Tuesday, 16 February 2016

February 16

Some of My Favorite Things . . .

. . . are tools. Obviously, a jeweler needs tools and, over many years, I have amassed quite a collection. Some are for very specific projects: a jump ring maker, circle punches, a set of letters for stamping. Others are in use constantly and I thought I'd use this blog to introduce you to a few of them

Made to Measure

Any jewelry project begins with a design and a need to measure things. A ruler is a pretty standard measuring tool. This one is steel (sturdy) and gives me inches on one edge and centimeters on the other. Most people are also familiar with dividers. They can be used to scribe a circle or to transfer a measurement from the ruler to a piece of metal and can scribe a straight line for cutting when drawn along an edge. Very useful because — trust me — if you try to drag a scribe along the edge of a ruler you will, sooner or later, let that ruler slips and a nicely scribed line in the wrong place is a disaster. The calipers (on the right) are essential for measuring the size of a stone, the thickness of metals or the inside of a piece of tubing. The final item is a scale that weighs in ounces or grams. Knowing the weight of metal used in a pice becomes part of the process of pricing it for sale. It is also used to weigh items all packaged and ready for shipping so I can purchase shipping labels from Canada Post.

How to Cut It

Pretty much any jewelry item begins with cutting a shape from metal sheet or a length from silver wire. The jewelers' saw frame was probably the first tool I ever bought. It's probably the most used, too. The green handled flush cutters are great for fine gauge wire; heavier wires need the saw. The pair of garden snips are perfect for cutting snippets of sheet solder.

Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap, Tap

A jeweler collects hammers. I started with a chasing hammer — the one most people would consider a jeweler's hammer. Pretty quickly I added that rawhide mallet, used to shape metal without marring the surface, a smaller goldsmith's hammer and a riveting hammer (on the left).

Get a Grip

Hanging on to stuff is a challenge. Pliers and tweezers come to the rescue.

A jeweler could not function without a large assortment of gripping tools. These are just a few of mine. At the back, a third hand equipped with heat resistant soldering tweezers. On left foreground, tweezers: cross locking and diamond. The latter have slightly curved tips to aid in holding faceted stones. To the right, just two of many pairs of pliers with varied tips for handling metal and opening and closing jump rings.

Keep a Record

I had not been making — and selling — jewelry for very long before I realized I needed a record of pieces I have made. Sometimes, a client asks for an item I sold long ago. Lacking a good record, how could I begin to make another like it?

My bench tools include a pencil and a notepad. When I have a design planned (I use a sketch pad to doodle ideas first), I enter the date, a drawing (not fancy at all) with all measurements, gauge and weight of metal used, size and type of stone or stones.

I keep an endless list on my computer of everything I make and the date I make it. I can cross reference that to the pages in this notepad.

Friday, 12 February 2016

More Organic Casting

That Cedar Sprig

Long ago (October 20), I blogged about silver casting some organic material to create a couple of entries for the 2016 BC Gem Show <http://www.bclapidary.com/gemshow.html>. More recently, I turned one of the items from that workshop into a hair stick. That was relatively easy. Creating a piece with the silver cedar sprig, not so much.

The Plan — and the Problems

My plan was to make it into a brooch titled (apologies to David Guterson) Snow Falling on Cedars. Fabulous book by the way. I just re-read it recently.

Exhibit 1 — The Parts

It seemed an easy enough thing to do: just create some 3 mm tube settings, solder them randomly on the sprig and mount cubic zirconia stones in them to sparkle as snowflakes do. Here is the sprig (unpolished) and a box of faceted CZ stones.

Exhibit 2 — Getting Ready

Here are the components on my bench: the cast sprig, the neatly placed tube settings, the brooch findings, several grades of solder, a sanding stick and some gel flux.

There was quite a bit of prep work on this. One rule for soldering silver is that the pieces must meet evenly. Flattening the bottom of the tiny tube settings was easy — just sand them. Leveling the spots where I wanted to place them was a real challenge. The casting very faithfully reproduced the texture of the cedar so the entire surface of the piece is very rough. I worked with a flat bur and some small files to try to create seats for the settings.

It All Looked Fine

I managed to solder five settings onto the sprig (photo) and then needed to add the pin and catch on the back of the piece (after filing away several silver spikes to make it wearable art. If you think real cedar is a bit rough, try it as metal!). Here, to keep the solder on the settings trapped while soldering on the back side, I have painted the joints with yellow ochre. Solder will not flow on a dirty surface.

Uh—oh, This Was Not in the Plan

When I soldered the pin findings onto the back of the piece, one of the tube settings popped off. I tried in vain to re-solder it but the darned thing was cursed. Actually, the spot I wanted to place it was just too hard to get at for proper leveling. Eventually, to avoid damaging the whole piece, I just gave up. Nothing wrong with four snowflakes instead of five, right?

So, Snow Falling on Cedars is now complete and tucked away to wait for its debut at the Gem Show.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Chain Gang

Weave Away

I just finished another custom order. This one was for a man's chain bracelet — not a design challenge as he knew he wanted a simple chain link with a toggle clasp. It gave me a chance to invite you to another shop visit to watch the work in progress.

First Step, Make Rings to Weave

The first step in such a project is to form and cut the jump rings. In this case, I was working with 12 gauge sterling silver wire, wrapped on a 6.5 mm mandrel.

Once I wound a manageable length, I thread my saw into the coil and — carefully — cut through so the rings "jump" off my blade. I own a ring cutter that works with a coil holder and a mini circular saw blade on my rotary tool but it is not able to cut through heavy gauge wire so this masculine weight bracelet required hand cutting the rings.

The photo shows one coil on the saw blade and the wooden jig that will steady it for cutting. On the bench, a group of previously cut rings. This is not exactly creative work but does require patience — and a steady hand.

Soldering 101

While these sturdy rings would not pop apart under any conditions one can imagine, it is tradition to solder them closed. With such a large number of joints to solder — there are 29 rings in this 8 1/2 inch bracelet — working with my large torch would be awkward, so I set up a butane mico-torch in a stand right on my bench.

Even if the torch is small, one is still working with flame so I put a charcoal block atop a metal pan to protect the bench. Here, the bracelet is held in heat-proof tweezers in a "third hand" stand so I have both hands free to re-arrange the links and add solder snippets as I go.

Toggle Shaping

To make the toggle, I cut a length of wire to size then, to be sure there will be no sharp edges, I put the bit of wire into my rotary tool and worked both ends on sandpaper to round them. Later, I soldered on a small ring to attach a short length of fine chain. That allows the toggle to function.

Safety First

A charcoal block will begin to burn — well, smolder, actually — after exposure to the flame so, at day's end, safety requires ensuring the fire is out. I keep a spray bottle full of water above my soldering station and use it to soak down the charcoal when I am done with it. Also — safety is essential — at the end of every studio day, any jeweler turns off the torches, and burns off any gas in the big torch hose to relieve pressure. You also turn off power to the pickle pot. I have my pot plugged into the same power bar as the ventilation fan, so turn off both before leaving the shop. Because my bench is in a separate building, I also turn the space heater way down or off at day's end.

All Linked Up

Here is the finished bracelet — all soldered then polished for 2 - 3 hours in a tumbler full of steel shot.

Cleaned up well, didn't it?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

February 3

Setting a Picasso Jasper

While I was working on the client's garnet, I also got started on a setting for a Picasso Jasper. I always like to have more than none project on the bench as there is nothing so boring as watching your pickle pot.

Here is a shot of the two stones, each with its setting being fitted.

Abstract Pictures in Stone

Picasso Jasper is a metamorphic limestone, transformed over time by heat and pressure within the earth. It is found in the state of Utah and said to contribute to inner vision and to aid transformation. Whatever mystic properties it may have, it is most certainly fascinating to look at. This lovely oval makes me think of a West Coast forest in the fog. What do you see in it?

How to Settle on a Setting

From time to time, I change horses in midstream. Call it artistic license if you will, but I sometime get well into a project before deciding I need to alter it. In this case, my original plan was for a much longer piece, with point at top and bottom (seen in sketches posted at the end of January). I had not yet found a stone for it and when I came upon this one and sat it onto the silver cut to plan, I felt all that silver overwhelmed the subtlety of the stone. Easy answer - trim off the top portion of the piece.

Polish, Polish, Polish

There are many ways to polish jewelry pieces but one of my favorites is with 3M discs. They do a good job and, with all their tiny bristles, they can reach tight spots (like around those silver balls).

The discs are impregnated with various grades of grit so you can achieve any finishing task from a rough grinding to a mirror-polishing. Very useful.

Here, the final disc in the multi-disc sequence is mounted on a Dremel which I have positioned in a drill press. That leaves me with two hands for manipulating the item so I can be sure all areas, front and back, get a good polishing. It is always a delight to see, as you move to finer and finer grits, the reflection of the tool itself beginning to appear.

Picasso Framed

This is another "convertible" piece. It can be worn as a pin or, with the addition of a small adapter, as a pendant. I'm quite delighted with those adapters – whoever invented them did women a favor: two jewelry items for the cost of one!