Friday, 24 March 2017

Slim Ring

"Keep It Simple, Stupid"

I have been fooling around with ideas for wedding bands (a friend will be needing a pair in the near future). Although she wants white gold, I do my experimenting with sterling silver. Here is one experiment.

A Silver Strip for Starters

Making a ring is a fairly simple process. After deciding on a width (this one will be about 3.9 mm), you cut a piece of silver just a touch wider (there will be a bit of filing and sanding as you go). You also need to find the length needed for a ring of a given size (DUH!). You can find ring blank sizing charts on line or, if you just love math, you can find formulas to calculate the length.

Creating a Textured Surface

Various jewelers' hammers can be used to give the surface a textured finish. A dome-headed hammer creates a subtle pattern of round dents. For this ring, I used a cross peen hammer to give the surface a cross hatched pattern. The sharp edged lines help the silver sparkle when the light hits the ring. Either way, you work with your metal on a steel anvil.

Joining the Ends

Oh, drat; I forgot to take a photo of the next step! I used forming pliers to bend the ring and bring the ends together for soldering. If you lack forming pliers, round nose or stepped pliers will help with the task. That is best done by creating a D shape so you are soldering a flat join. Just make sure everything is clean and that the ends are a tight fit.

Rounding the Ring

No matter what other tools you have, you cannot make a ring without the aid of a rawhide mallet and a steel ring mandrel. These let you bring the ring to a perfect round without leaving hammer marks on your work. You can also stretch it slightly if you find it is a bit too small. Once it is round, a bit of filing and sanding will chamfer the edges for comfort and a bunch of polishing will make it shine.

Slim Band Done & Polished

Two Invitations

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, there are a couple of great jewelry events coming up soon. For lovers of rocks, loose gems and finished jewelry, the BC Gem Show, sponsored by the BC Lapidary Society, runs April 7, 8 & 9 at

Ag-Rec Building
Central Fraser Valley Fairgrounds
32470 Haida Drive
Abbotsford, BC


For lovers of finished jewelry and metal objects d'art, the 4th Annual Artisan Jewellers Show & Sale happens again on Mother's Day, May 14 at VanDusen Botanical Garden on Oak Street in Vancouver.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dangle Earrings

Creating Summer Fun Jewelry

With spring close and summer coming, I designed a different pair of earrings. These dangles will look great with those bare shouldered summer fashions. Here is how I made them.

Using My Jeweler's Tools

Artisan jewelers use lots of tools but I find there are a few I use on almost every project: my saw, hammers, files and torch. I used the torch to reticulate the sterling for this pair of earrings. The process is simple, but time consuming: heat the metal until it glows a dark red at least eight times. Sterling is an alloy of silver and copper and this process brings a layer of pure silver to the surface. As a final step (this is the fun part), you heat the metal until that surface layer starts to melt and use the flame to push it around until you have the textured surface you want. I cut these shapes from the reticulated silver.

To pierce the openings, I marked the shape to cut out and drilled a hole near one corner. Opening the jeweler's saw, I threaded the blade through the hole and cut out the pattern. I used my file to smooth all the edges. Over the years, my saw control has improved so I do not have to spend nearly as much time filing to get the edges perfectly straight!

Solder on the Ear Wires

I cut lengths of 20 gauge sterling wire to make these and used the file and sandpaper to round off the ends. I hammered the attachment end a bit to get a flat surface. It just takes a few small bits of solder and a short burst of flame to attach the wires to the back of the earrings.

And Shape Them

That pair of stepped forming pliers are so useful. They help me start the shape for most bezels and they make shaping ear wires a simple task.

Soldering the wires softens the metal (heating always anneals — softens — silver) and that is not the best thing for ear wires. Any sort of working on metal hardens it. Indeed, if you bend or hammer it too much without re-annealing, it can become brittle and break. The shaping process does work harden the wires to some extent. To complete the process, and make the wires as tough as possible, I ran the finished earrings in my tumbler loaded with water a tiny bit of pure soap and steel shot.The tumbling hardens those wires and also burnishes the pieces to a nice shine.

All Done

Hope someone will enjoy wearing these to a party some day this summer.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Framing a Moonstone

Step By Step to Frame & Set

Last week, I framed an amethyst (my birthstone) in a curved diamond shaped pendant. I liked the effect so much, I decided to make another one (or more) for my shop <> and I started with an 8mm moonstone. For those who like process, I am posting how I made it.

Start With a Pattern

It's a bit like sewing; if you want to be sure of the outcome, it is much better to start with a pattern ;-) but, instead of pins, you attach it to your "fabric" with glue. In this case, I used 22 gauge sterling for my "fabric". Normally, that would not be strong enough for a pendant this size, but I am adding a frame and that makes all the difference.

Building the Frame

I created the frame from square 16 gauge sterling wire.

The photo shows the first piece of wire in place and the second being bent before marking the length and cutting it. The rawhide mallet and steel anvil help me flatten the wire to lie flat on  the backing. To shape it, I use those forming pliers (boy, I wish I had purchased that tool years ago!). The file cleans up the cut ends of the wire and lets me shape the ends for a good fit.

Fitting the Final Piece

The final section. I have used a sharpie to mark the top of the piece of wire because, as I move these small pieces to the soldering block, they can flip. The mark, which burns off under the torch, helps me position things. The main piece is white because that is how silver looks when you bring it out of the pickle (a mild acid bath that cleans the metal). Many people working in sterling wish there was a way to retain that frosted white on parts of an item, but there isn't!

Creating a Bezel Setting

In this photo, I have bent a strip of fine (99.9% pure) silver around the moonstone, marked the place to cut it, made the cut and soldered it closed. Fine silver is used for bezels because it is so pliable. You could make the circle from sterling but bending it down over the stone would be very difficult — and exhausting. I use the rawhide hammer on that steel mandrel to round the bezel and (if necessary) stretch it to give a good, snug fit.
Here, I am checking that the fit is right before soldering the bezel to the pendant. Never solder a bezel on without doing that first.

Polishing the Frame

For a nice contrast, I elected to give the background a frosted finish — done with a brass wire brush dipped in a touch of liquid soap. That steel burnisher serves to give the raised frame a mirror finish.

The painter's tape is to avoid marring the back of the piece while I am working on the front. Boy, that stuff is useful. I guess painters use it too ;-)

Ready, Set, and Set

Yes, that's more blue tape. This time, I am using it to secure the pendant to a soft suede sandbag and to cover the face of the pendant while I use the curved steel burnisher to slowly push the bezel down over the edge of the stone. I learned, very early, that failing to protect the silver can lead to disaster. It takes a fair bit of force to bend even fine silver and — no matter how careful you are — force can cause a tool to slip. When it does, says Murphy's Law, it always hits the silver, not the sandbag! The stone looks flat white in this shot — something about the lighting the shop, I guess.

Test Drive

Once I had given the pendant a good polishing, I put it on a chain and tried it on.

Now, I just need enough light to take proper photos by the window so I can list it for sale. Might be a great gift for someone with a June birthday.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Photography 1.1, March 2017

It's Been Awhile. . .

Since I posted here — for several reasons.

First, we have had an unusually cold and snowy winter (for Vancouver). It wasn't that I had to shovel much (very short driveway), but I felt the cost of electric heat for the studio would be excessive.

The next reason: the old lock on the studio door malfunctioned (i.e. jammed) and I could not get in!  Once the weather moderated, a local carpenter was able to cut a hole, access the lock, and remove and replace the door. Whew.

The final reason was a short, but utterly wonderful, escape to CannonBeach on the Oregon Coast. I adore that place.

The photo was taken from our balcony at the SurfSand Resort, looking north toward Ecola Head. I loved walking along that beach every morning, listening to the surf and admiring the patterns of wind, wave and cloud. Almost as good as Maui – but certainly not as warm😉

No Bench Time = Lots of Camera Time

I have been planning to start updating my product photography for some time. Being locked away from my other tools inspired me to get started on that project. Over the years since I began selling on etsy, I have tried many approaches to photography. I experimented with studio lights — best left to professional photographers, I think. I bought a white box. It's cumbersome to work with but essential for domed silver pieces as they will reflect everything around them.

Photo Setup

Eventually, I realized that natural light works best. Our dining table on a lightly overcast day (or a sunny one with blinds set to keep direct sunlight off the table) is ideal. Several years ago, I invested in a good Canon camera and a inexpensive, but perfectly adequate, tripod. Everything else is super cheap.

Here's the setup. A large square of white card for the overall background cancels out the dark oak table. Happily, our ceilings are white. I use an off-white piece of ceramic tile (left over from our shower installation) to place the items on. That chunk of cardboard, wrapped with aluminum foil on the right serves as a reflector when needed. Sometimes, for an extra pop of directed light, I use that mini reading lamp.

A Closer Look

With spring and summer coming, I am using a spray of white and yellow silk flowers as a photo prop. Sometimes, I use a sea shell.

One of the reasons I bought a good camera was for the micro photo function. As you can see, jewelry photography is closeup photography. Today, of course, even my iPhone can shoot up close and personal. I use it for my work in progress shots for this blog when I am working in the shop.

The End Result 

Here is a sterling pendant, set with three purple iolite cabochons. I used Photoshop Elements to brighten the shot a bit (the sky was a bit too overcast for ideal results) and I selectively brightened the bottom stone. In real life, all three are a close match but the shadow of the pendant itself kept some light from reaching the underside of that one. The adjusted photo is much closer to reality.

I have a couple of projects on the go. Next time I come by, I will post some silversmithing.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Marvelous Malachite

A New Setting for an Old Stone

There are some interesting the things to consider when designing a piece of jewelry.

Someone recently brought me an old brooch. Although she liked the green stone (a malachite cabochon), the setting is dated and she prefers silver jewelry. She asked if I could create a ring featuring her stone.

Photo: about to free the stone from the gold-tone brooch.

Of course one can create any piece of jewelry to hold any stone but some considerations come into play. The major ones are:
1. will the owner love the design and get pleasure from wearing it?
2. can you actually make what you designed or are there technical booby traps?
3. will the design properly protect the stone?

In this case, the third point is especially significant. Malachite is a soft stone, ranking 3.5 - 4 on the Mohs hardness scale (diamonds are 10; talc is 1), so it is easily scratched. I used my saw to cut open the old setting because any attempt to pry the cab out of the bezel would certainly cause damage.

Such a pretty cabochon

Here is the stone, after I got it out of the setting and gave it a gentle polish. It is unusual in that both sides are gently domed (cabs normally have a flat back). The best thing about that is, since the side that was the the front on the pin is slightly scratched, I can use the other side for the ring. This stone also has an unusually wide girdle. That will make securing it easier (possibly why it was cut that way so long ago).

Exploring Ideas

A round, faceted stone is a round, faceted stone and is amenable to any number of settings. Stones with individual character are a bit more fun to design for. Malachite is characterized by the darker lines that run through it. This one is also an interesting, elongated oval shape — ideal for a ring.  Below are a few rough sketches I made to explore ideas. All of these feature a tapered shank, widening as it approaches the stone.

The top sketch features a bezel setting and dark lines carved into the the flat back plate to draw attention to the lines in the stone. I like it but it offers very little protection to the surface of that stone. Some alteration would be required.

The second one is a bit harder to visualize. The stone is held by four small claws and surrounded by a wall of wire tall enough to guard the stone. The side view shows it as if the wall were transparent.

Design C is like B but slightly open at top and bottom. That offers the same protection but a bit more visual interest. "D" has the tapered shank extended over the sides of the stone (but leaves to top and bottom exposed). I think D would be a great look for a tougher stone.

Time to ask the owner if any of these hold any appeal for her. If not, the old saying is, "Back to the drawing board."

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Deck the Halls

Before Decking, Clean the Halls

With 14 days to go, I have begun the holiday preparations around the home of DixSterling <>. For now, my workbench sits idle and my focus moves into the house.

Nana's Shortbread Cooling on the Counter

It would not be Christmas without a batch of my Scottish grandmother's wonderful shortbread. The secret (I'm sure she will not haunt me for telling) is to use confectioners sugar in place of the usual brown sugar. The result is a super smooth texture. Once I have baked that, I know Santa Claus will be coming to town. Other cookies, carrot pudding and hard sauce will follow. My baking schedule is posted in the  kitchen.

Nana's Crystal Chandelier Must Sparkle for Christmas

This lovely chandelier, a family heirloom, hangs above our dining room table here, as it did when we lived on the river. Before that, it graced the 10 foot front hall ceiling of our Victorian farm house in Ladner, BC. Of course I dust it regularly, but just before Christmas, I always undertake a thorough cleaning process (how-to will follow below).

My grandparents purchased this in the mid-1950s, so it is about 60 years old. It has survived three of their moves and three of ours in pretty fine shape, although a couple of the major crystals were either lost or broken at some point. I have looked in antique shops over the years but could never find replacements. Even with the advent of the internet, it has proven very hard to find the right shape for one and the right size for either. In chandelier terms, these are huge.

Each of these teardrops is almost four inches long. The one on the right is a shape I have never seen anywhere. If you know where I can find one, please let me know. The "almond" shape on the left is readily available but only at two to three inches long. This Christmas, however, I finally located one that looks to be a very good match. After browsing dozens of other sites, I actually obtained what I need from a fellow etsy seller: SharetheLoveVintage <>. So the chandelier gets a gift this Christmas!

Now, Here Is That How-to

The only way to make the whole chandelier sparkle as it should is to dismantle it ( with all those pieces, a scary thought). Here, I have already removed and dealt with the big crystals from the lower tier and am — very cautiously — taking down the crystal chain. In the kitchen, I use a plastic dishpan set in the sink. I add water as hot as is comfortable for human hands plus about a tablespoon of ammonia and a few drops of Dawn liquid (great cleaning solution for lots of things). Next to the sink, I put a soft towel to lay the washed and rinsed pieces on for drying. While the crystals are off, I give the gilded frame as good cleaning with a soft, slightly damp cloth. I also wash the light bulbs. By cleaning one section at a time (and having photos to remind me which teardrops hang where), the job becomes manageable. Once it is done, the way it glitters makes it more than worth the effort.

I Also Love the Warm Glow of Brass, But. . . 

It takes a lot of polishing to keep it glowing. I am blessed with a husband who is willing to pitch in on "polish the brass" days. This photo shows our two work stations set up for the chore.

When we were on the river, we had all the brass items we have now plus a brass stair rail (very nautical, we thought; very labour intensive, we learned). I found out about Wenol polish from the custodian of a charming North Vancouver pub which had a long brass handrail on its staircase. Great product.

Finally, A Special Piece of Christmas Past

Here, fresh from its Christmas polishing, is my most treasured heirloom: "Annie's Kettle". Annie was Annie Morgan McCaig, my GG Grandmother. I assume she got this as a wedding gift. They were poor folk in Glasgow and such a grand kettle would have been a costly item in 1859 when they were wed. To my certain knowledge, this kettle has resided in Glasgow, Winnipeg, Greater Vancouver, Washington State and Surrey, BC. It bears lots of battle scars and, according to the woman who appraised my late mother's estate, is worth about $35. Hogwash. To me, it is priceless.

So, from my home to yours; may your days be merry and bright this holiday season and throughout the year ahead.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Shipping News

Before It Leaves Me...

Someone took advantage of my sale at DixSterling on etsy this weekend so I thought I'd show you how I prepare an item for shipping. This item is a sterling silver brooch set with an oval tourmalated quartz and I will ship it tomorrow morning.

Polish, Polish

Unless the item is one I just finished, it will have been carefully stored, in a plastic bag to keep tarnish at bay, as inventory. It looks pretty shiny when I pull it out but I always give it a good final polish before I pack it up.

Here is the pin that I will ship on Monday with the two polishing cloths I use, first the red, then the yellow. They always leave a nice, bright, shine.

Protect Your Silver Jewelry

Most stones (not all) are pretty tough but sterling silver is relatively soft. If you just toss it into a jewelry box on your dresser, it will probably get scuffed and scratched. I can't make a buyer use them, but I always tuck a wee plastic storage bag and an anti-tarnish paper tab under the cotton in the box.  

It Travels Under My Name

I ship items in boxes labelled with my brand name, DixSterling, so I want everything to arrive looking like a gift: a pretty box in a pretty gauze bag shows my customers that I care. 

Happy Customers

If you want to see how my customers feel about my work, visit my shop <> and scroll down to the Reviews section.

I'd love a chance to package something pretty up for you, too.