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 <> 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 <> 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.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Artisan Jewellery Show & Sale

Vancouver, BC on Mother's Day

Meet the artists, admire the art.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 21 April 2017

April 20

Wide Garnet Ring

While I was making that agate ring, I decided to make another to showcase one of a set of oval garnets I purchased some time ago. I like to have more than one project on the go at my bench because of the wait times for annealed or soldered items to soak in the pickle pot. 

The Early Stages

I began this project by cutting a strip of sterling silver about 1/4 inch wide and long enough to make a size 5 1/2 ring — a good size for a woman.

I wanted an interesting texture for the ring so I ran two fine parallel lines around the band and selected my riveting hammer to provide the texture.  I am not showing the somewhat dull business of bending the strip into a circle and aligning the ends for soldering. That always takes a huge amount of fussy filing as the cut ends never, ever want to meet perfectly to start with. Because you also have to keep bending the ends together to check the fit, then pulling them apart to file a bit more, you also have to repeatedly anneal the piece. If you do not, the silver becomes "work hardened" so that bending it takes way too much effort. Keep working it too long, and it may even get brittle enough to crack. If that happens, you have to start all over!

Comfort Counts

Nobody wants a ring that irritates their finger, so the finish on the edges and inside is every bit as important as on the face.

This file has a flat face on one side and a curve on the other. It is the only file needed to work a ring. Here, I am using the curved side — flat — on the inside of the ring. The same side, worked on a 45% angle, rounds the inside edges so the ring will be comfortable even when worn all day. I use the flat side of the file to go through the process of smoothing and pre-polishing the front face and edges of the band. 

As always, a lot of sanding comes next, before soldering the bezel in place. After that, lots of polishing and buffing. 

If you are curious about those numbers along the front edge of my bench, I use them to check length when weaving chain bracelets.

A Gleaming Garnet and It's Ready for DixSterling on Etsy

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Spring Ring

Developing a Process

Several months ago, a family friend asked if I could make a ring using a stone from a piece of jewelry she inherited but didn't want to wear (see my January 24, 2017 post).

First, Find a Design

One of the factors I had to take seriously was the relative softness of malachite. Any design had to provide a degree of protection for the stone. I came up with some sketches and she thought she liked "D" (top & side views shown here).

A few months have drifted by as I contemplated just how to create such a ring. This week, I decided on a general approach and set about making a prototype. Later, I will use half-round wire for the real ring but, with none on hand, I decided some heavy round wire would allow me to test the process. I had a cabochon of slightly off-kilter agate in my stash I could use as a stand-in for the malachite.

My Super Cool Tool

My beloved husband is an enabler – he often gives me jeweler's tool as birthday or Christmas gifts;-) This disc cutter was one of them and it's a real winner. Before it arrived on my bench, any time I needed a silver circle, I had to saw it from sheet by hand. That is a slow, tedious and demanding process. It is all too easy to get a hair off and end up with a slightly lopsided circle. If you are making a backing for a bezel, that is not a good thing. With this tool, I position my silver between the steel plates (this is 22 gauge), tighten them up and drive the steel cutter through the matching hole (and, of course, the silver).

Build the Bezel

Once I cut the circle, I had only to solder the circle of bezel wire atop it, file the edges to a perfect fit (left) and, of course, smooth everything with several grades of sandpaper.

Ring Parts: Shank, Bezel, and Cabochon

Here are the three pieces that will make the ring. I had a lot of fun bending that length of very heavy gauge silver wire. I had to re-anneal it a couple of times and still wound up with sore fingers! I got it to this point with forming pliers and pure physical effort. "I am Woman, Hear Me Roar"!

Creating a Seat for the Stone

Once I bent the shank into a horseshoe, it was time to create a seat to hold the bezel.

Left, I positioned the shank in my small vise to hold it while I filed matching cuts into the outside of the ring. I used a triangular jeweler's file and just kept working at it until I was a bit more than 3/4 of the way through the wire. At that point, it was possible to make the ends point up, forming posts. More sore fingers plus some hammering on a ring mandrel brought the wire into a pretty good circle with a gap to set the bezel into.

I forgot to take a photo of the next cuts — small ones on the inside of the upright posts. I made them to secure the bezel and they did not need to be nearly so deep. Great, I was getting pretty darned tired of filing be then!

Time to Solder It All Together

Right, the ring on my ceramic honeycomb soldering block. A pair of cross-lock tweezers held in a "third hand" stabilized the ring, with the bezel tension-held in the shank, so I could solder both sides in one operation. Sequence: position piece and solder chips on block, apply flame, quench in water and into the pickle. Pull it out, rinse, and tug at it to be sure the joins are solid.

Time to Shine

While the ring was in the pickle, I re-set a stone that had popped off a pendant I made many years ago for our daughter. Next, I set the agate in the ring and polished up my day's work (I re-polished the kid's earrings, too).

You Make a Prototype So You Can Learn

So, what did I learn from this one? First, that this approach will work for our friend's malachite. Second, that I will need to make the wire for the posts longer than these because we want them to actually come down over the edges of her stone (greater protection). Third, that this ring – with its round wire and slightly lopsided cab – may go up for sale some day (I need it here until that malachite is set), but it is probably only suited to accessorize someone's medieval costume. But, for that purpose, it might be just awesome!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Mother's Day 2017

Great Gift for Great Moms.

My shop is always open for browsers and shoppers.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Thinking of Spring

Turquoise Stone Dangles — Like Clear Blue Skies

Not that there have been many blue skies in my part of the world lately. March has been stubbornly grey and wet — really, really wet. I suppose one good thing about that is, since the garden is basically underwater, I have lots of time to work at my bench. Maybe it was a longing for blue skies that prompted me to order a pair of tiny (3mm) turquoise cabochons to make into earrings.

First, Assemble the Parts — and Do Not Lose Any!

Every time I work with really tiny gem stones, I am grateful to my friend Debbie from TheHandmadeForum <> who sent me several storage options. She uses these tiny pots for her excellent, all natural lip scrubs – see some here <>. They are also perfect for keeping wee stones safe. Rio Grande uses sealed bags to ship stones. Good for mailing as they cannot escape into the shipping box but, once I open the bag, I need a way to corral the stones. You can just imagine how easy it would be for these 3mm beauties to "vanish" leading to a long, frustrating search or bench and floor!

Safety Gear for a Jeweler

To make these dangle earrings, I need to use some high powered tools.

I have a hobbyist's drill press the lets me accurately position small holes for the ear wires and I use a jeweler's rotary tool (seen here) with a sharp steel bur to ream out holes in sterling tubing so I can set the stones into them.

Both operations produce dust and fine shavings of metal. The mask and safety glasses protect me from those. I also have an industrial respirator that I wear when polishing finished pieces as that requires a finer level of filtering for the compounds used.

Tube Setting for Small Stones

This photo shows the tubes, reamed out, cut to length and soldered onto the reticulated sterling earrings. The ear wires are on standby. I attach them last.

Three mm is Not Always Three mm

As you can see, one stone dropped into the tube perfectly. When I went to mount the second, (here held on a bit of Fun-Tak) I found the stone was a hair too big. I used that cylindrical diamond point bit — hand twisting it to avoid damaging the tube — to make the hole a bit wider and deeper. I bought a set of those several years ago. I have not used them often but they sure solve problems nothing else will tackle.

Stone Setting Tools at Work

These tools are what I use when bezel or tube setting stones. The lower one is a bezel rocker and I use it — as the name suggests — by placing it against the top of the tube or bezel and rocking it back and forth to press the metal onto the stone. I start by working on opposite sides of the stone while pressing the stone into the setting with my thumb. That anchors it. Then I move around the stone being sure that all of the circumference is settled.

The other tool, my curved steel burnisher is great for giving the top of the setting a final smoothing. I also love using it to give a bright polish to the edges of a piece. That touch is especially nice on the smooth edges of reticulated items as they have a more muted finish.

Finished and Ready for Their Close Ups

You can find these pretty things — and many others — in my etsy shop <>

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.