I wanted a ring that was simple yet unique. I have really small fingers for a guy (size 7) and unfortunately every time I found a nice ring, it was too large. So I decided to make a pair of matching rings (one for me, the other for my girlfriend) out of a solid block of aluminum and the most basic of tools that almost anybody has at their disposal.
Overal Cost: $0.00
Step 1: Cutting Down Your Block
I looked many places for an aluminum block that was small enough to not cost a fortune yet big enough to make a ring out of. After exhausting my options, I decided to ask the machine shop down the street from my house. Three minutes later I left the shop with the perfect block of aluminum -- for free. So as long as you ask the right people, these rings will be completely free (but they are a fair amount of hard work).
So the first thing to do when you get your block is to cut it down into a more manageable size. I used rectangular stock because that was all I had access to; however, round stock would obviously save a lot of time.
Step 2: Initial Shaping
Now that the block was cut down, you essentially have a small cube. Since the goal is a round ring, the corners must be cut off. I eyeballed the size ring I wanted and marked the corners. This way I knew what to cut off and what to leave.
I first tried cutting off the corners using the same hack saw I used to cut the block down; however, holding such a small cube still while cutting with a large saw proved unsuccessful. Next I tried my Dremel with a cut-off wheel; however, it walked entirely too much and the block became way to hot to handle. The method I finally ended up using (and by far the fastest) was to use my X-Acto saws that came with a little miter box setup. The fine teeth of the saws allowed them to cut through the aluminum with ease. I just place the cube in my vice and cut the corners off, rotating as I went.
Step 3: More Shaping
After cutting off the corners, the block now resembles a stop sign. In order to round off the corners, I used a large file that used to be my grandfather's (we actually have an entire drawer of files). I placed the block in the vice and filed, rotating as a I went to eventually create a round object. Don't rush the rounding shaping stages as they will take a long time, but the reward is worth the effort.
Step 4: Drilling the Rings
Now we have a fairly round chunk of aluminum that needs to be drilled out so it will fit over somebody's finger. Before it can be drilled however, it needs to be cut in half length-wise to that we get two similarly sized pieces. I wrapped the chunk in masking tape prior to cutting -- I've found this helps to prevent the saw blade from sliding around on a smooth surface. After cutting it in half, I used my class ring as reference and found a drill bit that was just smaller than the ID of my class ring, in my case a 21/32" bit. I wanted something that was slightly smaller so that i could carefully enlarge it later to ensure that the ring would fit.
Using a drill press with the a special vice made for the base of the press, I began to drill out the hole. I used cutting oil to keep the temperature low and reduce the amount of aluminum shavings scattered around. The small holes in the center had another intention in mind (see comments), but they proved to be useful as pilot holes after all. So i would suggest drilling a small hole in the center first prior to drilling the larger hole.
Step 5: Shaping, Shaping, Shaping
As you could see in the last picture, the chunks that I thought were round were not quite so round. I actually created a lot more work for myself by overestimating the thickness that I wanted for the rings and had to actually do the final shaping process twice...try not to make the same mistake as me. The mistake I made was that i thought the rings should be much thicker than they really should be. In the first couple of pictures, the red marker shows how much I intended to file off, and you can see that the ring would have been massive if I didn't make a second pass later. To ensure that the thickness is uniform all the way around I used a vernier caliper to constantly check the wall thickness.
Step 6: Enlarging the Opening
When I drilled out the rings, I intentionally drilled them slightly undersized. My reason for doing so was so that I could carefully enlarge the opening by hand to guarantee that the rings would fit (and that my hard work wasn't for nothing). To enlarge the opening, I searched through my drawer of files and found a round file that fit nicely into the opening (by nicely I mean that it was large enough that it could fit into the ring and file the entire inside uniformly). Then I just held on to the ring and began filing it back and forth, checking every few strokes, until it fit. There was a point when it would just fit over my knuckle, but was still tight, so I carefully and lightly filed it a little more and it was a perfect fit.
Step 7: Shaping, Shaping, Shaping, Shaping....you Get the Idea
As I had said, I made the wall thickness entirely too large, so I had to make a second grueling pass to shave off most of the thickness to create a comfortable ring. This took a lot of time and effort as filing by hand is not the most expedient of processes. Sure I could have used a grinder, but I felt like the rings would have more value and meaning if I did as much of it by hand as I could.
As I already mentioned, wielding a large file and monotonously filing for over an hour only to realize you did it wrong lowers both your moral and your strength (its a hell of an upper body workout actually). So for my second (or third...or fourth?) round of shaping, I decided to have the file be stationary and scare the rings along it. As you will notice, I have my fingers wrapped in masking tape...why you ask? Well, as it turns out, filing a tiny object on a course file does have its complications....such as the ring stopping while my hand continues forward and my fingers scrape. After about 10 bad scrapes (its over a month ago I made these rings and my thumb nail still has the gouges in it), I decided I had to do something. I tried gloves but they were too loose at the finger tips and I only ended up filing the fingers off the gloves rather than the aluminum from the ring. I still had the roll of masking tape out so I tried it...it worked amazingly. My fingers would still slip off, but the tape would protect me from getting cut up any further.
Once I got the walls of the ring to a uniform thickness that I liked (checking consistently with the vernier caliper of course), I lad the rings on end and filed the ends flat. Even though it was 3:00AM and I was exhausted, I was so close that I had to finish the rings that day.
Step 8: Finishing
The final step in making the rings was to use a sponge-style sanding block with a medium grid paper to polish up the edges. The filing process left unique indentations in the ring that I found attractive, so I only sanded it lightly to make it smooth. Sand the outside and inside (be careful not to sand too much from the inside or else it maybe not fit correctly anymore). After the sanding was complete, I washed the rings with soap and water, dried it, and put it on my finger.
All in all, I made two of these rings in the course of one day while working on many other things...I'd say maybe 5 hours to make two rings. As I said, the effort is certainly worth the reward of such an original and pretty ring. Feel free to comment or ask any questions about the process of making the rings. Best of luck and enjoy!