Introduction: Make a Silver Cross Out of a Coin

About: I'm a toolmaker, general hack, and I'm good at drinking coffee. Sometimes I draw.

A couple of years ago I made some small silver crosses for Easter for the family. I’ve done silver casting and soldering before, but wanted to do something a little more quick. I have a bunch of silver coin in a collection of coins I gathered during my days as a cashier years ago. People would come through the checkout line and somehow at the end of some nights I would have either a foreign coin or old silver.

U.S. coins, as well as many other countries’ coins, used to be made out of silver and not what we see today: combinations of nickel, copper, and aluminum.

So, seeing this bag of coins I’ve collected, I decided to try to make something out of them. I don’t cut up the Mercury dimes or Buffalo nickels, but I do use the quarters and nickels from the late 50′s and early 60′s. This is a project I wrote about on my blog, Sir Richard's Tool Kit.

These two crosses were textured with a propane torch. 

Step 1: You Will Need...

The process is rather quick and doesn’t take many tools.

You’ll need:

a coin
wire cutters
small drill bit and drill
jeweler’s saw and block or a hack saw
small files
a hammer
maybe a pin vise
If you choose to partially melt the silver for texture, you will need a propane torch.

safety goggles- plase wear them. I've gotten metal and wood in my eye before and scratched my cornea. It is not fun. It will ruin your day.

Step 2: Marking

Start by making the shape of the cross on the coin with a pencil. The pencil wipes off easily with your finger, so you can mark it with a perminent marker or a scribe.

Step 3: Cutting

A jeweler’s saw has teeth that are very fine and cut soft metal. The wire cutters can maybe do all of the cutting on a thin coin like a dime. That’s a maybe. The amount of leverage required to cut the coin at the tip of the wire cutters can be difficult unless you have really good cutters with long handles. I don’t.

If you can do the cutting at the back of the cutters, it’s easier. That can be done a little later.
Using the saw and the block, which clamps to the table, cut out the shape of the cross. Using beeswax to lubricate the blade helps to prevent binding and breaking the blade.

If you don't have a jeweler's saw, a hack saw can do the work if you clamp the coin in a bench vise.

Step 4: More Shaping

Once the shape of the cross is cut out, clip the top and sides of it to make the cross proportional, othewise it’s an "X". Clip the ends with the wire cutters towards the back of the jaws like I mentioned before. Use caution because the little ends fly off and are sharp. The top piece i clipped is somewhere behind the couch.

It is possible to shape the cross entirely with a triangular file, if that’s all you have. It will take longer, but it can be done. I would recommend clamping the coin in a vise to do that.

Step 5: Drilling

Drill a small hole at the top of the cross to attach the cross to a necklace with a jump ring. You could wait until the very end to do this part.

Step 6: Hammering

Next, take a hammer to it an flatten out the markings on the coin. This can be done on any hard and flat piece of metal, like the anvil flat on the back of a bench vise. Or you can do it on a brick or a sidewalk. Remember, the texture of the surface you hammer on will transfer to the metal, for good or bad. Flip the cross over while hammering and use gentle taps. The silver is soft and does require the blows of a blacksmith.

On the crosses I originally did, I didn’t hammer them. I heated them with a propane torch and melted them enough to reflow the surfaces and create some nice texture. Try it, but be careful. It also allows you to pretty much skip the next step of filing and smoothing the edges. That’s what is called a fire polish.

Using some small files clean up the edges of the cross. You can also introduce some texture to the cross with gentle taps from a ballpeen hammer as well.

Step 7: Texturing

I decided it would be nice to add a stipple texture to it. This is easy to do on a soft metal like silver, copper, or brass. Any small drill bit can be ground to create a burin tip to make this texture with. 

A 1/16″ drill bit has been ground on the back to a 45° angle with a Dremel bit.
I chucked the bit in a pin vise and did a final sharpening on a fine oil stone to remove burrs from the edge. That’s all there is to it. This makes a cutting edge that can be used to chip away a stipple texture. It takes a little practice, but it only takes a couple minutes to create a random pattern. If you really want to go cross-eyed, you can make a pattern that simulates a basket weave or linear pattern.

Step 8: Finished

Once you are done with with the texture, if you choose to do that, it's just a matter of adding a jump ring and stringing it up.