I have been stamping since 2014 and during this time I have picked up some awesome tricks and tips that I want to share with you today and help you to up your stamping game!
1) Masking Tape is Your Best Friend
Masking tape is perfect for so many things. I use it to cover my steel blocks to give a slight cushion to protect the back of the blanks from marks and scratches whilst stamping. I use it to tape down my blanks whilst stamping, it has a surface you can write on so I can use it to mark lines. I also use it to stamp straight as you can just feel the edge of it with the stamps.
I’ve tried masking tape from soooooo many places, some tape can leave marks on your blanks, others just aren’t quite sticky enough. The best I’ve found is from B&Q here. It’s a good price and I find just the right amount of sticky.
2) A Variety of Hammers
There are 2 main reasons why you need a selection of hammers. Depending on the metal you are using and the type of stamp.
When you start building a stash of design stamps you’ll notice the difference in the detail of the designs. Those that are very detailed will require a heavier hammer to get a good impression. You may even find you can never get a good impression on something hard like stainless steel or cutlery.
If you find the hammer is too heavy or you don’t have a heavier hammer yet, you can also use the ’tilt and tap’ method. Beaducation has a great PDF you can download with detailed instructions, find it here.
When you are stamping daily you might want to use a lighter hammer to reduce the stress on your shoulder joint. My everyday hammer is a 1lb brass headed hammer. But when you are stamping harder metals you’ll need a heavier tool such as a 2lb or even 3lb hammer. Brass headed hammers protect your stamps as they absorb some of the shock when hit.
It is also handy to have other style hammers. Rawhide hammers are handy for hitting the back of blanks that have bowed slightly where you have stamped them. Ball pein hammers have a rounded end that can be used along the edge of blanks to stop them from being so sharp and adding some interesting texture.
3) A Good Solid Base
When you are stamping you need to ensure that you use a stainless steel bench block and that it is on a solid base. Otherwise when you stamp the block can bounce causing double impressions. If you’re stamping on your kitchen table then try and stamp over the table leg as this will be the most solid place.
If you are worried about the sound you can put a leather jewellers pouch under your block which absorbs some of the impact and sound. If you can’t afford a leather pouch then a garden kneeler can also work well and can be picked up for a few quid from a local garden centre.
You can also work on things like tree stumps or bar stools, or you can even build yourself a stamping post. The awesome team at Beaducation have some instructions here.
4) Invest in a Tumbler
This is an expensive investment (although you’ll probably know by now that metal stamping is not a cheap hobby) but it will be a game-changer! A tumbler is a polishing machine, it goes around and around and you use shot to rub against the blanks to make them super shiny.
Tumblers usually come with 3lb barrels and you’ll need 2lb of shot. Shot is small round stainless steel balls. Sometimes shot comes with pins and saucers but you’ll want to remove them. Proops Brothers offer a 1kg bag of round shot with a variety of sizes here; as well as a lot of other tools that are handy for stampers.
When you are tumbling it pays to put the jump ring on first to ensure that shot doesn’t get stuck in the holes. If shot does get stuck then use a needle file to pop it out.
You will also need some kind of soap to lubricate your shot and help with the polishing, you can get something called barrelling liquid or even regular washing up liquid. The amount of water and soap that you use is a bit of trial and error. The general rule is to fill the barrel with water so it just covers your blanks and then 2/3 drops of washing up liquid or a cap full of barrelling liquid.
The length of time that you tumble for will vary too, some people tumble for 30mins, others for an hour. I find an hour just right but if I’m not going to be in the studio for a while then I’ll pop them on for a couple of hours.
You can tumble aluminium, copper, and brass together but make sure you take them out and dry them as soon as they have finished tumbling. If you leave them in the water you can end up with watermarks that you can only remove with wire wool and polishing papers.
Buying a tumbler also means that you can buy unpolished blanks from suppliers which are generally cheaper, you can then tumble as you need for stock.
5) Get a Power Hole Punch
There are lots of tools on the market for making holes in your makes but few can go through lots of different metal types. It will give you more power and allow you to go through aluminium up to 3mm thick. The power punch also comes with a variety of punch sizes so you can use them to create larger holes on things like bookmarks or smaller holes for jump rings.
You can usually purchase replacement pins easily for the power punch so you don’t need to worry about it going blunt. You can use a bit of beeswax to help the punch slide through the blanks a little easier too.
When you are punching holes it is a good idea to use some tape (your best friend remember) over the edge of the blank you protect it from being scratched when you make the hole. You can also wrap some tape around any sharp edges on the punch itself. There is nothing worse than stamping out a beautiful creating only to scratch it when punching the hole.
6) Choose the right blanks/metal for the job
One thing that a lot of new stampers comment on is that they are just not getting a good impression on their blanks. Sometimes it could be because their hammer is too light or they are not hitting it hard enough but 9 times out of 10 it is because the metal they are stamping is too hard.
The easiest metal to stamp that gives a great finish is aluminium and this is what most metal stampers work with but other metals can create gorgeous items. It is hypoallergenic and won’t tarnish. It is quite lightweight though and some customers can find this disheartening.
Copper is a lovely metal to work with and there are more and more suppliers offering shapes made from copper. It is the traditional gift for the 7th wedding anniversary so you can create some lovely keepsakes.
Brass also has a lovely finish to it and is great for things like pet ID tags and for keyrings that will stand the test of time. It is also the modern 21st Wedding Anniversary gift idea.
Pewter is another lovely metal to work with, it is soft but heavy so has a lovely weight to it for pendants. As it is so soft it is not great for keyrings as it can be easily marked and damaged.
The thinner your blank the more indentation you’ll get on the back of your blank when you stamp it, although there is some way to minimise it that we’ve mentioned above. When you stamp the metal is displaced and if it can’t go up, down, or side to side then it’ll go in.
One of the hardest metals that many stampers work with is Stainless Steel and so if you’re not getting a good impression irrespective of the size of the hammer you are using then the metal is probably Stainless Steel.
7) Know Your Fonts
You’ll also learn that certain letter don’t need as hard a hit whilst others may even need you to tilt and tap if they are a larger or detailed font. Some manufacturers fonts are not as sharp as others, some don’t have tapered ends (where the shank of the metal is cut around the letter as below).
As with everything practice makes perfect, even seasoned stampers have a f*ck it box that is overflowing with blanks that we’ve mucked up on! The more you stamp, the more you will learn the little quirks with your fonts. Perhaps the ‘n’ is slightly wonky, or the ‘S’ looks nicer if you stamp it slightly rotated.
You can also work at mixing fonts with other, you may find that the upper case from one set works well with the lower case of another. You can create some funky and fun designs this way.