Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Thinking of Spring

Turquoise Stone Dangles — Like Clear Blue Skies

Not that there have been many blue skies in my part of the world lately. March has been stubbornly grey and wet — really, really wet. I suppose one good thing about that is, since the garden is basically underwater, I have lots of time to work at my bench. Maybe it was a longing for blue skies that prompted me to order a pair of tiny (3mm) turquoise cabochons to make into earrings.

First, Assemble the Parts — and Do Not Lose Any!

Every time I work with really tiny gem stones, I am grateful to my friend Debbie from TheHandmadeForum <https://www.etsy.com/pages/thehandmadeforum> who sent me several storage options. She uses these tiny pots for her excellent, all natural lip scrubs – see some here <https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/228261395/lip-scrub-cherry-sugar-lip-scrub-lip?ref=shop_home_active_49>. They are also perfect for keeping wee stones safe. Rio Grande uses sealed bags to ship stones. Good for mailing as they cannot escape into the shipping box but, once I open the bag, I need a way to corral the stones. You can just imagine how easy it would be for these 3mm beauties to "vanish" leading to a long, frustrating search or bench and floor!

Safety Gear for a Jeweler

To make these dangle earrings, I need to use some high powered tools.

I have a hobbyist's drill press the lets me accurately position small holes for the ear wires and I use a jeweler's rotary tool (seen here) with a sharp steel bur to ream out holes in sterling tubing so I can set the stones into them.

Both operations produce dust and fine shavings of metal. The mask and safety glasses protect me from those. I also have an industrial respirator that I wear when polishing finished pieces as that requires a finer level of filtering for the compounds used.

Tube Setting for Small Stones

This photo shows the tubes, reamed out, cut to length and soldered onto the reticulated sterling earrings. The ear wires are on standby. I attach them last.

Three mm is Not Always Three mm

As you can see, one stone dropped into the tube perfectly. When I went to mount the second, (here held on a bit of Fun-Tak) I found the stone was a hair too big. I used that cylindrical diamond point bit — hand twisting it to avoid damaging the tube — to make the hole a bit wider and deeper. I bought a set of those several years ago. I have not used them often but they sure solve problems nothing else will tackle.

Stone Setting Tools at Work

These tools are what I use when bezel or tube setting stones. The lower one is a bezel rocker and I use it — as the name suggests — by placing it against the top of the tube or bezel and rocking it back and forth to press the metal onto the stone. I start by working on opposite sides of the stone while pressing the stone into the setting with my thumb. That anchors it. Then I move around the stone being sure that all of the circumference is settled.

The other tool, my curved steel burnisher is great for giving the top of the setting a final smoothing. I also love using it to give a bright polish to the edges of a piece. That touch is especially nice on the smooth edges of reticulated items as they have a more muted finish.

Finished and Ready for Their Close Ups

You can find these pretty things — and many others — in my etsy shop <https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DixSterling>

Friday, 24 March 2017

Slim Ring

"Keep It Simple, Stupid"

I have been fooling around with ideas for wedding bands (a friend will be needing a pair in the near future). Although she wants white gold, I do my experimenting with sterling silver. Here is one experiment.

A Silver Strip for Starters

Making a ring is a fairly simple process. After deciding on a width (this one will be about 3.9 mm), you cut a piece of silver just a touch wider (there will be a bit of filing and sanding as you go). You also need to find the length needed for a ring of a given size (DUH!). You can find ring blank sizing charts on line or, if you just love math, you can find formulas to calculate the length.

Creating a Textured Surface

Various jewelers' hammers can be used to give the surface a textured finish. A dome-headed hammer creates a subtle pattern of round dents. For this ring, I used a cross peen hammer to give the surface a cross hatched pattern. The sharp edged lines help the silver sparkle when the light hits the ring. Either way, you work with your metal on a steel anvil.

Joining the Ends

Oh, drat; I forgot to take a photo of the next step! I used forming pliers to bend the ring and bring the ends together for soldering. If you lack forming pliers, round nose or stepped pliers will help with the task. That is best done by creating a D shape so you are soldering a flat join. Just make sure everything is clean and that the ends are a tight fit.

Rounding the Ring

No matter what other tools you have, you cannot make a ring without the aid of a rawhide mallet and a steel ring mandrel. These let you bring the ring to a perfect round without leaving hammer marks on your work. You can also stretch it slightly if you find it is a bit too small. Once it is round, a bit of filing and sanding will chamfer the edges for comfort and a bunch of polishing will make it shine.

Slim Band Done & Polished

Two Invitations

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, there are a couple of great jewelry events coming up soon. For lovers of rocks, loose gems and finished jewelry, the BC Gem Show, sponsored by the BC Lapidary Society, runs April 7, 8 & 9 at

Ag-Rec Building
Central Fraser Valley Fairgrounds
32470 Haida Drive
Abbotsford, BC


For lovers of finished jewelry and metal objects d'art, the 4th Annual Artisan Jewellers Show & Sale happens again on Mother's Day, May 14 at VanDusen Botanical Garden on Oak Street in Vancouver.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dangle Earrings

Creating Summer Fun Jewelry

With spring close and summer coming, I designed a different pair of earrings. These dangles will look great with those bare shouldered summer fashions. Here is how I made them.

Using My Jeweler's Tools

Artisan jewelers use lots of tools but I find there are a few I use on almost every project: my saw, hammers, files and torch. I used the torch to reticulate the sterling for this pair of earrings. The process is simple, but time consuming: heat the metal until it glows a dark red at least eight times. Sterling is an alloy of silver and copper and this process brings a layer of pure silver to the surface. As a final step (this is the fun part), you heat the metal until that surface layer starts to melt and use the flame to push it around until you have the textured surface you want. I cut these shapes from the reticulated silver.

To pierce the openings, I marked the shape to cut out and drilled a hole near one corner. Opening the jeweler's saw, I threaded the blade through the hole and cut out the pattern. I used my file to smooth all the edges. Over the years, my saw control has improved so I do not have to spend nearly as much time filing to get the edges perfectly straight!

Solder on the Ear Wires

I cut lengths of 20 gauge sterling wire to make these and used the file and sandpaper to round off the ends. I hammered the attachment end a bit to get a flat surface. It just takes a few small bits of solder and a short burst of flame to attach the wires to the back of the earrings.

And Shape Them

That pair of stepped forming pliers are so useful. They help me start the shape for most bezels and they make shaping ear wires a simple task.

Soldering the wires softens the metal (heating always anneals — softens — silver) and that is not the best thing for ear wires. Any sort of working on metal hardens it. Indeed, if you bend or hammer it too much without re-annealing, it can become brittle and break. The shaping process does work harden the wires to some extent. To complete the process, and make the wires as tough as possible, I ran the finished earrings in my tumbler loaded with water a tiny bit of pure soap and steel shot.The tumbling hardens those wires and also burnishes the pieces to a nice shine.

All Done

Hope someone will enjoy wearing these to a party some day this summer.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Framing a Moonstone

Step By Step to Frame & Set

Last week, I framed an amethyst (my birthstone) in a curved diamond shaped pendant. I liked the effect so much, I decided to make another one (or more) for my shop <https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DixSterling> and I started with an 8mm moonstone. For those who like process, I am posting how I made it.

Start With a Pattern

It's a bit like sewing; if you want to be sure of the outcome, it is much better to start with a pattern ;-) but, instead of pins, you attach it to your "fabric" with glue. In this case, I used 22 gauge sterling for my "fabric". Normally, that would not be strong enough for a pendant this size, but I am adding a frame and that makes all the difference.

Building the Frame

I created the frame from square 16 gauge sterling wire.

The photo shows the first piece of wire in place and the second being bent before marking the length and cutting it. The rawhide mallet and steel anvil help me flatten the wire to lie flat on  the backing. To shape it, I use those forming pliers (boy, I wish I had purchased that tool years ago!). The file cleans up the cut ends of the wire and lets me shape the ends for a good fit.

Fitting the Final Piece

The final section. I have used a sharpie to mark the top of the piece of wire because, as I move these small pieces to the soldering block, they can flip. The mark, which burns off under the torch, helps me position things. The main piece is white because that is how silver looks when you bring it out of the pickle (a mild acid bath that cleans the metal). Many people working in sterling wish there was a way to retain that frosted white on parts of an item, but there isn't!

Creating a Bezel Setting

In this photo, I have bent a strip of fine (99.9% pure) silver around the moonstone, marked the place to cut it, made the cut and soldered it closed. Fine silver is used for bezels because it is so pliable. You could make the circle from sterling but bending it down over the stone would be very difficult — and exhausting. I use the rawhide hammer on that steel mandrel to round the bezel and (if necessary) stretch it to give a good, snug fit.
Here, I am checking that the fit is right before soldering the bezel to the pendant. Never solder a bezel on without doing that first.

Polishing the Frame

For a nice contrast, I elected to give the background a frosted finish — done with a brass wire brush dipped in a touch of liquid soap. That steel burnisher serves to give the raised frame a mirror finish.

The painter's tape is to avoid marring the back of the piece while I am working on the front. Boy, that stuff is useful. I guess painters use it too ;-)

Ready, Set, and Set

Yes, that's more blue tape. This time, I am using it to secure the pendant to a soft suede sandbag and to cover the face of the pendant while I use the curved steel burnisher to slowly push the bezel down over the edge of the stone. I learned, very early, that failing to protect the silver can lead to disaster. It takes a fair bit of force to bend even fine silver and — no matter how careful you are — force can cause a tool to slip. When it does, says Murphy's Law, it always hits the silver, not the sandbag! The stone looks flat white in this shot — something about the lighting the shop, I guess.

Test Drive

Once I had given the pendant a good polishing, I put it on a chain and tried it on.

Now, I just need enough light to take proper photos by the window so I can list it for sale. Might be a great gift for someone with a June birthday.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Photography 1.1, March 2017

It's Been Awhile. . .

Since I posted here — for several reasons.

First, we have had an unusually cold and snowy winter (for Vancouver). It wasn't that I had to shovel much (very short driveway), but I felt the cost of electric heat for the studio would be excessive.

The next reason: the old lock on the studio door malfunctioned (i.e. jammed) and I could not get in!  Once the weather moderated, a local carpenter was able to cut a hole, access the lock, and remove and replace the door. Whew.

The final reason was a short, but utterly wonderful, escape to CannonBeach on the Oregon Coast. I adore that place.

The photo was taken from our balcony at the SurfSand Resort, looking north toward Ecola Head. I loved walking along that beach every morning, listening to the surf and admiring the patterns of wind, wave and cloud. Almost as good as Maui – but certainly not as warm😉

No Bench Time = Lots of Camera Time

I have been planning to start updating my product photography for some time. Being locked away from my other tools inspired me to get started on that project. Over the years since I began selling on etsy, I have tried many approaches to photography. I experimented with studio lights — best left to professional photographers, I think. I bought a white box. It's cumbersome to work with but essential for domed silver pieces as they will reflect everything around them.

Photo Setup

Eventually, I realized that natural light works best. Our dining table on a lightly overcast day (or a sunny one with blinds set to keep direct sunlight off the table) is ideal. Several years ago, I invested in a good Canon camera and a inexpensive, but perfectly adequate, tripod. Everything else is super cheap.

Here's the setup. A large square of white card for the overall background cancels out the dark oak table. Happily, our ceilings are white. I use an off-white piece of ceramic tile (left over from our shower installation) to place the items on. That chunk of cardboard, wrapped with aluminum foil on the right serves as a reflector when needed. Sometimes, for an extra pop of directed light, I use that mini reading lamp.

A Closer Look

With spring and summer coming, I am using a spray of white and yellow silk flowers as a photo prop. Sometimes, I use a sea shell.

One of the reasons I bought a good camera was for the micro photo function. As you can see, jewelry photography is closeup photography. Today, of course, even my iPhone can shoot up close and personal. I use it for my work in progress shots for this blog when I am working in the shop.

The End Result 

Here is a sterling pendant, set with three purple iolite cabochons. I used Photoshop Elements to brighten the shot a bit (the sky was a bit too overcast for ideal results) and I selectively brightened the bottom stone. In real life, all three are a close match but the shadow of the pendant itself kept some light from reaching the underside of that one. The adjusted photo is much closer to reality.

I have a couple of projects on the go. Next time I come by, I will post some silversmithing.