Metal Stamping Tips + Tricks

metal-stamping-tools-materials-and-tools

Metal stamping can be a bit intimidating.  If you goof up on a pendant it’s not like you can just erase it and start over.  And it can start to get expensive if you are unhappy with your first attempts and keep trying and trying again.  After teaching a metal stamping class for a couple of years, I’ve found that most people aren’t striving for perfection with their metal stamping, they just want it to look good.  (If you wanted perfection, you would be standing in line at a mall getting something engraved by a machine, not reading a blog about making things, right?)   So here are some metal stamping tips and tricks and lessons I’ve learned.

 Use a pencil to draw guidelines

metal stamping tips use a pencilMost pendants can be marked on lightly with a pencil.  The guidelines really help space the letters out nicely before stamping.  Wipe off the marks with a wet-wipe or by using your fingers.  (More on aligning below.)

Tape down your pendant to a stamping block

metal stamping tips tape pendant down

Use a stamping block and tape your pendant down.  Taping isn’t really required, but it sure eliminates worrying that your pendant is going to shoot out across the table when you bang it with a hammer. 

 Before stamping, lay out your stamps in order

metal stamping tips spell it out

Pendants can get expensive, and wasting 2 or 3 of them due to misspellings can be frustrating.  Before stamping, lay out your metal stamps in their order of use.  This will  1.) help prevent misspellings and 2.) make it easier to focus on the rhythm of stamping and maintaining the same amount of pressure for each hit.

Hammers are not all the same

metal stamping tips hammer

I’m asked in every class “Can you use any hammer?”  And the answer is yes, but if you are going to use a standard nail hammer from your tool bucket or garage – just remember you are NOT hammering nails.  Holding the handle near to the head will help prevent you from hitting too hard. The hammer above by Impress Art is my favorite hammer.  It has an ergonomic handle, a 1 pound brass head with both flat and peen heads. The weight also feels good in your hand.

Hold the stamp firmly and upright

metal stamping tips hold straight

Hold the metal stamp with the text facing you and the flat end up.  Hold the metal stamp firmly at the base.  (If you fingers are turning white from pinching, that’s probably holding it too hard.)  Hold the stamp as perpendicular to the table as possible.

Don’t hit too close, don’t hit too hard and don’t hit twice

metal-stamping-donts

Metal doesn’t disappear, you’re moving it when you stamp.  If you hit too close to the edge of the pendant it distorts the shape.

If you hit too hard, it can crack the pendant.  If you are seeing the impression of the circular edge of the stamp, you are hitting it waaaaay too hard.  If you hit too hard – there’s no going back.  It’s better to start hitting lighter than you think you should.

You might want to try re-stamping if your letters aren’t the same depth or if a portion of the letter doesn’t show.  If you align your stamp exactly in the same grooves, you can re-stamp, but be very, very careful or you can end up with it looking like the  sample on the right.

Don’t double-tap your initial hit.  It’s too easy for the stamp to travel and you’ll end up with a shadowed letter.

Gilders paste

metal stamping tips gilders paste

I really like using Gilders paste over a Sharpie Marker, but a Sharpie works as well.  Using a Q-tip or small brush, wipe the Gilders paste over the entire surface of the pendant, filling in the depressions with the paste.  After the entire surface is coated, turn it over on a paper towel and wipe it off, burnishing it a few times to add a little polish and let it dry.  If paste gets in the hole you can use a toothpick to poke it out.

Start with an easy alignment

start at the end

Starting at the left and working to the right means you don’t have to worry about how much space is remaining on the right.  This is much easier than trying to center something on your first try.

Space your guidelines like a typewriter

stamping-alignment-tips

See the words “family” above?  Take a look at their spacing.  See how the guidelines aren’t spaced out the same?  “Kerning” is the process of adjusting the space between individual letters, which you can do while drawing your guidelines to achieve a more natural look.  If you make your guidelines at even spaces apart, some words can look a little funny if they consist of a lot of wide letters (m, w) or a lot of skinny letters (i, l, j).

*The red asterisk is the location of the curved portion of the metal stamp that I use to align with the guidelines I’ve drawn.    (Note this line is not where the letters will occur when stamping. The letters will actually be a bit above this line.)

When stamping the abc example it’s easiest to start with the a and move to your right.

When stamping the 123, it’s easiest to start with the 3 and move up.

Starting in the middle and working out to both sides usually works best if you are trying to center a word.  As you get better at spacing you may not need to do this.

Aligning is easier with upper case letters alignment-tips-upper-and-lower-case

Aligning using the curved edge of the stamp works great for uppercase fonts – because all the letters are already in alignment.  Another approach to aligning uppercase letters is the “bulls-eye” method.   When drawing your guidelines, draw the horizontal and vertical lines where you want the center point of your letters to be.

For lowercase fonts, you will need to drop the stamps slightly below the guideline for letters having “legs” such as g, y or q.   Stamps are manufactured so the letters are centered in the circular end so you will need to compensate a bit for these lowercase letters if you don’t want them to float above all the others.

Practice, practice, practice

metal-stamping-practice

Metal stamping takes practice and with practice you will get better.  When I mess up a pendant I don’t think of it as a loss, I think of it as a tester and use the front and back for even more practice.

Relax and take a deep breath

metal stamping tips have fun

I hope these tips and tricks will help you get started stamping with confidence.  And, please if you have any metal stamping tricks you would like to share, let me know!

Comments

  1. Jacque Taylor says:

    Those are awesome tips! Thank you!

  2. i’ve wanted to stamp pendants, but i’ve been too nervous to start. i’ve been too worried about the cost if i mess it up. these tips are giving me the confidence to “just do it” – thanks!

  3. Never hurts to learn how to engrave by hand, to add free hand patterns or words to your stamping. Using a basic dremel to start is a good start point. I stamp and engrave :)

  4. Love this tutorial and appreciate all you time and thinking that went into this. Thank you for inspiring creativity!

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Thank you Becky! That means a lot coming from you, because I love working with your beautiful products!

  5. Some great tips, thanks! I’ve often seen rectangular blanks that have a hammered edging around them but I have no idea how they get just the edge of it so straight without hammering more into the blank. Any idea how this is done?

  6. Great post and great tips! Pinning :)

  7. Thank you for your time and sharing your experience

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      I enjoy blogging, but it’s always nice to know when someone appreciates it. So thank you and you’re welcome! :)

  8. Thanks for a great tutorial here can I buy a set of these….I’ve been waning try my hand tto it

  9. Thank you! This blog article has made a HUGE difference in my stamping abilities and confidence!

  10. Hey i just put a link to this post on my blog today! such a great tutorial. http://www.handmadeintheheartland.com/2014/01/diy-stamped-pendant-key-charm-necklace.html

  11. Missed you in the shop today, but got my supplies to give my gift tags a go! Thanks for the encouragement. We’ll have a cuppa soon too and look forward to a nice visit. Hollar when you have a moment. OX

  12. Ellen Morris says:

    Wonderful tutorial ! Now I think I might give this a try!

  13. Michelle says:

    Thank you for the tips, these are really helpful! I have been practicing on large washers from Lowes :)

  14. Great tips , thank you, Fab Fun.

  15. If you are stamping washers, are there certain types that are better to use? I’ve tried a few types and sizes and I cannot get even the slightest indentation. Not sure what I’m doing wrong. Any ideas? Thank you

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Hi Teri – I’m not familiar with stamping on washers. I haven’t tried it yet! However Impress Arts has stamping blanks that are shaped like washers that work GREAT! I would try those if you haven’t yet. And good luck! :)

    • If you’re using bog standard washers from the hardware store it won’t work as they are too hard and thick. You need to buy or cut your own. I wouldn’t recommend anything thinner than 18G either as the metals bend

  16. Thank you for sharing, I always am intimidated to stamp on metal as I worry about messing up but your helpful tips and tricks have helped put my mind at ease.

  17. Fantastic tutorial thanks – this is just what I needed and stopped me from forking out £30 at an engravers!

  18. Do you know of an inexpensive place to buy these supplies? thanks!

  19. Thank you very much! very helpful information. I am having a hard time find a good table to stamp in. I have tried a few with no luck. Any tips on what table to use? Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Angie – Thanks for the comment!

      I have a sturdy standing height craft table that I use. When I teach my Metal Stamping class, I always have the beginning students stamp at a standing table instead of sitting down. They get better results that way. Not exactly sure why, but it works! :) Karen

  20. This is going in my book that I put guru-like tips in 😀

  21. why dont you just use a small machinist dead blow from wiha
    http://www.amazon.com/Wiha-80230-Hammer-Cushioned-Handle/dp/B002M8UH2O/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403154953&sr=8-2&keywords=wiha+dead+blow
    then you can hit it as many times as you want and it wont move. you need to use this kind with the fine shot inside. the big orange or black rubber ones wont do. thats what i use if i need to stamp something.

    • Hey Randy, thank for the suggestion! The machinist hammer is more expensive than the stamping hammer I use, but it looks like it would also work great. Thanks again for the tip! k

  22. If you are worried about ruining expensive metal, get something inexpensive like copper sheet to practice on. I also ALWAYS lay out my words directly on the metal with a fine sharpie. Gets the spacing pretty good if you can write out the letters the same size as your stamp letters. Here is my stamping: http://www.tagsfortails.etsy.com

  23. Tracey Ireland says:

    Just saw this on Pinterest. Wonderful tutorial! How far apart are the marks that you make with a pencil?

    • Thanks Tracey! I judge the spacing of the marks based on the size of the font I’m stamping with. I eyeball it mostly and don’t have an exact measurement that I use. When I first started stamping I used a “sloppy copy” pendant to practice and experiment with spacing. Keep in mind that “m” and “w” letters take a bit more space that would an “i” or “l”. I also write the words out before hand on a piece of paper, trying to write the letters in the same size as the font. Hope this helps! k

  24. Danielle Walker says:

    Another tip is if you’re stamping straight across tape your stamps together.

  25. Excellent advice, thank you. However, I bought high quality stamps, 2 pound hammer, stamping block etc but whenever I stamped the tag, it just didn’t leave a deep engraving like you see above. Definitely not deep enough to blacken afterwards. I’d love to continue but I don’t know what’s going wrong! Any help please?!

    • Hi Chessie! The stamping tags that I like to use are pewter and have a “thickness” to them. When you stamp on them, and you don’t have to hit very hard and you will get a deep impression. Try this website, http://www.impressarts.com, to see if this is the type of tag you are using. They work really great. If you are stamping onto thin tags made from stainless steel, it can be VERY hard to stamp on. I have some dog tags and silverware that are nearly impossible to stamp on. I hope this helps and good luck! Karen

  26. Best advice ever on metal stamping – I gave up after finding it so difficult but I have some really nice stamps. I can’t wait to try these tips now! Thank you!!

  27. Thanks for the great tips!!! I have been wanting to try, but haven’t taken the leap, yet. Do you have a particular brand of stamps that you like?

  28. Hi! Found your site on Pinterest. LOVE IT! Thanks for the great tips! What type of metal do you use? I really don’t know what to look fot and the prices are so different from each other. I really don’t know what to buy.. hope you can help me out. Thank you in advance. Glad I found your blog!

    • Hi Janneke, I use stamping blanks that are made from lead free pewter. Nunn Designs and Impress Arts both have high quality stamping blanks to work with. I use both companies with great results from all of their products. Hope this helps and happy stamping!! k

  29. Great tutorial!! I bookmarked this.

    I started dabbling into hand stamping recently and have a few questions. I hope you can help.

    I’ve been practicing on thinner copper blanks and got really good at it. Then when I switched over to my good stuff (sterling silver 20 gauge 10 mm blanks) things started to go wrong =(

    I’m not getting deep impressions, even after tapping 5 times! I only had to tap twice on the copper. I know copper is pretty soft but maybe I’m over ambitious for buying 20 gauge, but I really like the thickness.

    I stamp on a metal bench block, with a leather sand bag placed underneath. It worked great with the copper blanks but with sterling silver blanks, I’m getting a lot of shadow letters. It’s moving around a lot more than the copper. I don’t know what I’m doing differently.

    I’m using 1 lb brass hammer. Someone suggested to use a 5 lb hammer, and with a heavier hammer I will only need to hit it once. What do you think of that? To me, it just sounds very heavy!

    Do cheap vs expensive metal stamps makes a difference? I’m using a cheap set that cost $30. Should I invest in the expensive ones?

    I apologize for all the questions. I’m trying to figure what I’m doing wrong or differently…is it the tools that I’m using? Or is sterling silver in 20 gauge that hard to work with?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!
    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Grace! I’m so sorry to tell you that I don’t have any experience with stamping on sterling silver. :/ However if it was me, this is what I would try:

      1. Just use the metal block without a sandbag underneath to prevent movement.
      2. Don’t tap repeatedly, just hit it once hard to prevent shadowing.

      I don’t think it has anything at all to do with cheap vs expensive stamps…I think it has to do with whatever metal you are stamping on.
      I’ve tried stamping on stainless steel dogtags (which were thin)and nearly broke my hand I was trying to stamp so hard. And I never did getting much of an impression. I’ve also worked with silverware (although never sterling silver silverware) and some of it works to stamp on and some of it doesn’t at all. So I can see where using a 5lb hammer might work better to give it a better whack.

      I wish I had more experience to share with you on sterling silver, but I don’t. Good luck and don’t give up!! There is a solution out there, I just don’t have it. Best of luck, Karen.

      • Hi Karen,

        I’ve gotten a lot better at it! I longer get the shadowing woohoo!

        I’ve been polishing my sterling silver blanks with sandpaper and steel wool to give it a brushed finish. I find that it’s really time consuming, and tedious to do on tiny blanks. I’m thinking of investing in a tumbler to help. Do you know how I can achieve a brush finish by using a tumbler? And would you tumble first, then stamp, or the other way around?

        Thanks!
        Grace

        • That’s great! Practice always helps. Haven’t myself used a tumbler. My Grandparents were rock house and always had a tumbler rumbling away in their basement, so I have fond memories of the machines, but I don’t know much about them!:/

          • Stamp first, then tumble. Tumbling hardens the metal, which would make it harder to stamp.

  30. Tracey Jones says:

    Can you let me know where to purchase the stamp/punches you used please, I have looked everywhere for a different style of letters in stamps/punches.

  31. From your experience, which types of metal are stampable? And which aren’t? Thanks!

  32. this is very helpful! thank you. can you help from the impression of the stamp going through to the other side of the metal? sometimes I see double sided stampings…is it the type of metal or quality or are those laser cut? thanks!

    • Hi Joanna, It can be tough to keep the impression from going through to the other side of the metal. The softer metals (pewter, copper) sometimes require a softer touch when stamping. If you stamp it lightly then yes, you can stamp on both sides. If the lettering is really, really perfect, it’s probably laser cut. Hope this helps (not sure if it did though):? karen

  33. I stamp dates on the back of my custom pieces, I always think the customer is going to complain about the letters being crooked, but so far no one has :) But still, it bugs me! I can’t wait to try the suggestion above, taping the stamps together. Just not sure how the hammering will happen since I cant hit all 6 at one time. Any tricks there?

    Thanks,

    Jackie

    • Maybe try laying one metal stamp horizontally over all of them? I don’t know, since I don’t normally tape them together. Good luck though! And I’m with you, I try not to let the crookedness bother me, but it does! 😉

  34. Is Gilders paste better than a sharpie? I have found the sharpie to be less than “permanent” on my metal stamping projects if they encounter moisture or perspiration.

    • Well, I think it is, but I’ve had a few customers say they prefer Sharpies. I think Gilder’s paste goes on easier but I’m not so sure about moisture or perspiration. Best to take the jewelry off if you might be sweating.

  35. Hello! Love your blog Thank you! I have a question… i am just getting into stamping… the letters i think i do just fine with, but i bought a bike design stamp and for the life of me, i just can’t get the whole image to appear. I have hearts and stars from another order and manufacturer that i can do fine. what am i doing wrong? Is it the stamp, or is it me? Trying not to loose hope.

    • Are you using a stamping block? That helps even out the back side of the pendant. The other issue I sometimes have is the top of the pendant is a little bit curved, so the edges don’t stamp as well as the center. If you are very careful you can re-stamp it. Slide your metal stamp back into the grooves very carefully and make sure it is aligned, then hit the bike stamp sort of on the edge (feels wierd, I know) where the whole image is not appearing. That usually works for me. Good Luck!

  36. Which metal do you recommend for stamping on?

  37. Great tips. Just wondering im practicing on larger sheets of alu at the moment as would like to do framed paragraphs of wording. What would you suggest putting underneath when stamping?

    • I would try and find one of the larger sized stamping blocks (maybe a 5″ x 5″). You probably will have troubles finding one larger than that, that isn’t super expensive. Just remember to move the stamping block behind your aluminum before you continue stamping! 😉 Good Luck!

  38. What size letters are most commonly used on a 1″ disc?

    • It’s all about what size of letters you would like to use on the disc. With 3mm lowercase letters you can usually get about 6-8 letters across. Uppercase letters take up more space. It also depends on if you want the text to read in horizontal lines, or in a circular pattern around the edge of the circle. I would suggest you try and draw it out on a piece of paper first, trying to draw the letters to their accurate size. Hope this helps! karen

  39. Hi, I am new to stamping. I bought an inexpensive kit to be sure I liked stamping. The letters that I got seem inferior and I want to invest in a nice set of letters. I think I will start out with lower case, but Ian not sure what size or font. Is there a particular font and size you recommend? I would be mostly stamping discs and smaller blanks.
    Thanks
    Rikki

    • If you are stamping mostly smaller jewelry pieces, 2.5 or 3mm is the most common size used. You can get them in upper or lowercase. Cute, script style fonts are are sometimes hard to read. I have a lowercase set by Impress Arts that I love, but I have to be very careful with the e or it just looks like a blob. But I wouldn’t shy away from lowercase letters, just practice with them. If you want to go smaller than 2.5 I would recommend using a font set in all capital letters. They are easier to read. Good luck and I hope I helped a bit! Karen

  40. Thank you for this information! I’ve been wanting to try this so badly, but was afraid to buy all the equipment and find it was too difficult for my old hands. Your post has given me confidence, and I think I’ll take the plunge and try it! Maybe an old dog can be taught new tricks?! ~Laurel

    • Haha! Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks. Just don’t get too upset if you make some mistakes starting out. It happens to us all. Good luck!

      • Hello again! Old Dog here! I’ve gathered the supplies you recommended, and have been practicing. I just might get good at this! But I’m having trouble with my blanks curling up as I stamp. I think perhaps the gauge is too thin? Mine seem much thinner than yours look in the photographs. What gauge blanks should I buy?
        Thank you so much for your encouragement. I’m pretty excited about this new craft!

  41. Melanie says:

    Hi, i loved your tutorial! thanks for posting this. I am looking to order stamp blanks aluminum, brass and copper. Being new to all of this, I have no clue what gauge to buy. I would like to layer my pendants. Is there any advice that you can give me, I would really appreciate it! Thanks in advance!

    • I would try Impress Art or Nunn Design for your stamping blanks, because both companies offer those 3 finishes. As far as what gauge to buy, I don’t know that information because these companies don’t over different gauges and these were the stamping blanks that I used. Both companies would be a good place to start looking for your stamping blanks. Hope this helps! k

  42. I have wasted so many metal blanks trying to get my letters perfect :( and I am sucking the fun right out of what I thought I would like doing. Thank you for this imfo.

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