I am new to metalsmithing and would like to work with stainless steel. I have bought and read several metalsmithing books but none explain working with stainless steel.
I have purchased all the necessary equipment (I think) and am ready to start working, however I am stuck. The stainless steel I purchased is very hard and needs to be annealed, but I have no idea on how to do this.
Any help and information would be greatly appreciated.
i have been a silver and gold smith for 40 years every time someone wants a ring or bracelet from stainless silverware i try to talk them out of it you can anneal it but one bend hardens it i work it red hot more like forging than smithing if you have sheet you can shape it anneal it often and use lots of muscle and a bigger hammer to bad nobody tells people they have to have the basics in softer metals before you try the harder ones if you can get to the west coast there is a good class the first week after labor day if i can be of help chris
Thanks for your question, Flo. We will have a response for your soon. We'd also like to include your question/answer in a future Ask The Experts column in a future print issue. Please email your last name and city/state of residence to as at: email@example.com. We think many of our readers will be interested to learn about working with stainless steel. Best regards, Tom & Kay Benham
I'll put in my two bits worth of advice on working with stainless steel. No, it isn't like working silver, copper nor any of the other nonferrous metals, it is after all basically a ferrous metal with nickle added to prevent the formation of rust. Having done blacksmithing in the past it is a metal best worked hot that is unless you are working extremely thin sheet metal then you must do the annealing to relieve the stresses brought on by cold working the metal. It is not a favorite metal of mine to work with for jewelry sized items but I liked it for forging it hot for tooling, blades and large scale sculpture.
Hi Flo, Here's our response that is schedule for the August issue:
Although we have no experience working with stainless steel one name came immediately to mind when we received your question: James Binnion, an international jewelry designer famed for his mokumé gane rings who frequently and generously shares advice of his vast knowledge of metals on the Ganoksin Orchid Digest. Here’s what Jim has to say about working with stainless steel:
“Stainless is a tough material to work with. It can be done but it takes some time to learn and really it is easiest to work with tools that are not normal jewelers’ tools. The first question your reader needs to answer is what kind of stainless steel did they buy. For the sake of argument I will assume it is an Austenitic stainless as that is the majority of stainless one normally encounters but there are dozens of alloys that fall under the category of stainless steel.
The most common Austenitic stainless is 304/304L that is an alloy of 18% chrome 8 % nickel iron. It cannot be heat treated but can be work hardened. It is very likely the steel the reader has is already annealed, in its annealed state it is about 180 Brinell which is about like an 18K nickel white gold but way harder than sterling or harder than most yellow gold alloys ever get. To anneal it needs to be heated to 1900F-2000F and water quenched. Heating it to these temperatures will develop a black scale unless it is done in a controlled atmosphere. This scale needs to be removed with abrasives as the chemical means are way too nasty for studio use (hot nitric and hydrofluoric acid pickling bath). It can be silver soldered and one needs to use a fluoride paste flux like Handy Flux. Handy Flux B-1 (black flux) is the best I have found for soldering it. It is a poor conductor of heat so the flame needs to be directed right at the area to be joined. Speed and a very active flux are your best friends when soldering stainless as it will quickly develop a chromium oxide layer that will inhibit solder flow. Jeweler's saws and files will cut and shape it but will dull much faster than when used on other typical jewelry metals. High quality tough abrasives like 3M's Trizact and zirconia/alumina (those purple abrasive bands) abrasives work the best. To polish start with black emery cutting compound followed by chrome oxide polishing compounds. There is a lot more to learn but this is a quick bit of advice.”
Be sure to visit Jim’s website, www.mokume-gane.com, to view his gallery of exquisite rings and learn more of the rich history of Mokume Gane.
Thanks, Tom & Kay
Lots of feedback on your stainless question. Other jewelry makers here likely have broader backgrounds working in stainless than I do but possibly a couple comments re: my experience with the metal may help you. I've been working with 304 & 316 alloys.
Generally, I try and purchase my (stainless) fabrication stock fully annealed. If I can't I prefer to electric (induction) anneal it vs. torch annealing. Induction annealing is fast, clean & easy to control the tempeture. I use an inert cover gas like nitrogen or hydrogen (hydrogen works better but should only be used by someone with experience). You can also try wrapping your stainless items in stainless foil prior to annealing. (Stainless foil has various uses in a jewelry studio) Foil jacket annealing ( as it'd called) in air helps prevent oxide formation during kiln annealing and when a cover gas is also used your parts can come out with little to no oxidation.
For soldering gold or silver to stainless I use a non fluoride paste flux. I like Dandix brand flux. It has a wide active temp range and is great for both non ferrous & ferrous metals. I stay away from flux that contains Potassium bifluoride... not good to breath those fumes! The (very) small advantage fluoride containing paste flux has for stainless is far out weighed, in my mind, by the health factor of using a non fluoride product.
For finishing stainless I often do electro polishing. Basically it's like reverse electroplating. Electropolishing is a common practice in industry today that can also be adapted to small studio jewelry production. Check out washing machines with stainless barrels to see what electropolished metal looks like. As mentioned by another person some of the chemicals used in electropolishing are not safe to work with withoiut knowing what you're doing. The electropolishing I'm doing is mostly for oxide removal on investment cast items vs. bright polishing for visual appearance which It's often used for.
Stainless properties are unique as are some of it's working requirements. Have fun!
Stainless Steel is the only material I use to make rings and bracelets with. I usually use forks and spoons with interesting handles and I also make snails with stainless forks as well. I have made several different benders and found that once SS starts to bend, you gotta keep going as fast as you can to get to the desired form. It does work harden quickly and most methods to form them can dent or scratch up the surface. I bend them to a smaller size (size 6 or 7) first then expand as needed and trim.
I have considered using my OAW torch but I don't make enough off these to pay for the gas and labor. My current bender bends them like butter. but it has it's flaws as well (leaves marks). I found on "instructables" website a video on how to make a metal melter (basically an induction heater) with a microwave transformer (it's so simple I can't believe it!) so I plan on making a ring bender with that.
The snails bend well with a small cheapie propane torch and it does not oxidize enough for me to worry about. I have my 12 yr old hold the torch just below the area I start to bend (heat rises) and then roll the handle down to the prongs etc... Bend the outer two prongs back and the inner two up etc..
I use the thinnest silverware I can find with the most interesting decorations. Most people that buy them from me are more interested in the designs not the weight of the material and I base my prices on the labor/ hr. I can make the rings in about 25 mins therefore I sale them for $25. I know this is an older thread but "Good Luck"!
I've just purchased a whole stack of stainless steel cutlery to try to have some fun with.
Can you tell me what your 'bender' is exactly please?
Also, can you suggest what type of stamps to use, as the ones I have barely make an imprint.
I only have a butane torch (kitchen type), and was going to try to anneal the spoons to see if that made a difference in their softeness for stamping and bending, but everything I've read seems to say this won't work.
Hope you can help me.
I have started working with "stainless steel silverware" I have tried heating (annealing it) then bending it with regular tools not jewelers tools - it is very difficult. I had much better results when I bent it while it was still hot, got it hot again bent it again. As others had said once it starts to bend you must keep it going or reheat it. I use a propane torch, but since it was winter and I was working in the kitchen I just used my stove top. Hope this info helps you, just don't give up keep trying till you find what works for you!
I'm sorry Kylie, I just now seen you had asked me some questions. I didn't get an alert that there was a reply. First off, I am not an "expert" but I have learned a few things trying to make this stuff easier. Butane torch is most likely too small for anything other than the Tines on a fork. Use a small propane torch from a Hardware store. They are fairly cheap to use... Annealing Stainless is possible but it discolors it, and some areas are hard to re-polish. Also if it's too soft the marks are worse when bending. To anneal stainless, you heat to dull red then quench immediately. As you reform the material it will get brittle so it's best to just heat it when and where you need it. (in my opinion). I heat just to a dull red in the spot I am bending, not the whole thing. Round nose pliers work best for bending the tines.
I bought a bender from http://www.flatwearableartisanjewelry.com/spoonbender.html for making bracelet handles and rings. Suzanne is amazing and her father designed and makes these. I have an assortment of other benders and things I have made along the way. It depends on what you are bending. I know this is an old post but let me know what your trying to do and I can offer some suggestions based on that. I bought some stamps on Amazon, that were on sale with three different sizes letters/ numbers. I also have stamps used for leather working that work really nice on annealed copper. I hate to direct you to FB but check out my page "Pettegrews weld Sculptures". I display my tools and some techniques there. I'm no expert in Jewelry making but I am great with metalworking. Welding is my Trade... Anymore questions, just let me know. Thanks! Bob
Hi Richard! I would appreciate it very much if you could give me some advices on electropolishing. We were kind of talked into electropolishing by a company. I had no idea that this process even existed!. I am a jeweler with about 25 yrs of bench experience. We are a small company and we are struggling to find a way to polish our surgical stainless steel girls rings that range from size 3 to size 5.5. I first tried to polish them the traditional way, after they had been tumbled, but it was taking too long so we decided to try electropolishing. When we received the rings back from electropolishing I found out that the rings were literally corroded by the process. I called the company and they admitted the error and they are going to refund some of the money. So now we are waiting for new rings to be casted. They are going to be about 125 rings. You can imagine the anxiety and the doubts that I have about electropolishing. Can you give me any insight as to the process and any names of companies that do it for the trade? Should we even stick to this process or should we try something else? Are there any other safer ways to polish stainless steel? I should also tell you that maintaining the dimensions of the rings is critical due to the fact that the rings have a gasket system and can only tolerate a minimal amount of shrinkage. Than you in advance for your help. Thank you, Umberto.
Just sharing what I learnt from 18 years of work in stainless steel jewelry and watch manufacturing.
Many of experienced metal smiths and jewelry smiths have very valuable feedback here.
Working with stainless steel will need lots of heating process to bring steel to the point where you can bend and shape it the way you want. Beauty of the pieces you make will finally lie within the final touches you give it.
For us at the factory, our aim in making stainless steel jewelry is
- To ensure its 316L. Why?
- Because its anti allery and anti rust
- We pay lot more attention to milling process. Any mistake of + / - 0.1mm may make the steel part useless. Unlike precious metals, which are soft and easy to play with.
- Lastly, its the shine which pays you for the effort you put in. Did you know that if 316L is polished with proper Japanese polishing agents applied to the polish wheel, you can get world class finishing, which could be as beautiful as white gold.
- If you want to impress your customer, you can finish the pieces in nickle free rhodium that will surely tell a lot more beauty about the piece you have made.
- We always mark SOLID STAINLESS STEEL on our pieces we manufacture from 316L steel and 925 for pieces made from 925 sterling silver.
This information is provided just based on technology here at Donny J. Will be glad to assist if you need further information.
Hi bob, I bought one of Suzanne & johns benders & love it! I've only done bracelets so far. Last night I annealed a stainless spoon, to make it easier on the bender, bent it & then put it in a pickle solution I use for other jewellery. After a few hours, I went to see how nice & clean it had become & found a blob of muck on the surface, like brown foam! I raced off to grab some bicarbonate to put hype piece in, but there was nothing I there!!?? The liquid (which is a bit old), has turned very blue, (it was still clear before I put the piece in)
So am I right to say that you shouldn't put stainless cutlery jewellery pieces into pickle to remove oxidation from annealing?
is there another way to remove it from stainless cutlery after annealing?
Hi Bob...I have read a few of your post. I am looking for a jeweler to take a stainless steel ring that came with a cubic zirconia and reset with another stone. The stone I have is a Morganite and it's a six prong ring. Do you think this is something you can do for me? I have contacted many jewelers here in PA and no one works with stainless steel. Please let me know if you can and what the cost would be, I will send you the money, the ring and stone plus additional monies for returning once it's finished. Thanks!!