The Tools of a Silversmith

When I first started as a Silversmith it was at the Central School of Arts on a pre apprenticeship course for 1 year. The course covered the main aspects of Silversmith practical design, history and engraving. My parents bought my starter set of hand tools necessary for all course participants. This consisted of a steel rule, dividers, square and piercing saw. My father gave me his tools which he handmade during his engineering apprenticeship which consisted of a surface guage, a pair of V blocks, odd leg dividers and several others.

When I finished the course at the Central School I started my own apprenticeship with a firm in Clerkenwell, London called Langfords. In common with other lads I wanted all my own tools (it made a boy feel like a man, even if he did not know how to use them properly.) Fortunately my Father worked at Beckton Gas works and they employed craftsmen from all the main trades in order that they could be self sufficient on all their maintenance. One of these tradesman was a highly skilled Blacksmith who forged, in steel, for me copies of a set of hammers belonging to my Master. What a fantastic job he made of these, using tool steel and hardening and tempering them afterwards.

Once the hammer heads were finished I bought the handles (shops are not allowed to sell them these days – ‘Health & Safety’!!!!!!!!) and fitted them on using little steel wedges to hold them in place. Throughout my career these have stood me in good stead. One thing that upset me though is that I lost, or someone pinched, my favourite ‘collet hammer’

At about the age of 26 while working in the Smith shop at William Comyns I was given the opportunity to re train as a silver spinner and the same process stated over again. NB Craftsmen do not like lending out their hand tools. I needed a set of spinning tools, these again were ‘homemade’ using silver steel rod, hot forged out at the working end, to slightly flatten and widen prior to grinding to a rounded surface one side and flat the other. This end, the business end was then polished, hardened and tempered and then even further polished to give a mirror finish. (Any mark or scratch will scratch the surface of the silver.) Then the opposite end was again hot forged into a square tapered point called a tange. This when forced into the hole on its wooden handle will prevent it from turning.

I was told by my foreman spinner that the wooden handles needed to be made of a springy species of wood. Living beside a railway track I found a discarded shunter’s pole hook. My Dad told me that this was made from ash-wood and would be springy. So I cut it in half (to make 2 handles), drilled one end to accept the silver tange and made and fitted a brass feral to prevent the handle from splitting at that end, a bit like a file handle or a wooden chisel handle would have.

Through out my entire career I have been making tools of one sort or another, some because it is just impossible to buy  for example a ‘joint tool’ This is for dressing the ends of silver tubes for making silver hinges. I only use it now for the tiny handle to base joining tubes on the Adam Claret jug.

Apart from the hand tools I have made, there are all the spinning chucks that are required to make all the ‘spinings’ we produce. These are in a variety of materials, sometimes wood, for one offs, sometimes brass for spinning larger quantities or duralamin (an Aluminium alloy) when weight needs to be reduced for large diameter chucks. I have been using steel more recently as the price of brass and aluminium has risen.

I have lost count of the hundreds of tools I have produced, but every one has a use!

On my website you will read descriptions of production methods and techniques that are used when making all the items in my collections. I hope you find it interesting.

John Campbell

Designer & Master Silversmith