For a long time I did not have the capacity to solder in my home workshop, so I developed this technique for setting flat-backed stones without any soldering - cold connections only! You can of course mix this technique with soldering if you like. The sky is the limit when designing your jewelry!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
-Sheet metal, 18, 20, or 22 gauge
-Wire, 18, 20, or 22 gauge
-A stone to set. It will need to have a flat base (such as a cabochon) for this technique.
-Paper, pen/pencil, scissors, permanent marker (optional: ruler, double-sided tape)
-Something to cut your metal with (either a pair of shears or a jeweler's saw)
-Jewelry file(s) or sandpaper (a medium-fine grit) (Optional: ring clamp, polishing materials)
-Something to punch holes with (either a metal hole punch meant for jewelry-making or a drill and appropriate bits)
-A mini-anvil or dapping block
-A dapping mallet
-(Optional: a rubber block and rubber mallet)
-Something to press down your prongs. I use a burnisher (the same kind you'd use for leatherworking), but you can also use a prong-pusher, even just your pliers
Step 2: Design Your Jewelry
First you will need a design! When designing, there are a few things you must keep in mind:
-There must be an even number of prongs. Each piece of wire will create 2 prongs, so you cannot have an odd number of prongs with this technique.
-Your prongs must be positioned so that your stone cannot fall out! I imagine trying to rotate the stone around each prong - it should immediately run into another one no matter which way you try to spin or pull it.
-There must be enough space around your prongs - they will be coming through holes in the metal, so they cannot be too close to the edge.
-Think about how your piece will be worn - for instance, a pendant (like this one) must have some way to attach to a chain. In this case I chose to simply punch extra holes for attaching jump rings.
Step 3: Cut Out Your Sheet Metal
Next you'll have to cut the base for your piece out of your sheet metal.
First, transfer the design to the metal. I cut it out and use double-sided tape to stick it to the metal. You can also draw it directly on the metal with permanent marker. Especially if you are using a more expensive metal such as silver, make sure you keep your design close to the edges of your metal sheet, to minimize waste. (I kept mine a little away from the left edge because this sheet of metal had a slight bevel on that side, which I did not want to incorporate into my design.)
Then, cut out your design. I used a saw, but for lighter gauge metals you can use metal shears*. Remember! It's better to cut too big than too small. You can always cut more off, but if you cut off too much you just have to start over.
(*If you use shears, you may have to use a rubber block/mallet to flatten the edges out, as shears can sometimes bend the edges of your metal slightly)
Step 4: Prep Your Base
Now that you've got your base cut out, you have to get it ready to set the stone. Having a stone set in it will limit what you can do to a piece, so it's better to get it completely prepared before you set your stone.
At the very least, you will want to sand or file the edges so they are smooth. Remember, someone will be wearing this, so you want to get rid of any sharp edges, round off any sharp, pointy corners, etc. A ring clamp can be handy for holding on to small pieces so you can sand or file them more easily.
If you like, you can stop there! The rough look can be nice. Or, if you prefer, you can polish your base to a shiny finish, hammer a texture into it, etch a design in it... Whatever you like! If you need to remove any permanent marker, simply use a little rubbing alcohol, but remember to rinse the alcohol off when you are done.
Step 5: Mark and Punch Your Holes
Next you will need to punch the holes for your prongs. This piece also includes slightly larger holes in the top corners, where jump rings will be attached later so it can be worn on a chain.
The holes for your prongs should be large enough for your wire to fit through but not much larger. A snug fit will help to ensure that your prongs are nice and secure. You can see here I first tested my hole punch on a scrap piece to ensure it fit the wire properly.
You will also need to make sure that the holes are flush with the sides of your stone, so be sure to mark them carefully before punching them. I do this by first placing the stone on the metal (hint: a little double-sided tape will prevent your stone from sliding around while you mark your holes), then carefully tracing the edges where the prongs will go. Then I just make a perpendicular mark where I want each prong located.
Step 6: Cut Your Wire
You will need 1 piece of wire for every 2 prongs in your design. (So, for this design with 4 prongs, I used 2 pieces of wire.) The wire will need to be long enough to span between 2 holes plus a little extra, plus enough for a prong on each side. (You will get an idea of how this works in the next step.)
For less expensive metals, such as the copper used here, I recommend just cutting the wire a good bit longer than you think you'll need. Again, it's better to cut too big than too small. However, for more expensive metals you may want to be more conservative so that you don't waste wire.
Step 7: Prep Your Wire
Now you will need to get your wire through those holes you punched. (Especially if your wire came off a curved spool or roll, it may help to start by flattening your wire with your rubber block and mallet.) First you will need to bend the wire between the two holes, so that it cannot roll from side to side. This is very important, as it will help keep your prongs snug and secure. It's easiest to do this with a pair of pliers. It doesn't really matter what kind of pliers; I used flat-nose pliers for this piece. I used a squiggle, but it can be any design you like so long as it lays flat. I like to think of the back as a second little piece of art - even if the owner is the only person who ever sees it, it can still be beautiful!
Once you've got a design you like, mark where it crosses the holes and bend it at a 90 degree angle. Repeat on the other side so that your wire is in a u-shape, then make sure it will fit through both holes and lie flat on your base. This may require some adjustment with your pliers or rubber block and mallet. Repeat with the rest of your wires, making sure that none of them cross. You want all of your wires to lay flat on the back of your design. (So, it doesn't matter which holes you choose to connect, so long as none of your wires criss-cross.)
Step 8: (Optional) Flatten Your Wire
This step is technically optional. I use my mini-anvil and dapping mallet to flatten the design in the center of the u-shape a little. This not only helps it to lay flatter, but the texture from the hammer can be appealing. It also work-hardens the wire, making it sturdier.
Note that when you hammer the metal, it may straighten out your design a little, so you might have to adjust it again to get it to go through the holes and lie flat on your base.
Step 9: Measure and Cut Your Wires
Now that you have your wires through the holes, it's time to cut them down to the correct length. It doesn't really matter how long you make your prongs, so long as they wrap far enough around the edge of your stone to keep it secure. They also do not all need to be the same length, if your design doesn't call for that.
I recommend placing your stone between your wires and marking where you want to cut. The stone may seem a little loose between the prongs, but it will not be quite so loose once the prongs are cut and set. Once again, it's better to cut a little too long than too short. You can still cut your prongs shorter in the next step, but if you cut your prong too short to begin with, you will have to start over with that wire.
Step 10: Create Your Prongs
Next you will need to turn your wires into prongs. You must do this step with the wires set in your base, because when you are finished, the prongs should be too wide to pull back through the holes.
You will want the ends of your prongs to be flat so they sit as snugly against your stone as possible. Use your anvil or dapping block to hammer the ends of the wires flat. Make sure the flat part faces your stone! Be careful not to hammer the wire too thin, as the prongs will still need to be strong enough to hold your stone.
Hammer as close to the base as you can without hitting it. (For softer metals like silver, hitting the edge of your base can damage it, and you may not be able to correct it at that point.) Once you are satisfied with the shape of your prongs, use your sandpaper or files to smooth out any sharp corners. You can also adjust the shape of your prongs a little by sanding or filing, if you like. You may also need to cut or sand/file them a little shorter, as hammering them can make them a bit longer than they were when originally cut.
Step 11: Set Your Prongs
Now all you have left is to set your stone! Place your stone between your prongs, then using your tool of choice (a burnisher, shown here, or a prong-pusher or a set of pliers, etc.), carefully push the prongs down onto your stone, starting at the base of the prong and working up to the end. Be careful not to scratch, crack, or otherwise damage your stone in the process. Go slowly, and try and get the prongs as flush and close to your stone as possible. You may have to first set all the prongs loosely, then go back around and set them more closely a bit at a time so that your stone does not get set off-center.
The wire will have been work-hardened by the hammering in the previous step, so it will be a little stiffer and more difficult to bend than it was originally. This is normal, and will help to prevent your prongs from coming loose later on.
Step 12: And You're Done!
One beautifully set stone! You can now add your jump rings, chains, etc. to finish your piece.