Metal Smithing – Is it Dangerous??

Safety First

Metal Smithing – Is it Dangerous??

Written by: Don Monroe


            Students in my beginning silver classes often ask if the class is dangerous.  The answer to that question can be both yes and no.  If you listen to the instructions given by the instructor, it is very unlikely that any sort of injury will result but we must always be aware and be careful because minor injuries are not uncommon. 

            We all learned, probably before age two, that fire will burn you, as will hot metal, hot water, and all other hot things.  I open each new class with a brief lecture discussing the things in the classroom that can cause an injury.  Students will often be afraid of the torch and need some instruction and encouragement when soldering.  I always tell them that while the torch is an obvious hazard, it is really not the piece of equipment that is responsible for most injuries.  During the years that I have been teaching, I have never had a student suffer a serious injury but we do not want to see even small cuts, scrapes, or burns.  Almost all of the injuries result from polishing equipment used improperly.  A buffing machine will “grab” a piece of jewelry being polished and sling it away and can cause severe injuries if it snags a finger or hand in the process.  Surprisingly, more buffing/polishing injuries result from the flexible shaft machines.  While using a Foredom, Dremel, or similar machine with small buffing wheels or cratex-type wheels, the edge of the piece will catch the wheel and run around behind the piece being polished.  This often results in a bent mandrel that can hit the hand and cause a nasty cut.

            Eye injuries are a category where none of us provides enough care for ourselves and those around us.  We should wear safety glasses or some type of eye protection.  We all know that, but so few of us do what we should.  I must confess that I am not as religious about eye protection as I should be.

            We use a variety of chemicals in our workshops and some of them deserve more caution than we give them.  Think about the following list:

  • Pickle solution for cleaning silver (it is an acid you know!)
  • Flux for cleaning silver definitely requires ventilation to avoid breathing dangerous fumes
  • Blacking or other solutions used to create a patina
  • Alcohol and acetone which are not only flammable but should not be breathed

These are just a few of those that we use.  Should we not read the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets)

that come with many of the products?  If we don’t get the MSDS for new materials we purchase, I am sure that suppliers will jump at the opportunity to send us one.  It is the law!

            The last type of injury that I want to discuss is the common cut.  Almost everything we handle can cause a cut.  Paper cuts are most annoying and can become infected.  Knives, jeweler’s saws, broken glass, and sharp edges of work pieces can open cuts.  We keep first aid supplies handy and, for ourselves, we use super glue.  Not being licensed medical personnel, we do not treat the students with super glue but we describe for them the potential benefits.

            My dermatologist (who saved my life) uses super glue for small incisions with great success.  It is my understanding that this material was actually developed for battlefield use in Vietnam and I have been impressed with it.  Might be worth having a discussion with your physician and get their opinion.


Source: From the AFMS Newsletter, Dec.-Jan. 2005, via T-Town Rockhound, April 2006