I’m no pro, let me first say that. I consider myself and an adept beginner (is that a real thing?) It’s still tough for me, but I’ve come a long way since I first got started. The questions I get most often are all the same.
Where do you get your stamps and blanks?
I shop both online and in-store. Your local craft store (like a Hobby Lobby or Michael’s) is a good place for the basics. I have found a few different fonts at my Hobby Lobby, each size and case is $19.99 (don’t forget your coupon). Michael’s has a few design stamps as well. I really like PJ Tool & Supply as my first place to look for things I can’t find in-store. Beaducation has a great selection as well, but you’re going to pay more for the artisan fonts… but they are *the* place to go for your blanks. I haven’t found selection like theirs anywhere – for both silver and for more economical metals. Do pick up plenty of practice blanks, though, even if you plan to work in finer metals – you don’t want to waste any money until you have your technique down!
Is it hard to do?
Not at all, as long as you are a patient person who doesn’t mind lots and lots of practice. It’s something you finally just get a feel for, and the only way to do it is to do it. I discovered this was not my strong suit. Fortunately, I am stubborn enough to stick with it. But in hindsight… it would have been a huge cost savings for me to have just ordered a few pieces from an experienced jewelry artist. *sigh*
What do I need to get started?
This was the question I could never find a good answer to when I wanted to get started! I will list the absolute essentials and also a few recommendations. I spent money on things I don’t use much, or replaced right away, which makes me really mad at the salesperson who talked me into it. ;)
- Hammer. Your regular hammer from your tool box is fine! Any 16 oz. hammer will do, it doesn’t need to be a specialty hammer. Heavier works fine too, I just find 16 oz. to be a comfortable weight. Basic hammers are usually 16 oz. All you will be using it for is banging on the top end of your steel stamps.
- Steel bench block. It doesn’t need to be big. I bought the fancy one with the rubber bottom to absorb noise. I am extremely glad that I did, because I work when Raya is sleeping. A basic one will be fine, though – you could even put a towel underneath to help absorb noise, as long as you keep your block nice and level.
- Stamp set. This is where it can get very expensive, very quickly. I recommend buying just a 3 mm lowercase set to see if you like it, before you spend ANY more money. 3 mm (1/8″) is a big enough size that you can feel when it’s level, so your results come out better with less time practicing. I also find lowercase to be what I use for everything! It’s my absolute most versatile set. I got mine at PJ Tool, but check Hobby Lobby if you have one in your area. At the time I started stamping, my Hobby Lobby wasn’t carrying stamps yet.
- Masking tape & pencil – maybe a ruler too in the beginning. Small supplies, and you probably already have them – just check your stash before you sit down with the rest of your supplies. You can also use something like a post-it note or washi tape if you don’t have masking tape – whatever you have on-hand. Eventually you may get so good you won’t need these anymore, but I find them absolutely essential for me.
- Sharpie marker and rubbing alcohol. If you’re working in copper or silver, you’ll probably want to try liver of sulfur. But that is a specialty thing to get a hold of, and for just getting started, a sharpie will achieve a very similar look for less money and a minimum of fuss. It’s also pretty much your only option if you are stamping on inexpensive metal blanks.
- Polishing cloth. You’ll want this to finish your piece. It will be oily, fingerprinted, and have Sharpie remnants on it. The cloth works wonders for making it shine. You may be able to sub an old t-shirt for this if you’re just beginning.
- Blanks. Lots of them! I mentioned Beaducation for your finer supplies, but get lots of practice blanks! Practice blanks are harder and take a harder hit, but you will want to get the feel for lining up your stamps and practicing your spacing on something that cost you twenty cents before you move onto a blank that cost you five dollars.
Optional but recommended:
- Nylon (or rubber) stamping block, and a nylon hammer. Softer metals will begin to curve when you stamp them. You can flatten them out really easily with a nylon hammer. Your harder practice blanks should stay pretty smooth so you shouldn’t need it, but when you graduate to making something nicer – you will want these!
- Hole punch – I would get the screw-down one if I were doing it over again. I bought the hand punch, and it will only do metals of a certain thickness. The screw down punch is more versatile and more economical, but the hand punch is faster and easier.
Things I wouldn’t worry about right away:
These are things that are fun to have if you get a starter set that already has them, but are a total waste of money if you decide it’s really not for you. You can use them as a beginner and create some cool effects – but I wish someone had told me these were really secondary tools!
- A chasing hammer (for texturing)
- A Dapping Block (for curving/cupping round blanks)
- Additional Stamps unless they’re part of a specific project. Don’t worry about the hearts, stars, numbers, punctuation, etc. unless you know for sure you want it. Alpha stamp sets nearly always come with an ampersand (&).
Okay, so you can see that supplies are going to be pricey. You just can not start stamping for less than $20, and that’s if you get the low-end (I don’t mean low-quality, just no-frills) absolute basics. Which is where I start getting mad because my started kit cost me nearly $100 by the time I figured out what you really do need to get going. Learn from me, and not from a salesperson in a specialty jewelry supply store. ;)
Here is what else is going to happen. You’ll do a few pieces and like it. And pretty soon… you will get a stash that looks like this:
So let me warn you that this can become a very expensive hobby if you really enjoy it. :)
But – assuming I haven’t scared you off with the both the financial and time investment – let me show you how to get started!
Pick your bank and measure it to make sure there’s space for what you want it to say. I have gotten pretty good at eyeballing my spacing, but to get started, you may need to measure. Then, put a few layers of masking tape on your blank. I use 2 or 3 layers of tape – just be sure that they are exactly lined up. Now, mark where you’ll be stamping your letters. You may want to mark it with the letter too!
My personal method is that I do the letters first that don’t have a descender. (Like “g”, “p”, “y”, etc.) That helps me line up my word vertically. If your set is all capital letters, you won’t need to worry about that. I’m going to spell the word “practice” here – but I’m starting with the “r”. I will come back to the “p” at the end.
Line up your stamp with the mark you made, and lay it gently. Drag it down to the line of the tape. You should feel the ridge the tape makes. That will help you keep it straight, since you won’t be able to see it when you’re stamping.
You want your stamp totally level, and to use just one solid tap. If you have to hit it twice, you will get overlap. If you hesitate – it will show. It’s really common for hesitation to create a double stamp. So don’t worry about hitting your fingers. Seriously. Just relax, and give each one a nice tap. You’ll get a good feel for how hard to hit it. Bigger letters like “m”, “w”, “e”, and “a” will be tougher to stamp than slim ones like “i”, “l” and “f”.
No matter how hard you try to space them perfectly, it’s never going to happen. ;) That’s the charm of hand-stamped jewelry. It’s imperfect. See how closely mine are lined up to my spacing lines? And they are still a little off.
Now, I place another line of tape along the top edge of the letters, so that I have a guideline to place my “p”.
Then I peel the lower tape away and stamp.
Then I stamped my next lines the same way. Then I decided I wanted to add a shape. For shapes, I like to use the reflection from my block or my blank to make sure I have it right-side-up.
Now, between photographing and trying to stamp, I had trouble with a couple letters and I also goofed on my star. I hesitated at the last moment on my star. Remember when I said that you can get a double-imprint if you do it that way?
But that’s ok! This was just a practice blank. :) Now, let’s blacken the letters. Just color the letters with your sharpie.
Then wet a tissue or paper towel with rubbing alcohol, and wipe off the excess. I wouldn’t recommend a cotton ball, otherwise you will wipe it out of the grooves in the letters, too.
Now, polish up your piece with your polishing cloth:
How did you feel about your practice round?
I’m ready to move on to my real piece! I’m using Vintaj brass for my real piece. Remember how I told you that softer metals can curve or curl? For this piece, I’m going to need to use my nylon block and hammer to flatten it out.
Just put it upside down, and hammer it with your nylon hammer (so it doesn’t put dents in it). I usually tape a corner down to keep it from skidding away.
Now, I’m going to blacken my letters and polish my piece -
Then just add my finishing touches. :)
Good luck, and happy stamping!
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