Thursday, 8 February 2018

February - Bit by Bit

Romancing the Stones

I seem to be moving very slowly with this ring, don't I? There is, however, a bit of progress to report. Having soldered the ring shut, I was concerned that the fit be perfect before soldering the stone settings on to it. If a ring is a wee bit too small, it is safe to stretch it on a steel mandrel by hammering it with a rawhide mallet. If it is too big, however, there is nothing for it but to use the torch. That is not something I would risk with the tiny settings for these stones in place. So the unfinished project is on its way to the end user for a test fitting.

Meanwhile, Back at the Bench...

I have been working on the settings for the small faceted, oval stones. I want to build step bezels for them. I think the bold design of the ring would clash with a prong setting. Creating bezel settings this small is a challenge for me as I usually work with larger stones. But, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained". Here, you can see the outer, taller, bezel and the slightly smaller, shorter one that will drop inside to support the stone. Both have been soldered shut and shaped. In this photo, I am sanding down the top and bottom so get them smooth. This is fussy work, folks, and a real test of my skill. It took quite some time (and going back to my copy of John Cogswell's Creative Stone Setting) before I felt ready to even start this process.

Settings Must Protect the Stones

In this photo, I am test fitting the aquamarine. It looks pretty good. I will view it under a very strong magnifying glass before I commit to it, however. The amount the silver rises above the edge of the stone is utterly critical. Too much would result in a messy setting and would cover too much of the stone. Not enough, and the stone would not be secure and could be lost. With a purchased stone, that would be very sad. With a stone that once belonged to Grandma, it would be tragic.

With this one (probably) ready, I went to work on an identical step bezel for the garnet. Both will require very close inspection before I can consider them usable.

Bezels Built (I Hope)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Friday, 26 January 2018

January 26

From Sawing to Shaping to Soldering

When you cut a ring from sheet silver (see previous post), you have to round it and solder it shut to turn the flat blank into a ring.

The Mallet & Mandrel

(That title sounds like a good name for a jewelers' pub!).

If a ring is the same width for its full circumference, you can just bend it with forming pliers (one flat and one half-round jaw) until the ends meet, then solder it shut before you round it. In this case, I came up with a more difficult design. It is wider on the face and the shaped ends overlap. I suspect it would be easier to create it as a wax model for casting in sterling but I do not have casting equipment (nor easy access to it). That being the case, I began the shaping with the pliers but had to finish it on the steel mandrel. The rawhide mallet lets me pound on the silver to change its shape without producing hammer marks on the surface. It's a bit of a slow process and you have to stop to anneal the metal now and then because the pounding makes it harden and that makes it hard to shape it.

To the Solder Station

I used to solder on a corner of my workbench. In the beginning, I actually soldered on our kitchen table! Both worked but neither is totally satisfactory. You have to watch out for splashes of pickle, which is a mild acid, and mop up before it damages the surface. Not as important on a workbench as on a kitchen table, but messy nonetheless. Also, ventilating the fumes by opening the window is not perfect (and can be frightfully chilly in the winter).

One of the great things about our workshop is that I have room three work stations. In the center is my jewelers' bench. To its left, my husband built me a very sturdy bench to use for heavy pounding and, to the right, I have a soldering station with a fan to suck the fumes away. You can see the fan cover on the right in the photo.  Right in front of it is a dish of water for cooling and rinsing and behind that dish is a pickle pot. It is not a jewelers' supply house item, its just a mini crock pot sold for hot dips and such. In the center is the actual soldering setup. Everything sits on a metal tray atop a ceramic floor tile. No way I can set fire to the actual bench. I have a couple of pieces of charcoal I can set pieces on as well as that perforated tile. The perforations are often useful because you can stick pins into them to hold a piece in position. It is also good if you want heat from the torch to get under the piece. The wire mesh on a stand (top left with a pair of old red handled pliers on top) is if you need to get the actual flame under what you are soldering. Behind the soldering area is a firebrick. In the foreground, you can see my third hand (heat proof tweezers in a clamp) and an electric torch igniter. The wooden handle is a solder pick and, a bit hard to make out, I have a couple of other heat proof tweezers sitting on the metal try. The plastic spray bottle is full of water and is stored away from the heat until the end of a day when I use it to drench the charcoal blocks. It would not be safe to leave them hot when I lock up for the night.

A Nickel's Worth of Help

Well, two nickels actually. Here is the ring, now rounded up and ready to solder shut. To keep it from rotating as I heat it, I braced it with an old nickel on each side. The great thing about nickels is that solder will not adhere to them so they can't end up stuck to your piece!

Let the Polishing Begin

After I soldered, pickled and rinsed the ring, I began pre-polishing it. I will certainly have to do yet more polishing after I solder settings for those stones in place but filing and sanding is much harder when there are settings projecting from the surface. It is always best to get the piece to the highest degree of polish possible first and have only touchup work to do at the end.

That's it for today. See you again soon.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Progress on the Ring

Some Important Jewelry Basics

When I began making sterling silver jewelry some 20+ years ago, I broke saw blades at an alarming rate. It takes time to master the technique so if you are still at the blade breaking stage, fear not. It will get better. Of course it take lots of practice but I will share a few tips here that may help you along.

Jewelers Call It Piercing But Really, It's Sawing 

Probably the most important thing to work on is being relaxed with your saw. If you are new to jewelry making, it's a good idea to do a lot of cutting on something cheaper than sterling. Nickel silver or copper make good practice materials (and you may end up with some quite charming pieces to boot!).  At first, everyone tends to grab the saw handle in a death grip. When you stop to think of the size of that blade, you can see why that won't help. So, before you take the first stroke, make a conscious effort to drop your shoulders and relax your hand. I find keeping my index finger off the handle and pointed toward the blade helps me maintain that gentle grip. Also, let the tool do the work. Apply only enough pressure to keep your blade in contact with the metal. Make sure the metal stays flat on the bench and keep the saw moving with vertical strokes. No tipping!

A couple of really helpful things to do before you start sawing:
1. Be sure the blade is under tension in your frame — apply pressure as you tighten the blade clamp. The blade should twang if you pluck it.
2. Apply lubricant to the back of the blade. I keep a beeswax puck made for sewing on my bench for the purpose. Re-apply before each cut.
3. Finally, here is one a fellow member of the Creative Jewellers Guild taught me recently (you can always learn something new): anneal the metal before you do any cutting. You will save a lot of money on saw blades if you soften that metal first! You will also find it easier to make clean cuts.

Better Cutting Means Less Filing

In this photo, I have completed cutting out the ring blank and am about to start cleaning up the edges. The file comes first, then the sandpaper (wrapped on a paint stir stick).

As a beginner, I spent a lot of time filing edges. When your cuts get cleaner, you reduce that chore substantially. No matter how good you get, you will always have to file and sand the edges of a piece, Even if there is no wobble to your lines, the saw will have left a slightly rough pattern on the cut edge. You have to smooth that out and, of course, file and sand to round the edges. You don't want your jewelry to inflict injuries!

Details Count

I left this photo pretty large so you can (hopefully) see the difference between the part of the edge I have filed (left) and the rougher part left as the saw cut it (right).

All this time spent on edges is demanding and I agree it is pretty dull work but it makes all the difference to you pieces. Obviously, a rough edged ring would be painful to wear but even a pendant or pair of earrings should feel pleasant in the hand. Always run your finger along all edges before you worry about sanding the other surfaces. You may want your artisan jewelry to have a primitive look but you don't want a primitive feel. When you get to the end of making a piece, it's a good idea to rub a steel burnisher along all the edges so they are smooth and shiny.

Come back soon to see more progress on the two-stone ring. I'll show you the parts that are proving to be a challenge!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Work Interrupted

Return to the Bench and That Ring

Way back on November 28, I posted about a two-stone ring I undertook to make for a family friend. Because it was a new and different design, I made a copper prototype for it then (see the post). I had planned to keep going but life intervened. First it was Christmas then, before that was even over, we caught the now famous Three Week Head Cold. There is simply no point in trying to do bench work while sneezing! So another delay ensued. Here came January 2018.

Extracting the Stones

The plan was to make one ring from the two stones. They are not matched, of course, being from two different rings. The good news is that they are both faceted ovals and are very close in size. Oddly, one is a garnet and the other is an aquamarine but our friend says neither of the relatives she inherited these from was born in January or March. In any case, my first concern was to extract the stones from the rings they had been part of for many long years. That chore demands patience and a cautious use of tools to pry them loose in one piece. I felt a bit sorry to destroy a pair of quite sweet settings but, in truth, they are very clearly manufactured so I did not feel I was being heartless to a craftsman's (craftswoman's) work. As you can see, I did set them free.

For tonight, I am out of time, but please tune again soon. I have been making progress and I have many more photos about this project. I think I will share the process with you over several days.

Good night.

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.