Stocking the Workbench
Stainless steel jewelry is ideal for anyone with allergies, as it will not usually react with skin. It is challenging to turn scrap steel into eye-catching pieces of wearable art, but the satisfaction of making a one of a kind item outweighs the difficulties when people ask you where you got your interesting bracelet, necklace, earrings or ring. Once you master a few techniques, and make enough items, you can sell them online, at flea markets, art festivals and hobby conventions.
To make stainless steel jewelry, you will need a collection of stainless steel flatware, stainless steel scraps, instant adhesive, semi-precious cabochons, jewelry cards and authenticity cards for each type of semi-precious cabochon. The authenticity cards are the most important. Patrons will pay more for jewelry when they have an assurance that semi-precious stones and other materials are genuine. Stainless steel for body piercing must be APP approved 316L surgical grade stainless steel or better. Never use any steel for body piercing jewelry if you do not know where and how it was made.
Purchase a jeweler’s mandrel, a set of jeweler’s files and a Dremel tool with a variety of bits. You will also need two pair of vise grips, a pair of needle nose pliers, a small anvil or strike plate, hot and cold chisels and a power drill and bit set. Find a small bench grinder with grinding, polishing and wire wheels and keep 24 through 600 grit abrasives on hand. You will need a torch to heat steel for bending, folding and hammering. Arrange everything on a workbench in such a way that all the tools you need are within easy reach.
Safety cannot be stressed enough. You will be working with hot steel with sharp edges. Use a NIOSH-approved respirator when grinding and cutting non-ferrous materials. Wear wrap-around eye protection to prevent sparks, metal shards and grit from damaging your eyes. Be alert when cutting and grinding to avoid crushing and amputation injuries. Always grind away from the body, rather than toward it.
Sparks from cutting and grinding can set your clothes or the shop on fire. Inhaling grinding dust and noxious fumes from adhesives can cause severe lung and brain damage. Keep a large, fully-charged ABC fire extinguisher within arm’s reach at all times, and a fire blanket and shower station should be somewhere in the shop, as well as an eye wash station.
Temper and Technique
Temper all the steel you intend to use by placing it in the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. Be sure none of the pieces are touching one another. Allow the steel to cool to room temperature, then repeat the heating and cooling three times. Steel that is not tempered before being bent or hammered is more likely to shatter. The shards can cause severe injury, especially while still hot. Wear wrap-around eye protection and heavy leather work gloves when heating, hammering, cutting or grinding steel. Use ear protection while cutting and grinding.
Hold the desired piece of steel in tongs, a vise or pliers. Heat the steel to bright orange. Lay it against a curved surface, such as a pipe, jewelry mandrel, or the horn of your anvil. Tap gently until the steel is curved to the necessary arc. Allow the steel to cool to room temperature.
To add semi-precious cabochons to a ring or bracelet, apply a drop or two of instant adhesive to the back of the cabochon and to the ring or bracelet. Allow the adhesive to dry for 30 seconds and then press the cabochon firmly into place. Wipe away any excess adhesive. Use a buffing wheel to polish the jewelry. If you intend to sell your wares, attach the piece to a jewelry card with your name or your chosen company name on the front and back. Attach an authenticity sticker or card to the jewelry as well, if it is composed of precious or semi-precious stones or other materials.