If you’ve ever wanted to CNC your own custom jewelry pieces, then this article is for you!
Some might argue that the easiest way to get your hands on custom jewelry is to use a CNC machining service. And they might be right, after all, you can benefit from their experience and industrial machine.
But what if you’d rather do it yourself?
Maybe you want to make a personal gift? Maybe you want to bring your unique designs to life? Or maybe you just want to flex your artistic and technical muscles?
Well, whatever the reason, here are 3 techniques to CNC cut your own jewelry. And if you’re looking for project or gift ideas, then we’ve included some of our favorite CNC machine jewelry pieces too!
Read more: Best jewelry engraving machines
1. “Cut Out” CNC Machine Jewelry – When Two Dimensions are Enough
Perhaps the most direct approach is to simply cut out some 2D jewelry… Let me explain.
Although jewelry with complex designs and intricate geometries can be produced on a CNC machine, they aren’t particularly accessible.
A CNC machine appropriate for engraving precious metals can easily cost more than a few thousand dollars (more on these in a bit), with machines capable of actually forming a ring from scratch generally only being available to businesses, and these machines can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
However, if you’re willing to settle for more simplistic designs, then you have cheaper options.
What Is “Cut Out” CNC Machine Jewelry?
By “cut out” designs I mean relatively simple jewelry designs, usually thin, that can be cut either on a 2D or 2.5D CNC router.
These machines cannot cut along multiple axes simultaneously, making curves and complex shapes difficult to produce.
However, these machines are far cheaper than their industrial counterparts, allowing us to produce these “cut out” pieces affordably.
Cut Out CNC Machine Jewelry Ideas
2D Brass Bracelet
As an example, this bracelet was built using a thin piece of brass and Carbide 3D’s Nomad 883 CNC router.
At around $3,000 it’s not the cheapest way to CNC jewelry, but it’s not unreasonable. More importantly, this design is easily reproducible on most desktop CNC machines without any additional components.
Additionally, stacking these flat prints on top of each other can add complexity to your jewelry without making production more taxing. These treated plywood earrings are a good example of this.
Treated Plywood Earrings
Interestingly, plywood jewelers who make designs such as this are beginning to stop mailing their pieces to customers and are instead using sites such as Etsy to sell their SVG files. This allows end-users to machine the final items themselves.
This is done primarily because the material cost of plywood is usually less than the customer’s shipping fee. For us, however, this situation creates opportunity.
Instead of having to contend with the additional steps of designing your own piece and formatting it into a printable file, you can instead pay usually less than $5 to skip straight to cutting.
So, if you’re less interested in the design and software side of CNC machining jewelry, then perhaps plywood is the way to go?
2. Lost Wax Casting – The CNC Jewelry Approach
Flat pieces of jewelry are cool, but what if you’re looking for that extra dimension?
Is it possible to make a simple ring without shelling out for industrial equipment?
Well, ironically, your best option could also be the oldest jewelry-making technique on this list.
How does Lost Wax Casting Work?
Lost wax casting is an ancient method of jewelry making. In general, the process begins with a design sculpted in wax. Wax sprues are attached, and then the sculpt is molded in plaster, with the ends of the sprues left exposed in the bottom of the mold.
The mold is heated, melting the wax but leaving the plaster intact. As the sprues were connected to an opening in the bottom of the mold, when they melt, they become channels that the rest of the wax can flow out of.
With the wax gone, the plaster mold is left with a negative impression of the original design. This mold is flipped, with those channels now serving as funnels for molten metal to be poured into.
The metal flows into the negative impression, creating a positive cast of the original wax design.
Once the metal has set, the plaster can either be broken open, or dissolved in water, leaving behind a molded piece of jewelry that can be polished or otherwise finished into its completed form.
Why Use Lost Wax Casting?
Not only does lost wax casting produce solid objects, but it also does so without expensive machinery. In fact, the equipment needed to cast gold rings can easily cost less than $100 (excluding the gold and a CNC machine), making it an affordable and accessible approach for modern jewelry makers.
So, Where Does My CNC Machine Come In?
Instead of an artist sculpting a unique wax design, it can instead be CNC machined.
For individuals with the artistic chops for sculpting, this may not be too helpful, but for hobbyists looking to get designs formed into metal, this process allows them to sidestep the more artistic nature of the process.
Additionally, if you have a machine with the specs to pull this off, the entire negative mold can be designed and cut directly in the CNC machine, skipping much of the conventional method’s production process.
CNC Cut Wedding Ring
A good example of this process in action can be seen here.
Within, Ethereal Machines demonstrates how they can CNC machine a wedding ring from a block of wax. This model can then be lost wax cast in exactly the same manner as I mentioned above.
Drawbacks Of Using Lost Wax Casting
Despite creating new opportunities for jewelry making here, CNC machining hasn’t revolutionized the process.
The complexity of your designs or molds are still dependent on the specs of your CNC machine.
Progressively larger and more complex shapes still require progressively more capable, and therefore more expensive, machines. Even Ethereal Machine’s wax wedding ring required an industrial-grade machine to form accurately.
Their router even used a 4th axis to rotate the entire wax mold during the cutting process.
By comparison, if you’re presently working with a machine capable of producing cut-out jewelry, lost wax casting won’t allow you to produce anything more complex, it will just allow you to affordably cast these simpler designs in metals such as silver and gold.
So, if that’s put you off lost wax casting, what other ways are there to use that desktop machine of yours?
3. CNC Machine Jewelry Engraving
Instead of trying to create an entire piece on your CNC machine, you can instead use it to replace the detailed task of engraving and finishing.
Why use Jewelry CNC Engraving?
Artistic engraving is typically done by hand. Similar to the carving involved in lost wax casting, this is a laborious and highly skilled discipline, with final pieces being reflections of the engraver’s skill.
What CNC engraving represents then, is an opportunity to sidestep this artistic barrier by having your machine automatically reproduce these potentially highly complex engravings.
For example, purchasing jewelry blanks (jewelry pieces without decorations) and then using your desktop CNC machine to engrave your own design into it, sidesteps the need for both an expensive CNC machine to form the pieces, and the artistic chops needed to manually engrave it yourself.
Of course, you will still need a digital design to machine, meaning that if your design is especially complex and you’re not feeling confident, then there’s no replacing the need to consult an artist.
However, this process still allows the entire physical production of your jewelry to be automated and completed in your own home.
If you already own a CNC machine, then it’s likely already fit for most engraving work. A potential upgrade could be a new high-speed spindle to deal with detailed engraving, but this would likely be your only expense.
Another approach would be using laser engraving machines.
Which Machine to Use?
Unlike routers or mills, laser CNC machines can be used not only to engrave, but also to discolor, burn, and cut all in one unit. Achieving these effects is a matter of experimenting with output settings, with industrial lasers able to cut through inches of steel.
Read more: the top metal laser engravers
But predictably, these machines also cost industrial pieces.
Laser engravers at the same price point as desktop routers will struggle to cut through anything more resistant than thin wood but are perfectly suitable for engraving.
Compared to routers and mills, laser engravers are arguably easier to work with. They’re simpler, requiring no Z-axis to function. Additionally, they operate without friction, with most workpieces able to be held in place with just gravity.
However, as lasers burn material, they also generate toxic fumes, especially when engraving plastics.
So, unless you’re happy with inhaling dangerous carcinogens, you will have to ensure that you’re workspace is well-ventilated, or invest in an extractor fan.
CNC Engraved Jewelry Ideas
Engraved Cat Pendants
These engraved cat pendants are a good example of this method in action.
The chain and pendant can be purchased as blanks, with the stylized engravings of “E” and “S”, likely a couple’s initials, being simple enough to be replicated on most CNC machines.
CNC Engraved Nested Jewelry Box
This jewelry box actually combines CNC engraving with the principles of “Cut Out” jewelry I mentioned earlier. The machine being used is a GX3725 CNC Router, despite costing around $5000, this design can be replicated on far cheaper machines.
Rather than relying on the CNC machine to produce it in one hit, the box is cut in pieces and then manually glued together. The actual engraving, “Party,” (dedicated to a Golden Retriever) being the box’s only decoration.
For us, designs like this could inspire you to build you own jewelry box, or perhaps to simply add a unique flair to an existing box.
The main drawback of this method is simply its reliance on jewelry blanks. If you were looking to make something from scratch, or in a unique form, then this method perhaps isn’t for you.
However, if you’re content with adding your own designs to existing pieces, then there may not be a more affordable way to CNC machine your own custom jewelry.
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