There are a lot of choices when it comes to metal sheet decisions, temper and gauges are a few of them. Making the choice can quickly become confusing, but hopefully, this jewelry metal sheet guide to gauges and tempers can remove some of the confusion and set you on the path to making beautiful jewelry. Our helpful guide was created for students and contains suggested gauges for specific projects. But, as you advance in jewelry-making, your personal choices may change drastically from those listed below and that's completely okay.
Jewelry Tempers & Metals
It's crucial to choose the right type of jewelry metal sheet before choosing the gauge because the metal you pick can be a huge factor in your design and whether or not it will work. So, before we get to the gauges, let's discuss the types of metal and their natural tempers.
Metal Sheet Alloy Options
When purchasing a metal sheet or wire, you will see a temper listed in the descriptions. Temper refers to how hard the sheet metal has become during the manufacturing process. Part of the process is to run the metal sheet through a rolling mill to achieve the desired gauge, whereas wire is pulled through a drawplate. These manufacturing processes work harden the material, and unless they are annealed back to dead soft they remain at this temper.
Pure gold is 24kt and very malleable and soft. Because it is so soft, it can easily be damaged and scratched with very little effort, that's why pure 24kt gold is rarely used in jewelry designs. When you add alloys to gold, you drop the purity but a stronger metal is created.
Fine silver has the same problems as 24kt gold, it's very soft and malleable and can be easily damaged when used in jewelry. Thus, sterling silver was created, it too is alloyed to create a stronger metal to work with. Sterling silver is an alloy that contains 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. Sterling silver is slow to work harden therefore you can work with it for a while before annealing is needed.
Note: Fine silver is ideal for bezel settings.
Pure copper is a great metal, but it has its drawbacks too. It's very inexpensive, takes a patina beautifully, is malleable to work with, and easy to find in local hardware stores and from jewelry suppliers. Copper has its downside, too. Quick to work harden, it will need to be annealed often.
Bronze, brasses, and nickel silver are all copper alloys.
- Yellow brass is 70% copper and 30% zinc. Because of its high zinc content, this is a hard metal to work with.
- Red brass is 85% copper and 15% zinc. This is a fantastic metal to work with, in all aspects of jewelry-making projects.
- Bronze consists of 88% copper and 12% tin. This is another great metal to work with, especially for fold forming and in sculptures.
- Nickel silver contains 65% copper, 18% nickel, and 17% zinc. Take note that there is no silver in this alloy, so don't be fooled by the name.
Choosing the right metal for the job as well as the temper is critical. Certain metals are very difficult to work with and can ruin a piece if you're not aware of their limitations. If you're unsure which metals to start with; copper, red brass, and sterling silver are ideal. When deciding, think of your skillsets. Do you want to work with easy material or challenge yourself? Do you have the tools and fuel you will need? If you use butane canisters, would copper be the best choice since the metal needs to be annealed often? You'll use quite a bit of butane during the annealing process on a few of these metals.
Tip: To learn more about alloys, check out our article: Metal Alloys Used in Jewelry
Which Metal Sheet Temper is Best?
When purchasing a metal sheet, should you choose dead soft, half-hard, full-hard, or hard? It's always difficult to answer this question, but here is a standard list of popular jewelry pieces:
Dead soft: A sheet that is dead soft will work well with fold-forming projects. These types of projects require heavy hammering and lots of annealing. Purchasing any sort of hard material will have you annealing sooner rather than later when hammering out your design. As your finishing your piece, stop annealing so that you leave the sheet in a hard or full-hard state.
Half-hard: There are a lot of items that can start with a half-hard jewelry sheet. Cuffs, finger rings, and fabricated pendants will all work, and is a great temper to start with. If you need it to reach a hard state, especially with finger rings, light texturing or hammering with a mallet will help immensely.
Hard: Choose a hard sheet when creating pierced metal earrings. Earrings that are too soft and pliable will never be able to hold their shape, so working with a harder material is critical. Unless you plan on work-hardening the material, hard metal for earrings is a must.
Full-hard: Clasps and hinges need to stand up to a lot of wear and tear! Always start out with a full-hard material for these types of items. The softer the material the more pliable it is and so any temper lower than this would not do well for these well-worn items.
Tip: When you purchase a dead soft sheet, you can work harden it to the desired temper by hammering, rolling, or shaping it. Annealing it will put it back to a dead soft state.
Note: For more information on the process, check out our article: Basic Metalsmithing: Work Hardening and Annealing.
The gauge that you choose is another important factor. The gauge indicates the width of the material you will be working with and remember: the thicker the gauge, the heavier the metal. Therefore, gauges are important in all aspects of metal-making. Here are common gauges used in jewelry designs:
Techniques to Consider
Another thing to consider is the steps you will put the metal sheet through. If you want a 22 gauge pendant but you're running the material through the rolling mill, you may need to start with a thicker gauge since the rolling mill will thin it out. What about fold forming? That technique will stretch and change the shape drastically in certain designs, but you need a thinner gauge to really work the metal. There are a lot of aspects to consider when choosing gauges. Just think it through and consider what gauge will work with the techniques you've chosen.
Watch the Video!
Check out this video on annealing work-hardened metal.