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?

    • ialwayspickthethimble says:

      Hi Caralene! I have not seen that technique, but I am intrigued! Do you have a link or picture you could attach so I could take a look at it?

  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! :)

  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 :-D

  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.

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