When you are buying from a true artisan / maker, you are buying more than just an object. You are buying hundreds of hours of hard work, failures and experimentation. You are buying months and years of frustration and the moments of happiness. You are not buying just a thing. You are buying a piece of heart, soul and a moment in someones life. And most importantly, you are buying the artisan more time to do something they are passionate about.
Pictured above, is a British India Victorian One Rupee Coin Ring, created as a wedding band in September 2013. It was requested to be made in true to form fashion. That, being hand-made. No machines. As a ring artisan, I do all my work by hand. No castings, or fancy ring making machines or what I call "cheater tools". As coin ringing has grown in popularity, fewer people are buying pieces, but wanting to create their own. This of course is a good thing. However, more and more ridiculous tools and lazy methods are popping up to make this art form seem"easier". The truth is, there is no easy way to do it unless a machine is doing the work for you. And that is not what I consider artisan jewelry. But what I call "Chinese Style Manufacturing". So, before you spend your money on some silly tool you saw on youtube, or on some silly method you read about. Understand, that what I teach, and how I create my work is traditional and you don't need any of those special tools created especially for coin ring making. I don't use them. All the tools I use are readily available, have been around for decades and are easy to buy for a low cost. In this post. We are going to go over those basic tools. And, if you want to make pieces you are proud of. Pieces that are a part of you. You are going to first have to challenge yourself to do it.
Lets take a look at some of the tools in my shop. And create a list so you know what you will need to get started. Now is probably as good a time as any to inform you, I am a part time coin dealer and trader. So if finding coins is a hard thing for you to do. I now offer coin packages as I have a steady supply of coins. Your package can be silver, copper / bronze. Or a mix of both. All coins are hand picked by me for ring making. I will get to the package prices later...
So, you're here. Lets get to the tools. The most basic tools you will need is a round ring mandrel, Raw Hide Mallet or Nylon mallet. I highly prefer raw hide. So, that is what I suggest. However, your local shop may not carry them. So Nylon is fine. You're going to need a tool to put a center hole in your coin. And there are several options. A drill, a die punch set or, if you want to go quality. I recommend a jewelers saw to cut your center hole. We will get into depth on the sawing method more later. You will need a calipers. A round file and flat file. 250 grit sand paper and a way to anneal your coins by use of a torch and a few more items that will be handy. First lets start with.
This is the most basic tool you will need in coin ring making. I have four, for different sizes of rings. But for you, you only need one or two depending on budget. On the top left is your basic grooved steel mandrel. The grooves are a ring size chart. So you know how far to stretch your piece for size. On the right, is a stepped mandrel. Each step is a size. The handy thing with a step mandrel, is you can more easily get your ring band uniform in shape. But this is really its only use in coin ringing. The standard mandrel is a must have. Note: I prefer the smooth steel mandrels. The grooves can scar your coin and its sizing is not always accurate. And I always wrap my mandrel in leather to prevent any marring inside the band.
The second and evenly important tool is a non marring mallet. Since we are working with coins, and the design of which being the key to its appearance as a ring. We don't want to loose any details of the coins strike pattern. There are two very good options as seen above. The rawhide is a bit more costly. But it can come in a variety of face sizes, good for smaller coins and larger coins. Rawhide even has the option of being lead filled which are excellent for working larger, thicker coins like silver dollars as seen below. Or coins made of hard copper nickel, nickel and steel. The Nylon, or plastic mallet is a cheaper way to go. They don't last as long. But are easy to replace for an average cost of 12-15$. There are also different varieties and sizes as well. Something you can explore in your spare time on the internet. In the end, it will really come down to which mallet you prefer to work with. If you take this craft seriously, you will end up with them all anyway.
|This Silver Morgan Dollar ring was formed using a lead filled rawhide mallet due to its thickness and size.|
|This copper nickel 50 cent piece from Belize was formed using a combination of lead filled rawhide and standard rawhide due to its extremely hard alloy of metal.|
Metal Composition (mix of metals) is something you should always consider when buying your tools and coins. For example. If you plan to start out by using large cents, bronze, clad and copper coins. A lead filled mallet is over kill. Same goes goes for most silver coins such as US Quarters, 25 cent pieces, Silver Shillings, 50 Cents, Half Dollars or two bobs / florins and some Half Crowns of decent silver content. Either of the basic rawhide or nylon will be fine on all the coin types mentioned. Either way, its always good to know a coins size and what a coin is made of before you buy and then wear yourself out hammering away. Luckily, we have the internet and places like en.numista.com so we can look up a coins alloy, size etc before we buy one. NOTE: I am making no mention of gold coins, as most of you will be working with copper and silver. If you are brave enough to start with gold coins. Contact me, so I can remind you to STOP and wait until you can form a ring proper with no evidence of marring. Ruining gold pieces is costly. And it just plain sucks! Get to a level you feel confident in your work first.
OPTIONS AND THE TOOLS.Now that you have a coin selected. The first step, or steps depends on how you plan to go about cutting a centered hole into your coin. The tools shown above are the two most common. If you plan to use a drill. Be warned that the bigger the drill bit, the better the chances the drill bit will bounce and scratch your coin. So be very careful using just a drill. The second method is a die punch, with clear top so you can see where your coin is aligned. If using a punch. You will need to anneal your coin first! I've covered the annealing process in previous posts. So I suggest you watch it before you go and melt a coin. The torch shown right, is a cheap 12-15$ torch. It works good for this. I suggest you pick one up if you are using a die set. You are going to need one anyway along with some sparex pickling solution. We will cover sparex down below.
HAND CUTTING A CENTER HOLE:
Hand cutting a center hole is my preferred method. Die punches can create hairline fractures in your coins. Especially older coins or coins with higher relief details. Hand cutting allows me to cut the hole where I want it and gives me complete control over its size and center. And the bonus is it does not damage the coin. If you want to go this route, it is a bit more tedious. But worth it in my opinion. You will need a drill, with small drill bit. An Adjustable Jewelers saw, as seen top left. 4-6 OTT is my preferred choice of cutting blade.
These next two tools are important tools you will use a lot. Calipers are how I measure my center hole, and then file away with a round file to make it even. I've been asked so many times how to get a perfectly centered hole as if it matters when you first put the hole into the center of the coin. A perfectly centered hole by use of drill, saw or punch does not matter! So stop worrying about it. The key is, just get it as close to center as you can. Measure, mark and file it into a nearly perfect center hole. There are a wide variety of calipers. From cheap plastic 5$ versions as seen top left, to the 15-20$ digital style right. A high end precision caliper really isn't necessary. But if you already own one. Great. I will mention, in my experience while cheap calipers work fine. A set of locking calipers is best.
ROUND AND FLAT FILES:
RING SIZING TOOLS:
A very old ring sizing tool is the Rathburn ring stretcher. These work great for helping size and making your ring uniform in shape. Remember to anneal your coin ring before you place it on this tool. And like the use of a mandrel, I highly suggest wrapping leather around this tool as it is prone to marring. Place your ring non factory side down, leaving the factory side over the lip of the step. I prefer to use a dead blow hammer on these tools when I use one.
As mentioned earlier, sizing on a steel mandrel isn't very accurate. So I suggest buying a plastic ring sizer stick, and set of ring size loops. Shown above are two very common sizing sticks. One is standard US sizes, and the other is UK and US sizes. Your Calipers can determine the inside MM. And printing out a world ring size comparison chart is free. Grab one and post it on your wall near your work bench. I'll provide a copy of one here below.
SPAREX AND PICKLING AFTER ANNEALING
Sparex is great for removing any fire stain from annealing. You will use this pickle every time you anneal your coins as they work harden. Heat your piece, and quench it in a bath of water with sparex. Do not use a metal bowl, or any kind of metal as sparex will eventually eat it away. A ceramic bowl, or crock pot works great. A heated solution of sparex works better when warm. Use copper jewelry tongs, or stainless steel. Keep a small bath of water mixed with baking soda nearby to neutralize the acid. Sparex is not something you want on your cloths, or steel tools. If left it can eat holes in cloths, cloths and your tools. If working with silver, you will notice a dunk into sparex will turn your silver a flat white color. Steel wool, or a large eraser will remove this white color. I actually use the sparex in my fire finish designs as it creates a great satin like finish in the low relief fields on polished rings. Some experimenting and you will come up with some neat finishes to your rings.
NOTE: If working with brass. Let your annealed piece sit on a piece of steel to cool down before you let it sit in sparex to remove the fire stain.
Finishes to your rings.
|1935 Saudi Arabia One Riyal Silver Coin Ring with "Patina Finish".|
|1894 Victorian British India One Rupee "Satin finish"|
|1871 United Kingdom Silver Shilling "Fire Finish" with mirrored edges.|
Well, there you have it. The Basic tools of hand-made coin ring making. I hope this post was helpful. And I wish you the best of luck in your coin ring making. Remember, hard work pays off. You will not only feel good about having crafted a ring by hand. But you've put a piece of yourself into each of these pieces. No machine, or lazy cheater tools can ever do what the hands of an artisan can do. The Picasso's and Van Gogh's didn't use a machine to paint. Great singers don't use auto tune. For me, this is about creating pieces of art. Pieces I am proud to share with others.
If you wish to contact me, with questions or to place a custom order. My Email is as follows:
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All Images of rings shown here on this posting are © 2012, 2013 Ryan O'Shea.
You may use these images as long as you credit, I, Ryan O'Shea as maker and this website with links.
If you use a copyrighted image of my work for personal sales or business, under the claim its yours, I will file suit against you.