The Pros and Cons of Using Hand Tools To Make Jewelry
In any creative task, there are usually several methods available for accomplishing it. An artist may choose between various paintbrushes and paints. A composer will narrow down a symphony of instruments. And a dancer may string together a routine using a host of different steps.
The same is true for the creative task of jewelry making. A skilled jeweler may use any number of different metals or gemstones to create unique pieces, but this isn’t where their choices end. They also must choose between casting and fabricating. And hand tools are one common option for fabrication.
If you’re trying to decide whether hand tools are right for you as a jewelry maker, consider the pros and cons of using hand tools to make jewelry.
A Brief Introduction to Handmaking Jewelry
To fully discuss the benefits and drawbacks of hand tools for jewelry, you must have a general understanding of what we are referring to when it comes to handmaking jewelry with tools. This process involves molding and shaping metals and placing beads by hand on an individual basis.
Hand tools that one might use to handmake jewelry include:
This is different from using casting as a method of jewelry making. Casting jewelry involves creating a mold for jewelry, often using a 3D printer, and filling that mold with molten metal.
This is a common choice for those who make jewelry on a commercial level because it allows you to make multiples of the same piece. However, many hobbyists and even jewelry-sellers opt for hand tools.
Pros of Using Hand Tools
Greater Variety of Designs
One of the biggest benefits of hand tools is that they allow jewelry-makers to create one-of-a-kind designs, including creations that would be difficult to replicate with a mold. Delicate designs, for instance, are much easier to create using hand tools than using casting.
There are a few benefits to this. On an artistic level, this allows you the greatest amount of control over the final design. From a commercial level, you will be able to sell one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry for a higher price.
Use of Mixed Metals
Along the lines of creating truly unique designs is the idea of mixing metals within a single piece of jewelry. This is extremely difficult to do well when you are using casting methods for your jewelry but is far more feasible for hand-making pieces.
For example, let’s say you wanted to create a broach that had a base that was one metal with prongs that were another type of metal. If you are making them by hand, you can attach the prongs individually by hand rather than trying to add multiple metals to a cast.
Many are surprised to find that handmade jewelry is usually far more durable than cast jewelry. However, the process that goes into forming handmade jewelry—especially being hammered down and shaped with tools—makes the jewelry pieces far denser. This means handmade pieces are far more resistant to damage, including bending, breaking, and scratching.
If you have been into jewelry making for a long time, you have likely been exposed to porosity. Porosity is a type of damage in jewelry that causes several visual imperfections.
Gas porosity (when gas becomes trapped in the metal) causes blotches, holes, and cracks along the surface of a piece. Shrinkage porosity occurs when metal within thicker portions of a piece cools before surrounding metal does, causing cracks in the surface. Along with looking unsightly, porosity can render a piece brittle and prone to damage.
However, porosity is an issue unique to casting jewelry. When you create jewelry by hand, you avoid the problem completely.
Cons of Using Hand Tools
Working with hand tools can be an incredibly complex process, forcing the jewelry maker to create each individual component in a jewelry project by hand. This can make creating handcrafted jewelry pieces extremely time- and labor-intensive. By comparison, casting metal into a mold is a far less time-consuming process.
Whenever a process is more complicated, it inevitably becomes more expensive, and the same is true when hand-making jewelry. As a creator, you have to invest in all of the individual tools to create a piece. Additionally, if you are planning on creating a more complicated design, such as a design involving two metals, this will also drive up the price.
There is also an opportunity cost to consider. After all, if in the amount of time it took you to create a single ring by hand you could have made several with casting, there is an unspoken price there. You must decide as a jeweler if the handmade, one-of-a-kind design is worth it.
This is mostly a point of concern for those who are choosing to sell many pieces of jewelry. Commercial jewelers use casting so that they can create numerous pieces with the same design quickly.
Even if you come up with a single design that you want to replicate by hand, it isn’t as easy to make every unit look exactly the same. If you have multiple customers who want the same design piece, this can become a problem.
How To Choose
Ultimately, there isn’t a “wrong” choice when it comes to methods of creating jewelry. It comes down to what your goals are as a jewelry maker and what you value from your creations. As you’re trying to decide between handcrafting and casting, consider asking yourself these questions:
- How much time do you want to spend on each piece?
- What types of pieces do you want to create?
- What kinds of metals do you want to use?
- How delicate do you want your final designs to be?
- How durable do you want your pieces to be?
- Are you selling your pieces? If so, how many designs do you want to offer?
- How many pieces do you want to create?
For those wanting to create incredible, one-of-a-kind designs, handcrafting is the way to go. And for those interested in this path, Cutting Edge Supply has the jewelry-making tools you need to create your pieces. Otherwise, we also supply crucibles for those interested in casting.