I got some great feedback from my stamped & beaded bracelet, and as promised, I’m going to give you all some jewelry stamping tips, in case you’re considering trying stamping (or considering hurling your stamps at something breakable out of frustration, LOL).
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 am editing this post 4/7/14 to reflect the changes in availability over the last 2 years since I wrote this post! The good news is, supplies are more accessible than they used to be, and I’ve had the chance to use my tools for a few years to know how they hold up. There are several sources I like. If you like to shop in-store, Hobby Lobby and Michaels both have a tool selection and a few stamps and blanks available (bring your coupons!). But, I primarily shop online, especially if you’re looking to get everything in one shot. My friends at Goody Beads make buying a starter kit easy by having a “getting started” category on their website. You can check it out here: Metal Stamping For Beginners. They also have a nice selection of basic blanks, and they carry the ImpressArt product line which I’m partial to, personally. If you’re looking to step up your designs and go beyond basic circles, hearts, squares and the other essential starter shapes, Beaducation has a lot of unique and original stamps and blanks.
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. Invest in inexpensive blanks – aluminum is a perfect starter metal since it’s soft and takes a good impression, and the price point is perfect for less-than-perfect pieces.
What do I need to get started?
As I mentioned – Goody Beads sells a whole category of starter supplies. It’s about $100 for ALL the essentials, which more than qualifies for free shipping. I spent nearly twice that when I got started because I let a salesperson at a specialty store talk me into things I didn’t need. You can ALWAYS expand your set, you will always want a new font and a new design, haha. But start small, and make sure you enjoy it. I’m editing this list on 4/7/14 now that I’m a couple years in. It hasn’t changed much – I’m actually paring the list down to what’s essential and what’s optional.
- Stamping hammer. I started with the standard 16 oz. hammer from my tool box (pictured above). I upgraded later to a specialty brass stamping hammer with a shorter handle, and I cannot tell you how much of a difference it made. My strikes were straighter and more consistent, and I was a lot less nervous about hitting my hand, haha. So you CAN get the job done with a standard hammer. If $20 for a specialty hammer is a deal-breaker, it’s not essential… but I really recommend it after trying it for myself.
- 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; hammering on metal is a loud activity. But you can find a basic, small steel block for as little as $6 and it will serve you well; you can upgrade later if you find you really enjoy stamping.
- Stamp set. This is where it can get very expensive, very quickly, because if you love stamping, you will want ALL the fonts. :) To start, I recommend buying just a 3 mm economy 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. If you’re really uncertain and decide to buy just uppercase or just lowercase – let me recommend the lowercase set. Lowercase letters soften your stamped message. All caps is just like when you read online, it looks LIKE SHOUTING. Anytime I hesitate in buying 2 sets (upper and lowercase) I start with the lower to see if I like it first.
- Masking tape & pencil – maybe a ruler too in the beginning. Small supplies, and you probably already have them! You can also use washi tape, or pick up some stamp-straight tape which is designed for metal stamping, but any non-residual paper tape will do if you have some in your stash already. Edit to add on 4/7/14 – I still use tape every time I stamp. You will be able to control your spacing and vertical alignment so much better by using tape as a guide.
- Sharpie marker or acrylic paint and optionally, rubbing alcohol. If you’re working in copper or silver, you may want to use liver of sulfur to oxidize your pieces. But it’s not as beginner-friendly as paint or marker. Also, liver of sulfur will only oxidize the finer (read: more expensive) metals – you can’t oxidize aluminum. So for absolute beginners, start with something simple and work your way up later if you wish.
- Polishing cloth. You’ll want this to finish your piece. It will be oily, fingerprinted, and have Sharpie or paint remnants on it when you’re done. :) The cloth works wonders for making it shine. It’s a small investment but it will make your piece so much better when you’re done.
- Blanks. Lots of them! Aluminum is a good metal to start on, and bonus – it’s one of the least allergenic metals out there (yes, even better than silver). In the beginning you will make some mistakes. Better to goof on a 30-cent aluminum blank than an $8 silver one.
- Nylon hammer. Softer metals, especially if they’re a thinner gauge, will begin to curve when you stamp them. You can flatten them out really easily by pounding them flat again with a nylon hammer. Thicker aluminum or harder metals won’t have this problem, but before you stamp on silver, you should get a nylon hammer.
- Hole punch – I bought the hand punch, and it will only do metals of a certain thickness. It’s also more expensive. It is, however, more convenient than the screw down punch. I own both, and I’d say that the screw down punch is the long-term more versatile, though go ahead and buy both if you want the added convenience! If you don’t buy a hole punch, you’ll be limited to working with blanks that have a pre-punched hole. Most economy blanks and specialty blanks will not have holes and you will need to punch your own.
These are things that are fun to have if you get a starter set that already has them, but are a waste of money if you stamp a couple projects but decide that metal stamping really ins’t for you. But, as soon as you are hooked, you will want these tools. If you’re trying to cut costs on a beginner set, they can wait and you CAN get started without them.
- 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 do add up… plan on spending $100 to do it right. Was that painful? I’m sorry! But a lot of hobbies are like this (hello, scrapbooking??) – the difference in metal stamping and most other hobbies is that you buy your tools up front, and blanks are relatively inexpensive to keep using them. It’s a hobby that gets cheaper as you go, and not the other way around. :)
Because that’s what I said, and shortly thereafter, I had a stash that looked like this:
But – assuming I haven’t scared you off with the both the financial and time investment – let me show you how to get started! I’ve got a new video I added on 4/7/14 when I brushed this post up a little, and then there is a full photo tutorial to follow.
Pick your blank 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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