Friday, 27 April 2018

Cooking Copper

My Not So Secret Recipe

If you want to have a go at this process, you will need:

• a piece of copper jewelry
• a plastic scrubbie
• scouring powder (I use Bar Keeper's Friend)
• a small lidded cooking pot (I got mine at a thrift store)
• some dry organic material: pine needles, bits of cedar, anything with high resin content
• a torch (jeweler's great but propane plumbers' torch will work for this)
• heat safe soldering tweezers
• archival wax or spray sealant

I photographed the tweezers (upper left in a third hand holder, which is handy but not essential) and my cooking pot at my soldering station but you really want to set up for this outdoors — it gets campfire smokey pretty quick. Obviously, it's not a task for a windy day.

Create Your Copper Item

Of course you need to create a piece first! In this case, I am working on a pierced pendant. I used 24 gauge copper but your design will determine your gauge.

This photo shows the paper pattern glued to the copper sheet for sawing (see part of my saw on right of frame). I drew in the bail for style and placement but, of course, it is not cut out as part of the circle.

Pierced & Punched

I used my saw to pierce out the large circle but was able to use my punch for the cutout (photo left).

I also created a pattern for the folded loop bail and cut it out with the saw.

Check the Fit, Remove the Pattern

Here, I am checking the fit for the bail (using its folded paper pattern) on the copper piece.

You can see that I have sanded the pendant to remove any scratches.

Once satisfied with the style and fit, I glued the bail pattern to another piece of copper and cut it out. You can remove the paper with soap and water or just use the torch to burn it off.


I put the bail on an old hockey puck (we jewelers can find a use for just about anything!) and forged it to the correct shape using shaping pliers and my rawhide mallet.

The next step was to finish all edges with files and sandpaper before closing the bail around the pendant and soldering it shut. At that stage, I took the piece to the sink and scrubbed all sides super clean with scouring powder and a scrubbie. When the water was sheeting off all the metal, I dried it very carefully with paper towel (touch edges only) and put it into the tweezers, positioning them to cover a minimal part of the back of the bail. Next step: torch it and cook it.

Painted and Protected

Once the piece cooled, I coated it with a spray sealer and hung it over the edge of our patio table to dry. All ready to list at SterlingByDix on ArtYah.

Go ahead; try this at home ;-)

Friday, 20 April 2018

All It Takes is Time

Sometimes, a Project Takes a Lot of Time

This is a bit of a saga. Many, many months ago, a family friend came to me with a bag of jewelry she had inherited. It was all pretty old fashioned and she wanted to know if I could come up with ways to update some of it.

The first project was to extract a pretty oval malachite from a very traditional brooch and turn it into a very modern ring.  It was fun to work on and we were both pleased with the transformation.

The second project involved finding a way to marry up the stones from a pair of classic birthstone rings into one ring for our friend's niece. Because they were virtually the same size, it was feasible to put both the garnet and the aquamarine into one ring.

First, To Select a Design

I sketched up a few ideas and they chose the overlap with a tapered shank as a good fit for the two oval stones (see below).

Stone Removal Done (Carefully)

I took plenty of time removing the stones. Had they been in claw settings, it would have been much easier, but both were bezel mounted so it took a combination of cutters and my saw to get them out without damage.

Here, a photo of the wrecked rings and the freed stones.

That done, I set the stones aside while I prepared the ring itself. 

Making the Ring Blank

I used 18 gauge sterling for the ring, shown here wearing the paper patter I used to cut it out. 

Taking Shape

I love my shaping pliers and they were especially useful for coaxing this ring blank into the correct curve.

In the background, you can see the copper ring I made as a prototype. I needed to be sure that my design could actually be made and, just in case the answer was no, copper is a lot cheaper than sterling!  Happily, the design worked.

Ring Soldered: Next Up, Bezels For Stones

The following photos outline the next steps.

Here, the ring has been soldered and is ready to receive the stone settings.

Making those bezels took a bit of time. It's fussy work to fit silver around the little stones (5 mm by 8 mm). Once the outer bezels were done, soldered and tested for fit, I made thinner ones to fit inside. Soldered into the main bezels, they serve to support the stones so they will sit level (and not drop right through the main bezels, of course). Here they are, all ready to go.

It All Came Together — At Last

Once the bezels were soldered onto the ring, I set the stones. Once again, I worked slowly and carefully. If I shatter a stone I bought, tough luck. Shattering heirlooms is just not acceptable. I'm quite pleased with the final result. I hope its new owner will enjoy her old/new ring for many, many years.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

More Copper Fun

A Pendant Pair of Circles

A friend recently purchased a pair of fire painted copper dangle earrings and wanted a pendant to go with them. Life has been a bit crazy lately but I finally got around to the project.

One Large Plus One Small

When I made the earrings, I cut both circles with my Pepe disc cutter.
These steel punches, driven home through steel guides with a brass hammer, make short work of creating metal circles — but only up to a one inch diameter. That worked fine for both sizes I used to make the earrings but not for the pendant. After using the cutter to get a one-inch disc for the smaller circle, I had to get my saw going to cut a larger one at 1 3/4 inches.

Ready to Link Up

Here are the two discs ready to join up for the pendant. After I cut both, I filed and sanded the edges smooth and drilled holes to accept a copper jump ring. It will hold them together and provide a way to hang the piece from a leather thong. I also sanded both faces to take out any minor scratches — the first step in preparing them for coloring. The process is similar to the Raku method used on pottery: the very hot metal is placed in a container of combustable materials. Although various materials will work with pottery, for metals, I use dry plant materials with a high resin content. Bits of pine needles and cedar twigs seem to be best.

Linked Up & Ready to Clean

Here the circles are hanging from my third hand tweezers after soldering the jump ring. The pattern you see on the copper is from the paper patterns I had glued on to guide the cuts. Once the jump ring was soldered shut, I used a scouring pad, hot water and a powdered cleanser to get the faces super clean. Only once water sheets off all of the metal surface can the fire painting process work well. Next, I torched the pendant until is was red hot and immediately dropped it into an old saucepan full of the organic materials,

Surface Protection

Generally, when I work with copper, the final step is to protect the surface with a thin coat of archival wax. It works well and can always be renewed by the eventual owner if any signs of wear begin to develop. With this pendant, however, I was concerned that there will be a slight degree of abrasion as the smaller circle —despite being gently domed —swings in front of the larger one. With that in mind, I opted to use a clear spray on finish instead. I clamped the jump ring in a pair of jewelers' tweezers and headed into the great outdoors. After checking the wind direction (duh), I held the pendant at arm's length and sprayed the clear coat on all surfaces. Finally, I hung is over the edge of a patio table to let the coating dry.

Pretty Good Match

Considering the organic, and somewhat random, coloring process, I think the pieces match up pretty well.