Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Only 118 Days Until . . .

Scary But True

Although I hate seeing Christmas decorations in stores right after (or even before) Halloween, I know it is not too early to start preparing for Christmas sales on etsy and ArtYah. Maybe it is never too early! I have many listings that I want Christmas themed photos for and, living in Vancouver, I need to take those photos while there is still lots of natural light. We've been having a long, hot (for here) summer but our rainy season is coming.

My Photo "Studio"

Okay, it is not a studio. It's our dining room — but it has a great big window with wide slat blinds that let me control the light.

The table is a pretty good height (I do not have to endure too much back strain to use this setup). I use a piece of art card as a backdrop and a near-white tile to put items on. It provides a slightly reflective surface that seems to work well. A tripod for my trusty Canon G12 is essential. I covered a piece of a cardboard box with foil to use as a reflector — not fancy but functional. Lastly, while I often use a spray of white flowers as a year-round prop, I keep this artificial poinsettia bloom to use for my Christmas photos.

Here Comes Santa Claus!

It's a start. I think I only have about 80-85 shots left to take and edit!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Reluctant Gardener,

Or "I'd Rather Pound Silver Than Pull Weeds"

Once upon a time, as a young couple raising two children, we wanted to give them a rural environment. We succeeded: two acres of land, a Victorian farmhouse, horses, chickens, dogs, cats — the whole deal.

"The Farm"

Of course, the rural lifestyle included a big vegetable garden. I grew tons of vegetables and froze or canned a lot. I even owned a book titled "Putting Food By" which included a ton of information. Heck, if the property had included a root cellar, I had instructions on how to put it to use!

At the time, I loved it. Then kids grew up and left home. I "went back to work" and tending to 13 rooms plus lawns, swimming pool, and a garden lost its appeal. We parted with that "the farm" and built a floating home. I was delighted to reduce my gardening to a couple of planters, two potted tomato plants and a few hanging baskets. Freedom. I found I did not miss the garden —at all.

More years and more changing circumstances forced us to abandon ship so to speak. We bought a pleasant, one story home. Only five steps to reach the porch (great for my darling's bad knees), a covered carport (great for auto finishes), and a good size workshop (great for my jewelry bench). The small bit of lawn is easy to mow and I still have just a couple of hanging baskets. But there is one problem. This home came with a 9 by 10 foot vegetable garden. If I just ignore it (as I am tempted to do) we — and our neighbours — have a great view of a weed patch.

For the first couple of summers, lured by the promise of fresh veggies, I went at it with a fair amount of enthusiasm. This summer, I no longer feel so gung-ho. Here are some photos of Dix's garden 2017. About half is just bare dirt (bare dirt is at least easy to weed).

 Herbs are wonderful to have (although they were much easier to grow in a pot by the boat deck).

This year's weird weather has been troublesome. My thyme survived a very cold (for here) winter but is a bit straggly. The basil, planted in June, is flourishing but the rosemary and parsley are, at best, reluctant.

Last year's beefsteak tomatoes were not all that satisfactory. This time, in light of our very cool, wet spring, I had to plant late, so opted for three kinds of cherry tomatoes. The plants were only about six inches when they went in in mid-June.

They are growing pretty well but, as of August 6, our total harvest has been about eight! I see number nine just ripening in the center of this photo. There are lots on the plants so, unless it gets too cool too soon in September, there is hope.

Mrs. McGregor and the Rabbits

We live in one of those neighbourhoods where unwanted pet rabbits have been set free. There are a lot of bunnies around here. They are very cute but they sure mow a garden. They have an unexpected passion for green onions. Apparently, rabbits do not mind bad breath. I tried fencing one year but it seemed to mostly give protection to weeds around the edge without totally banning bunnies. Blessings upon the internet. Last year, I found this solution posted somewhere. Yes, those are plastic forks. Now my garden looks very odd but the beets and carrots have a fighting chance!

Glorious Glads Gone Wild

Several years ago, I planted a dozen gladiola corms so I would have cut flowers for the house. I neglected to pull and store them over the winters (as recommended). Every year, more and more come up. I now have three to four dozen along one side of the veggie garden. Secretly, I have my fingers crossed that they will take over the whole garden one day so all I will have to do it pick blossoms and make jewelry.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Malachite Ring DONE

A Very Patient Customer 

I'm stunned to see how long ago I first sketched up ideas for our friend's oval malachite. Seems many things got in the way, not least of all the experiments to see if I could make the setting work as she and I wanted it.

Her are some of the photos I took as work progressed. My blog of June 16 shows much of the process as I worked with an agate as a "stand-in". I didn't want to be playing much with the malachite because it is such a very soft stone.

Measuring Matters

A good, super accurate ruler and a variety of calipers are essential tools. I use this divider caliper to transfer measurements from the ruler to a sheet of silver (or a length of silver wire). I also have a digital caliper to measure things like stones — you can't create a setting unless you have a very accurate measurement of the stone in question.

Circles Are Easy, Ovals Are Tough

When you make a bezel for a round stone, the process is pretty easy. Shape your fine silver strip around the stone, mark the point of overlap, cut it clean up ends, solder shut and round up on a bezel mandrel. For this oval, it's the same but you can't round it up at the end. I used this small anvil and a brass hammer to carefully shape the ends of the oval until the bezel was a good fit for the stone.

Once that was done, I soldered the bezel to a back plate.

File to Fit

Here I have the stone in place to be sure everything fits before using that file to carefully remove excess material from the outside of the bezel's backplate.

I also opened up that plate by sawing an oval that came close to the inside edges of the bezel. This unusual stone is slightly domed on both sides and I wanted it to settle smoothly into the plate. Details, details. ;-)

A Ring of Many Parts — Four Parts, To Be Precise

This ring (like the agate I posted earlier) is made in two layers. Here you see the outer one ready to be soldered to the finished inner one. For the details on how those parts are assembled, see my June 16 post below.

Here, beside the parts for the ring shank are the completed bezel and the bright green star of the show. A note about malachite; it is not only soft, it is also loaded with traces of copper (hence that bright green). Copper dust is toxic. Lacking professional lapidary equipment, I could not really polish it so I used the less scratched side of the stone as the top. A piece of soft leather allowed for a gentle buffing.

Whew - It Fits

First, I finished soldering the two layers of the ring, leaving only the ends of the outer layer free to help capture the malachite. Next, I soldered the finished setting into place. It was sure nice to see that stone slip into the setting after I pulled it out of the pickle.

Polish First, Set Last

You never want to do the serious polishing with a stone in place (what it a tool slips?????).

I used a series of 3M polishing discs on my rotary tool to polish the shank and setting. You need at least five discs, of decreasing grit size, to make a good job of it.

You can also see my steel burnisher and a small bit of leather standing by. The stone is still waiting patiently for its starring moment.

Protect It to Set It

After using the burnisher to shape the bezel on to and over the stone. I had to hammer set the side pieces. To protect the finish on the silver — and the stone — I used a piece of leather between the hammer and the item.

It took a bit of time. Lots of tap, tap, tap, first on one side, then on the other. I held the ring in one of my bench vices — the one with the rubber jaw covers. I'm sure glad I bought that long ago as I haven't seen one like it for years.

The End of the Story

Today, my very patient friend came to pick up her ring. All was well until she tried it on. Oh, oh, a touch too tight. No problem, we took it out to the shop where I put it on the steel mandrel and tapped it with my rawhide hammer until it stretched just that little bit she needed.

To see the finished ring, go to <dixsterling> on Instagram. I know, why didn't I take a photo for here? I will just plead heat stroke ;-)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Custom Ring Build

Bench Work in July Heat

My usual habit is to do household chores — shopping, gardening etc. — in the morning and get to the bench after lunch. I feel I am at my most creative in the afternoon. Vancouver's lovely summer weather has produced one notable downside; the shop tends to heat up and the temperature can hit 80°F  — and climbing —in the early afternoon. That's a bit toasty for firing up a torch!

Recently, someone asked me to create a garnet ring. I worked on the design at my desk over a couple of afternoons, got it approved, then headed to the bench in the morning hours for a few days to create the ring.

Building the Shank

I began by measuring a sterling strip for the ring shank (see last post), then rounded it up using a steel mandrel and a rawhide hammer.

It's an almost hypnotic chore as you tap on the ring for awhile, take it off the mandrel, turn it over, put it back on and tap some more (this flipping keeps the ring even as you work). You also keep an eye on the size markings on your mandrel to be sure you are not stretching it beyond the desired size. The final step, if you want a texture, it to take a jeweler's steel hammer to the shank. For this ring, I used my riveting hammer.  Lots of sanding, inside and out, follows to get it ready for the stone on its mount.

Creating the Bezel

With the shank complete, I started work on a bezel setting for the garnet. These stepped round pliers are a wonderful tool for shaping bezels. Pick a size slightly smaller than your stone and wrap fine silver bezel wire around to start the process.

The next step is to lay the cabochon on the bench and slip the round loop over it. Use a fine tip marker to mark the spot where the wire begins to overlap. Gently free the stone and use flush cutters to cut the wire. I use fine grit sandpaper to smooth and clean the ends, add flux and use a tiny piece of solder to close the bezel.

Adding a Custom Touch

The client liked the look of a scalloped bezel I had purchased and used on a ring in my etsy shop <https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/526112987/garnet-ring-on-wide-sterling-band-red?ref=shop_home_active_39> so I used a very small file to create the same pattern on this bezel. I also cut a silver square, matched to the width of the ring shank, to complete the garnet setting.

Assembled, Polished & Ready to Ship

As I write this, the ring should be showing up at the client's door. I sure hope she will be well pleased.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Using a Prototype

It's a Learning Curve

Way back in April, I mentioned that a friend had commissioned me to create a ring from a stone found in some jewelry she inherited. Time went by, as it does. The Creative Jewellers Guild <http://www.creativejewellersguild.com/> Show & Sale on Mother's Day took up quite a bit of time, as did my love-hate relationship with our vegetable garden. I have, however, been making progress, slowly, on the project. One thing I was sure of was that I would need to play with a prototype to be sure of creating the ring. Malachite is way to soft to being messing with it.

Question: Can I Build What I Designed?

I had suggested various designs and my friend/client liked "D" the one in the center. Having the shank come up over the malachite will offer protection but I have not made such a piece before so I needed to experiment. That story will unfold below.

So, Not This Way, I Guess

In April, I pulled a round (well, almost round) agate from my stash and tried setting it on a shank of round sterling wire. I filed and bent the ends of the wire to make them rise above the stone.

As you can see, it became an interesting ring but I learned a few things (the whole point, right?) that sent me back to the bench in search of a better solution.

Using A Tumbled Agate as Stand-in

This tumbled agate is less symmetrical and a bit bulkier than the malachite but I felt it would serve my purpose much better than the round agate.

I created this bezel for it (those are temporary felt pen fitting marks on the stone and silver).

Creating the Shank

If you are not making a lost wax casting, you have two choices for making a ring shank. You can use wire (round or half-round) or you can cut a ring blank from a sheet of sterling (or gold, if you are a big spender!).

For this ring, I am cutting from sheet. This is a piece of sterling, scored to mark the cutting line and positioned on my bench pin for sawing. I bet only the sewers among you will recognize that round, white object as a seamstress's wax, removed from its plastic holder for ease of use here. It works just as well for lubricating a saw blade as it does on sewing thread.

Measure Twice: Cut Once

My plan was to use two layers for the shank — one to form a ring and a second that will provide "arms" to rise over the stone. My experiment with the round wire shank taught me how very hard it is to size and round up a ring that is open. I think the two layer option will give me more control over that. 

Here, I am about to cut the second strip of silver, having carefully measured both with that super accurate inch/millimeter ruler.

Joining Them Up

In this photo,I am starting the process of marrying up the layers. The inner ring has been soldered shut and rounded on a steel mandrel. While it was still on that mandrel, I partially wrapped the outer ring over it. In this photo, I soldered them together where they meet. I quenched and picked the ring, then put it back on the mandrel to forge the remainder of the outer ring into place.

The second photo shows the ring with its outer layer forged into shape and held with binding wire for a second soldering operation.

Binding wire it great — so long as you remember to remove it before putting your piece into the pickle pot. Just by being there, iron will plate your silver with copper.

Assembling the Parts

With the two-part shank married up, I put it on the horn of my mini anvil to check that the the bezel-mounted stone would fit properly into the arms. Kinda important ;-)

So far, so good. When the piece is a bit complex, it is reassuring to see that the parts will fit together.

Right: the flame approaching the ring for the final soldering operation.

I am holding the ring in a third hand (cross-lock tweezers clamped into a flexible stand). My soldering station is super safe: a large ceramic floor tile on the bench, topped with a metal tin from a discarded toaster-oven. A heavy metal solder block holder, on legs, on top of that holds my charcoal blocks. Behind that assembly, I have a firebrick (which also provides a perch for a ceramic solder tile when I am not using it). I may burn myself one day but I'm sure not going to set fire to the shop!

Experiments Complete

Above you see both rings on a plastic ring measuring mandrel. I think I am ready to start making up that malachite ring, using the two layered system for the ring shank.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Wedding Plans?

Need Gifts for Your Bridesmaids?

These handcrafted round stud earrings could be the perfect answer. This photo shows three pairs in sterling silver with cabochon stones — kyanite (denim blue), amethyst (purple) and lapis lazuli (deep blue). 

Precious and semi-precious stones come in an amazing array of colors so I can make a set of these for your bridesmaids to match or contrast with their gowns. They may never wear those bridesmaids dresses again, but you can be sure they will wear these for years and remember your special day every time they put them on.

Prices obviously vary depending upon the type and size of stone you chose but you can count on a range from $25 to $75 per pair in most cases. Drop by <www.etsy.com/shop/DixSterling> to see more options.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Something Subtle


Photo: my jeweler's bench is just out of frame on the right. My husband built this heavy duty bench for projects that require serious pounding. It is also terrific to have my drill press (great little Dremel tool) always standing by. On the wall, he drilled two wood shelves to hold plastic tubes full of jewelry findings and jump rings in various sizes. Above them, some sources of inspiration. I bought the CREATE sign from a fellow etsy seller. An actor I worked with some years ago made the decoupage trowel — evokes good memories from a very indifferent movie! 

So, What Did I Create On a Rainy Thursday?

On April 20, I posted about making a garnet ring. This Thursday, while rain kept me out of the garden (again), I created a similar one but set with an oval moonstone.

The first step (which I neglected to photograph and post with the garnet story) is to create a ring blank. In an earlier post, I showed a ring fashioned from round wire. For the garnet and this, I used a strip of silver sheet. This photo shows the 6.1 mm wide strip marked on a larger piece of 22 gauge sterling. That super sharp steel point lets me mark a fairly deep line so it is easy to see it while sawing the blank from the larger piece of sheet.

Creating a Subtle Glow

Once the blank was soldered into a circle and the edges rounded off (file and sandpaper), I set to finishing the band.

Because moonstones have a such soft, subtle glow, I wanted the ring itself to compliment that look. If you finish sterling silver with a brash brush, you get a satin finish. It only took a few minutes of brushing around the ring to get that soft, glowing shine on the silver.

An Unexpected Complication Arose

At this point, I was ready to set the stone. In this photo I was applying flux to the ring and the back of the bezel cup so I could solder them together. When I purchased the oval garnets and moonstones, I also purchased bezel cups to match because I was not totally confident of my ability to create such tiny bezels (4 by 6 mm). I have used a few of them successfully in the past, but this moonstone would not fit into any of the remaining three cups. I learned this, of course, after I soldered the cup onto the band. Not much choice, so I boldly went where I had not gone before and fabricated the necessary bezel from fine silver. It only took a bit of torch work to remove the faulty bezel cup, re-polish the ring, and solder on my handmade cup.

Not About To Make the Same Mistake Twice. . .

. . . I made sure this cup was a perfect fit before I soldered it to the ring! To test the fit, I placed flat dental floss across the cup (for easy removal) before dropping the stone in. The fit was great. Quite proud of myself, I was. 

A Neat Polishing Trick

So, how does one polish the inside of a ring? 

The first stage is done with a strip of sandpaper in a slotted mandrel on a rotary tool. Darn, that's another thing I forgot to get a shot of! 

For a final polish, you run the ring up and down a thrumming string impregnated with polishing compound. For rings, I use this old shoelace tied to a corner of my bench. If you want to polish small holes cut into a piece as a design feature, you can use household string the same way. 

Subtle It Is

I think this is a ring for someone who likes to make their point quietly.