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Captured-coin ring

Abuse the rules of blacksmithing and fuse them with the tricks of the jewelry trade to create a modern relic
Capturedcoin ring Figure
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Capturedcoin ring back view

On larger-scale works, a blacksmith can forge the iron while it’s hot — on a smaller scale, by the time you step to your anvil with a ring and grab your hammer, the steel is already black-cold. So when making iron jewelry, you must work the metal as if it was silver: by repeated annealing between forging, bending, twisting, etc. And, more important than that, you must treat it with the same attention to detail as when working with gold. 

SUPPLIES

  • Mild-steel tubing: 21 mm (13⁄16 in.) outside diameter (OD), 2.25 mm wall thickness; approximately 4.5 cm (13⁄4 in.) plus extra for clamping in the vise
  • Coin: smaller than the pipe OD, larger than the pipe ID
  • 4 Mild-steel or hardened steel nails that have been annealed: approximately 1 mm diameter
  • Hammering toolbox
  • Calipers
  • Large vise
  • Hacksaw
  • * Files: large and small half-round, round hand file (optional); diamond needle files
  • Plumber's or jeweler's torch
  • Flex shaft/pendant motor
  • * Flex shaft accessories: diamond burs (including a 3 mm [1⁄8-in.] diamond cylinder), sandpaper roll, silicone burs, steel brush
  • * Sandpaper, 400-grit
  • Steel ring mandrel or other ring-sized steel mandrel
  • Pliers: parallel jaw, half-round forming
  • Soldering board (optional)
  • Handheld drill with rotary grinding file
  • Dividers
  • Center punch
  • Drill bit smaller than the nail diameter
  • Multi-purpose oil and water in a dish (optional)
  • Jeweler's saw with a coarse blade
  • Clear packing tape (optional)
  • Hard sealing wax 

    * Dedicated to steel use only

The steel I use

For most of my work, I use mild steel, a low-carbon steel used mainly by blacksmiths. It used to be applied for water plumbing in some European countries, but it is still in use for various construction works, such as railings. 

Another great quality of mild steel is that it’s nearly half the weight of the same volume of silver, so you can create more lightweight pieces.

INSTRUCTIONS

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Lay out the ring. Lay out the ring accord-ing to the FIGURE (above). Divide a 21 mm (13⁄16-in.) outside diameter (OD), 2.25 mm wall-thickness, mild-steel pipe into visually equal quadrants. Use a fine-tip permanent marker to mark the quadrants (vertical blue dotted lines in the Figure). 

NOTE: You can use calipers, but I prefer to eyeball the measurements. This makes the imperfections harmonic, and the final piece will have an even level of accuracy.

Mark two vertical lines 5–6 mm (3⁄16–15⁄64 in.) apart and 2.5 cm (1 in.) long centered on one of the quadrant marks for the shank. Repeat on the opposite side of the tube (vertical red lines).

NOTE: The shank can be as wide as you feel would be comfortable, but it must be narrow enough to twist later.

At the end of the shank lines, draw a line around the circumference of the pipe. This is where the ring’s shoulder will start. Draw another line around the circumference of the pipe 1 cm (25⁄64 in.) below the first line. This is where the ring’s shoulder will end (horizontal blue dotted lines). 

Draw a third line 1 cm (25⁄64 in.) below the second. This is the top of the ring where you’ll remove it from the pipe (red horizontal line).

Draw an evenly curved line that starts at one shank line, reaches the lowest point of the curve where the quadrant mark and the second line intersect, and ends on the nearest shank line on the opposite side of the pipe (curved red lines). Repeat to mark the second side of the pipe. 

Cut the ring shank. Secure the pipe in a vise, and use a hacksaw to make a vertical cut on the outside edge of each ring-shank mark (the red lines are the cut lines). Stop before you reach the shoulder of the ring [PHOTO 1]. 

Loosen the vise, and turn the pipe over so that the ends of the shank point down and the curved marks on one side of the ring shank are oriented vertically. This orientation gives you better control and makes it easier to maintain a straight cut. 

Use the hacksaw to cut as close as possible to the curved mark until the blade meets the ring-shank cut you made earlier [PHOTO 2]. Since you can’t cut a curve, cut close to the line and refine it later to remove the excess metal. Go slowly, and cut on the outside of the line, since you can’t add more material if you cut away too much.

Read just the pipe in the vise, and repeat to cut along the second curved mark on the other side of the ring.

File the ring shank. Secure the pipe horizontally in the vise, and leave the ring portion of the pipe extending from one edge of the jaws. Use a large, half-round file to file one of the cut edges of the ring to create a smooth curve from the shoulder to the shank [PHOTO 3]. 

Turn the pipe 180° in the vise, and repeat to file the other side of the ring. Make sure the two sides are symmetrical.

Turn the pipe in the vise so the shank ends point up, and use a smaller half-round file to file the inside of the ring to remove any sharp edges and make it symmetrical [PHOTO 4]. 

Forge the ring-shank ends. Make sure the pipe is secure in the vise, and use a plumber’s or jeweler’s torch to heat the shank ends until they’re cherry red [PHOTO 5].

Move the pipe to an anvil or heavy steel bench block, and use a forging ham-mer to forge the ends of the shank flat in a plane perpendicular to the pipe [PHOTO 6]. 

NOTE: I suggest a 300–400 g (10.5–14 oz.) German hammer. It’s heavy enough, but easy to control for this scale of work.

Use diamond needle files, diamond burs in a flex shaft/pendant motor, and 400-grit sandpaper to remove all the burrs from the ends of the shank [PHOTO 7]. 

Offset the ring-shank ends. Re-secure the pipe in the vise, heat the ring shank ends to a cherry red, and use the hammer to offset the ring shank ends from each other slightly [PHOTO 8].

Round out the shoulder of the ring. Reheat the pipe, and place a ring mandrel or other ring-sized steel mandrel between the ring shank ends.

NOTE: If you don’t keep a ring mandrel around for punishing jobs, find something else that will work. The steel can be rough on your tools, so you don’t want to use your best mandrel.

Hold the ring mandrel in the opening of the ring at a point on the mandrel slightly smaller than the desired ring size, and strike the end of the mandrel downward with a plastic mallet [PHOTO 9]. This forces the shoulder of the ring to round out. You can’t do this after you’ve cut the ring from the pipe because the head of the ring would deform. Strike the wide end of the mandrel to continue rounding the form [PHOTO 10].

Form the ring shank. Secure the pipe in the vise so the shank ends point up, and heat them again. Use parallel-jaw pliers to twist each shank end 90° [PHOTO 11]. Make sure to twist them the same direction so that they are even and the forged ends are parallel to the sides of the pipe. Continue to heat the pipe, and use half-round form-ing pliers to bring the ends toward each other until you form a closed shank [PHOTO 12].

Use the forging hammer to forge the shank around the ring mandrel evenly until it’s round and symmetrical. It’s better to close it tighter than you need it and then open it up, than to have it be too big.

NOTE: You can size up the ring while it’s black-cold if it is well annealed. If not, heat it and forge it while it’s red-hot.

After you establish the general shape and size of the ring, you can forge the band to be wider than the head of the ring (diameter of the pipe), if desired.

Cut the ring from the pipe. Secure the pipe horizontally in the vise, and then use the hacksaw to cut through the pipe at the top mark [PHOTO 13]. File the end until it’s flat, but don’t worry about making it smooth: You’ll refine it later.

Choose a coin. Choose a coin to set into your ring. The coin should be slightly larger than the inside diameter of the pipe, but smaller than the outside diameter.

NOTE: I used an old Italian Lira, and re-moved the exterior band because I wanted to use only the head of Mercury. If you’re not sure what type of metal your coin is and if it will withstand being heated to red-hot, test it by placing it on a solder-ing board and using the torch to heat it until it glows. If it melts, choose a different type of coin. You’ll heat the ring after it’s fully assembled, and you don’t want any surprises after you’ve set the coin.

Grind the inside of the ring to accept the coin. Secure the ring in the vise with leather or cloth to pad the vise’s jaws, and use a rotary grinding file in a handheld drill  to grind the inside of the top of the ring [PHOTO 14] until the coin can drop into the pipe 1–1.5 mm (approximately 1⁄16 in.) [PHOTO 15]. 

NOTE: If you don’t have a rotary grinding file, use a round hand file instead. 

Remove the coin from the pipe and use the flex shaft with a sandpaper roll or diamond burs to refine the setting.

Bevel the top edge of the ring. Remove the ring from the vise, and hold the shank in a ring clamp. File the circumference of the top of the ring to create a thin bezel that will be easy to press down onto the coin [PHOTO 16]. File it to knife sharpness, then file it back down to remove the sharp edge.

Add the riveted seat for the coin. Use calipers and dividers to measure the thick-ness of the coin [PHOTO 17]. Insert the coin into the ring and measure the distance be-tween the top edge of the bezel and the bottom of the coin. Mark this combined measurement around the outside of the ring. Mark four evenly spaced points along the line, and use a center punch to make a divot at each mark. Be accurate: The holes must be at the same level. 

Measure the diameter of your nails (mine are approximately 1 mm), and drill a hole at each divot using a drill bit slightly smaller than the nails. When drilling steel, drill slowly and apply as much pressure as you can without risking the bit breaking. If necessary, use water with a few drops of multi-purpose oil in it to cool the bit, or just take breaks while drilling to let the steel cool. If you drill too quickly, the drill bit may overheat and lose its temper, requiring it be replaced.

NOTE: If the holes aren’t perfectly aligned around the circumference of the pipe, you can adjust them slightly by enlarging the holes in different directions.

Anneal four nails. Use a jeweler’s saw with a coarse blade to trim the nails so that they fit into the holes with the heads inside the ring [PHOTO 18]. When the heads are flush against the inside wall of the ring, cut off the ends of the nails so that approximately 2 mm (5⁄64 in.) extends from the ring. 

Slide the ring onto the ring mandrel, and use a 50–100 g (1.8–3.5 oz.) hammer to flare the ends of each nail [PHOTO 19].

Use needle files and a sandpaper roll or silicone burs in the flex shaft to remove any burrs. Finish with a steel brush.

Refine the coin’s seat. Use a 3 mm (1⁄8-in.) diamond cylinder bur in the flex shaft to grind off some of the heads of the nails inside the ring [PHOTO 20] until the coin sits level in the ring and doesn’t wobble. This will correct for misaligned drilled holes.

Set the coin in the ring. Secure the ring in the vise, set the coin in the ring, and use the hammer you used to rivet the nails to close the edge of the bezel over the coin. The only unforgivable mistake is striking the coin, so be careful! To prevent stray strikes and scratches, cover the coin with a few layers of clear packing tape. If necessary, anneal the ring while setting the coin.

If you need to refine the shape of the ring, don’t forge the shank ends or you will mess up the alignment of the rivets and possibly bend the coin. Use only files and sandpaper to refine the ring at this point.

Finish the ring. Heat the ring to a bright orange glow to build up an oxidized patina. Use steel brushes in the flex shaft to remove as much of the patina as desired. (I think a good balance of dark and polished areas is the most decorative.)

Seal the joins in the ring. Hold the ring in a vise or tweezers, and warm it with the torch. Rub sealing wax onto the piece. Once it is covered, heat the piece until the melts into the gaps (use good ventilation!). Let it solidify, and use steel brushes in the flex shaft to remove excess wax. If you don’t have good access with the brush, use a toothpick to scrape out the rest.

Iron care & use

Iron jewelry needs care, just like silver jewelry does. Not being a precious metal, it is more reactive with the environment and with you. When you first wear a piece of mild-steel jewelry, it may leave a mark on your skin. But after a while, your piece will become “oxidized to you” and will no longer leave a mark. As it absorbs natural oils from your skin, it will form a protective layer. If you get ill, it will probably leave a dark mark on your finger again due to the changed acidity of your skin (just think of it as your jewel is worrying about you). When you swim in saltwater or chlorinated water, the same thing happens, and you must rinse it with fresh water and wipe it immediately. I think it’s nice to live together with such a strong and sensitive metal.

Iron is a beautiful material. You can wear it all the time: Take a shower, cook, wash the dishes, visit a sauna, or sleep! It’s not stainless, but in the conditions we maintain on our skin (dry and clean), it stays perfect for ages. The main thing to remember is that if you do get it wet, you must wipe it dry, as you do your hands. Don’t let it air dry, or it will rust.

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