Daily Wire Tip: Ring Mandrels 101

By on November 12, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip

Question:

I am just starting out making rings and thus far I have been using a piece of plastic that happens to be my ring size. I want to start making rings for others, and I am wondering what material my ring mandrel should be made out of. I have seen plastic/acrylic, wood, hollow nickel, solid brass, and solid steel. Which material would you recommend?

-Brandi in Jacksonville, Florida

Answer:

Hi Brandi, making rings can be so much fun! I am so glad you asked this question, because there are so many choices for ring mandrels available. Here are my opinions of the uses of each material you list, with regards to making rings from wire.

Plastic/acrylic and wood: most of these mandrels are great for using as a ring “stick,” to see what size of ring a customer has who wants you to make one the same size, or to check and size rings you have made. They can also be used for making what I call simple rings, where a thin strand of wire is wrapped around the mandrel one or more times to shape and then form into a ring (with or without beads).

Hollow nickel, solid brass, and solid stainless steel: metal is the best to purchase, as it is a “one-time-purchase” that will last a lifetime! Thinking about most of the rings I make and teach, most of them need to be forged and or shaped by using a mallet (rawhide or nylon/plastic) to beat the ring while it is on the mandrel, a metal mandrel is the proper surface to do so. It will not dent; splinter, crack or “give,” and it still can act as a ring stick. The metal choice is yours; the Wire-Sculpture Faculty and I prefer using a stainless steel ring mandrel.

While we are on the subject of ring mandrels, I would like to mention the shapes available. The two basic ring mandrel shapes are stepped and graduated.

A stepped mandrel is one that actually has a defined step for each whole size (like 3, 4, 5, etc) there are no half or quarter sizes (similar to the stepped jaw on the 3-step round pliers). One cannot make a ring and slide or force it down this mandrel to size or work harden the wires.

A ring mandrel that is graduated resembles the jaw of regular round-nose pliers. It also has more size possibilities such as quarter and half-sizes. This is my favorite ring mandrel shape as one can really make rings “to size” by being able to slide them up and down during creation.

A ring mandrel that has a flat side is perfect for making the Classic Cabochon Ring. If one is going to make this style exclusively, then purchasing one is a good decision, however a regular, graduated metal ring mandrel will also do the job nicely. The flat side can also be used when making rings with faceted stones as the culet of the stone will not be damaged during the creation process.

The ring mandrel that has a groove running along one side is great for making rings that contain a focal bead, or for making rings with faceted stones. Just keep the ring positioned so the focal item is within the groove.

With all of these choices, I will tell you that I personally use a graduated stainless steel ring mandrel about 98% of the time, although I do have another (same material and shape) with a flat side, but I usually forget I have it!

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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15 Comments

  1. avatar

    Jane Elizabeth

    November 12, 2010 at 8:26 am

    I finally know why one of the mandrels I have “inherited” has a groove down the center of its flat side! I’m sure glad I didn’t “junk it”! Thanks again Dale!

  2. avatar

    Ginni Tutterow

    November 12, 2010 at 9:09 am

    You’ll also need “ring sizers” — the bunch of sample sizes for people to try on to determine what size they wear.

    And I have found that the size of the ring sizer does NOT always match the size on the mandrel. Some of it may be the temperature of the metal, some of it is pretty inexplicable. But when I get ready to make the ring, I always take the sizer and slide the desired size down the ring mandrel to see what size it stops at and make that size on the mandrel.

    It’s a good cross check of the sizes…to get a ring that matches the customer!

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      November 12, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      You are absolutely correct Ginni! I know we’ve had a discussion on this issue at some time here, and I also talk a lot about it on the Rings series.

  3. avatar

    Barb Hiatt

    November 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I also recommend using a stainless steel graduated ring mandrel. Just be sure that the surface of the mandrel is smooth. The first mandrel I purchased had fine machine grooves in it and it chewed up the inside of my wire. It caused a rough surface on the inside of my rings and it also made it difficult to put the ring on and off it during construction. The second mandrel I purchased had deep size grooves that gave me the same problem. I finally found a mandrel that has the size markings made with a laser and is totally smooth. This mandrel has made ring construction so much easier.

    When I went looking for a mandrel, I had no idea that there were so many types. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself some money and a lot of frustration. Get the right one the first time.

  4. avatar

    Brandi

    November 12, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for the detailed guide to mandrels, Dale! I appreciate your advice and now I feel ready to buy myself a mandrel!

  5. Pingback: Ring Making Mandrels | Jewelry Making Instructions

  6. avatar

    Carol Smith

    December 15, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Hi Dale,
    Thank you for the great information on ring mandrels. I often say that the day is not wasted if I have learned something new. Today is a good one already, and I have only been up for 15 minutes!
    Happy holidays to you and all at Wire-Sculpture.

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 15, 2011 at 10:05 am

      So glad to help, Carol! Merry Christmas to you and yours :)

  7. avatar

    Judy Coppeland

    December 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Hi Dale

    Thanks for this informative information on Mandrels. This will help and now know why I am having difficulty making the Cabochon ring design. Probably need a flat sided mandrel. At the moment have a nice medium weight graduated aluminum Mandrel of which works well with most rings and jewelry projects. It doesn’t leave marks on my rings with the groves, and holds well when hammering without damaging it’s surface.

    Thanks so much for all these wonderful tips learn so much from all the great information you provide and always look forward to more weekly tips. Making jewelry is such a stress releiver, if I choose to go by the pattern. Ha Ha

    Judy C

    • avatar

      dalecgr

      December 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      :) You’re welcome Judy! Glad I could help with one of your challenges.

  8. avatar

    Ruth

    December 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    I make simple rings out of sterling wire & currently use a plastic mandrel for them…mainly because the steel mandrel is heavier & I like to be able to make rings “on the go” at craft shows! Great advice for ringmaking!

  9. avatar

    Marcia

    December 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    I purchased both the metal ring sizer and stainless steel ring mandrel from wiresculpture.com and the size is an exact match. Both items are must when making rings, especially for those custom pieces.

  10. avatar

    Jeff

    September 13, 2014 at 12:07 am

    Not all ring mandrels are created equal. My first one was a graduated aluminum mandrel with markings. Initially, it seemed to work great. However, I soon noticed that as I forged rings, I was leaving occasional marks in the surface. I tried buffing those marks off with 0000 steel wool. That resulted in the size markings fading in the areas I dressed.

    I’ve since purchased a solid steel graduated mandrel with markings. I don’t anticipate having any of those issues with this one. :-) It’s so pretty, I haven’t even used it yet.

  11. avatar

    Donna Gordon

    January 27, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for this information. I have a grooved hard plastic one and a metal on with a flat groove on two sides. I prefer the plastic one but I’m going to invest in the smooth stainless steel one for more complicated rings.

  12. avatar

    Deniseinark

    January 30, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    My ring mandrel is inherited from my watchmaker/jeweler grandfather. It’s a solid steel graduated mandrel with a groove, and I know for a fact that he used it, not only at the jewelry stores where he worked, but when he worked on pieces that he made for us. IF there was a house fire, I’d save husband and pets and that mandrel. I can feel him as I handle it in the ways he did. He died in 1981.

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