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Changeable shadowbox pendant

A modified box clasp allows the wearer to swap out focal panels with this advanced metal tutorial

Before I begin a project, I consider functionality, durability, the materials I’ll be using, the idea that I’m trying to convey, and the overall design. When I sketched out the basic concept for a shadowbox pendant with a decorative focal panel that could be changed out by the wearer, I had three main challenges: I needed to elevate the panel from the back of the box to make the panel appear to float within the box; I needed to make it easy for the user to switch out the panel; and I needed to make the mechanism for attaching the panel to the shadowbox sturdy enough to last.

To solve these challenges, I modified a standard box clasp. Hidden inside the pendant’s frame is the box part of the box clasp mechanism. The second part of the mechanism, the tongue, fits inside the box. The tongue is attached to the focal panel itself, so you secure the focal panel’s tongue in the box. It’s easy for the wearer to quickly release the panel and swap it for a different one.

Making a piece with some flexibility allows the metalsmith in you to design an overall layout, yet allows the artist in you to have fun with the creative process. I’ll show you how this mechanism works; you can design the rest! 

Read instructions on fashioning the box clasp below, or click here for complete instructions in the free project PDF


  • Metal sheet:
    - 0.40–0.75 mm (26–21-gauge)
    - 0.8–1.0 mm (20–18-gauge)
  • Fine-silver wire (small amount to ball into a bead) 

Additional tools & supplies

  • Scribe
  • Precision square or T-square
  • Pliers: roundnose, smooth jaw
  • Sandpaper: various grits
  • Ball burs
  • Calipers
  • Superglue
  • Rolling mill (optional)
  • Acetone (nail-polish remover)



Changeable shadowbox pendant 1
Photo 1

Choose the size and gauge of your box clasp. Your clasp should be no larger than half the size of your focal panels. I recommend using 0.40–0.75 mm (26–21-gauge) metal sheet. I used 0.50 mm (24-gauge) sterling silver sheet. Determine the length and width of your box clasp. I decided that mine should be 13 x 9 mm (1⁄2 x 3⁄8 in.).

Make a metal strip. You know your length and width measurements, and later you’ll determine the height of the sides of your box clasp. For now, leave plenty of extra metal in your metal strip to accommodate this unknown measurement. To make sure you have enough excess metal, multiply your width measurement by 3. (My width is 9 mm; 9 x 3 = 27, so my new measurement is 27 mm.) Based on your new measurement, cut your metal strip. (I cut a metal strip that was 13 x 27 mm / 1⁄2 x 1 1⁄16 in.) Scribe lines for these measurements on a strip of your metal sheet [1].

Changeable shadowbox pendant 2
Photo 2
Changeable shadowbox pendant 3
Photo 3
Define the corners of the box. Using a scribe or other sharp tool, retrace the marked lines to deepen them [2]. (I used a T-square to guide my tool in order to keep the lines straight.) These lines will form the corners of the box. Use a jeweler’s saw or a triangular file to make grooves at the scribed lines [3].
Each wall of each groove should be angled 45° so that when you bend them together they form a 90° angle and perfectly upright walls. If the angles are greater than 45°, the walls will lean in; if the angles are smaller, the walls will lean out.
Changeable shadowbox pendant 4
Photo 4
Changeable shadowbox pendant 5
Photo 5

Reinforce the grooves with solder. Using pliers and your fingers, bend the walls of the box upright. Use a precision square or a T-square to double-check the angles of your box’s corners [4]. Reinforce the grooves with hard solder [5].

Soldering the grooves at a 90° angle eliminates the possibility of the alignment shifting when you solder the box to the backplate.

Shorten the sides of the box. File and sand the sides of the box to roughly the desired finished height. The box should be 3–4 times taller than the thickness of the metal you use for the tongue; to make the tongue, you’ll fold the metal twice.


For the tongue, I suggest using 0.8–1.0 mm (20–18-gauge) metal sheet, depending on the type of metal.

Changeable shadowbox pendant 6
Photo 6
Changeable shadowbox pendant 7
Photo 7

Cover one end of the box. Using metal sheet in the same gauge as your box, cut a piece to cover one end of the box [6]. This will act as a solid stopping point for the tongue. Solder this metal piece to the end of the box, using medium solder.

Use a jeweler’s saw to trim the overlapping edges [7]. File any excess metal or burs.

Changeable shadowbox pendant 8
Photo 8
Changeable shadowbox pendant 9
Photo 9

Drill a stop hole. Using a ball bur, mark the center of the top of the box [8], and drill a 1 mm hole at that mark. This hole will be the centering and stopping point for your tongue. Flip the box so that the open side is up [9], file any burs from the hole, and brush away any metal shavings.

Changeable shadowbox pendant 10
Photo 10

Temporarily bond the box to your backplate. Make the backplate for your pendant. Use superglue to temporarily bond the box to the backplate [10]. This will allow you to test the fit of the tongue and decrease your chances of oversanding the box.

To read the rest of the project instructions, download the free project PDF here.

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