Introduction: How to Make a Silver Signet Ring
In this Instructable I will guide you through the process of creating your own signet ring. I made my own from sterling silver, though you can use copper and its alloys (brass, bronze, nickel silver) if you want to do your project on a budget ;) I don't recommend gold, especially if this would be your first metalsmithing project;)
You will need some equipment, some of which may be expensive, but I have to be honest with you, silversmithing is not a cheap hobby;)
You will need:
- Sheet metal of your choosing, between 0.5 and 1 mm thick,
- Steel Callipers,
- Pen and paper,
- Universal glue or any other adhesive that will hold paper onto the metal,
- Jeweller's saw and sawblades,
- Bench pin,
- Steel block,
- Half-round pliers,
- Wire cutters, or metal sheers,
- Ring mandrel,
- Wooden, raw-hide, or plastic mallet,
- Small polished hammer (optional, for thicker gauges of metal)
- Square, oval, round, rectangular, etc. bezel mandrel (optional for shaping)
- Cylinder daping block and punches (aka U-channel forming block)
- Silver solder (hard and medium, or medium and soft/easy if you can't find hard solder),
- Soldering block,
- Flux (borax will do nicely, for an alternative try boric acid and alcohol solution),
- Binding wire,
- Long steel tweezers,
- Ring soldering tweezers (optional)
- Propane torch (or a torch using any other fuel, acetylene, propane/oxygen, MAPP, anything will do as long as you can heat your metal enough)
- Flexishaft, Dremel, or a bench grinder/buffing wheel,
- Flat and half-round files (cut 3, or 4)
- Miter cutting vise (optional)
- Cylinder burr
- Sandpaper of various grits,
- Polishing compounds
- Ultrasonic cleaner (optional)
- Cleaning compounds ( or your good old dishwashing liquid)
- Polishing cloth
- Liver of sulfur (optional, for a black surface)
I am not responsible for any injuries or deaths that may result from attempts to follow this instructable. All steps must be followed in a ventilated space with sufficient lighting and preferably with a fire extinguisher at hand. Inappropriate use of the blowtorch, chemicals and hot metals may result in permanent injuries and/or death.
Sorry, but you have been warned;)
This ring was made during my studies at Wytwórnia Antidotum.
This is my first instructible, so I hope you will enjoy it and forgive me any mistakes that I've made while preparing it for you.
English is not my native language, and despite my proficiency there may be some errors in the way I name tools, steps or any other random stuff. Forgive me if that happens and let me know in the comments:)
Step 1: Make the Template
As you've seen, and probably know either way, the signet ring has a distinctive shape that is impossible to be made out of one piece of metal. If you want to make your own you will need to make a template for the pieces to cut out.
You will need two identical pieces cut from the metal you chose. You can either make your template using a pencil, a pair of compasses and paper, or you can make it quite easily using a computer. I've drawn for you a rough picture of what you will need to do;)
You will need three circles that will be the axes of your signet shape. Te top circle has to be bigger to ensure a nice wide top of the signet, you don't want it to look like an ice-cone upside-down;) You can see how to join the lines to create the shape you need.
The wider the part between large and big circle, the higher your ring will be. It's good to make it a bit high at this point, as you'll be able to trim the excess later. Remember, it's always easier to remove something, than to add in jewellery!
The wider the part between the two small circles, the wider your ring will be. Remember that when you gather you materials, as you will be trimming the ring band to that width later. The ring band that you will be fitting into the signet has to be of the width of the widest point of your bent, plus a little extra for a comfort zone. You have to have that in mind, or you will have to restock to continue later;)
Step 2: Cut Out the Template
Once you have drawn or printed your templates, it is time to glue it to your sheet metal. I used a universal polymer glue. It's easy to either scrap it under running water, or burn it out with the paper with your torch. If you can get your hands on a spray glue, it's far superior to other choices. It gives you a nice, even layer of the glue with nothing oozing from beneath your templates. As you can see on the pictures of my other projects, this way of cutting out your shapes in metal is easy, cheap and quite precise.
Now prepare your jeweller's saw. Make sure you set your blade tightly so that the tension is right. The better you set the tension, the better you will saw through the metal and less likely that your blade will brake prematurely ;) Some jewellers will recomend to lubricate your blade with paraffin or bee's wax, but it will slow down your cutting speed, even if it gives a slight chance to prolong blade life. As you can see on the photo, I can leave my saw hanging on the blade. Because I tend to set my blades pretty tightly, I rarely have a problem with braking them.
Place your metal on the bench pin, hold it securely and saw slowly to cut out your pattern. Try not to get inside of the lines, it will be much more troublesome if you do that, than if you have an excess to file later.
I'm sorry that I didn't take pictures of cutting out the templates of the signet ring, but I believe these pictures will give you enough illustration for that step :)
Step 3: Form the Signet
Once you've cut out your templates and got rid of the paper it's time to file the edges smooth. At this point it is important to focus on the meeting points of the two parts. When you're filing, keep checking if the angle's are right. It's easiest to simply put one template against the other. If you have a miter cutting vise your filing time will definitely be easier, though you can always do it freehand. Just remember to keep all the angles right and you will be set.
When your edges are nice and smooth you can proceed to forming the templates into the much desirable bendy shape.
BUT! Remember, whenever you are going to form, deform or whateverform your metal you have to make it soft. Make it a rule of thumb. Softening of the metal is called annealing and is done with a torch or in a kiln. The process behind it involves recrystallization of the metal mollecules (yes, for all of you who don't know, metals are made of crystals;) ). I will spare you the details, just remember to ALWAYS anneal your metal before shaping. It will spare you a whole lot of unneeded effort and may allow you to avoid cracks in your piece.
So, onto the soldering block and treat your metal with your flame. The hottest part of the flame is always at the very tip of the blue cone-like part and it's that very point that will heat your metal quickest. If you are working with silver, flux your templates thoroughly for annealing, as oxides may blend in permanently and come out as yellowish marks on your ring when buffing.
After you've annealed your templates, pickle them. I know, that sulfuric acid is one of the most common solutions, but I prefer citric acid (1:10 with water). It's cheap, easily available and far more eco-friendly. And it will do the work just fine.
After a few minutes your templates will be clean from the oxides and/or flux. Rinse it in water, dry and they will be ready for forming.
Get ready your cylinder forming block and punches. You have to set each template and punch it progressively through each slot, beginning with the largest one. Don't be tempted to skip them, you need to have control over the curve you get after each slot. And remember to keep your template in line with the axis of the block and punch. If you are not careful, it may come out twisted and will not align with the second part.
When the ends of your parts meet when put together, they are ready for soldering. At this point they should look more, or less like in my picture.
Take your binding wire and bind the two parts carefully, so that the ends meet properly and there is no risk of moving when soldering.
Step 4: Solder the Templates and Form the Top Shape
Place your bound templates on the soldering block, with the rounded part down. This will give you some stability and will allow you to solder it from the insides, which is crucial to clean soldering of pretty much everything. Use hard solder (or medium, if you have only medium and soft solder). You can either cut small pieces with your wire cutter, or hold the solder wire with your tweezers. There is no easy formula for the amount of solder needed for a good seam. Remember, the better your parts are fitting, the less solder you will need. The more solder you add, the more likely that you will have to file that excess after soldering. And that is both tedious, as solder is pretty hard to file, and troublesome, as you may file too much of your base metal and cripple your work.
Another word of advice here: remember that you are using a silver colored alloy to join your pieces. If you are working with copper, the risk of staining metal, beside a clearly visible seam, is quite big. I recommend silver plating any work made of copper alloys. If you don't want to do this, or can't, opt for brass or nickel silver, as the solder won't stand out so much.
Again, if you are using sterling silver, remember to flux all of the surfaces, if you are using other metals, focus on the seams, or the solder won't flow. Heat your pieces evenly until dull red, the annealing temperature, and then focus on your seams. The solder should flow somewhere at that time, if you were using cut pieces. If you are holding solder wire in your tweezers, that is the time to touch the seam with your solder. Heat a seam with the torch from the outside and touch it with solder from the inside. Don't put solder directly in the flame, or it will just for a ball that will be definitely too big for your soldering. The solder will be suck up through the whole seam and any excess should stay on the inside. Don't overheat your pieces while soldering and try not to solder for too long, or the flux will burn out and you will be unable to proceed. Once the solder flows, also don't wait too long, or you will draw the solder to the outside surface and stain your work. Cool your piece on a steel block, don't quench it in water. This will allow slower recrystalization of your metal and will keep the structure from breaking unexpectedly.
After soldering pickle, rinse and dry. If there is any excess of solder, file it now, or it will marr your piece while forming. When it's clean you can shape the top of your signet with a bezel mandrel of your choosing. As the metal is annealed after soldering, you don't need to anneal it again. You can see my signet and the square mandrel on the photo. Tap the signet lightly with your mallet to shape it. If your mandrel is angled, like mine, don't tap on the angles, or you will cut through your work. Just go for the sides and you will do just fine, even if your edges will be slightly rounded.
Step 5: Prepare the Ring
Now you will be able to figure out the size of the ring that you have to make. Take your callipers and measure the width of the widest point of your signet. Add a few millimeters and that will make the width of the band you have to make. Take your sheet metal and score it using your callipers set to the width you need. You have to put one of the blades outside of the edge, and let the other score a fine line.
Now you have to measure the length of the band. To do that, cut a straight piece of paper and put it on your finger like you would put your ring. Mark the place where the end overlaps with a sharp pencil. Measure and add two gauges of your metal. If you are using 1 mm sheet, add 2 mm to your ring measurement. Simple as that;)
When you know the length of the band, grab your callipers again and score your line. You're all set for sawing, so onto the bench pin! Place your metal o the bench pin and hold it securely. It may be harder to cut a straight line than a curve if you're inexperienced, but again, try not to get on the inside of your lines.
Once you have your band, file the edges that will meet smooth. It's useless to file the sides, as you will be trimming it later a lot. Keep your angles right and you will be ready to proceed. On the photo you can see that my band was fluxed and annealed, which is a necessary step before forming with half-round pliers.
Step 6: Form the Ring
When your band is annealed and pickled, it's time for forming. Your best bet will be a nice pair of half-round pliers. They are not steep, so you will have good control of what you're doing. Try to grab your band by the very end and then form the circular shape against the half-round part. Usually that means you need to hold your pliers half-round side down. Don't try to form it against the flat part, or you will mar the metal. Also, don't try to make the shape perfect. All you want is to make the ends meet and align properly. You will get your perfect round shape later on the ring mandrel.
When you're done with aligning the edges, it's time for soldering. Flux the seam (or the whole band if it's sterling) and put the band seam down on the soldering block. You can use special ring soldering tweezers, like the one on the photo. They will help you to keep the band in place, though if the solder flows through the seam and stains the outside, you will have awful solder markings to file down, just like I had. You can use a third hand, or simply put to small chunks of a cut soldering block to keep the ring from moving. Solder with hard solder. One note of advice: hard solder doesn't flow smoothly, you may have to spread it with a steel needle or your tweezers to solder the whole seam. Pickle, and dry. Before continuing, remember to file any solder that stained both the inside and the outside of your band.
Step 7: Round the Band and the Signet
Take your ring mandrel and put your band on it. Push it as far as you can, the metal should be soft after soldering, so you should be able to round it up a bit just by that. The thicker the metal on your band, the harder it will be to form it perfectly round. With a 1 mm gauge I had to use a small square polished metal hammer, as a wooden mallet didn't give me enough force. Tap at the bottom of your ring, on the spot where the ring touches the mandrel. When one side is rounded, flip your ring and form the other side. Repeat this to make perfectly round band. Be careful if you're using a metal hammer, as you will most likely mar the surface slightly. If you hit the ring too hard you will flatten the edge or deform it beyond repair. Be gentle and everything should be okay.
At this point it's good to grind the band inside and outside with a medium sandpaper on your flexishaft/dremel or a table grinder with a ring attachment. Try to grind it smoothly for a nice even surface.
Now you will have to fit your signet onto the ring. You should use a half-round file to get the curve right and then form it on the ring mandrel by pushing the signet to spread the "wings" and then tapping them with a mallet. You can, and should, also tap on the very top, taking care not to deform the shape. Check often if the signet fits the band not to overdo it.
Step 8: Fit Signet and Ring
Now you will be able to fit the signet on the ring. If you have problems with binding it tightly over the ring, anneal the signet. After it's clean and soft, wrap it around and mark the place where the wings overlap with a scribe or a pencil. Cut down the excess, flux and solder, using hard solder again. You have to heat the signet carefully, until dull red and then point the flame onto the seam. Be careful not to desolder the seam that joins the top. This is especially tricky when soldering sterling, as you have to flux the whole signet, not just the seam.
When you've successfully soldered your signet, pickle it and dry. If it fits tightly on the ring, you can proceed to the next step, if not, put the signet on the ring mandrel and carefully round it up again.
Step 9: Solder Your Signet Ring
Now it's time to solder both parts of your signet ring. Put it on the soldering block either on one of the sides, or hold it upwards with a third hand. If you lay it on the side, you will be soldering two times. Flux all the seams, or the whole ring if it's sterling. You have to apply solder from the inside, through the top, either by cutting and placing the solder before, or by holding it with tweezers after heating up. After you're done with one side, flip the ring and repeat the process, paying attention not to desolder any place or heat any spot too much.
You're half done now, good job! You can see that your signet ring is starting to look like it will when it's ready ;)
Step 10: Solder the Top
I was making my signet ring out of a silver ingot I made before. While rolling the sheet it cracked in two spots, probably because I didn't hammer the ingot as hard as I should have. I found these cracks interesting, so instead of setting any stones, or leaving a smooth flat top I decided to use that crack as decoration. You can leave your top nice and smooth, or scratch it later for a rough surface, the decision is up to you. You can of course also set a stone that fits your signet, but that would include additional steps that I won't be covering here. Use a part of sheet metal metal that is wider than the top, so that you don't have to worry that much about slipping while you solder.
I decided that the top of my signet is too high, so I cut it down with my saw and filed it for the right leveling.
Now flux the top and the signet ring (again, flux the whole ring if it's sterling), place middle solder on the top, and then put the signet ring upside down on the top so that the cut solder is inside of the signet ring. Heat evenly, avoid overheating and watch not to desolder any part. When the solder flows you're done with ale the flame work;) Pickle, dry, and ready yourself for careful and tedious trimming.
Step 11: Trim, Trim, Trim...
First, you will need to take your saw and saw out anything you can confidently cut without damaging rest of the ring. You should be able to trim the top, working slowly around. It will look rough, no doubt, but as you later grind and polish your ring the nice smooth surface will come out. Then try to saw off excess of the ring band, slowly cutting it on the both sides. You should not cut through the wings of the signet, so be careful ;) Let them be your guide and you should be just fine.
Once you've cut that excess, you have to options. You may either file the rest with your half-round file, or you can grab your flexishaft with a cylinder burr. The file gives you great control of how deep you cut, but is very slow. Trimming with a burr may be a bit tricky and demands a lot of precision, but is way faster.
When you're satisfied with your surfaces it's time for grinding and polishing. It's the last moment for you to decide on the look you want to get. You can leave it scratched with a rough sandpaper or scotch-brite (a good idea if you want to blacken the ring), smooth, but not shiny (a satin finish), or polish it for a mirror-like finish.
Step 12: Polishing
Depending on what finish you want you may not need to follow all the steps here.
The first step will be to sand the surfaces with more and more fine grits of sandpaper. Depending on your equipment, you may stick to sandpaper only and still get to a mirror finish, with >3000 grit water sanding, or you can finish this step around 400 grit. Remember, the higher the grit, the finer the sandpaper.
If you have a flexishaft or a buffing wheel you will finish a lot faster. Apply some polishing compound on the buffing wheel. I recommend white compounds, as they will give a nicer and faster shine. Be careful not to overpolish though, as there you will notice that you've bit dents in the metal, smooth, shiny, but irregular and clumsy. Even though you protected your silver by fluxing it may happen that the oxides will show while polishing. Just polish that spot a little more until it is gone. When you're done wash your ring in an ultrasonic cleaner with a cleaning compound, or scrub it gently with a soft brush under running water.
If you want to blacken your ring, you can use commercial oxides available in shops, or make a solution of water and liver of sulfur. In my opinion oxides look better on rough surfaces. They also hold better. On a smooth ring the effect you will get will be slightly plastic-like. You can then slightly polish the ring with a polishing cloth to draw the metal out, while leaving those nice black scratches. Word of advice: if you want your surfaces rough, keep just the inside of the ring smooth. It will add a nice visual contrast and be far more comfortable to wear.
Step 13: You're Done!
And you're done! I hope you will find that instructible helpful and that you will enjoy the ring that you've made!
Thanks for reading! Please comment if you have any questions or suggestions!