Want to fashion a piece of jewelry out of metal? Kate Richbourg’s beginner-friendly tutorial for creating inspirational word beads is a great place to start. These beads are the perfect spot to stamp your Word of the Year or artful resolutions, and wearing the beads is bound to help you keep those intentions in mind long after the new year’s welcome begins to wear off. Learn how to make the word beads with Kate’s article, below, from our January/February 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Jewelry That Inspires by Kate Richbourg
As a jewelry designer and instructor, beads were my first love. After all these years I still love to play with them. Making inspiration beads is a simple project that you can tackle successfully with little to no metalworking experience. If you are just starting out, you can begin with a more economical metal option, like the copper I used. As you perfect your technique, graduate to sterling silver for a super stunning bead.
Stamping words and intentions for the New Year makes these beads even more special. You choose whether to keep your sentiment a secret, tucked away inside the bead, or clearly visible on the outside for everyone to see. Use my design as a starting point and the inspiration to make your own handful of inspiration beads.
- Cardstock for template
- 24-gauge metal sheet of choice (I used copper.)
- Metal shears
- Permanent markers, including a fine tip
- Kiln brick or other soldering surface (I used a Solderite board as my torching surface.)
- Butane micro torch, hand-held
- Soldering tweezers
- Bowl with water
- Metal file: 4-cut metal file, flat, or half round file (400-grit sandpaper will have a similar effect.)
- Bench block
- Texturing hammer(s) (I used the long end of a riveting hammer and the ball side of a chasing hammer.)
- Metal design stamps (I used metal design stamps from Beaducation.)
- Metal alphabet stamp set (I used alphabet stamp sets from Impress Art®.)
- Brass mallet or hammer, 1 lb
- Protected work surface
- Patina (I used Vintaj® Patina from Ranger in Jade (green) and Marine (blue).)
- Cotton swabs
- Wet/dry sandpaper, 600–800 grit
- Metal polishing cloth (I used Pro-Polish pads.)
- Dowel or knitting needle
- Pliers: nylon jaw pliers and chain-nose
- Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax Polish
- Soft cloth or paper towels
- Leather cording or metal chain
Prepare the metal
1. Create templates for the beads with cardstock. (FIGURE 1) The sample is 3″ long, measuring 2″ at the wide end, and 1/2″ at the narrow end. Use these guidelines, or create your own template in a modified triangle shape. Set the template aside.
NOTE: The size of the beads may vary according to your taste. I made these on the larger side, big enough to stamp words onto and small enough to incorporate into a wearable piece of finished jewelry.
2. Cut out a 3″ x 2″ rectangle from the metal sheet with metal shears.
3. Anneal the metal with the butane micro torch: Mark a heavy line across the metal sheet with a permanent marker. This mark will fade when the metal reaches annealing temperature, letting you know that your metal is heated sufficiently. Place the sheet on a kiln brick or charcoal block. Ignite the torch and slowly sweep it over the metal, gradually heating the piece. Move the torch across the entire surface of the metal so it heats evenly. (FIGURE 2) After about 30 seconds the metal will begin to glow a dull red. Maintain this temperature for another 15–20 seconds. The permanent marker should fade around this time. Heat for another few seconds after the marker fades. Turn off the torch and let the metal cool for a few moments. Carefully pick up the metal with soldering tweezers and quench it in a bowl of water.
4. Trace the template onto the metal sheet and cut the shape out with the metal shears. Smooth the edges of the cut metal sheet with the metal file. File the metal in a downward motion; do not go back and forth.
TIP: Metal sheets, even when sold as “dead soft,” may be a bit hard to work with. Annealing helps to solve this problem, making the metal soft and workable through the application of steady heat to the metal with a torch. Bonus: the resulting “fire patina” left on the metal can be used as a design element in the finished piece.
5. Place the piece of metal on a bench block and use hammers to apply texture to the surface. Use a brass mallet or hammer to strike a design and alphabet stamps to complete your design. (FIGURE 3)
6. Anneal, quench, and dry the metal again, as in step 3. After adding texture and stamping, the metal will be work hardened and need to be annealed a second time before shaping it into a bead. Make sure that the metal is completely annealed and malleable at this point. If the metal is stiff, it will pose problems when the bead is shaped.
NOTE: Be aware that each time the metal is heated it continues to darken.
7. Cover your work surface with paper. Wearing protective gloves, apply the patina across the surface of the metal with a cotton swab. (FIGURE 4) Let dry. Alternatively, skip this step and simply use the patina left by the torch.
8. Use fine-grit sandpaper to remove the desired amount of patina from the surface of the metal. A bit of elbow grease may be required, depending on how much patina there is. After the desired level of patina is achieved, shine and polish the surface using a Pro-Polish pad or metal polishing cloth. (FIGURE 5)
Form the bead
1. Starting at the wide edge, bend the metal around the dowel or knitting needle until it forms a bead. (FIGURE 6) Use nylon jaw pliers or chain-nose pliers if you need help making the initial bend. Do not wind the metal tightly. The dowel is just there for support as you shape the bead.
2. Use the chain-nose pliers to bend the metal corners from the initial bend. Those ends may stick out a bit and can be sharp. Bend them in slightly so they won’t catch on clothing. (FIGURE 7)
3. Dip a soft cloth or paper towel in the Renaissance Wax and wipe it over the surface of the bead. Let the wax sit for about 5 minutes, and then buff away the excess. Copper has a tendency to darken over time; this will help slow that process. Your beads are now ready to wear. (FIGURE 8)
4. String the beads on a cord or chain, or incorporate them into a larger piece of beaded jewelry.
Tips for successful stamping on metal
The road to effective stamping can sometimes be frustrating. Take note of the following tips and your designs will look crisp and clean.
- Stamp on a stable surface with no padding under the metal. A rubber block or mouse pad may make your block jump as you strike your stamps. If you wish to dampen the sound or protect your table, opt for a thin piece of leather or a very sturdy sandbag to hold your block.
- Use a 1–2 pound hammer to strike the stamps.
- If the metal slides on the block when you are stamping, tape the metal down with painter’s tape to secure it.
- Practice stamping on a scrap piece of metal to feel and see how the stamps stamp. Each stamp is slightly different. You may need to make slight adjustments in your technique when using different stamps.
Kate Richbourg spent hours stringing beads as a child. It was a phase she never quite outgrew. Teaching and designing jewelry since 1992, Kate teaches at national shows, bead societies, and bead shops. She has been published in a variety of jewelry magazines, and writes the popular blog, We Can Make That at Home. Kate teaches and creates in her studio in South San Francisco, California. Visit her website at katerichbourg.com.
If you enjoyed making these word beads, be sure to check out Kate’s books, videos, and projects in our online shop!