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Fabricated Metal Charms

This is part 1 of a 2-part article. Part 2 is in The Muse too.

Metal art is ‘in’ right now and this charm project is a great way to get your feet wet and to see if metalsmithing is something you’d like to learn. These adorable 1” square charms are fun to make and take only light-duty metalsmithing skills. They are put together with rivets so no soldering is necessary and the hardware can be incorporated into the design or be made invisible.

Tools


Christine Cox teaches metalsmithing and bookbinding classes in our Studio in Volcano, CA.

Materials 

  • Print of Shape Template (right)
  • 3 sq. inches Copper Sheet (24 or 26 gauge)

  • 14 gauge Copper Wire
  • Rubber Cement
  • Jump Ring, Split Ring or Key Ring

  • ARTchix Studio Color Copies
  • Small Piece Acetate (overhead transparency)

 


To print this template on sticker paper, simply right click on the image and select 'Print Picture' (after loading sticker paper in your printer, of course).

  • Trim out the template on the outsides of the lines. Cutting close to the lines will help you save copper.

  • Use the rubber cement to coat the back of the template and the front of the copper sheet, then stick the template to the copper sheet. Careful placement on the edges of the copper will save you some cutting later on.

  • In the front piece only center punch a dent for each rivet hole and one in the center of the frame to be cut out. There are black circles marked on the template to guide you. It’s a lot easier to drill holes into a large sheet of metal rather than into a small one so drill any holes you can before sawing out the pieces.

  • Drill each of the holes in the front piece only. As metal has no give to it, it’s important to drill only the front. If you drill all your holes in the back piece and then install a rivet, chances are high that the remaining holes will not line up. After you’ve installed at least 2 rivets, the pieces will no longer shift and you can feel free to drill all the remaining holes into the back piece.

  • Center punch and drill the hole in the back piece where the jump ring will go. It’s important to hit the middle when you center punch otherwise your drilled hole will be off-center and almost impossible to correct.

  • Using the bench pin for support saw around both frames and cut out the inside of the frame front. To saw out the inside of the frame, loosen the blade on one side of your jeweler’s saw, string the blade through the hole (so that the template is on the top) and then reinstall your saw blade. Saw out the frame and then loosen the blade again to remove it from the piece.

  • Remove the paper templates.

  • How your charms look will depend on your finish work as much as on the fabrication steps. Take your time and relax. Use files to shape as needed and to contour the edges of both pieces of copper. Use progressively smaller and finer files to get into the tight spots.

  • If you wish to stamp your name into the back of the charm, you’ll want to do that now, before you assemble the pieces.

  • Cut a picture and a piece of acetate to the same size as the back of the charm.

  • Stack the pieces in this order; charm back, picture, acetate, charm front. If you are using one of the cool ArtChix Studios’ transparencies omit the acetate from this step.

  • Line everything up and then clamp the pieces using a ring vise or a binder clip (use fabric or leather to protect your work from scratches).

  • Use one of the holes in the front of the charm as a guide to drill one hole in the back (and through the acetate and picture).

  • Intentionally I use a wire that is slightly too large for the 1/16” holes. This is to insure that the rivets fill as much of their respective holes as possible. File one end of the copper wire to a taper so that it will fit through one of the holes you drilled in the previous step.

  • Lightly force the wire into the hole until it won’t go anymore.

  • Cut the wire to about 1/16” (or slightly less) on either side and file flat. The less wire you have showing on either side of the charm, the neater your finished piece will look. On the other hand you need enough wire to form the rivet-head (picture a nail head).

  • Balance one side of rivet on the bench block and lightly hammer the rivet almost flat. Riveting is not about strength, but about rhythm. Get a good, comfortable rhythm going and work very slowly. Watch the metal move and then shift your hammer as needed to keep the rivet-head round. Note, a riveting hammer is best for this but in a real pinch you can use the round end of a (small) ball pien hammer.

  • Flip the entire piece over and repeat hammering on the other side of the rivet until you have formed a satisfactory head on that side too.

  • Now center punch and drill one other hole and create another rivet as above.

  • Center punch and drill the rest of your holes and then install rivets in them.

  • Finish the piece by either sanding with progressively finer grades of sandpaper or polishing cloth.

 

Notes from the Field:

  • If you know how to draw a bead on a torch, you could make round-headed rivets (like little balls of copper). Silver is substantially easier than copper to draw a bead on, and the mix of metals would be very pretty.

  • You can make smaller rivets by using a finer gauge of wire and a correspondingly smaller drill bit.

  • Try cutting the inside frame of the front of the charm to a shape other than a square. How about a cityscape or a wavy pattern?

  • These charms are adorable when torch colored or oxidized. A copper patina could really pull the colors out of your color copy.

  • Try baking your copper (before gluing the template on) in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 30 minutes for a rich, warm glow.

  • Make a bracelet full of these charms or mix them with found objects or beads. They are compatible with a wide range of styles from contemporary industrial to an old fashioned Victorian look. Your finish work will make all the difference.


Issue # 11

Christine Cox was a regular contributor to ARTitude Zine. This article originally appeared there and is reprinted here with permission. Unfortunately ARTitude is no longer published.