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In the course Working with the Torch: An Introduction to Soldering and Annealing for Jewelry, Jewelry Instructor Melissa covers how to make a thin ring band. But, how do you form a thicker band? By using the new Forming Blocks made in the Woodshop, we’ll break down how it’s possible.

Measure the material for your band

Let’s start by determining the size ring you want to make. You can use the shop ring sizer if you do not know your size! In our shop demonstrations, we’re making a size 6 ring and using a 10 gauge wire.

You can easily Google “ring blank lengths” and find charts/tables for determining the length of wire needed given the size/shape/thickness of the wire you are using. In the NextFab Jewelry Studio, be sure to check the Jewelry Secrets binder for this chart.

If you are making a ring that’s size 6 with 16 gauge wire (Length 55.6mm) it will be a shorter length than the length of wire needed for a size 6 made with 10 gauge wire (Length 59.7mm).

 making a ring that is a size 6 with 16 gauge wire

How could this be?

The difference is the thickness of the wire and the relationship to the inner circumference measurement of the ring. The inner circumference is the part that touches your finger – turns out geometry class was important.

If you cut the same length of 16 gauge and 10 gauge wire, the 10 gauge ring will be smaller. This is because the thickness of the wire has not been taken into consideration. So we need to accommodate it. These charts come in handy to help us work quickly in determining the length needed for a specific size ring. You can purchase material at NextFab (we stock supply from Rio Grande) or you can stop by T.B. Hagstoz our recommended local jewelry supplier.

Form the Heavy Wire Ring Band

Many experienced jewelers have used forming pliers on a thin wire ring band – and it proves sufficient in bending the two ends around to meet and solder easily. When the thickness of metal increases – we end up with a little more material than our forming pliers can handle. This leaves marks on the metal that we don’t want and will have to remove. It’s best to learn to work like a magician and leave no trace! This is where our forming blocks come to the rescue!

Make sure both ends of your wire have been flush cut (meaning the ends were sawn straight and to the exact measurement you need based on thickness and size). Next task – anneal that metal!

Hammer on the Ring Mandrel

jewelry making supplies
Gather up: ring mandrel, rawhide mallet, forming block, your clean and dry annealed metal, and some hutzpah!

  1. Practice holding the metal against the forming block with the pressure of the ring mandrel. You want to line up the approximate size with the marks of the size on the ring mandrel.
  2. Hammer the top of the ring mandrel, while holding the metal firmly against the wooden support. You can move to a smaller groove in the forming block to bend this end around more.

    jewelry studio support
    You can see in this image the two “kinks” in the wire – this is exactly where the mandrel struck the wire. Now we are off to form the other end.
  3. Repeat the hammer blows with the forming block and mandrel working as supports for the left side of the ring so you now have a wide U-shape. Before hammering make sure the other side of the ring is upright and you will have the ends in line with one another. If you slip with the mandrel and the ends become askew, this can easily be corrected by holding one end in a vise and gently tapping the other end to alignment.
  4. Strike the metal in the center of the wide U. This will bend the ends around to meet; however, there is still some work to finesse the joint seam. Use the ring mandrel, hammer, and forming block to tap out the flat areas of the ring to achieve a smoother interior curve. 

Next up is working on the outside of the ring to gently hammer the ends to perfectly meet in the middle gracefully.

Finesse to Solder Perfection

Making a Thick Ring Band
Ring blank definition: industry term that refers to the base structure of a ring. In our case, it is the round wire.

The arrows are indicating where we need to hammer on the copper band to close the seam. Notice the arrows are not over the space of the seam – we are asking the metal to move to our will gracefully. Hitting the open seam will only spread the two sides further apart. This forming method can also be used on a heavy sheet and also flat wire. It is hardest to make the band out of round wire while maintaining the perfectly round shape of the material – take the challenge!

Notice the positioning here and also that we’re using the side of the forming block to hammer on, not on the table or beaches. By hammering the left side I closed the gap enough to create a problem with moving the metal on the right side into position. Imagine the ends of the ring coming together perfectly – like elevator doors closing.  In order for this to happen the next thing to do is open the ring up to make room for the “elevator doors” of the ring to close without deforming the ends of the wire. The ends have to be in alignment to achieve the tightly closed seam for soldering ease.

using the SIDE of the forming block to hammer

Opening up Your Ring

If I moved forward from here without opening the ring up I would bang the ends into each other and deform the metal at the lower interior edge of the seam into a curved negative space.   It is hard to move forward without over-filing and sanding out the error – which may affect the sizing.  As fruitless as this process may seem – expanding and gently aligning the ends together repeatedly is the way to get this done – be the turtle – you will win!   

To open up the ring simply hammer it down the ring mandrel as you gently push up against the table edge. Remember, a little bit goes a long way – we are finessing and not asserting brute force! You should end up with a gap that looks like this. Slide the ring off of the mandrel and get ready to hammer the outside of the ring again.

To open up the ring simply hammer it down

Repeat the hammer blows with the forming block and mandrel working as supports for the left side of the ring so you now have a wide U shape. Before hammering make sure the other side of the ring is upright and you will have the ends in line with one another.

Remember: If you slip with the mandrel and the ends become askew, this can easily be corrected by holding one end in a vise and gently tapping the other end to alignment. 

We need to hammer on the “shoulders” of the ring to bring the seam to meet eloquently and without deformation of the interior of the seam. As we hammered on the left shoulder again open up the seam by expanding the ring on the ring mandrel. This process is a back and forth between closing and expanding and closing.  You will need to go through these steps more than once.  Slow and steady wins!

Tap tap! Expand!

hammering the ring mandrel

Finishing up Your Ring

We went ahead and hammered both sides again after the expansion on the ring mandrel. You can see that we are closer to our end goal now – almost done! Holding the ring to light I can see there is a bit of interior touching and also not touching in the seam. 

Before we address this let’s revisit the benefits of work hardening!

As we have been hammering our initially annealed metal we have been adding structure and springiness through work hardening. This works to our benefit as we saw through the open seam to remove the touching bit of the seam. How?

If we saw through the seam before we solder we will create a tighter seam. This is done by essentially clearing the seam of any potential unevenness occurring in the forming process.  As we pass the sawblade through the seam the ring will snap together given the work hardening from forming the ring.

jeweler's bench

Be mindful when you are sawing this seam. The ring should be placed on the bench pin so that the saw will not push forward into the other side of the ring. In this image, you can see the wood will stop me from cutting any more than desired.

And it snapped right together! Wowie! No space there and we are ready to solder!

Jewelry soldering

Instructor Caroline Gore hosts weekly Jewelry Studio Support Hours out of our NextFab North American Street location, where members are able to present their project ideas and receive valuable technical advice to learn how to structure their work in the jewelry studio. To learn more about becoming a member, see more here.