Designing Earrings

I’m still experimenting with dark annealed steel and bronze. i decided to make some earrings. Normally, I draw out my designs first. This time, I went straight to the metal.

I made some leaf shapes in 16 gauge wire that I planned to wrap with 28 gauge wire.

That didn’t go very well. Steel wire is stiff and hard to control. i will have to work with it more before I get the hang of it. On to plan B.

I wanted to add interest and contrast to the earrings with bronze. i tried some washers and jump rings to see how they hung. i didn’t like this result.

This looked better, but I didn’t think I could find a good solution for the other end for a post or an ear wire.

Better, but didn’t want to tackle soldering brass to steel. And the washer started to look clunky to me. I decided to solder some steel rings onto the leaves for added interest.

Trying different places for the jump rings.

This is how I ended up soldering the rings to the leaf shapes. Still don’t like the look of the washer. Too thick and clunky next to the steel wire.

i found some square wire bronze jump rings in this short chain I madw that I thought would be more compatible with the steel wire.

And here’s how they ended up. The ear wires are not visible when you wear them. Soldered posts might be a better solution. I think I will try that on my next pair.

Make a Pottery Throwing Gauge

One way to make similar-sized pottery plates, bowls and mugs is to start out with a given weight of clay for each item. Here’s a handy chart of recommended amounts of clay needed for certain items. But I have a hard time throwing consistently-sized items even if I do start out with equal weights of clay. It would be nice to make a set of four mugs that are nearly the same size on purpose and not by accident. A pottery throwing gauge is a tool that is supposed to help you do just that. You set the gauges to the height and width you want your piece to be and, if you don’t knock it over, you might end up with an evenly-matched set of bowls or mugs.

I’d never even heard of a pottery throwing gauge until I saw this video by Florian Gadsby on YouTube. I was intrigued needless to say. I love tools but I’m not the kind of person who buys tools willy nilly thinking they can make me a better artist. But I will buy a tool if I think it will be helpful. (I just snagged a KitchenAid mixer on Craigslist and it sure makes kneading bread easier.) And if I think I can make a tool that will be helpful, even better.

So I decided to make a pottery throwing gauge. I gathered up my nut and bolt collection, and my scrap wood. Aside from some wood screws, the only other material I used was a broken set of pottery calipers from the pottery studio. I sawed these in two, to make two positionable gauges which can be used in tandem to measure the height and width of the pot. They fold up out of the way if they’re not needed. I fastened the gauge parts with bolts, wing nuts and rubber washers like these because they make it easy to tighten the wing nuts and position the gauges. I used bigger bolts, washers and wing nuts to attach the gauges to the center post.

My tool list was short: a drill and bits, an electric screwdriver, a metal saw, a wood saw, a ruler, and a clamp to hold the wood during sawing.

The gauges cover a pretty wide range of sizes. I drilled holes in the main post about four inches apart so the gauges could be taken out and repositioned as needed.

I screwed the main post into a crosspiece which seems steady, but I might have to weight it down with a brick when I am throwing pots on an active wheel. I also drew lines at one-inch intervals let me know how to set the gauges. The center post is about 15 inches high.

The Secret of the Paradox Cane

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post on how to make a Paradox cane, rather, it’s a post on how I learned an easier way to put together a Paradox cane.  Some background:

I have been having a ball these past few weeks trying out the various canes put forth in the cane challenges sponsored by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild.   We are given a link to a tutorial or a video on how to make a polymer cane.  We post the results on the Guild’s private Facebook  page and share what we’ve learned in online meetings.

The first cane challenge was the Paradox cane, a beautiful cane that lends itself to so many variations.    Here’s a picture of one that I made.

Paradox6 sided

Motley Woods has a good tutorial for making a Paradox cane, as does Polymer Clay Workshop on YouTube.  There are many others which I have not seen and a great many variations on how make one.  Meg Newberg’s tutorial on Etsy comes highly recommended.  You can purchase it here.  If I ever get back into serious caning, Meg’s tute is probably one of the first tutorials I would purchase because I’ve heard so many great things about it.

The Paradox cane patterns that I have seen consist of three  triangle components joined together and formed into a larger triangle which comprises the cane.  A big problem many people face when assembling a paradox cane is putting the three component triangles together to form a larger triangle.   After you select your clay, arrange it in accordance with the method you are using,  and form it into a square, you are normally directed to  form that square into a triangle, reduce it, and cut the triangle into three pieces to form the final cane.


And this is where the problem comes in. Most people think Equilateral  triangle when they think of a triangle, but that won’t work here with the Paradox cane.  Instead, think Isosceles triangle.  Like this. 4IsoscelesTriangle

From there, it’s easy to alter the triangle as per the instructions, cut the cane into thirds, and then fit the three pieces together into a triangle for the final cane.




ThreeIsocelesTrianglesTogetherForming Isosceles triangles enables you to bring the edge of each component triangle right up to the edge of the neighboring component triangle.  The sections in the middle are pinched into wave shapes that interlock and become solid when all the components are joined and compressed into a larger  triangle which forms the cane.


And the cane is done!  From there, you decide how you want to reassemble and/or reduce your creation.Paradox 2 canes




Bronze Clay Success!

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.Top Shelf before firing All sintered

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.Hollow forms

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.

OverfiredLThe 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.

Repaired pair

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.



Oval Jump Ring Ovation!

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.

I All sizes

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!


McGyver Your Ring Clamp

I bought a ring clamp when I took my first metalsmithing class years ago but could never figure out how to use it.  Then I saw Helen Driggs’ article on how to use a ring clamp and decided to try.  But my wedge was too small and I couldn’t hold anything very tight.  I was too cheap to buy another ring clamp so back in the drawer it went.

Then I saw Nancy L.T. Hamilton’s article on how to convert a ring clamp with a too-small wedge into one that would actually hold something.  You basically drill a hole in the clamp so you can insert a bolt with a wing nut to hold the clamp shut.  What a great idea!  I went to drill out my clamp and saw that it was made out of plastic, not wood.  I didn’t know whether I would destroy it by drilling it so back in the drawer it went.

And while this seems like a non-sequitur, it’s not: I ate a lot of popsicles last summer  and the sticks are littering my workshop.  And I have duct tape.  And that was my solution to my non-functional ring clamp.


Duct tape four popsicle stocks to the wedge.

Break off the excess on top


Cover the wedge tightly


The wedge should fit tightly into the clamp

A ring ready for sawing


I was able to saw the ring comfortably.  The altered wedge held it tight.


May your days be merry and bright and may all your ring clamps hold your jewelry tight! (Sorry)

Still on Hold

I wrote a few weeks ago about how my basement studio was in a state of upheaval due to the installation of New Gizmo in the back part of the basement.   Since New Gizmo replaced the  boiler and hot water heater,  does not use the chimney for ventilation,   I decided to move my kiln and polymer convection oven to the back basement and install a ventilation system using the chimney.  I already have a ventilation system in the front basement that I installed for soldering but which I found worked beautifully when I was cooking polymer and firing bronze clay.  Read more about that one here.

I still haven’t decided whether to install a downdraft vent for the kiln or to go with a hooded vent that I can use for the kiln and the convection oven.   I already made a plenum cup that fits into the kiln’s rolling stand  right under the kiln, but I have hesitated to drill the small hole in the bottom of the kiln that the downdraft vent would need to function.  If I made a downdraft vent for the kiln,  I would have to be able to detach it from the inline fan and connect separate ductwork to hood to ventilate while the convection oven is operating.      I think I am going to set up hooded vent first and see how it does before I make the final decision.


Here’s the inline fan I ordered from Amazon.  It’s the same one I have in the front basement.  It’s not too loud, has a variable speed controller, and does not require any special wiring.   I will have to bolt it to a piece of wood to steady it.   I could bolt it from the ceiling, too.    I will need two 4″ to 6″ vent reducer/increasers to connect each side of the fan to the ductwork.  I also ordered them from Amazon.   One will connect to ductwork that hooks into the  4″ chimney opening behind the fan and the other one will connect on the other side of the fan to a longer section of ductwork and the vent hood.

My electrician installed an extra outlet  for the fan and the convection oven.   The Paragon Max 119 kiln runs on 120 volts but does require some additional wiring and a special outlet which Stubewan the electrician also installed.   He also left me some metal tape and ductwork to use.  Thanks, Stu!

I used a wok lid for the vent hood in the front basement.  I will use a stainless steel mixing bowl for the vent hood in the rear basement.

Bought at a house sale for $5.00.  I will saw out a hole in the top and  attach the ductwork.

At this point, I plan to attach the ductwork and hood to the wood beams in my basement ceiling and raise and lower the hood with a chain.



I plan to stow the kiln under the stairs and move it out to the middle of the floor for firing.   I was hoping to get it all hooked up this week, but Amazon sent the wrong size reducers.  Back they go and new ones ordered.

Wish me luck!

Peyote Triangle Patterns for Dummies

I start off with a confession. I am horrible at following patterns. I am not making this up. OK, I can follow sewing patterns because they are all flat on the table and you have a basic idea of what you are supposed to come out with. But I could never pull off a paint-by-number picture when I was a kid and my first attempts at origami went into the trash can.  I can, for the most part,  follow simple beading patterns.  (In fact, one of my first published articles was a beading project.)  But unless I can count beads easily, I am lost.  This means I am mostly ok with loom graphs, Cellini Spirals, bead crochet and  flat peyote graphs.  So I learned how to make a peyote triangle with little trouble.

When I began to salivate over  beaded kaleidocycles, (you can read all about them and download a free pdf  from the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork website here) and wanted to try making one,  I hopped over to YouTube to learn how to make peyote triangles. ( VPBiser has an excellent video tutorial here.)  But for the life of me I could not figure out how to make anything more interesting than a two-color basic  triangle and I wanted some more exciting variations for my kaleidocycles.

After making a few peyote triangles, I began to notice some patterns emerging.   I figured out how to make a three-color pyramid! (See chart below.  I am assuming you already know how to make a standard peyote triangle).



You can use the same reasoning to make a two-color pyramid.  If you simply alternate colors for each row, you can make a striped pattern.(See kaleidocycle picture in the bottom row.




You can see that for some triangles, I merely beaded rows in different colors much like you would crochet granny squares.    For the  triangles in the  bottom left-hand corner,  I started the triangle with white Delicas for the first two rows and began adding red Delicas in the third row.  From then on,  I added a red Delica whenever I could see that it would be totally surrounded by white Delicas.  This gave me a lovely chicken pox pattern.   If you double click on an image, you can view it full size.

I realize this might not be clear to some people, but the real aim of this post is to encourage you to find new ways to solve problems even if you think they’re over your head.  That’s the only way we learn.  Now that these peyote triangles make more sense to me, I think I’m ready to start tackling some more complex designs.

Embrace the Handle

Many people, including yours truly, are daunted by the thought of pulling a handle for a mug. So rather than face the task with fear, I decided to pay special attention to my mug handles to see whether I could come up with handles that are fun to make. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1.IMG_20180209_113045But I will not be making mugs this week because Clayathon starts today!  And I’ve been looking forward to it for some time.  To read about past Clayathons, press here.

Pain and Soldering Revisited


I am making a setting to hold a coin.  Or I am trying to.   I set a coin in Richard Salley’s metalsmithing class at Hacienda Mosaico a couple of years ago.   I didn’t like the results and vowed to try again.  I had my class notes but wanted to find something a little more tailored to my capabilities.  And so I looked for a tutorial in every dog house, out house and waffle house and didn’t find anything I like.  So then I decided to improvise.  Uh oh.

This is the coin.  A lovely specimen (from before the time the Republic  of Ireland went on the Euro)  that a friend gave me so I could make the pendant for his wife.  I would love to show you the other side, but I have lost it.   My husband says it will turn up somewhere.  Brilliant.  Maybe on one of the moons of Jupiter or the other side of the state, but not with me.


I start off with 18 gauge silver


And measure very carefully.


My trusty scribe and metal cutting scissors.  By the way, these scissors are fantastic!  I forget where I read about them.  (Maybe Helen Driggs’ column in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist?)  I have a few pair of metal cutting scissors, but these are the best by far.  You can buy them from Amazon.


I cut my bezel.


I straighten my bezel


I wrap the metal around the coin, cut to fit


and solder


I planned to cut tabs on both sides of the bezel for fold over tabs


Soldering on the jump ring


And phooey phooey phooey!  But his story has a happy ending!  I managed to design a coin bezel based on a basket setting.  This took several hundred many attempts.


In the coming weeks, I will post a tutorial on  how I made it.  In the meantime,  here are two new ideas for making your own jewelry tools!

3.Hammeringmat This one is great!  Who uses phonebooks anymore?  You can also use a thick catalog or maybe stacks of magazines.  Just secure them with masking tape or duct tape.  They make a great hammering surface or a cushion for a bench block.


An old hammer head secured in a vise makes a great metal forming tool.