Introduction: Wedding Rings From Old Swiss Francs
Make your special day more special with handmade wedding rings.
I made these rings over the course of a week (after work) for my own wedding. After about two years, the rings are both still in use (whew!) and holding up fine, so I decided to make another ring to document the process.
- A coin - I used old Swiss Francs and 2 Franc coins for our rings. I found the 1 Franc was the perfect size for my finger. A 2-Franc coin is better suited to larger hands. I paid US$3 to US$10 for each coin. I bought extra in case I messed up. I needed them.
- A plastic or leather mallet
- A tapered ring mandrel - steel is best
- An inexpensive propane or butane torch - propane will get the job done faster
- An electric drill or a punch set
- A center finder - you can easily fake this, so don't sweat it if you don't have one.
- Sandpaper (150 - 600 grit)
- Some buffing compound - I used a Dremel tool with some red rouge on a buffing wheel
You can use any coin you wish for this project. Be aware, however, that if you use US coins, you will stir up the "that's illegal / no it isn't / so's your mother" flame war in the comments section. I personally interpret the US laws on "mutilating" currency to mean that it is forbidden to modify currency in order to defraud. In other words, you can't modify a nickel and try to pass it off as a quarter.
For this project, I'll be using a US quarter to demonstrate the ring-making process. If you believe this is illegal, then feel free to use something else, and be sure to start the above-mentioned flame war below.
Anyhow, your best bet is to find coins that are high in silver content. Old (before 1964ish?) US quarters are pretty high in silver. For our rings, I chose old (pre-1968) Swiss Francs because they are high in silver content and have a really nice decorative wreath border. See photo.
I strongly encourage you to practice this entire process on a low currency coin before destroying a beautiful coin you bought on ebay and waited forever to receive.
Step 1: Find Your Center
It's pretty important to get your initial hole centered on your coin. If you don't have a center finder, you can fake this with a corner angle and a piece of cardboard cut at a 45deg angle.
Put the coin in the corner of the center finder and draw a line along the 45deg line with a fine point marker or pencil. Rotate the coin and repeat until you have 3 or 4 lines. Use a nail or awl to find the intersection of the lines and tap on it with a hammer to make a small dimple. You'll need the dimple to start the drill bit in the right spot without having it slip.
Cut a hole in a piece of scrap wood - bigger than the hole you'll want in the coin but smaller than the coin itself. See picture. Clamp the coin between this block and another piece of wood and clamp the whole thing into a bench vise or onto the workbench. Using a fairly small bit, drill a hole in the coin using the dimple as a starting point. I drilled a large hole in a block of wood and used that as a clamp so I could get to the center of the coin.
Now move up to a larger bit and repeat, using the existing hole as a guide. Keep increasing the size of the hole until it matches the smallest size on your mandrel. If your ring is for someone with really big hands, you can drill this hole a little bigger.
** Use very light pressure when drilling the hole. Take your time. If you press too hard, the coin may start spinning and you'll have to re-clamp.
** Be careful not to make the hole too big. This is not the final size of the ring! If you can slip it all the way onto your finger already, go find another coin and start again.
Step 2: Temper, Temper
Before you can really work the coin properly, you'll need to anneal it. Some people don't do this, but I think it's important. This is not a complex operation, so you might as well do it since you get to play with fire. Get out your butane or propane torch. If you don't have one, run out to the big box home improvement store and buy one. Cost: about US$20. Owning one: priceless. Go ahead... we'll wait.
Now fire up that torch and aim it at your coin. Hold the coin lightly in a pair of old pliers. Wear gloves and eye protection. Heat the coin until it's just turning cherry red, then dump it into a jar of water. It will cool quickly and come out looking black and scary.
Warning: Don't overheat the coin. Overheating will make it brittle and it will shatter and they will hear you cussing all the way across the ocean. It's better to err on the side of caution.
Step 3: Whack It With a Mallet
OK, so your coin is annealed, looks a little prehistoric and now fits onto your mandrel. Time to start forming it.
Before you start hammering on it, decide which side of the ring will be the outside. Put that side Up on the mandrel.
Now take your plastic or leather mallet and start tapping down on the coin. If you only have a metal hammer, you can cover the head with leather to avoid marring the coin.
You'll want to fold down the outer edge of the coin. As you tap on it, you'll notice that it moves further down the mandrel and the hole gets bigger. For smaller rings, be very careful not to tap down too hard. Concentrate on folding the edges down rather than forcing the ring down the mandrel. You don't want to make it too big - it's very hard to make a ring smaller and it's also way beyond the scope of this Instructable.
Once you've gotten the ring more or less flat on the tapered mandrel, take it off. It will look a little like Popeye's sailor cap. That's OK. Now put it back on the mandrel with the narrow side down. Do some more pounding on it to make it more cylindrical. You'll also use this step to size your ring. The mandrel has sizing on it, so if you know the size you need, you can tell at a glance. If the ring is for you, try it on.
If your coin starts getting stubborn after whacking it for a while, it's probably work-hardening. Go ahead and give it another temper treatment as shown in the previous step.
Step 4: Clean It Up
Now that your ring is ring shaped, you can clean it up a bit.
In this demo, I used a US quarter. The outside edge of a quarter has a raised lip and this lip is very pronounced in my demo ring. See the picture. You can easily sand this lip off. You'll probably want to sand anyway to remove any nicks or edge grooves the coin had to begin with. Start with a 150 grit sandpaper. Tape the sandpaper to a flat surface. Now just rub the ring back and forth until you've remove the majority of the lip or grooves. Be careful to rotate the ring regularly to avoid making the band uneven.
Move to finer grits until you're satisfied with the finish. I usually get bored at 300, but force myself to go up to at least 600. This will give you a nice smooth edge. You may also sand off your fingertips, but that's a small price to pay.
The edge you've just sanded may be a little sharp to wear comfortably, so use the 220 or 300 grit to round over the edges slightly, then resand up to 600.
Step 5: Final Step: Polish
To put the final polish on the ring, I used a Dremel tool and some jewelers rouge. If you have the Dremel kit it probably has some polishing wheels and a strange little red substance in a plastic package. If you don't have a Dremel or similar tool, you can use a hand drill with a buffing wheel, but you'll need to get some polishing substance, so go back to the big box store.
If you don't own a Dremel or similar device, this is a great opportunity to buy one. "But honey, I was making our wedding rings, sniff sniff." You can pick one up for under US$50.
OK, so get your tool spinning and apply a little of the polishing compound to the polishing wheel. Hold the ring to the spinning wheel and marvel at how your ring begins to shine. It may also get a little hot, so take your time here and try not to polish your fingers too badly.
To keep your rings shiny, you can get some little jewelry wipes and touch them up now and then.