on, until she has a good impression. Here's another time that practicing will help--after awhile, you'll know exactly how to tell if the impression is good or if it needs more taps.

3. Use the proper metals and supplies for stamping metal jewelry. Like I said above, use a hard metal surface under your blanks when stamping on metal. Note that stamped metal will warp and cup up if you stamp on a wooden block or something else that's too soft, instead of a steel block.

Thanks to Sara Richardson for these last metal stamping tips:

4. Tape to the rescue: To prevent the blank from moving around while you're stamping on it, tape it down with a bit of Scotch tape. Also, to ensure you stamp in a straight line, you can tape a guideline (or tape a flexible, thin ruler) onto the metal blank.

5. Make the stamped images pop. All you need is a black Sharpie marker (or other dark, thin paint or patina solution) and a polishing cloth. Trace in the stamped letters and then wipe off excess with the cloth. (Photos 4 and 5 by Michael Richardson.)

Learn more about metal stamping from Helen in her popular DVD, Metalsmith Essentials: Basic Fabrication--there's a chapter in it that focuses on metal stamping patterns, and it's on sale now for 60% off in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!


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