Saturday, 9 December 2017

Smells Like Christmas

Baking Nana's Scottish Shortbread 

I got my shortbread recipe from my mother, who got it from her mother (who may have had it from hers). I have no idea how old this recipe might be but it could have come over from Scotland about 1912. One thing is certain: it would not be Christmas without it. Come and join me in the kitchen while I make this year's batch. Would you like a cup of coffee?

Tools, Ingredients and Oven Are Ready

Every shortbread recipe is pretty much the same, of course: butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, pinch of baking soda and flour. In this photo, I have everything assembled and the oven is preheating.

The method is important: you make this entirely by hand. As you can see, my treasured mixer is parked under its dust cover today. It will come into play for other cookies but shortbread must be made by hand. At first, I use a sturdy spoon but, when adding the last of the flour, I blend it in with my hands. I have tried using a mixer for the initial creaming of butter and sugar but it kinda ruins the texture. Maybe it's a Scottish things? You have to work to get a worthwhile reward? That's true of more than shortbread, of course.

A Spoonful of Sugar (at a Time)

The most observant among you will notice that the top photo shows a metal kitchen spoon while this one is very clearly a wooden spoon. Simple reason – the metal spoon is fine for adding the sugar and/or flour to the bowl but your hand will hate you if you do not use a sturdy, round handled wooden spoon for mixing. This is work! I love that old bowl. I bought it the year we got married and it is a vital part of Christmas cooking. I simply could not make shortbread, Christmas pudding, or enough stuffing for a large turkey without it. (I think I've had that spoon almost as long!).  In this photo, I have finished the creaming and am beginning to add the flour. Before I get to plunging both hands in, would you like some more coffee?

Ready for the Oven

One traditional approach to shortbread is to pat and roll the dough into a circle (or two, depending how much you are making) and cut it into wedges. I inherited my mother's rectangular, serrated edge metal cookie cutter (wonder how old that is) and always use it. Place the cookies on baking pans, prick each a couple of times with a fork and put into the oven. They take 18 to 20 minutes and should be golden on the bottom and barely colored on top when ready.

Now, while these are baking, I will have my cup of coffee. Sorry you can't smell them here.

Let the Festivities Commence 

Above: cooling them on racks. When utterly cold, they go into an air-tight container to wait for the first of the Christmas parties. Glad you could join me. 

P.S. If you actually crave my grandmother's recipe, just send me a note at <> Nana would be happy to have me share it. Nana was the queen of Christmas in my family and I will never stop missing her.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Copper for a Test

Custom Ring Design Underway

A family friend wants a custom ring to hold two oval stones she inherited so I did up a few sketches to see what she might like. From these, she selected the one upper left with tapered shank and overlapped front.

Only Fools Rush In

I have never made a ring from a design like this one before, so I knew I would need to experiment. Specifically, I would have to figure out the length for the ring blank as usual plus the amount to add for that overlap.

There was also the question of how much  to offset the ends. If I just cut the flared ends on a straight axis, much of the effect of the overlap would be lost. After some work on paper, I came up with a likely pattern (which I copied so I couple reuse it as often as needed).

Copper to the Rescue

I work in copper from time to time so I always have some on hand. With silver currently priced at Canadian $21.65 per Troy ounce and copper at $4.01 per pound, the advantage in using copper to test designs is obvious.

Photo right is the newly cut test piece. I burned off the paper and glue while annealing the metal, then shaped it and soldered the overlapping ends in position. Photo left.

Just for fun, I got the piece red hot and tossed it into a pot of pine needles. Love those colors. You just have to imagine this it in silver with a stone on each side of that line to get an idea of the final product.

Monday, 27 November 2017

New Ring Design

A Perfect Index Finger Ring

I have been thinking about ring designs a lot lately, partly because of a couple of bespoke projects, and I came up with this one awhile ago. It won't work for my client, but it demanded to be made.

Start by Building the Setting

I had a really pretty pink garnet in my wee box of stones and thought tube setting it would be perfect. The first photo shows a piece of sterling silver tubing clamped in the rubber covered jaws of a vise. I used a setting bur in my rotary tool to ream out a seat for the stone. That reduced the thickness of the wall by about 50 percent.

Nest step: here is my cutting jig, clamped in a smaller bench vise, holding the length of tubing so I can cut it. I used to make these cuts on the bench pin but it did not take long — at all — to see how useful the jig would be. It makes cutting so much more precise. That's vital because getting both ends squared is essential to the final look of this type of setting. If you want to try tube setting and don't own one of these jigs yet, buy one. You will not regret it.

Assemble the Ring Parts

To create the ring itself, I cut a length of 18 gauge sterling sheet to length and width for the ring shank, then soldered the ends together and used my ring mandrel to shape it. Next, I cut a strip for the table, filing the edges smooth and hammering it for texture.

This picture shows my third hand soldering tweezers steadying the assembly on a soldering pad. I used exactly the same setup to solder the tube in place. The complete assembly is shown below. As you can see, I chose to set that table and the stone projecting above the shank, with a lesser projection to the bottom (or top, depending on your preference). I really picture this on an index finger and think it's a great configuration for that.

Finally, on to Setting the Garnet

Well, of course I did a bunch of polishing first ;-) 

Finally, I mounted the finished ring in the rubber protected jaws of my bench vise, letting the setting part rest on the rubber. That way, I felt I could use as much pressure as I might need to burnish the tube down onto the stone. 

This is the setup, with a bezel rocker and a steel burnisher in the background. I can't imagine setting a stone without that painters' tape to protect the silver.

Hot off the bench and ready for listing at SterlingByDix on ArtYah.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Cyber Week Sale

Attention Holiday Shoppers

DixSterling on etsy is offering 20% off any purchase over $30 all this week. Buy something beautiful for someone special. Checkout code is CYBERWK2017

Rings and things, all handcrafted with love.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

November Already?

Cooking Up More Copper

I quite love the whole process of coloring copper and, with holiday shopping on the horizon, it occurred to me that there will be people looking for affordable gifts. What do you give to that coworker, the niece you seldom see, or your kid's teacher? Because colored copper earrings can be a great answer, I thought I'd get busy and turn out a few pairs. So pour yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or mulled wine and follow along.

Time To Shape Up

The first thing I did was cut a bunch of 1/2 inch squares from 24 gauge copper sheet and file the edges and corners to smooth them.

Flat squares are not all that interesting, so I got out my dapping tools and gently dapped the squares to lightly dish them. I put one corner of each into the drill press to create a hole for an ear wire. Next, I scrubbed them thoroughly and cooked them up (see how in my last post).

Waxed & Wired

Once the colors were set, I treated the squares with archival wax, opened the loops on a couple of copper ear wires and threaded the squares onto them.

A quick twist with chain nose pliers and the squares were secured to the ear wires.

That was pretty easy, wasn't it? Bet you haven't even finished that tea yet. Because there are no solder joints or stones to set, these fun, colorful dangles can be affordably priced.

Before & After

Some pretty stunning colors turn up after that hot bath in pine and cedar, don't they?

Monday, 23 October 2017

Colors of Fall, Part 2

Turning Cooked Copper into Autumn Leaf Earrings

In this post, I will finish making that pair of earrings.

This is Not What's For Dinner Tonight

First, I am posting a photo of the pot in which I cook copper sheet to create those lovely colors. It sure doesn't look very appetizing and, having cooked up quite a few copper projects, it doesn't smell all that great, either. A touch of Eau de Old Campfire.

What is does do is produce wonderful shades of red, green and gold on super clear pieces of copper. If this is something you are anxious to try, load the pot with the most resinous plant material you can get your hands on. The resins make the colors.

Bending the Metal For Strength

I do not want these long dangles to bend across their width while someone is putting them on or taking them off. Of course no jewelry item will last long if you step on it or mash it under the door to the bathroom (my grandmother did that to an amethyst earring once).

To add some stability to these leaves, I positioned each one along its center, lengthwise, in my bench vise and gently hammered a vertical bend. This vise has a pair of removable rubber jaw covers. It is a super useful tool and let's me manipulate metal without marring the surface. Of course, if I was really smart, I would have forged the bend before I cooked the copper but, you know....

If I was really smart, I probably wouldn't have cut my finger with my saw today, either.

Another Terrific Tool

For years, I struggled to drill holes with precision. I had a Dremel tool which would accept the tiny bits I use but trying to hold it steady enough to drill a hole exactly where I wanted it was a challenge. To be honest, I had to scrap and replace more than one item when my hand slipped. ARGH.

A couple of years ago, I finally treated myself to the drill press version of the Dremel. It has made life much easier. Here, I am preparing to drill one of the leaves to accept the shepherd hook. Quick note: I keep an old drill bit somewhat larger than any I use for drilling on my bench. Somewhere I learned the trick of hand twisting it a few turns to ream out the rough edges of freshly drilled holes. Way quicker than trying to smooth with a tiny round file.

One Finished, One to Go

When this one was finished, I hung it on the vise while I added the shepherd hook to its mate. Both are now in my ArtYah shop: SterlingByDix.

Friday, 20 October 2017

The Colors of Fall

Copper Earrings Underway

I have started working on some autumn inspired earrings, shaped like willow leaves and glowing with fall colors. Today, I am posting the first steps here.

Making a Pattern

I want to make more than one pair of these, incorporating some variations and experimenting with the coloring process. I could just hand draw the leaf shapes each time but decided it would simplify things if I created patterns. In this photo, you see one sketched pattern, partly cut out. I plan to make these forms in two sizes. The larger one is just about two inches long.

Material for Patterns

To be sure the pattern pieces will be durable, I cut them from 18 gauge nickel silver (also known as German silver). It is pretty cheap ;-) so I don't feel bad using it!

Here, I am cutting the second, smaller version. It only looks about the same size because it is closer to the camera.

Time to Trace

Here are the two patterns on my copper sheet. I decided to try 24 gauge for the first run because I want to keep these as light as possible (they are rather large!). At least, now that I have the patterns, I can try as many as I like on various grades of both silver and copper sheet.

I must say, cutting this 24 gauge was a whole lot less work than that 18 gauge nickel silver!

Cleanliness Counts!

I cut out two of the larger leaf forms, then took them into the house for a good scrubbing at the laundry sink. The process of coloring will not work if the metal is not super clean. I use a plastic scrubby pad and an abrasive household cleaner and clean until water sheets on the metal.

Once the cleaning is done, you have to remember to handle the pieces by the edges so you d not get any oils from your hands on the surfaces.

What You Don't See

I did not take photos of the coloring process itself because it requires a kind of a hairy juggling act involving 1) a pot full of dried pine needles and cedar bits, 2) the pieces you want to color held in jewelers' pliers, and 3) a flaming torch. Basically, you put the torch flame to your metal until it is red hot. At that point, you drop the piece (pieces in this case) into the pot and put the lid on ASAP. Wait a few minutes before peeking to let the reaction happen and, voila, colored copper.

These have been treated with a thin coat of archival wax to preserve the colors. The are pretty pliable, so I will try forging a central vertical bend to stabilize them. Obviously, I also need to drill holes to add copper ear wires.

Come back soon. I will be posting more on this project.