Thursday, 21 May 2015

Special Gift

Building a Pair of Custom Earrings

Someone contacted me recently about creating a custom pair of Lapis Lazuli stud earrings to be a gift for her mother's birthday. I am always honored to be trusted with such a special assignment.

I will use this blog spot to walk her (and you) through the process, step by step. For the first two steps, see my blog of May 18 (below).

Prepping the Parts

Left: I have cut the squares from hammered sterling silver and used a file (bottom of photo) to clean up the edges and round off the corners. Certainly do not want the recipient to be stabbed while putting them on!

At this stage, I also sand the flat surfaces (using 400, 600, 800, and 1000 grit papers) because it is virtually impossible to do a good job of that after the bezels are mounted (one of many self-taught lessons!).

The next photo shows the bezel material – a narrow strip of pure (as opposed to sterling) silver. Here, I have wrapped it around the stone and am about to use a Sharpie to mark the spot to cut.

Fine (pure) silver works best for bezels because it is much more pliable that sterling. It is also delicate and wants gentle handling. It takes only a split second to melt a bezel!

Left: both bezels have been soldered closed. To do that, you have to flatten the shape a bit. The bezel on the left has been rounded on that steel mandrel. The mandrel also lets me slightly stretch the circle if necessary to fit the stone.

I create each earring separately from this point on because stones can vary – ever so slightly – in diameter and each bezel must fit perfectly to keep the stone secure. If the first of the pair is completed before I assemble the second, I do not have to keep checking the which stone goes on which earring.

Ready for Setting

Right: the bezel is soldered to the square stud and I am ready to set the Lapis cabochon. You can't see it but the ear post is mounted on the back. All soldering must be done before you can set stones.

I always drill a hole through the plate if I am mounting an opaque stone or create an almost totally open back for a clear stone. It is very useful if I need to remove the stone. That is rare, but can happen if a stone is slightly off round and has to be repositioned to drop all the way into its bezel. Once the stone is in place, I use a highly polished steel burnisher (see below) to push the bezel onto the stone, working from side to side first, then around the top.

With the stone secured, I do the final polishing.

Set & Polished

Pretty Pair Ready to Ship

Happy Birthday!

Monday, 18 May 2015

May 18

Canadian Long Weekend — Victoria Day

Holiday in honor (honour here) of Queen Victoria, of course, and, traditionally, the start of summer. Never mind that a friend in Winnipeg posted a photo of their new snow this morning — it's summer in Canada. Kinda gives new meaning to "The Great White North" doesn't it?

I have celebrated (if that's the right word) this weekend by:
1. mowing the lawns (no snow on the west coast)
2. vacuuming and dusting the house
3. scrubbing bath and kitchen floors.
Looks more like Labor (Labour) Day to me! Currant pain level; medium to high.

That was Dix. DixSterling Also Busy

Despite lawn and house, I did get some work done on custom jewelry orders.

First, the Ring

I fully agree – this does not, in any way, look like a ring. The reason? To make a ring, you cut a strip of metal, then bend it to make the ends meet. If the ring is to have any width to speak of, you just can't make that happen with a ring shape so you sort of flatten it until you get a good join. Then you solder it and you have something un-ring-like. Shaping comes next.

Oh, Look. It's Round!

To the right, the ring after considerable pounding — using a rawhide mallet on on my steel ring mandrel.

There is still a lot of finishing work to go. That file will shape  and smooth the edges so it will be comfortable to wear. I will follow up with several grades of sandpaper (going ever finer grits) and a number of buffing steps.

Further back on my bench, you can see a Lapis Lazuli cabochon. It's actually one of a pair. Read on.

Small Lapis Studs

This pair of Lapis cabs are destined for a pair of studs for someone's very special day. Can't say who or what, of course. I can keep a secret with the best of them (just ask my kids).

When the request for earrings came in, I had no Lapis on hand so I visited my supplier and was delighted to find this really lovely, closely matched pair in just the right size.

I also picked up a nice pair of Kyanite cabs. They were too big for this project but much too pretty to leave behind. (Okay, I'm a confirmed stone hoarder).

Laying Out Design

I will be bezel mounting the Lapis cabs on small hammered sterling silver square studs. This shows the first square marked and ready for cutting.

Over the next few days, if the grass doesn't grow too fast, I should be able to finish these (they are on a deadline) and the ring.

Now it's time to set up the BBQ —

Happy Victoria Day, Canada

Friday, 15 May 2015


My Old Neighbours

Posting this just because I miss the river life, especially this time of year.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

May 6

DixSterling Does Copper – Cuffs, To Be Exact

I made a copper cuff some time ago and decided to do another, slightly narrower version on Monday. The process is shown below.

Step 1 - Cut a strip, one inch wide, from 22 gauge copper sheet.

Only tricky bit of this was that the throat of my jeweler's saw is not deep enough so I had to cut half the length, then start again from the other end.

I'm getting better with controlling the saw. The two cuts followed the line and actually met! I guess that's the way bridge builders feel when the two sides of a project come together as they should ;-)

Step 2 - Add some texture: brass hammer comes into play

The blue item top left is the business end of a large chisel. I used it to create that diamond pattern on the strip. As a contrast, I hammered the large bolts screw pattern into the copper at the other end.

There are all kinds of found objects one can use for texturing metal this way. I find lots of items on my husband's work bench: nails, screwdrivers, punches, etc.

Step 3 - Shape the bracelet

A steel bracelet mandrel is a pretty hefty investment but there are other options. I have seen a cut off baseball bat recommended. In my case, when an old rolling pin developed a problem (one handle kept popping out in mid-crust), I took it out to the shop. It serve remarkably well as a mandrel so I can use my rawhide hammer to shape bracelets on it. The functional handle also lets me mount it in one of the convenient holes in the face of my bench.

Step 4 - Time for color

Once all that was done, It was time for the patination process. First, I took soap, hot water and a plastic scrubbie to scour the metal. It has to be utterly free of grease. Next, I used the torch to heat the piece and then dropped it into an old cooking pot filled with vegetable material (pine needles, bits of dried cedar, cones) and put the lid on. It's great fun as the colors you get from this process are never quite the same. The larger bracelet shown developed many sades of red and gold. The narrower one runs more to reds and purples. Which do you like best?