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 ;-)