Wax carving jewellery at home
A question I'm often asked after people have attended one of my Make a Ring classes is “How can I do more of this at home?” If you’ve ever spent any time using jewellers wax then you’ll know that it’s a really fun and rewarding material to work with and can be quite addictive! Luckily, it is a technique that you can easily try on your own without the need for too many expensive tools.
This blog post is for anyone that’s already done some wax carving and is interested in learning more. It isn’t designed to be a guide to the process itself (you’ll have to come to one of my classes for that!), but it will give you an overview of some of the equipment it’s worth investing in as well as how to go about getting your final piece cast and cleaned up.
Wax carving jewellery kits
If you want to buy an off the shelf kit for home use then Cooksongold is a good place to look. It has a fairly comprehensive wax carving kit (see pic above) for around £80 which has some good basic tools you'll need to get started. It does have its limitations however - the files aren't great and you may not find the slabs very useful (depending on what you want to make), so you could look at putting together a kit of your own. Here's what I'd suggest including:
If you’re interested in making rings then it’s worth buying couple of different shaped wax tubes – one D shaped and one round with a centred or off centre hole to play around with. Go for the blue wax when you’re starting out as it’s a bit more forgiving and less likely to break.
Choosing your essential wax carving tools
Wax saw blades and a frame saw are essential for cutting out your ring blanks. You can pick up an adjustable jewellers saw from ebay fairly cheaply and the large jewellery suppliers do them too – try Cooksons again or Sutton Tools (part of Betts Metals) which both have a range of options available. Both of these suppliers also sell special spiral wax saw blades which you’ll need to cut through the wax. Don’t try and use a regular saw blade for this as it will just end up getting clogged up with wax.
To adjust the inside of your ring to the right size, you’ll need a wax ring stick with a blade. Gently working this around the inside of your band will ensure that the ring is a) round and b) fits!! I find that the metal ones like this tend to be a bit more durable than the wooden versions. I'd also highly recommend a large wax file for removing large areas of wax. This will save you hours of grinding away with a smaller file. I have these ones and would recommend them.
How to create pattern and texture in your wax carved piece
For creating pattern and texture on your pieces, the rules are that there are no rules!! You are likely to find lots of things lying around the house that will work really well. A craft knife is handy for making small clean cuts and anything from a safety pin, metal nail file or cheese grater can produce lovely effects. Why not experiment and see what works for you?! You can buy specialist wax knives (like these below), but they're not really essential.
If you’re after a fairly ‘finished’ look to your final piece then it’s worth investing time in removing any file marks from the wax before you send it for casting. It can be a bit laborious, but it’s worth it as it will save you spending ages cleaning it up at the end. Using sandpaper or Wet & Dry paper and working your way up through the grades (240/400/600/800/1000) will give you a great pre-casting finish. You could also give it a little brush with some fine wire wool.
Casting your wax in metal
Now you’ve finished your piece you’ll want to get it cast in the metal of your choice. I use West 1 Castings in Hatton Garden for all my casting work and find them very helpful. They can usually turnaround a piece in a week or so and will post it back to you (for a charge) if you can’t collect. You’ll pay for the cost of preparing the wax master as well as the fee for casting in the metal of yor choice (plus the sprue). If you want to know how much it’s likely to cost before you send it in then give them a call with the weight of your wax and they can give you an quote.
Finishing & polishing your cast piece
Lastly, for finishing the piece, you'd need something to saw off the sprue....just a standard blade in your frame saw should do the trick here, probably grade 3. I also use a variety of flat and half round files to take back the metal to the required finish. Again, Cooksons and Betts have loads to choose from or you might be able to pick one up in your local tool shop - car boot sales can also be great places to pick up inexpensive tools.
For the final sanding I use the Wet & Dry paper again then wire wool and ScotchBrite pads for a subtle brushed/textured finish. If you want to go super shiny you’ll need to invest in (or borrow) and hand held polisher like a Dremel or a Foredom.
If you have any questions about tools and equipment then please do drop me a line. And if you'd like to join a workshop to make your own wax carved jewellery then you can find out more on my Jewellery Making Workshops page. Happy carving!!
Elin Horgan designs and creates handmade jewellery in her Bristol studio. Elin’s beautifully simple handmade jewellery is carefully crafted and designed to be worn every day. You can read more about Elin’s work and the ethos behind her understated jewellery brand on her About Elin Horgan Jewellery page.