On the corner of my workbench there had been a long, plain strip of silver just sitting and waiting. This past spring I had drawn the original sketch for a new cuff, and then cut out a silver section which would be the base of the new piece.
However, then things got busy, other orders became priority, and a move to our new home shuffled things around even more. When I unpacked in my new studio, the silver piece again found it's place on the upper corner of my workbench. Months passed, until finally a few weeks ago, I was able to return to my abandoned piece of silver.
The strip has now became my new Floral Landscape Cuff. Of course there were a number of steps that occurred in between the strip of silver and the final piece. Several of those steps I have shared below. This piece is a little different than some of my other designs, like the Will-o'-Wisp Brooch, in that I combined both forged wire and sheet to create the top details.
What step do you find most interesting? Designing, sawing, soldering, or adding the patina?
Balance Posted on 20 May 20:32
A little while back I was working on one of my favorite ring set designs, and documented the process to share with all you great folks.
The ring set consists of two bands, each with a slight pattern variation. I love a perfect balance of ornate pattern and clean lines. That was the goal of this design.
Every ring starts with a flat sheet of solid argentium silver. Measured strips are cut from the sheet. Smaller strips are placed on the top and bottom to create the borders. These strips are all carefully fused together using a torch.
One of the great benefits of argentium silver vs. standard sterling, is fusing. Instead of using solder to attach the strips, I can heat the argentium to a precise temperature and it will fuse itself together. No messy solder clean up!
Once the ring bases are fused, the patterned section is created. From thin silver wire I fuse, cut, form, and set up the decorative wires. I try to get them all the same size and shape, then use tweezers to set them in place on the flat ring shanks. When all the wires are arranged, it's time to solder.
The photo above shows a ring right before it was heated up. Originally I was going to solder the wires on, but decided to fuse them for a cleaner look. With wire you have to be extremely careful not to overheat, as small wires melt easily.
Once the wires were attached, the rings were formed and soldered closed. (I missed a few photos at the end here.) One ring was left silver and the other given an oxidized/brushed finish for contrast. Here's a final shot of the finished set.
You can have a set made just for you, find the details here.
The Jeweler's Saw: One of the first tools you learn to use when beginning working in metals. When you start a metals project you will almost always begin with a sheet of metal. This fabulous tool is what you use to cut out shapes, circles and slits.
A basic jewelers saw has a "C" shape frame and a wood or plastic handle. Saw blades are usually bought separately and come in different sizes. You use specific sizes to cut different gauges of metal. For example a number 2 saw blade would be good for cutting a 16 or 18 gauge sheet of metal. A 2/0 has much smaller teeth and would be good for cutting 24 or 22 gauge metal. It has to do with the number of teeth for the thickness of metal. Another thing to remember is you always want the teeth facing down and toward the metal. There should be a nice tension on the blade as well. Just enough so if you pluck the blade it goes "ting".
Before you begin cutting it is helpful to run your blade over a wax block for lubrication. Learning to use a jeweler saw for the first time can be a bit frustrating as many blades snap while you learn the movement and tension needed. Most beginners have a tendency to apply to much forward pressure, ending up in a snapped blade. It is well worth the effort to keep practicing, as the process can greatly expand the range of pieces you can create.
Below is an example of a piece I created that consists of different layers of silver and copper, the intricate patterns all handout with a jewelers saw.
While silver naturally has a bright finish, a dark gray/black finish can be equally desirable. I am going to cover a couple methods to give your bright silver jewelry (or copper) a nice dark finish. Keep in mind the patina is just a reaction on the surface of the metal, so it will wear off when rubbed against hard surfaces. However, you can always apply a clear coat to make it last longer.
Dark Patina - Home Method
This method is a simple solution requiring just one hard boiled egg and a small ziplock baggie. It works for both sterling silver and copper.
First you will want to make sure your jewelry has been cleaned of all dirt and oils by washing it with warm soapy water, then dry. ( I like using dish soap.)
Next take a hard boiled egg and peel off the shell. Place the entire egg into the plastic baggie and break it up into small pieces.
Then take your jewelry and place it inside the bag with the egg. You can just place it right on top of the crushed egg. Close the bag. In about 5 minutes you will notice the piece changing. Sometime the colors start with reds, then blues and gradually get darker. In about 10-15 minutes it should have a nice gray tone. You can take it out at any point when you like the finish, or leave it in for hours to see just how dark you can get it.
When it reaches the desired tone just take the jewelry out and rinse it off.
Now the patina is going to wear off as it is rubbed against hard surfaces. The high spots will get the lightest. This may be desired to accentuate a texture, such as the image below. You can even rub the piece with fine steel wool to bring the highlights out faster.
If your hope is to make the entire piece stay dark longer you can add a clear coat. If you are in a pinch clear finger nail polish will work, otherwise you can pick up a clear coat spray/dip from your local hardware store.
Dark Patina - Liver of Sulfur
If you are making a lot of jewelry with a dark patina, liver of sulfur is the way to go. Make sure you wear plastic gloves and have good ventilation. The liver of sulfur comes in a small metal tin and the pieces look like rocks. ( I get mine from RioGrande.com ) You'll want to break the chunks down into smaller pieces (roughly the size of a red pepper flake - haha that is all I can think of ).
As before the first thing you want to do is clean your jewelry with warm soapy water and dry.
Next, fill a small dish with warm water. Add enough water so you can fully submerge your jewelry item.
Add one small piece of liver of sulfur and dissolve. Then immediately add your jewelry. I use rubber coated tongs and make sure to gently rotate the piece every 30 seconds or so.
You'll notice the piece almost instantly start changing to red/brown then blue/purple hues. If I am adding a dark tone to a ring, once it gets the initial dark gray tone I like to take it out and use a soapy brass brush or soft toothbrush to gently rub the patina. It kind of adds a smooth tone to the piece. I then rinse and put it back in the sulfur water until it darkens to the finish I am looking for.
Take the piece out, rinse it in cool water and dry with a blow dryer. I like to add a wax sealer, called Renaissance Wax, which makes the finish look rich and dark.
As before the finish is only a reaction that occurs on the outer surface so it will wear off. You can rub gently with fine steel wool to highlight a texture. If a clear coat is desired to keep the piece dark longer, I recommend ProtectaClear. You can brush it on or dip the piece for a pretty durable coating.
I am putting this post up, and maybe a few more in the future, to give a bit of information on some of the basic metalsmithing tools and techniques that I commonly use. I get a lot of people that walk into my work space and are intrigued by all the fun toys I have so I thought why not explain what I use them for.
Here is the Flexible Shaft Machine, a tool that almost everyone asks me about, and also a tool that I use nearly everyday. While there are many makes and models the machine has three basic parts: a motor, a foot pedal that controls the speed of the motor, and the hand-piece.
There are a few different types of hand-pieces, the one I have is pretty basic and has three prongs that open and close using a jacob chuck. The prongs close tightly and hold attachments such as drill bits or cutting, sanding, and polishing discs. If you want to spend a little more, there is also a quick change handpiece which is allows you to change the attachments faster.
With a lot of the pieces I have been making lately I use the flex shaft to drill holes, sand and polish pieces. Overall this is one of my favorite tools as it has so many uses, and helps save a TON of time.
If you are in the market, here is a link to the flex shaft system I have, here. I would also consider adding the quick change handpiece.
One other thing to mention is the Dremel. I know many jeweler's that use a handheld wireless Dremel tool. If you are starting out this may be a great affordable solution. While they are comparable, the advance of the flex shaft is that you have control over the speed, and don't have to worry about battery life. Also as you get more advanced, a interchangable hand-piece may be important.
What tool do you use the most in your studio?