Introduction: Make a Medieval Ring Brooch - Without a Torch!
This Instructable will show you how to make a simple ring brooch with a few hand tools and some wire. My instructions assume you have some basic experience with jewelry making, but even if you don't, this is still pretty simple. Practice on some thin, cheap craft wire if this is your first project, and if you have any questions, just ask. I'm happy to help!
But first - What's a ring brooch?
Ring brooches are a type of pin that was popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. They could be decorative or functional, plain or flashy, and many different types of people wore them.
Here's a link to one of my favorites: A gold, sapphire and ruby ring brooch.
Ring brooches weren't just round, either. Ovals and diamonds weren't uncommon shapes, but the most popular non-round shape was a heart. These were often inscribed with posies or symbols of love, and were usually given as gifts.
In keeping with that tradition, I made this Instructable specifically so my fellow SCA folk and Rennies can make favors for friends and those who deserve a bit of recognition. This could also be a great way to introduce a teenager to basic metalworking or for a school project. Feel free to share this with your history-loving friends! (Or don't, and use it to make gifts for them - I promise I won't tell.)
Step 1: Tools & Materials
- Big Gnarly Pliers - or anything you have that can grip well
- Chain or Round Nose Pliers - I used Chain Nose for this
- Wire Cutters
- Hammer - I have a chasing hammer, but you can use a normal hardware store ball-pein hammer.
- Steel block - or similar hard surface to hammer on
- Old Sanding Sponge
- Safety Glasses
- Not Pictured: Ear protection. There's not a lot of hammering, but you need to wear ear protection when you do.
I tried to use tools that most people I know have laying around the house. If you have fancier/higher quality tools than these, feel free to use them.
- 12 gauge Copper Wire
If you want fancier tools than this or can't find 12 gauge wire, here's some Suppliers:
Just to be clear, I have no connection to these sites, these are just places where I and/or my jeweler friends buy from. Just be careful of your wallet, especially if you're a tool junkie like me!
Step 2: Measure & Cut
Using the ruler, marker, and wire snips, measure and cut two lengths of wire.
- 8 inches - This will be the body of the pin
- 2.5 inches - This will be the pin stem
Step 3: File & Smooth the Ends
Picture 1: Start with your 8 inch piece of wire and gently smooth out any sharp edges on the ends. Use the file* to knock off the really nasty bits, and smooth it out with your sanding sponge.**
Picture 2: Once that looks good, start on your pin stem. File one side smooth like you did the larger piece, but the file the other end into a point. This will be the end that goes through the fabric, so make sure it's nice and sharp! Just be careful not to stick yourself.
* Most files only work one way - When you "push" the file away from you. Also, this is copper, so there's no reason to go crazy and really muscle it. Just move your arm forward and let the file do the work.
** You can't use your sanding sponge for taking care of rough spackle or anything else after you use it on metal because it'll scratch and leave metal dust behind. That's why I recommended an old one.
Step 4: Make the Pin Stem
Now that your pin stem is nice and pointy, you need to straighten it out and finish it.
Picture 1: Chances are your wire came off of a coil and isn't straight. That's fine. Rather than using your hands to straighten it, you can roll the wire on your hard surface and tap it gently with your hammer while you roll it. Don't slam on it - The point is to move the wire, not flatten it. It won't take long before it rolls nicely. Even if your wire is straight, this is still a good idea. "Working" the metal, whether by hammering or bending, makes it harder. You want this for a pin stem because chances are good this will be used to hold fabric together and it needs to be strong.
Picture 2: Once your wire is straight, you can flatten the non-pointy end. This isn't a required step, but it looks nicer and makes the next step easier. Just hammer the non-pointy end a few times until it flattens out a bit. Tap from the end and up the length of the pin stem a little bit for a smooth transition.
Picture 3: Knock off any sharp bits on your flattened end and even out the shape a bit with your file if you need to. I recommend going over the whole pin stem with your sanding sponge just to even out the finish.
Picture 4: Take your chain nose pliers and make a tight curl with your flat end. This can be a bit difficult, because 12 gauge wire is tough to bend, even in copper. Flattening the end and thinning it out does work-harden the metal, but makes it easier to grip and curl.
Picture 5: Check your work! Slide your pin stem onto the larger wire that will make the body of the pin and check the fit. It should be able to spin and slide easily, but not wobble too much.
Step 5: Form the Ring
Picture 1: Use your chain nose pliers to make a small loop on one end of your large piece of wire.
Picture 2: Bend the loop to the side.
Picture 3: Slide on your pin stem and start gently bending the wire into a circle. Do not try to make a nice, perfect circle right now. You'll work on that part later. Put the straight end through the loop you just made. Make sure things are oriented as they are in the picture. The pin stem needs to be on the top/front side of the brooch, and the end loop of the ring needs to be facing down.
It's starting to look like a ring brooch, isn't it? ^_^
Step 6: Make the Spiral
Picture 1: Using your chain nose pliers, make as tight as loop as you can on the wire end of your ring. Make sure to turn inwards, towards the pin. Use the flat part of the interior of your pliers to squeeze it tighter. This is the start of your spiral.
Picture 2: Now's the time to bring out the big, gnarly grippy pliers. Grab onto the starting loop and start turning. Again, this is copper, so you don't need to use a death grip. You just don't want the wire to slip around while you're trying to form it.
Picture 3: After two of three turns, you've got your coil! Don't worry about plier marks. We'll fix those next.
If you realize that your coil is facing the "wrong way" you can just use the grippy pliers to twist it around.
Step 7: Flatten & Texture the Spiral
Picture 1: Hammer your spiral flat. It helps to work near the edge of your block if you can. Just don't hit on the edge, because that will leave a big dent in your wire. You'll notice that the nasty marks on your wire from the grippy pliers are disappearing like magic. You'll also have to deform the ring part into an oval here, but that's okay. We'll fix it later.
Picture 2: Add some texture!* Flip your hammer around so that you're striking with the ball end and start tapping. Stop when you like the finish. Just make sure you're working on the "back" of the spiral. (We're going to flip it over next)
*This step is technically optional, but remember: Texture is your friend. Not only does it make your piece more interesting, it can obliterate marks on your work and hide future scratches.
Step 8: Fold the Spiral
Grip the spiral with your pliers and fold it back over the loop holding the ring together. The picture shows it partially folded. The aim here is to hide the join and make the ring secure.
Again, because this is 12 gauge wire this part can be difficult, but you have tools. Feel free to squeeze (gently) on the folded part by the spiral with your chain nose pliers, or to tap on it with your hammer. Don't worry about the ring part yet. We just want to hide the join with the spiral and make sure it doesn't shift around too much.
Step 9: Shaping & Finishing
Shaping: Now that the join is covered and the piece is more or less done, you can start using your hands to shape the ring part into a nice, even circular shape. I don't recommend using the pliers, as you can mark up the ring or make accidental angles.
Finishing: Okay, last step! Take your sanding sponge and go over everything but the spiral. This will give your finished pin a soft, satiny finish. Chances are good your spiral has a shiny texture, and the contrast between the shiny focal point and the matte pin body is a subtle but pleasing detail. If you really like the hammer texture, feel free to hammer the ring, too. Just leave the pin round so it slides into the fabric easily and won't catch.
Step 10: Using the Brooch & Final Thoughts
Using / Testing the Brooch: To use your new creation, reach through the center of the pin and pinch the fabric. Pull it up through the center and push the pin through. Let go of the fabric and the pin will be in place. You can use your brooch to hold something together (like the front of a shawl) by pinching and pulling the edges through. If it feels like the pin stem is too long, feel free to trim it back. I like them long so that any bowing of the stem over time won't make the whole thing fall off, but then again I also like to use them to hold together shawls and wraps.
There's a lot of variation to be had with this piece. You can use thinner wire and make a purely decorative pin. You can use thin wire twisted together for the body to give it some heft. You can skip the spiral and make a loop to hang a bead on. You can make a squiggle, a flower or some other shape instead of a spiral. Your ring might not be a ring at all; it could be a diamond or a heart. You can wire-wrap beads onto it, stamp patterns on it, glue a flat marble or a fancy button to the coil - The ball is in your court!
I want you to take this Instructable and make something beautiful with it. Make a couple of these to start, then go nuts! I've got this on my blog, and I'd like you to comment with links back to your creations so we can all see them!
If you'd like some Medieval inspiration, I've got a whole Pinterest board devoted to just that - Click Here.
And if you'd like to look at other jewelry I've made, Click Here to go to my shop. Chances are good you'll see silver pins with gems on them.