Which is the Best Ring Mandrel to Use?
As a keen, but new, entrant to the fascinating and compulsive world of making jewellery, I know it's easy to become overwhelmed with choice - which can lead to indecision and stop you from getting the tools you want.
I've written this hub as a result of research to find which is the best ring mandrel to use. From the information here I've made my choice - and I hope that it helps you to choose which is the best type of ring mandrel to use for the type of jewellery you are making and the needs you have. The best type of ring mandrel for one person will be different to another.
What is a Ring Mandrel?
A mandrel is simply any firm round length of material that you can use to shape metal, including silver or copper. A ring mandrel is simply a length of wood or metal that is ideally sized for jewellery makers to shape rings.
Ring mandrels come in a variety of sizes and in a variety of materials. Choosing the right ring mandrel isn't technically difficult and a lot of it is purely down to personal preference.
Some ring mandrels have a handle, some have ring size markings on them for easy sizing. Ring mandrels are not expensive and once you've got one you'll probably never want to buy another - so they're a "no brainer" investment if you want to make your own rings or large jump rings/chains.
A Ring Mandrel with a Handle or a Ring Mandrel Without a Handle?
If you compare ring mandrels, you'll notice that one of the differences is that some ring mandrels have a handle and some ring mandrels do not. Which you choose will depend on what you are going to be using your ring mandrel for.
Shaping Silver Rings with a Ring Mandrel: If you're planning on making silver rings and using your ring mandrel to shape them after soldering, then you'll probably be using a vice to secure your mandrel to hammer your ring. A mandrel without a handle is therefore probably the best to choose.
Creating Wire Wrapped Rings: If it's wirework you're interested in, then you're more likely to be holding the mandrel while you are making your wire wrapped rings - for you, having a handle on your ring mandrel is going to be more useful and important.
Making Rings from Silver Clay: Whether you choose a ring mandrel with or without a handle will depend on how you plan to hold the mandrel while you're wrapping the clay round. If you're going to fix it in a vice (leaving both hands free) then no handle is needed; if you're quite dextrous you might prefer to have a handle on the mandrel so you can get a grip on the mandrel and turn it to create your silver clay rings.
You can see from the above that whether you choose a handle or not is mostly down to personal preference. Think about how you'll be holding the mandrel and how you'll be securing it. If you plan to work just with a mandrel while you work your jewellery magic, then a handle will enable you to get a good grip. If you're planning on securing it in a vice then there's no need for a handle.
Can You Make Your Own Ring Mandrel?
In a lot of cases, the answer is Yes. You can make your own ring mandrel if you want to use it with clays or some wire wrapping.
A mandrel is simply a round item, of a suitable hardness, that will give your ring or bangle shape. It is only when you start wanting to use a hammer to hit the metal hard that you have to start looking at steel mandrels.
Resizing Rings to Make Them Larger on a Mandrel
If you want to start resizing rings, to make them larger then the mandrel you'll need is a solid metal/steel one - a mandrel that won't go out of shape and can take the hammering.
For resizing rings, you will need to use a metal mandrel and heat the ring up using a torch. I will write an article on the whole process shortly, but, in the meantime, the process is:
- Anneal (soften) the metal using a torch.
- Quench the ring. It's now filthy from the burning so ...
- Pickle the ring to make it clean again. Rinse.
- Place the ring on the mandrel and, using a soft hammer (e.g. a rawhide hammer, or a nylon hammer), hammer round and round and round until it is the right size.
If you're trying to go up a few sizes, you might need to anneal the ring 2-3 more times. Hammering it will harden the ring, annealing it will soften it again so you can continue.
This should not be done on patterned rings, nor on rings that have any stones in - patterns could be knocked out of shape and stones could loosen or pop out!
So, to be clear: A steel mandrel (or triblet) and a rawhide hammer are the type of hammer you use when you are enlarging a ring.
Steel Ring Mandrel
A steel ring mandrel is probably going to be the best ring mandrel for you if you will be making quite a few sterling silver rings. When you make silver rings you use the ring mandrel to shape the ring into a perfect circle, which you do by hammering it with a cowhide/leather mallet. For this reason, steel is the best option as it's very strong so won't snap or go out of shape from repeated hammering. If your silver ring isn't quite the right size, then you will also be using your mandrel as you hammer your ring to make it up to a few sizes bigger.
Steel mandrels are strong. When you are making rings, you need a strong mandrel because rings are quite small and so you need to exert more force to get them bent successfully into a smooth circle. If you're just making small rings, with thin wire, then it's not so essential. A wedding band is thick, a dainty wire ring is thin and any mandrel can be used.
Wooden Ring Mandrel
For many people, a wooden ring mandrel will suit their needs. If you're not likely to make more than a few rings then you might simply decide that a wooden ring mandrel is nicer looking and does the job for you.
If you're making wire wrapped rings, then a wooden mandrel is perfect as you'll not be hammering on the mandrel at all, but simply using its shape and the built-in ring gauge to wire wrap your ring to be the right size.
If you want to make PMC rings, silver clay rings (or even gold clay rings or copper clay rings) then a wooden ring mandrel will fit your needs. Many people who use a wooden ring mandrel to shape PMC rings will use slips of paper specially designed to stick to the ring mandrel and give you a guide to get correct placement. These stick on Post It Notes are thin strips of sticky backed paper that you stick on the ring mandrel, then you attach your precious metal clay ring round the paper - and once you've got the correct size and shape you can use the paper strip to slide the ring off the mandrel ready for drying and torching.
Plastic Mandrel vs Metal Mandrel
For many people, a simple plastic ring mandrel might be all that you need right now. Some handcrafted jewellery makers will have plastic ring mandrels when they are at craft shows, so customers can see what size rings are. Plastic ring mandrels are cheap to buy, so if you lose one while at a craft show it's not a big deal.
A Plastic Mandrel can also be used for making silver clay rings and if you're wanting to experiment with wire wrapping without spending a fortune.
In the long-term, a plastic ring mandrel will last if you're not abusing it - and doing a lot of wire-wrapping with one would cause it to deteriorate in time.... but you'll probably be able to make a couple of hundred wire wrapped rings before that happened, by which time you will know if you want to replace it with another plastic ring mandrel or choose another type next time.
A metal mandrel is much stronger, so can be used for tougher work and hammering. So if you just have to buy ONE mandrel and you're wondering about a plastic mandrel vs a metal mandrel, then buy one good metal mandrel and it'll last you a lifetime!
Best Ring Mandrel - At a Glance
Wire Wrapped Rings
PMC/Silver Clay Ring Making
Texturing Existing Ring
Check Size of Existing Rings
Tips for Buying the Best Mandrel For Your Needs:
- Choose the best mandrel you can. When it comes to buying a plastic mandrel vs a metal mandrel, then if you buy a metal mandrel it'll do more for you in the longer-term.
- Make sure you're buying the mandrel you'll really be able to start using straight away - and not the one you aspire to. It's better to have a tool today and start practising, than to keep putting it off until tomorrow... because tomorrow never comes.
- If you're making rings, then it's imperative that you buy a ring mandrel that has ring sizes marked on it. Most will be marked in US and UK/European sizes, so make sure that the mandrel you're buying has the correct markings. Not all mandrels are marked with ring sizes and if you are making rings for other people then you'll be wishing to make rings to a specific size. If you're only ever going to make rings for yourself, then you can simply do it by trying the ring on all the time and not worry about what size it is, so long as it fits you!
- If you want to buy a ring mandrel, then unless you have easy access to a large city, you are probably asking yourself "where can I buy a ring mandrel?" - I find the best place to buy a ring mandrel is probably online as you get a bigger choice and selection. I find the cost of the P&P is less than the cost of fuel/parking these days and most packages arrive the next day.
I hope the above information has helped you to decide which is the best ring mandrel for your ring making and jewellery making needs.
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KRenninger from Pennsylvania on November 13, 2019:
Thanks; this article was helpful to me. I'm very new to working with wire, but realized quickly I need a mandrel to make rings!