Can my hardware store also be my jewelry store?
February 15, 2011 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find a machine part that would make a good wedding ring?

My fiancee and I have been shopping for wedding rings recently, and I've realized that the ones I like all basically look like things you'd find in a hardware store: simple, precisely milled cylinders either with facets on the outside like nuts or sometimes with gear-like teeth on either side. I've also realized I don't really care about gold, platinum, etc.; all the rings I've liked have been steel, some with a brushed finish or oxide coating.

So I just got to thinking, instead of a ring that looks like a machine part, maybe I should look for a machine part that looks like a ring. Is this something anyone has experience with? What's my range of options? What are even the names of the kinds of parts I should be looking for? Can I order a nice nut/washer/etc (or maybe a dozen of them?) that would fit comfortably on my finger somewhere? What are the issues I need to think about with respect to sizing, comfort, wear-and-tear, etc.?
posted by albrecht to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The main thing you should worry about (as with titanium/tungsten rings) is that you likely won't be able to resize them. I believe that tungsten rings shatter, too, so it's not like you can just saw it off and have a mostly-complete piece that you can keep around. That's why many titanium/tungsten ring sellers have a replacement package of some sort included. It's not just a matter of gaining or losing weight; if you are injured or get a bee sting or something like that -- swelling however temporary -- you may need it removed unexpectedly.

If you don't mind keeping a supply of extras or buying a new one if you need it resized or cut off, it shouldn't be a big deal.
posted by Madamina at 12:10 PM on February 15, 2011

First, you can look through the nuts and washers section at McMaster-Carr.

What you'll find though is that the level of finish won't be nice enough to wear around. My suggestion is to look for a local precision machine shop to mill you something out of stainless steel. You could even design it yourself using Google Sketchup.
posted by just.good.enough at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2011

Gear ring might give you some ideas.
posted by special-k at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Perhaps the inner race from a ball bearing? (cut off and discard the outer race & balls)

But yeah, you'll have to get lucky to find a standard machine part that's a good fit.
posted by jon1270 at 12:24 PM on February 15, 2011

You might try looking for a bushing or the inner race of a ball/roller bearing. You should be able to get either in stainless steel.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:27 PM on February 15, 2011

I'll second the gear ring.... i have one & it's fantastic!
posted by foodybat at 12:27 PM on February 15, 2011

I always thought that a bearing would be cool. You could spin it as a nervous tick and everything. I doubt it would play nice with things like soap, but if you got a bearing with ceramic elements, I suspect it would still spin nicely.

On the sizing, there are metals that you can get sized, then hardened (high carbon steel for example). You will want something pretty hard for all that wear and tear (non-coated aluminum won't cut it, if you went the aluminum route, you would want it hardcoat anodized for sure.

You will want a material that is hard and non-corrosive (stainless and titanium both apply here). If you go custom, I suspect that the person you find would rather work with stainless (working with titanium sucks).

Finding something mechanical off the shelf is not going to be easy. Normally, something that has that size of a hole in it is going to be a little more stout with regard to wall thickness...
posted by milqman at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2011

Some rings have their inside edges nicely curved, so there is no sharp right-angle in contact with the skin. I.e., if you cut the ring and looked at the cross section, it's close to oval - like two parentheses back-to-back, but with a smooth curve at top and bottom. This is a nice feature, prevents pinchy injuries and makes it easier to get the ring on and off if you want to take it off for swimming, fishing around inside a sink drain or car engine, using harsh cleaning products, etc.

Something else to keep in mind is skin reactions to metal content - for example, alloys with copper can cause green staining on the skin, and some people have skin allergies to nickel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:33 PM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: The main thing you should worry about (as with titanium/tungsten rings) is that you likely won't be able to resize them.

I don't think I'll care too much about this, assuming I can something with the right inner-diameter to begin with (or a few around the right range). For instance, I know my ring size is 8 3/4, so according to this calculator, that's a diameter of 18.69mm. What I don't know then is what that's called in the hardware world, for example here. Is it the "thread size?"
posted by albrecht at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2011

Probably not exactly what you are after, but have you considered fashioning your own ring from a coin?
posted by smithsmith at 12:43 PM on February 15, 2011

The thread size has to do with the dimensions of the inside thread or swirly metal, like how far about the ridges are, how thick they are. For example, look at different kinds of screws and see how different the threads are.
posted by mareli at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2011

Actual bearings need to be kept lubricated to keep from rusting. This would result in grease or oil on everything you touch. If you kept it dry it would quickly rust and be not at all smooth turning defeting the point of having it to fiddle with.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2011

The thread size as referenced in your link is the size of the bolt that matches that nut.

When you find a nut that is slightly smaller than your finger size, you could easily take a drill press the size of your finger and bore out the threads. Finally, counter-sink the two ends to prevent a sharp edge.
posted by just.good.enough at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2011

What I don't know then is what that's called in the hardware world

You don't want to be looking at thread size, unless you will have the threads machined out to provide a smooth interior surface. Look at dimensions called "bore" or "inside diameter." With bearings, it would be the "shaft diameter," referring to the size shaft (in this case, your finger) over which the bearing will fit.

18.69mm is just a hair under 3/4". Lots of parts will have 3/4" bores, so chances of finding something off the shelf are pretty good. A stainless bearing made for a 3/4" shaft can be had for about $25. You would have to cut off the outer race and scrap the balls, because the whole bearing would be much too large to wear. It would probably be fairly well suited to the job, but would not have facets or teeth or anything likely to strike most people as obviously machiney-looking.
posted by jon1270 at 1:48 PM on February 15, 2011

Feel free to ignore this if it's too off-topic, but I had our rings made by this guy, who started out making titanium cogs for bicyclists. If you scrap the hardware store option, you might find some good ideas from him or his site.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:08 PM on February 15, 2011

I've worn o-rings from McMaster Carr as rings. I kind of like that they are unlikely to break and if I lose one I can always replace it.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2011

I love hardware-store jewelry! If it were me, I would just poke around in hardware stores until I found something I liked the look of, and then perhaps commission a local artist to make a comfortable version as a ring. I find that a lot of hardware-store stuff is too thick or sharp to be what I consider to be wearable on a daily basis. But there are plenty of jewelers who also really enjoy that aesthetic, and a lot of them don't work in traditional precious metals. They can make the edges nice and smooth for you, and also combine features of multiple items that you find appealing. A good place to look for such a jeweler might be etsy, because a lot of the people there are open to commissions, and there is a vast variety of stuff to look at.

I would LOVE to see what you come up with! Like I said, I am a big fan of hardware store jewelry. I'm also a more traditional silversmith, so I just made my husband's and my wedding rings myself. But your idea sounds so cool!
posted by Because at 9:36 PM on February 16, 2011

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