Tuesday, 3 December 2019

2019 Is Almost Done

And So Is This Pendant!

It was an oddly busy summer and fall — probably why I just finished this pendant, which I started way back in April! So, here are the steps.

Character Stone

I picked up some interesting pieces of agate at a rock and gem show last year.  This roughly triangular blue-grey one had been on my bench for months before I decided how to use it. The inspiration came from a few 5 mm Iolite cabochons in my stash. Their deep purple seemed a perfect foil for the agate. Here's the design, laid out on a piece of 20 gauge sterling sheet.

All Parts Prepared

Here you can see the stones, the back plate, a bezel for the agate, and a piece of sterling tube cut and reamed to mount the Iolite.

It was about June at this point and things like the lawn and garden got in the way so these bits went into a plastic baggie to await some free time.

Then Came Autumn and Progress 

Like many jewellers, I like embellishing the back plate for large stones like this with cutout patterns. It gives the back of the piece some visual interest and also cuts down on the weight for comfortable wearing. 

This pattern removed a fair bit of metal but the cross piece left kept it strong (that counts, too).

Time to Torch It 

Large bezels are a bit tricky to solder onto back plates. The bigger the bezel, the harder it is to ensure contact with the backing all the way around so it will solder on solidly. As you can see, one way to cope with that is to use bailing wire to secure the bezel. By tightening the wire, you press the bezel onto the plate and ensure it will not shift while the heat is on.

Final Views — Back and Front

Still needs polishing and the bail — those two holes are for a double chain system. While the design is intended to distribute the weight reasonably evenly, the two point bail will ensure it will hang straight when worn.

Coming soon to an etsy page near you!

Monday, 25 November 2019

It's Beginning to Look a Lot. . . .

. . . Like Christmas

As of midnight November 25, everything in my etsy shop <https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DixSterling> is 25% off and most also offer free shipping.

Here are a few gift ideas:



and Rings

Purchases made before December 1st will ship immediately and arrive in time for Christmas.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Almost There

The Ring Saga Continues

Polishing takes many steps — the process is slow but essential.

The first step (above) is done with a jewelers' file, inside and out. This removes the tool marks you can't altogether avoid as you shape the metal.

After filing comes sanding, using grits 400, 600, 800, 1000 and finally, 1200. You work alternately; 400 across the ring all the way around, 600 along the length, 800 across again, etc. You sand the inside, too, using sandpaper mounted in a split mandrel on a rotary tool and holding the ring as you work. If you do that enough, you'll get safe cracker's fingertips ;-)

The Sweet Spot

Once the filing and sanding (pre-polishing) was done, I selected a spot to mount the setting.

I needed to create a level, flat spot on the surface of the ring shank (the shank is curved twice – the half-round of the wire and the circle of the actual ring). The spot had to be large enough to provide a safe mounting for the gem setting.

In this photo, I am holding the shank in a ring clamp, braced against my bench pin, so I can file the spot exactly where I want it and totally level.

Soldered. . .

I mounted that setting a touch off center. Hard to see, but it means there is an easy way to remove the stone (small hole under stone) if the ring ever needs down sizing. (Up sizing can usually be done on a ring stretcher, no heat, so the stone can stay put).

. . . And Polished

Here it is, all polished and shiny. If all goes well, I should have time to set the onyx tomorrow.

This ring is a special project for a special friend so I hope she will delight in wearing  it for many, many years to come.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Moving On

Picking Up Where I Left Off

Here are the steps involved in  making the ring shank.

Size Matters

If I am making a ring on spec, I can pretty much pick any reasonably common ring size and go with it. When the ring is a special order for a special person, getting the size right is a very big deal. At left, with the half-round wire formed into an (almost) circle, I marked where I was pretty sure the cut should be. I needed to end up either exactly as ordered or a touch smaller (knowing I could increase the size a bit on the mandrel later).

How Amazing!!!

Maybe I'm getting better at this after 20+ years. The size was perfect on the first cut.

To the right, I put the ring shank in my bench vise (I love the rubber guards in this one) and gently ran a flat file through the join to true up both sides. It is virtually impossible to get a proper solder joint if the sides are not a snug fit. It can be frightfully tricky to get that tight fit but this project seems to be under a good star as it took only a little bit of file work.

Trial By Fire

I guess everyone has their own favorite way to solder a ring shank closed. Most times, this is my choice. The ring is held, above a charcoal block, in my soldering tweezers. They, in turn, are held in a vise that allows me to position the tweezers any way that lets me access the joint.
I bring the flame in from below. The joint has been treated with flux and I placed a small bit of solder on the joint before lighting the torch. As soon as the solder flashes silver, I pull the heat away and turn the torch off. This photo also shows that I am pretty safety conscious. Behind my soldering spot, you can see a large fire brick with my ceramic soldering block atop it. The charcoal rests on a metal tray that swivels as needed. The swivel tray sits on a metal tray and that is on top of a large ceramic tile. And the neck bone's connected to the . . . .

Speaking of Solder

I also soldered that back plate to the bezel setting. Here it sits on the charcoal — looking very ugly for the moment.

Polishing — And More Polishing — to Come

First with files, then with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper before I solder the setting to the shank and move on to jeweler's polishes for a final finish.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Another Progress Report

Moving Ahead With That Ring

Here is a better photo of shaping the step bezel to fit the onyx. With a step, or ledge, on the inside for the stone to rest on, you have to be very precise when cutting and shaping the material. As you can see, I started with a piece that was too long and nibbled it down bit by bit until it would form a perfect wrap before I soldered it shut and rounded it on the mandrel (see previous post) .

See how nicely it fits in the photo below.

BTW, I quite love my "fashionably distressed" bench pin, which has been serving me well for the past six years. It has seen lots of sawing, filing and — obviously — lots and lots of drilling! I do have a Dremel drill press as well, but sometimes just throwing a bit into the rotary hand piece is quicker and easier.

Adding a Back Plate

Although the step inside the bezel will hold the stone, this ring design also involves a round base plate, slightly larger than the bezel. It offers a more secure attachment to the ring shank and adds a nice visual touch as well. See the garnet cabochon ring at https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/DixSterling for this style of setting.

The next photos show the steps to measure for the backing and how to use a disc cutter to create the plate.

Of course, I could cut the plate by marking it on the silver and cutting it with my saw but, when it comes to accuracy, this method is much better. Before I got that tool, making a perfectly round piece was very tricky — and very frustrating! 

Here are the parts — and the bit of scrap I cut the circle from.

And the here is the setting, ready to be soldered together.

The next few days are looking busy, but "watch this space" — I will be completing the ring shank and pre-polishing everything for final assembly very soon.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

October Already?

Where Did That Summer Go?

I have no idea, but I guess various garden chores had something to do with it. The weather turned fast here this year so I had to turn the heater on in the shop last week. Now I can get back to work and my current project is an onyx ring. You can follow along here.

Start With a Ring Shank

I create many of my rings with shanks cut as strips from 18 or 20 gauge sheet sterling silver. For this one, I am going with a different option. This shank has been cut from 6 gauge half round wire. I cut it to length, then filed the ends until they are perfectly square so I can get a clean solder joint.

Creativity Can Be Hard on the Hands

I had forgotten that this stuff is hard to bend! I had to anneal the silver several times to keep it pliable. Hmmm. Do you suppose it's just that I am not a strong as I used to be ;-)

Here, I am getting close to bringing the ends together for soldering. To get a perfect joint, I need to get the shank into a D shape with the joint in the center of the flat side. There is more bending to be done. And, in case you are wondering, that cut down pill container holds chips of various grades of solder - not headache remedies!

Meanwhile. . . 

I had another circle to make, a bezel for the stone. I cut a piece of step bezel silver to fit the stone. That's my saw hanging on the bench pin just in case, once bent, the bezel proved to be a bit too big. It did, so I had to trim it before soldering it closed. The fit of bezel to stone is critical. Too small and you can't get the stone into the bezel. Too big and the bezel will not close around the stone to secure it.

No To Make It Round

In this photo, I have the soldered bezel on a steel mandrel. Soldering requires that D shape and — duh — the bezel has to be round to fit the stone. I use a rawhide hammer to tap the bezel while rotating it on the mandrel. To keep it even, I flip the bezel from time to time.

This, by the way, is the cure for a bezel that is just a touch too small for the stone. A little more time on the mandrel will stretch the silver and allow the stone to slip into the setting. The same process rounds the ring shank and can allow for a slight stretching to adjust the fit.

This is just the beginning. To follow my progress, come by again in a day or two.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Pretty Peridot

Setting August's Birthstone

I had a sweet square, 4 mm peridot in my stash and decided, with August on the horizon, it was time to design and create a pendant.

Everything Starts With the Saw

I designed a long, slotted rectangle and chose to laminate a strip of reticulated sterling on one side for contrasting texture. The design sure offered lots of practice in sawing long, straight lines ;-)

There Was Also Trial By Fire

Here, I was soldering the reticulated strip onto the body of the pendant. I held the strips together with two pairs of soldering tweezers. The tweezers, of course, act as heat sinks, so it took a lot of heat to sweat solder the pieces together.

Do not worry about that bright orange spot behind the piece. That is the edge of a fire brick. My soldering station is super safe. Ceramic tile, topped with metal tray, topped with rotating metal solder brick holder atop which I place whatever soldering surface seems most appropriate for job at hand and, yes, that firebrick back stops the hot spot.

Pre-Finish the Metal Before Adding The Bail & Prong Setting

I filed the strip I cut from the center of the rectangle to fit into the slot and form the bail. That bend was the first of several forming steps. I also did as much sanding and polishing as possible at this stage. Easier to polish flat surfaces than to work around projections.

Once bail was set, I positioned the prong setting for the peridot and soldered both in one operation. That way, the job only required two grades of solder and there was much less chance of delaminating the reticulated strip.

Finishing Touch

I do love having the right tool for the job. Setting the peridot could be done with almost any pair of pliers but these prong setting pliers make doing a neat job much easier. The cast setting has tiny indents on the inside of each prong for the corners of the stone to fit into. With just the right amount of pressure, the stone gets locked in place. Too little pressure and it will surely pop out. Too much will just as surely crush the stone. It's a bit of a Goldilocks situation ;-)

This August lovely is now for sale in my etsy shop <www.etsy.com/shop/DixSterling>

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Almost July?

Wow — Time Does, Doesn't It?

I can't believe how long it has been since I posted here — or since I spent some time at my bench, for that matter. Once the grass starts growing and the planters start looking bare, I get busy outside. I enjoy the garden work (mostly) but after a while I really long for something more creative than pulling weeds ;-)

This Time,  It's A Rebuild

Several years ago, I bought this truly unique piece of agate: earthy banding at the bottom, shades of gold above fading to a deliciously shattered top. It makes me think of a mesa in the American southwest so I decided to mount it with a dusky quartz cabochon hovering above it — "Moon Over the Mesa" if you will.

To make it into a necklace, I had to add a chain. Sadly, my chain making skills were pretty primitive, so I was never satisfied with the chain I made. It looked to flimsy for the piece so I decided to try again.

Rings — Round to Oval

I chose to use oval rings with triple rounds connecting them in 16 gauge sterling wire. Here are the 12 mm diameter rings ready to be soldered closed. Once I had pickled them, I stretched them into ovals on the outside of a pair of pliers (sorry, I forgot to photograph that).

I also used a small ball pien hammer to texture them so the finished chain will have a bit of sparkle. Who doesn't like a bit of sparkle?

It took quite a lot of time to wind, hand-cut, solder, pickle, shape and texture 15 of the oval rings. Those are the kind of unseen operations that make artisan jewelry a bit costly.

Lots of Small Joiner Rings

I used my jeweler's saw to hand cut the large rings but, needing so many, I set up my Pepe Tools jump ring maker for the small ones. It makes short work of the job.

Once wound on a mandrel, the coil of wire gets inserted into the ring cutter. Just behind the cradle, you can see part of the arbor that holds a saw blade. The arbor lets you run the blade along that slot, neatly slicing the rings apart.

It's Like Magic

One smooth pass with the saw, and presto, many, many jump rings.

My Jump Ring Trick

To create a chain, you must open some of the rings and tightly close others. I've never found a way to close rings except with two pairs of chain nose pliers but I did dream up a way to speed the opening process. This tiny vise sits to my right at the edge of my bench. By setting the slot a hair wider than the thickness of the wire, I can put one side of a ring into the slot and swiftly twist it open. Sure speeds up the chain weaving process.

Weaving Underway

Here you can see the beginning of the chain. One oval, three joiners, one oval.... It may be repetitive, but it is a pleasant chore and there is considerable satisfaction in seeing the length grow.

Once the chain was fully assembled, I polished it in my Lortone rotary tumbler with steel shot and a tiny bit of Ivory soap (Dawn works, too, I'm told). Set it going and do something else while it works.

There are ways to polish chains on polishing wheels at the bench but they are time consuming and can be dangerous. You do not want a chain to fly across the room or — much worse — wrap itself around your fingers.

Ready to Reassemble

Sunday, 28 April 2019

April at the Bench

Moonstone Dangles — Gifts for June Birthdays

Online shoppers needing June birthday gifts will be on the lookout now, so I thought a new pair of moonstone earrings might be a good thing to add to my #DixSterling etsy shop. I had a pair of tiny oval moonstone cabochons and the settings for them in my supplies, so I just had to come up with how to show them off.

Rectangular Wire — Made to Measure

I recently made a pair of dangles earrings from 3/8 inch wide rectangular wire and decided to go with that, making the dangles about 1 inch long and setting the moonstones at the bottom of the drops. Shepherd hooks work to make earrings like this swing from your ears.

The Joys of a Owning Drill Press

I remember having to use my flex shaft to drill holes for ear wires but having the Dremel as part of my bench setup sure makes it much easier. I use a punch to dimple the metal where I want the holes then tape the pieces to a bit of wood to steady them for drilling (you can't just hold them down — too hot for human fingers).

Polishing — Not the Most Creative Part of the Process

I have buffs and polishing compounds that I use on the Dremel for larger pieces but for small items like these earrings, I prefer the 3M Radial Bristle Discs. I have a set, mounted on mandrels for my flex shaft standing in a piece of wood (upper right side of photo) on my bench where they are easy to grab. Speaking of tool storage, I use a 2X2 inch wood strip to hold my needle files. It is just behind the polishing discs and makes it easy to find and grab the file I need.  I drew crude but useful diagrams of the file shapes beside each hole so I can ID them at a glance.

Ready to Set Stones

Once I had the bezel cups soldered on and had finished polishing the pieces, I was ready to set the cabochons.

I use the tip of the steel burnisher to push the serrated edge of the bezel cups on to the stones. I also use the smooth face of the burnisher to bring up a bright shine on the edges of the silver dangles (almost impossible to do that narrow strip with the polishing discs).

From Concept to Completion