One of the things I miss most is not being able to go to the pottery studio because of the pandemic. Fleisher Art Memorial is reopening its open pottery studio program in the fall (with safety precautions). I am looking forward to returning.
I have been fooling around with my special blend of home made bronze metal clay for awhile and have made some beautiful things but have gotten inconsistent results. Then I moved up to a Paragon Max 119 kiln so I could fire cone 6 pottery as well as glass and metal clay. I also started trying to make hollow forms in the bronze clay. I was having problems with under firing and over firing, so I needed to tweak my firing schedule. I found this article by Mardel Rein to be invaluable.
Here’s a pan of unfired bronze clay before kiln firing. I prefer to fire in these heavy, shallow stainless steel pans I get from my local Asian supermarket. I find that the more you use them, the less they flake.
The ring on the right is perfectly sintered and not overfired. The one on the left, from an earlier firing, is over fired.
Here are a couple of hollow beads. The one on the left has been repaired. The one on the right has not. I have found that you must put hollow forms through two firings. The form will come out of the first firing looking sintered, but will break if you drop it or hit it with a hammer. I save up beads that have made it through one firing and put them through the next firing with whatever else I have. I don’t plug the holes and I don’t construct screen cages to fire them in. I just cover them with carbon and whoop-de-do. You can’t use cork clay to make hollow beads from bronze clay, because you will never be able to get the cork fired out in an oxygen-free environment which is what you create when you fire in activated carbon. But if you can construct a hollow form with holes and get it through two firings, you should be able to bounce it on concrete without it breaking. In theory.
The piece on the left has been over fired. The pieces on the right went through a later firing and the tip of one broke off. Rather than try to reattach it, I just sawed the other tip off and will design something around the new shapes.
The piece on the left broke in the middle during an earlier firing and I repaired and refired it. The piece on the right is made up of broken sintered and unsintered pieces from earlier firings for a kind of mosaic pendant.
These pieces went through one firing schedule and sintered perfectly. What I learned from all my experiences is that when you have thicker pieces, the trick is not necessarily to fire hotter, but to ramp up to temperature more slowly. I started out firing to 1550 and holding for two hours. Then I tried two and one half. Then I tried three. Thin pieces were over firing, but hollow beads were breaking. Then I tried lowering the temperature to 1500. A little better but same problem. Then I read that a slow ramp worked best with bigger pieces. I tried ramping at 250 degrees F to 1000F, holding one hour, then ramping on full to 1500F and holding for three hours. That did the trick. All the single layer pieces are coming out fine. I take the hollow ones out and put them in the next kiln batch through the firing cycle a second time, and they have been fine so far. You have to experiment to find out what will work for you.
This post is a continuation of last week’s post on how to make a table top jewelry bench. Here’s how you do it!Materials
1. For the bench top, I used a folding wood snack table that my neighbors left when they moved. You can buy a set of four here. You can make your bench and have three snack tables left over. The top is a thick, sturdy piece of wood you can bang on when you make your jewelry. The legs of the folding tray, also made of the same sturdy wood, can be sawed up to make the other components of the bench.
2. For the sides of the bench, I used a discarded Ekby Hemnes bookshelf from Ikea. Click here for dimensions. Any board with similar dimensions will work.
3. You will need a board for the pull out shelf, I used an mdf board from another discarded piece of Ikea furniture. My board was about 24” wide and I cut it to 20” to fit inside the bench.
4. A wood slat 2” X 21” and ¼” thick for pliers rack. (I used a wood paint stirrer I already had. You can buy them here.
5. Wood screws in various sizes. I used 2 ½” and 1 ½”
6. Feet to raise the bench if desired. I was going to fashion something out of screw-in cabinet knobs before I discovered that I had a set of screw-in furniture levelers I saved from an old metal shelf. They are less expensive than buying legs or knobs. You can get a set similar to what I used, here.
1. A portable electric jig saw like this one is handy for cutting out the top. You can get by without one since there are only straight cuts, but it is easier with the power tool. You can also use it for all your cutting. I used hand saws the rest of the bench because I felt I had more control over them.
2. C Clamps to hold the wood as you saw.
3. Straight saw or hack saw
4. Drill and various sized drill bits to assemble the bench and attach the feet
5. Cordless screwdriver
6. Ruler, retractable tape measure, pencil and permanent marker to measure and mark. I am horrible at measuring. Take your time with this. As a matter of fact, take your time with all of it.
7. Mallet and nail pry bar (to help disassemble the wooden tray)
8. Beeswax or soap to lubricate your saws and drill bits. You will not believe how much easier this will make the job
9. Safety glasses and dust mask. (Unless you like breathing in sawdust and getting it in your eyes.)
Some preliminaries about this project. I am not a wood worker. I do not have access to a wood shop. I do not know anyone with a wood shop who I would ask to make a bench for me.
I learned most of my skills (and that’s being charitable) on YouTube University. What few tools I do possess, I either inherited (like a couple of great saws that belonged to my Father-in-Law, which sat in my basement for 25 years before I realized I should use them), bought at house sales (an ancient portable jig saw) or scored at discount stores (like my drill that is not even cordless and which I have been threatening to replace for some time now). My modern tool is the cordless screwdriver which no home should be without.
I sawed my bookshelf board in half, and attached it to the bench top with screws. I positioned them so there would be a lip to keep things from falling off the top of the bench. Then I sawed two lengths of wood from the snack tray table legs and screwed them to the back of the bench to form the pliers rack.
I cut two more lengths from the table legs and screwed them to the inside of the bench to accommodate the shelf. I cut the shelf to fit and added a lip at the back to prevent things from falling out. The pliers rack on the rear of the bench keeps the shelf from falling out the back.
I added a strip of wood from the snack tray leg to the back of the bench top to make a lip to keep things from falling off the back of the bench. Then I cut the paint stirrer and screwed it to the back for the pliers rack.
Last, I drilled pilot holes into the side boards and screwed in some adjustable feet which let me level the bench and adjust the height.
Here’s a side view of the bench that shows where I screwed the sides.
I attached the bench pin with clamps. I also made a nifty little forming tool with a piece of wood and some metal furniture knobs. Clamp it in a vise and shape yourself some metal. It’s also handy for riveting.
If you are interested in trying to make one of these yourself, I have drawn up some rudimentary plans for you to download. Feel free to share the plans but remember where you got them.
A few weeks ago, I decided to make myself a tabletop jeweler’s bench similar to this one. I don’t have a proper jewelry bench and needed one that fit into a crowded work space. I had a few more requirements: I wanted to set up the bench directly across from my soldering station. I wanted the bench to hold my bench pin at the right height for comfortable sawing. I also wanted to have a bit of storage underneath the bench. Most importantly, I needed a portable bench so I could move it out of the way if I needed to use the work station for something else.
My last requirement was that I wanted to make the bench using tools and materials I already had on hand. I possessed an old hand-held power jigsaw, a couple of miter box saws, (inherited from my father-in-law), a drill, and a cordless screwdriver. My materials consisted of a wood snack tray (which seemed to be the perfect size for the top of the bench,) some boards and wood scraps picked up from dumpster diving, and an assortment of screws collected over the years. I didn’t want to buy anything else if I could help it. And every time I was ready to break down and buy something, I discovered that I already owned something that would do the trick. I didn’t have to buy a thing!
This is my finished bench and I think it looks pretty good considering that I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not skilled enough to make drawers but I did make a pull-out shelf and added a rack on the back for pliers.
The portable bench measures 24” wide, 16” deep and about 9” high with the screw-on feet and 8” without. It is put together entirely with screws. This means it can be disassembled and stored easily. Or you can just slide the shelf out and stow it a corner.
I have no carpentry skills. I have never made anything out of wood unless you count the Popsicle stick trivet I made for my mother in Kindergarten. So I watched a lot of YouTube videos on carpentry and using tools. I wish I could tell you that there’s a great video on how to make this portable bench, but there’s not.
My raw materials:
I will post plans on how to make the bench, and step-out photos next week. Stay tuned.
I’m in the process of refining my homemade bronze clay firing schedule. The pieces below sintered beautifully, but they were the only things in the kiln that did. I had to re fire everything else, but they turned out fine on the second firing. Some more tweaking is clearly in order.
I’ve been fooling a around with low-cost texture sheets. These are silicone brush cleaning mats that I cut up to make them easier to use. You can find these at
Five Below, Wish.com, and Amazon
I got this texture stamp at Wish.com. I can’t find the link, but they have hundreds of designs.
Some previously-fired bronze that I have shaped in a swage bock. I’m waiting for it to talk to me.
Some more bronze and ceramics. I think the white pieces will end up as earrings. The bronze triangle might end up as part of a toggle clasp.
Some more ceramics and bronze wire in various shapes.
I have been thinking about riveting these two pieces together. I don’t know. They might work better as separate pieces.
A ceramic piece waits for me to decide what to do with it.
More ceramic pieces.
I am in the process of finishing a new batch of ceramic components. I burnish them in a rock tumbler and am trying different polishes to see what I like best.
My new dual barrel tumbler from Harbor Freight. I still have my vibratory tumbler, but I thought I’d give this one a try. The first one delivered from Harbor Freight had a leaky barrel. I asked for a replacement. They said they didn’t stock replacement barrels and sent me a while new unit. Which is a good thing because the first tumbler developed a short and ended up frying a circuit breaker. (Which the electrician pointed out to me after the tumbler tripped the circuit breaker several times.) The second tumbler is working fine and I hope it doesn’t develop a short. Which leads me to another thing. Before the second tumbler arrived, I looked high and low for instructions on how to repair the leak in the barrel. I found nothing. One site said it couldn’t be done. Then I found a tumbler barrel repair kit on line which inspired me to devise my own repair. If you can patch tires, why can’t you patch a rubber tumbler barrel? I mean really.
I had some liquid latex that I use for mold making. I cut a two-inch square of scrap silk fabric (because I figure silk in strong), soaked it with the latex and applied it to the barrel. I let that dry and added another layer of latex. When that dried, I covered the patch with a piece of packing tape.
No leaks yet and the tumbler has been going for a few days. Liquid latex is not that expensive and has many uses. For more information, check out the ultimate guide.
I’ve been fooling around with colored porcelain components for a while, and usually make them into pendants or earrings. Here’s my first ring which might not be a practical application, but it was fun to try. The metal is bronze, my current favorite.
I decided to go with a prong setting in bronze. The basic diagram (not to scale) is above. I cut a piece of wire, soldered it closed with hard solder and shaped it with a round mandrel. Then I laid out the prongs in the 2, 4, 8, and 10 O’clock positions and soldered them on with hard solder. (The red dotted line is an estimate of the size of my ceramic focal so I could be sure that I cut the prongs long enough.) Then I cut, shaped and filed the shank and soldered it on with medium solder. Here’s a tutorial that shows something similar to what I did.
I now have a small kiln that fires to cone 6, so I expect to be making more ceramic components in the future.
I like to use oval jump rings in my jewelry because they are strong and attractive. But it can be difficult to make them. I tried the oval winder you see below. Unless your wire is very stiff, it twists when you take it off the mandrel making it hard to cut jump rings with consistently-positioned seams, and even harder to saw them in a jump ring jig.
After some experimenting, I found the best solution for me is to make my own mandrels that I modify slightly so I can saw even, consistent jump rings.
Tape two round mandrels together, wind the wire evenly around them and saw, positioning your saw at an angle as you would for round jump rings. The notch or space between the mandrels allows you to angle your saw and cut a perfect jump ring. Here are some pictures of the process of sawing oval jump rings using two 10 mm mandrels. Be sure to securely clamp your mandrel to something to hold it steady while you saw. And don’t forget to lubricate your saw blade.
The size and shape of your jump rings are limited only by the size and shape of your mandrels. I wanted some smaller jump rings and used drill bits I taped together at the drilling ends so I could use the smooth parts as mandrels. Again, the space between the two drill bits allows you to saw your jump rings at an angle, one jump ring at a time.
I used 1/4″ drill bits here. You could go smaller if you needed smaller jump rings. You could use nails with the heads sawed off, or any kind of smooth mandrels taped together.
Some more mandrels to try: Paint stirrers and Popsicle sticks make great oval-shaped jump rings. Just clamp them to a steady surface, wind the wire, and saw.
Here’s a sampling of different oval jump rings you can make with the mandrels I’ve described. The ends are nice and flush for soldering or you can close them with pliers and leave them unsoldered. Give it a try!
I have been on a quest for an inexpensive and easy method for making jump rings. I like to make my own so I can choose whatever metal, gauge, and type of wire I need at any given time. Sometimes I cut jump rings with flush cutters, but I always find myself filing the ends. I like my unsoldered rings to look soldered to the untrained eye and for me, this means I have to saw them.
I made myself a jump ring cutting jig a few years ago. I like that it’s portable but I struggle to find a comfortable way to hold the jump rings in place while I saw. Sometimes my hand cramps and if I’m interrupted or my saw blade catches or breaks, it’s difficult to pick up sawing on the same line, since this method has you sawing from the inside of the coil. (If you have trouble using a jig like this, try turning it backwards so you can hold the coil snug with your thumb as you saw. See picture below. This worked well for me for awhile.)
I needed a better solution. I watched a ton of videos on cutting jump rings: I watched videos where people held their coils in miter vises, like this one. I haven’t had much luck with vises. My coil slips around and I am afraid of crushing the coil if I tighten the jaws of the vise too much.
I watched videos on using jump ring cutting pliers. Not a good solution for me. To cut jump rings with this method, you have to hold the pliers at an angle with one hand, and support them on a little rod that protrudes from the bottom while you saw with the other hand. I would have a hard time sawing like this.
I saw some wonderful YouTube videos including this one on how to make a jump ring cutter. by Pocket 83. I found it particularly inspiring because Mr. Pocket (or is it Mr, 83?) explains why he takes every step and does not assume knowledge. I was considering trying to make a variation of his cutter until I saw this video by Elizabeth Honeysett who demonstrates cutting the jump rings off a wooden dowel. That got my attention. I could do that! But not before I made some modifications.
First, I needed my cutting mechanism to remain stationary. There is nothing more frustrating that trying to use a wonky, wobbly tool. (sharing a bed with a fidgeter runs a close second.)
Elizabeth’s dowel-cutting method addressed my second requirement: I needed to be able to see what I was doing, which means cutting the rings from the outside.
Third, I needed an easy way to push the coils up to the saw in a manner that did not cramp my hands, and allowed me to concentrate on the sawing. I made a few different tools based on the dowel cutting method. I am sharing the best one with you.
The tool is simply a dowel with a large washer that enables you to push the coil up to the saw as you cut the rings. The washer gives you something larger to grip and you can easily compress the coils so the individual rings stay in place as you saw until you move them up the dowel to meet the saw blade at diagonal cutting point. The rings are easy to control and you can see what you are doing.
I secured my dowel in a vise when I first tried this method. Don’t. I found that the act of sawing made the dowel constantly change position. Aggravating! A shorter dowel didn’t help. I simply could not get the vise tight enough to keep the dowel in place for the whole sawing operation.
The solution was simple. I ditched the vise in favor of two household clamps that hold the dowel like a rock. Find a clamp or two that works for you.
The tool is a snap to make. Grab a wood dowel in the diameter you need, drill a hole one one end so you can secure the wire for winding, and cut a diagonal notch on the other end to guide your saw blade.
Wind your coil tightly around the dowel and trim off the end in the hole so you can move the coil on the dowel.
Position the washer behind the coils and begin to saw into the top of the coil on the diagonal using the notch as a guide. Use the washer to gently push the coil and keep it snug as each ring is cut through and falls off the dowel. Lubricating your saw blade really helps.
The modified dowel works pretty well. No more fighting to control my tools and materials.
While there are faster and more efficient ways to make jump rings. (Jump ringer, jump ring making tool) the modified dowel method is an easy, inexpensive option. Dowels and washers come in so many sizes that you won’t be limited. And now that you know an easy way to saw round jump rings, what about oval jump rings? They’re harder to make because oval coils like to twist and change position. But I think I’ve found a solution. Coming up in a later post.
It’s been a crazy the past two weeks and some of the activity shows signs of slowing down. Philadelphia is now in a “Yellow Phase.” The Frank Rizzo mural in the Italian Market has been painted over. Other activity is stepping up, and that’s a good thing. It needs to stay stepped up. We can talk all we want, but the only thing that counts is what we do.
I was sitting on my front stoop the other morning (this is Philly and we have stoops) sifting through a batch of bronze clay fresh out of the kiln and admiring the latest iteration of my neighbor Bob’s urban garden. It was a welcome respite from all the tsuris. Here are some pictures.
Some pictures from last month that are too pretty not to post. And here’s the rest of them, orchids, lotus flowers, and more.
Some sad news, Loki, Bob and Brad’s fearless feline, died at the ripe old age of 16. Loki kept the house free of mice and the street free of pigeons and yappy dogs. Gentle journey little fella.
It’s been quite a week. I wouldn’t say that things started with the murder of George Floyd, because they started long before that. I worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia for seven years when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, taking mostly court appointments. I wasn’t a white knee-jerk liberal, and I wasn’t idealistic. But what I saw, and what I experienced changed how I see the world.
Many police departments have had toxic cultures when it comes to dealing with people of color. Philadelphia is no different. One of the most divisive figures in the city’s history has been Frank Rizzo who was the Police Commissioner from 1968 to 1971, and later, Mayor. There was a controversial mural of Rizzo not far from my house in the Italian Market. People in the neighborhood have been trying to get it removed for years. This week, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program ended involvement with the Frank Rizzo mural and it is going to be replaced with art more fitting for the neighborhood.
I said in the opening sentence of this post that the events of this week didn’t start with the murder of George Floyd. We all have a tenancy to ignore things that don’t affect us and to bury feelings that make us squirm. It’s only human, but it’s dangerous-like ignoring a chronic headache that turns out to be a brain tumor that could have been treated if only we had paid attention. And it’s only human to do things a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done them. That’s dangerous too, We have to think about what we think about and we have to be aware of our history. If they don’t teach us in school, we have to find out for ourselves.
I invite you to have a peek into Philadelphia history of the 1870’s, the era of Reconstruction when slavery as a formal institution had ended in this country and when social parity for everyone seemed like it might even be achievable. Until it wasn’t.
It only took 147 years for Philadelphia to commemorate the work of Octavius Catto who was murdered in 1871 while helping black voters exercise their right to vote. Read the post, Octavius Catto’s Quest for Parity. Then understand that we must change, or this tumor we’ve been ignoring for so long will kill us.