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?