Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Tools Of Hand-Made Coin Ring Making.


When you are buying from a true artisan / maker, you are buying more than just an object. You are buying hundreds of hours of hard work, failures and experimentation. You are buying months and years of frustration and the moments of happiness. You are not buying just a thing. You are buying a piece of heart, soul and a moment in someones life. And most importantly, you are buying the artisan more time to do something they are passionate about. 
Pictured above, is a British India Victorian One Rupee Coin Ring, created as a wedding band in September 2013. It was requested to be made in true to form fashion. That, being hand-made. No machines. As a coin artisan, I do all my work by hand. No castings, or fancy ring making machines or what I call "Chinese Manufacture". As coin ringing has grown in popularity, fewer people are buying pieces, but wanting to create their own. This of course is a good thing. However, more and more ridiculous tools and lazy methods are popping up to make this art form seem"easier". The truth is, there is no easy way to do it unless a machine is doing the work for you. And that is not what I consider artisan jewelry.  So, before you spend your money on some silly tool you saw on youtube, or on some silly method you read about. Understand, that what I teach, and how I create my work is traditional and you don't need any of those special tools created especially for coin ring making. I don't use them. All the tools I use are readily available, have been around for decades and are easy to buy for a low cost. In this post. We are going to go over the basic tools. Tools can chose from that won't cost you an arm and leg then decide the hobby isn't for you. Its best to give it a go first. And then decide if you want to continue. And, if you want to make pieces you are proud of. Pieces that are a part of you. You are going to first have to challenge yourself to do it.
    Pictured Right, is a Japan Silver 50 Sen. This was made with minimal tools. Tools you can afford to buy for less than 100$.
    Lets take a look at some of the tools I use in my shop. And create a list so you know what you will need to get started. Now is probably as good a time as any to inform you, I have been making these rings for 12 + years. So I have some experience under my belt. And your results won't be the same as mine just yet. But if you take my advice, and go from there. You will get great results. I have seen it over and over. With an occasional grouchy nutter that just can't figure it out, and blames me as being deceptive in my blog. It makes me laugh. Simply put. I don't have to put anything up here. And I don't have any deceiving to do. Nutters are nuts. What can I say. Some people just simply lost the plot. And once in a while, I get hit with it. That's life. Point is. I don't want nutters writing me with their weird complaints or nasty gob. So. haha. If you're unstable. Jog on. 
   So, you're here. Lets get to the list. The most basic tools you will need is a round ring mandrel, Raw Hide Mallet or Nylon mallet. I highly prefer raw hide. So, that is what I suggest. However, your local shop may not carry them. So Nylon is fine. But I do recommend Raw Hide. 4 Oz, to 9 oz is best depending on the size of ring you are working with. Larger coins, heavier mallet. smaller, lesser weight. You're going to need a tool to put a center hole in your coin. And there are several options. A drill, a die punch set, or, if you want to go methodical. I recommend a jewelers saw to cut your center hole. We will get into depth on the sawing method more later and in future posts. You will need a calipers. A round file and flat file. 600 grit sand paper and a way to anneal your coins by use of a torch and a few more items that will be handy. First lets start with.

    This is the most basic tool you will need in coin ring making. I have four, for different sizes of rings. Stepped. Smooth. Small. And a wooden mandrel for gold. But for you, you only need one or two depending on budget. On the top left is your basic grooved steel mandrel. The grooves are a ring size chart which can be handy. So you know how far to stretch your piece for size. On the right, is a stepped mandrel. Each step is a size. The handy thing with a step mandrel, is you can more easily get your ring band uniform in shape. And more accurately size it. But this is really its only use in coin ringing. The standard mandrel is a must have. Note: I prefer the smooth steel mandrels. The grooves can mar your coin and its sizing is not always accurate. And I always wrap my mandrel in leather to prevent any marring inside the band even on the smooth mandrels. So whatever way you go. Use leather on your mandrel as much as possible. 

   The second and evenly important tool is a non marring mallet. Since we are working with coins, and the design of which being the key to its appearance as a ring. We don't want to loose  any details of the coins strike pattern. There are two very good options as seen above. The rawhide is a bit more costly for a quality long lasting one. And they come in a variety of face sizes and weight good for smaller coins and larger coins. Rawhide even has the option of being lead filled which are excellent for working larger, thicker coins like silver dollars as seen below. Or coins made of hard copper nickel, nickel and steel. The Nylon, or plastic mallet is a cheaper way to go. They don't last as long. But are easy to replace for an average cost of 12-15$.  But do you want to constantly replace them? There are also different varieties and sizes as well. But not like the raw hide mallets. Something you can explore in your spare time on the internet is looking at mallets. In the end, it will really come down to which mallet you prefer to work with. If you take this craft seriously, you will end up with them all anyway. I did. 
1881 Morgan Dollar "The Gamblers Ring" Size 11. Done with Lead filled Raw Hide Mallet. The only way to go is Lead Filled on these large Silver Coins. 

This wedding band had to be done with a leather Raw Hide Mallet, being it is copper nickel alloy. Do not confuse CuNi with Copper Clad. CuNi is a very HARD alloy, as Clad is just  copper with an other layer of nickel alloy plating, or other cheap metals.
Metal Composition (mix of metals) is something you should always consider when buying your tools and coins. For example. If you plan to start out by using large cents, bronze, clad and copper coins. A lead filled mallet is over kill. Same goes goes for most silver coins such as US Quarters, 25 cent pieces, Silver Shillings, 50 Cents, Half Dollars or two bobs / florins and some Half Crowns of decent silver content. Either of the basic rawhide or nylon will be fine on all the coin types mentioned. Either way, its always good to know a coins size and what a coin is made of before you buy and then wear yourself out hammering away. Luckily, we have the internet and places like so we can look up a coins alloy, size etc before we buy one. NOTE: I am making no mention of gold coins, as most of you will be working with copper and silver. If you are brave enough to start with gold coins with little money. Contact me, so I can remind you to STOP and wait until you can form a ring proper and little marring. Ruining gold pieces is costly. And it just plain sucks! Get to a level you feel confident in your work first. Gold is soft. And working it can be very hard to do. One day. I will cover gold ring making for those of you who are ready. 

   Now that you have a coin selected. The first step, or steps depends on how you plan to go about cutting a centered hole into your coin. The tools shown above are the two most common. If you plan to use a drill. Be warned that the bigger the drill bit, the better the chances the drill bit will bounce and scratch your coin. So be very careful using just a drill. If you have a drill press. Then get a good set up to hold the coin firmly. And always pilot hole it first.  The second method is a die punch, with clear top so you can see where your coin is aligned. If using a punch. You will need to anneal your coin first. I've covered the annealing process in previous posts. So I suggest you learn it before you go and melt a coin. The torch shown right, is a cheap 12-15$ torch. It works good for this. I suggest you pick one up if you are using a die set. Which, most of you will. 95% of the emails I get. You are all using die punches. So I will get into better depth on that in the future. I have some class methods to using those. I used them for a few years until I couldn't stand them and figured out some great ways to make them work. With that said. back to the torch. You are going to need one anyway, so grab one. Simply put. The coins must be annealed to be worked. A cold fold is totally doable. I've done many that way. However. They are far more prone to cracking. And annealing helps prevent that on a molecular level, by unbinding the molecules long enough that the coin becomes soft and malleable. And soft means easier on the arm. You will want a pickle acid for annealing. The brand I most commonly use is Sparex. What it does, is remove fire stain, scale and crap off the coin.  We will cover sparex down below.

 Hand cutting a center hole is my preferred method. Die punches can create hairline fractures in your coins. Especially older coins or coins with higher relief details. Hand cutting allows me to cut the hole where I want it and gives me complete control over its size and center. And the bonus is it does not damage the coin like a 6 ton hammer blow would do. If you want to go this route, it is a bit more tedious. Needs some practice. But worth it in my opinion. You will need a drill, with small drill bit. An Adjustable Jewelers saw, as seen top left. #0 is my preferred choice of cutting blade.

 The Circle Center Finder Tool is a must have tool in my opinion that will help you locate the center of your coin no matter its size. With the use of a circle template, its a cheap and powerful set of tools. The one shown here is 4 dollars from Jerry's. And I am sure any home improvement store will carry one like it. Though, calipers can be just as useful and give you just as good results using a little math. Or, just simply eyeballing it. That I will definitely cover in detail down the road so you can see what exactly I am talking about. 

These next two tools are important tools you will use a lot. Calipers are how I measure my center hole, and draw a dead center circle on my coins. If they come out a bit off. I then use the same tool to measure the distance from the smallest point. Created a new center guide and file away with a round file to make it even. I've been asked so many times how to get a perfectly centered hole as if it matters when you first put the hole into the center of the coin. A perfectly centered hole by use of drill, saw or punch does not matter. So stop worrying about it.  The truth is. Dead center just makes it easier. If it is slightly off. Its not a big deal. Its fixable down the road in the transformation.The key is, just get it as close to center as you can. Measure, mark and file it into a nearly perfect center hole. There are a wide variety of calipers. From cheap plastic 5$ versions as seen top left, to the 15-20$ digital style right. A high end precision caliper really isn't necessary. But if you already own one. Great. I will mention, in my experience while cheap calipers work fine. A set of locking calipers is best. I see some come up on ebay every now and then for dirt cheap. And they are a steal. So look around for a locking set. If its under 15$. Grab it. 


Round and flat files. The round file is what you will use to even out your center hole. Just about any kind will do. Have a harbor freight in town? You can pick up 90% of the tools needed there. And its cheap. The flat file is for working the non factory side of your ring once its been folded over. You'll notice as you work your ring, the non factory side will start to get thin. Use your calipers and flat file to file away evenly the thinness that occurs. This also plays part in making an even band. So that center hole wasn't, totally necessary. Once in ring form. Again. Measure and file. Be sure you use high grit sand paper after each time you file to remove burs and to smooth out your filings.  I also find that using a jewelers loop to to check the non factory side as you fold the ring to check for cracks is good practice. No loop? Use a marker. ink it over. wipe it clean. If you see hairlines that are dark and you can't wipe off. You have a crack. If you catch a hairline crack early, you can file it away before it becomes a problem you can't fix.

A very old ring sizing tool is the Rathburn ring stretcher. These work great for helping size and making your ring uniform in shape. And guess what? They are cheap to buy. Remember to anneal your coin ring before you place it on this tool. And like the use of a mandrel, I highly suggest wrapping leather around this tool as it is extremely prone to marring. Place your ring non factory side down, leaving the factory side over the lip of the step. I prefer to use a dead blow hammer on these tools when I use one. That is basically a mallet full of beans or lead blobs.

As mentioned earlier, sizing on a steel mandrel isn't very accurate. So I suggest buying a plastic ring sizer stick, and set of ring size loops. Shown above are two very common sizing sticks. One is standard US sizes, and the other is UK and US sizes. Your Calipers can determine the inside MM. And printing out a world ring size comparison chart is free. Grab one and post it on your wall near your work bench. I'll provide a copy of one here below.


 Sparex is great for removing any fire stain from annealing. You will use this pickle every time you anneal your coins as they work harden. Heat your piece, and quench it in a bath of water with sparex. Do not use a metal bowl, or any kind of metal as sparex will eventually eat it away. A ceramic bowl, or crock pot works great. A heated solution of sparex works better when warm. Use copper jewelry tongs, or stainless steel. Keep a small bath of water mixed with baking soda nearby to neutralize the acid. Or just water. Sparex is not something you want on your cloths, or steel tools. If left it can eat holes in cloths, cloths and your tools. If working with a pickle, you will notice a dunk into sparex will turn your silver a flat white color. A brazed look. Steel wool, polish cloth or a large eraser will remove this white color. I actually use the sparex in my fire finish designs as it creates a great satin like finish in the low relief fields on polished rings. Some experimenting and you will come up with some neat finishes to your rings.
NOTE: If working with brass. Let your annealed piece sit on a piece of steel to cool down before you let it sit in your pickle solution to remove the fire stain. 

Finishes to your rings.
Patina Finish. This is done many ways. the most common is use of Liver Of Sulphur. 

1871 Silver UK Shilling. Satin / Fire Finish

   Well, there you have it. The Basic tools of hand-made coin ring making. I hope this post was helpful. And I wish you the best of luck in your coin ring making. Remember, hard work pays off. You will not only feel good about having crafted a ring by hand. But you've put a piece of yourself into each of these pieces. No machine can ever do what the hands of an artisan can do. The Picasso's and Van Gogh's didn't use a machine to paint. Great singers don't use auto tune.  For me, this is about creating pieces of art. Pieces I am proud to share with others. Hopefully. My photos give you a little inspiration. I am always excited when I make a nice piece.
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All ring images © O'Shea Coin Rings 2012, 2013.
This article is published and © 11/2/13 O'Shea Coin Rings. And it is not under the public domain.