The reality of running a small business is hard work. The amount of work I am putting into Newforge Rings in my spare time is far in excess of the financial rewards. The small amount of revenue I have generated to date has been used to buy coins, tools, and other consumables. My latest investment has been a pair of benchtop tools – an arbor press and a ring enlarger. I have been able to streamline my manufacturing process significantly, and have done away with the hammer and mandrel approach. Like everything in life, my business has been evolving. It all started with the seed of an idea. I stumbled across a Kickstarter campaign raising money to make rings out of American quarters. I had never seen anything like it! It was such a novel idea to me, and so simple, but incredibly effective. Some coins have beautiful designs, and can be made out of precious metals including silver, so why not capitalise on this readily available resource. I was so taken by the idea that I almost put down £40 for a silver quarter ring. Then a thought occurred to me. What if, instead of spending a decent amount of money on a single ring, I invested the money into the tools to make my own rings. It made perfect sense! I love craft and DIY projects, and learning new skills, and the basic tools were affordable. It was settled.
I picked up a steel mandrel and a nylon hammer and got to work. What seemed like an easy enough concept proved to be more difficult in the real world. Hammering metal into shape is hard work, and doesn’t always go to plan. My first rings were crude, pure and simple. A cupronickel shilling and an American quarter. The method I used involved hitting the edge of the coins with a hammer, over and over and over again. I cannot emphasise how bloody long it took, and how ridiculous it seems looking back on it now. Then again, we all have to start somewhere. The coins were hammered repeatedly and, over time, the edges started to thicken and resemble a band. Then I drilled out the centre and tidied up the finished product. Next, I moved on to work with the mandrel on the living room floor, making a few Irish 20 pence coins into rings. The Newforge workshop did not exist until Easter of 2014, so I worked wherever I could find space. Almost all of my tools were improvised. I was holding coins in place with vice grips and cardboard, and drilling the centre out with the other hand. The finish I was achieving at that stage was a lot rougher and less refined than the rings I produce now, but I made a few really nice pieces. Around this time my grandad gave me a bench grinder (which also lived on the living room floor, I am ashamed to say, making it more of a floor grinder), and I started to experiment with rounding the edges of the coin rings, making them more like rings and less like coins. The results were mixed, but aesthetically pleasing on the whole. The introduction of the grinder into my workflow meant the rings needed filed down sanded after, complicating matters further.
I made rings here and there, and sold my first ring in August, but shortly thereafter everything ground to a halt. My thesis deadline was rapidly approaching, and I couldn’t afford to do anything other than work on it. Looking back it does not seem as daunting as it did at the time, but I’m not in a hurry to repeat the experience. It wasn’t until late September/October that I resumed production. My skills were improving incrementally, and I was collecting various tools along the way.
The story will continue tomorrow…