Make Yourself Some Pottery Tools

My posts on making jewelry tools have been so popular that I decided to share some ideas for making pottery tools with you.  None of these are original but they all present my twist on things.  The first one is a clay texture tool.  I found a foot massager at a thrift store, took it apart, and now I have two new texture tools plus some to share.

You can also saw up a broomstick a dowel and apply craft foam or hot glue to make patterns to texture clay.  There are some examples below.  

The glue stick makes a nice texture.

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Make a clay cutter to cut canes for Nerikomi.  I cut the end off a metal plant hanger and strung  it with 24 gauge wire.  You can use any form that will keep the wire taut and if the wire breaks, it’s easy to replace.  

I love the idea of a tool that will bevel the edges of clay slabs.    Enter the beveler!    I got the idea to make my own from this site  but mine is a bit different.  The wood I used is a sidewalk find.  I trimmed the smaller piece so the edges were straight.  Then I nailed it to the larger piece so I would have two beveling angles, one shallow and a longer one.  I didn’t measure anything; I just eyeballed it.  I notched the four corners to keep  the wire in place and used a screw eye to hold the wire taut.  I tried my beveler out and it works beautifully.  It really comes in handy when you are beveling curved edges.

And finally, although this is not a pottery tool, I had to include it. I made myself a rawhide hammer from a dog chew following Charles Lewton-Brain’s directions here.  My conclusion?  Go out and buy one. The dog chews ended up costing about as much as a small hammer and it was much more difficult the make than the instructions let on.  But still, I like the way my hammer turned out and I’m using it.

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Feel free to share this information and if you  want to share ideas for tools you’ve made, leave a comment.

 

Make Your Own Viking Knit Tool

To start Viking Knit the conventional way, one generally fashions a

Flower

Five or Six-leafed petal out of wire

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secures it to the top of a dowel, and then starts the weave from there.   I decided to try making a tool to make the process a little easier.  I am posting this because some people might find it helpful.

Screws

I took a wooden dowel about 3/4 inch thick and drew a six slice pie on the top with a Sharpie marker.  I continued those lines down the sides of the dowel mandrel using a ruler to draw them straight.  These are guide lines for the Viking Knit.

 

TopView

I used a rotary tool like a Dremel to drill pilot holes for small screws.  I screwed the screws into the mandrel by hand.  You have to go slowly because it’s easy to split the wood.  Don’t use a hammer.

Starting Loops

 

This picture shows how I loop the beginning wire off of which I will work the Viking Knit.  I have used a bit of tape to secure it.  You could also hold it in place with a band of wire under the screws.  Since this part will be cut off, it doesn’t matter what it looks like so long as you are comfortable with it and it works.

 

 

First Row

 

This  is the start of the weave.

 

8Rows

The lines help you to keep your rows straight.

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This is the single weave knit that I’ve removed from the dowel after cutting off the starting loops.  (This is 24 gauge copper wire)  I have another dowel the same size as the starter tool I made and I could slip the open weave onto that and keep weaving for a longer chain.  That would help me to keep a uniform shape.  There are those who would be able to do this without the dowel, but I am not one of them!

Length before Reduction

 

I made about 10 inches of weave and pulled it through the drawplate until it was about  18 inches long

Pliers

 

I recommend using wire drawing pliers because it makes the job so much easier.  They don’t have to be expensive.  

You could put end caps and  a clasp Viking Knit at this point.  Here’s a video that shows how to do that.

 

But you don’t have to be limited  to end caps and clasps.  Next week I will post on a new idea for designing and finishing single knit Viking Weave that I hope gets your creative juices flowing.

Cheap and Easy (Drill Bit Storage That Is!)

I was trolling that delightful time sucker Pinterest a few months ago when I saw an awesome bur holder  sold on the Stuller website. It looked like it would hold hundreds of burs and drill bits in a compact space and could sit  right on the top of my jewelry bench.  Did I mention that I wanted one right then and there? I’m not given to impulse purchases, however,  so I tucked it into the back of my mind. Then one trash day, I found a wooden thing with four sides that spins. I think it’s a mug tree and kitchen utensil holder.  I took it home and studied it. Then I realized that it was a drill bit and bur holder  waiting for me to liberate it from its former job as a kitchen caddy.  It now sits proudly atop my jewelry bench enjoying its new role.

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To make the transition from the kitchen to the jewelry bench, I first marked where the holes would go and then I drilled pilot holes with an electric drill and a 1/8 inch drill bit.  Then I went back and drilled the holes at an  angle so the burs and drill buts would slip in and stay put.

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The wood caddy is hollow in the middle (probably meant for spoon storage)  so I took care to drill a number of holes only partially through so the bits without a brush, polisher or wheel on the top would not fall through.   If I want,  I can drill more holes on the top lip for more storage.

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This project was easy and cheap since I found the wooden caddy.   It would probably be easy to make one of these with scrap wood and a lazy susan base.   Unless you can build something yourself,  however, it probably wouldn’t pay to buy an  item similar to the one I used to convert to a drill bit holder.  But keep your eyes open at house sales and flea markets.  And on trash day.

Olivia’s Studio

We all know what fun it is to peek into someone else’s studio.   I got the chance  to peek  into Olivia Surrat’s studio not too long ago.   Olivia works in metal and  wire with some polymer clay added for color.    Her studio is compact and efficient.  She’s lined it with Billy bookcases and added  doors to take away some of the visual clutter you get when you have thousands of components stored in see through containers.  Olivia also snagged couple of old card catalog files and a great long sturdy jeweler’s bench that looks much more comfortable to sit at than a regular bench.  And will you look at that stake in the picture with the anvil?  She found it at a house sale.  That’s where you find great stuff.

The doorway  to Olivia’s Studio


The window gives lots of light

Metal waiting to become jewelry

Here’s that great forming stake!

Some polymer clay beads in the making and some interesting glass and shell beads.

View from the bench.  Note the slots for pin vises and mandrils.

Polymer clay and PMC bracelets, and some strung glass beads.

Close up of polymer clay beads in various stages of finishing

Some of Olivia’s wire work.  She was lucky to be able to take a class with Lynn Merchant

 Beads from around the world or the house sale around the block


Olivia collects polymer clay pieces but we were having so much fun we never got to pull out her collection.  The item above is a purse by Kathleen Dustin.  The  sign on top of the shelf is a reminder that you don’t need to take everything so seriously.

Truman, Olivia’s Canine companion  is a charmer.  He’s not a true studio dog because he’s not allowed in the studio, but he gives encouragement from the hall way where he plays with his toys and anything else that people bring into his house that seems new and interesting.  Like my husband’s  briefs which kept him occupied for a good long time until we realized why he was so fascinated.

Pain and Soldering

Bezel Experiments

I have a friend who’s been a goldsmith for more than forty years.  She told me told me that she learned how to solder jewelry  by working with a plumbers torch over a pumice tray and crying a lot.   Hey, soldering can be frustrating to learn.    You can’t ignore the laws of chemistry.  Metals do not all have the same properties. Different varieties of solder flow at different temperatures and the flame must be hot enough to do the job. So, sometimes a micro torch will work and sometimes it’s just not hot enough. But the size of what you’re soldering affects things too.  If you are connecting one small wire to another,  a micro torch might be fine, but if you are soldering a bezel and need to heat a larger metal mass, the micro torch might not be sufficient. Or you might have to use two micro torches at once.  (Press here for a description of this technique.)   Solder flows towards heat which means that if you point the flame at the join, the solder will go everywhere but the join.   Solder will not fill gaps; the items you are connecting must sit as flush as possible.  And fire can be scary; you must respect it and take the appropriate measures to work with it safely.

I have been practicing my soldering.  As you can see from the bezels above, I’m a little heavy handed with the solder.  I am still working on getting my bezel soldering mojo and hope to improve on that in time.  Until then, it’s lots of cleanup.  But even with my limited experience, I have a few tips.

  • Take a class.  You, need to learn about lighting a torch and basic safety, but there is another important reason: you can read about soldering all you want but until you witness the difference stages of soldering  from the initial heating to when the solder starts to flow, it won’t make sense.  It helps when you see what color the metal should be, what the solder looks like right before it flows and how long it takes to flow.
  • Does your carefully laid out solder skitter as soon as you hit the metal with the flame because the flux starts bubbling?  Pass the flame over the flux to dry it before you place the solder.  No more skittering.
  • If you try binder wires, clips and tweezers to  hold everything in place, they will act as heat sinks and draw heat away from where it needs to go to get a sturdy solder join.  Charles Lewton-Brain wrote an article on soldering tips and tricks for Ganoksin where he gives instructions for making a thingy to weigh down pieces you are trying to solder together.


    Here is an idea for another thingy from the Etsy Metal Blog 
Yet another soldering thingy.
You can purchase this one from Wholelottawhimsey.

And finally,  you need to check out Lexi Erickson‘s videos on soldering.  I met Lexi when she was a guest speaker at the Main Line Bead Society and gave an entertaining and illuminating presentation  on creativity.    I thought she might be an  academic but I was only half right because  the next thing I knew, she had moved  to Colorado and was blogging, making jewelry, teaching and writing great articles for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

She drew on her years of experience as a goldsmith and university level metalsmithing teacher to  put together two videos on soldering that are full of practical information, including an explanation of the various types of torches used in soldering, tools, solders, and several soldering techniques.  The videos are well filmed which is vital in  a video about soldering.  You  really need to see  how the materials look during each step of the process before you understand what is supposed to happen when you are soldering properly.   You can buy the  videos  from Interweave.

Lexi’s videos are extremely helpful, she would tell you that you still have to practice, practice, practice.  Like throwing pots and making lampworked beads, the  more you make, the more skilled you will become.   As Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”


Philadelphia Area Jewelry Tool Suppliers

Many people who are ready to graduate from bead stringing to more complex jewelry projects, and who need to pick up a few tools, often end up buying them at bead shows.  I’ve done this myself, and 99.9% of the vendors at these shows charge a fair price.  And if they take a little premium, that’s OK with me.  I am getting the convenience of finding mostly everything in one place.

But it doesn’t always work that way. I was at a local bead show a few months ago and saw a Solderite soldering board that I bought for $8.25 from Rio Grande on sale for $22.50.  The very same item, and it wasn’t a mistake.  And yet, the beginning metal smith  who might not realize that this price is out of line, is often too intimidated to go to  Jeweler’s Row on Sansom Street in Philadelphia to buy supplies, thinking that the stores there are for “real” jewelers and not them.  That’s not true.

For those of us from the Philadelphia area, Hagstoz is a treasure both for buying supplies and for selling scrap metal.  I have always gotten excellent service there.

Another store I highly recommend is Pamma Jewelry Tools and Supply, located at 809 Sansom Street.  It is a tool paradise and they have almost everything out where you can see it. They carry economy brand pliers like Beadsmith and Eurotool and high end brands Such as  Lindstrom.  They sell all types and sizes of hammers, rotary tool and flex shaft accessories, stainless steel shot, pickle, patinas, soldering supplies (and several kinds of soldering surfaces including charcoal blocks), displays, boxes and packaging.  They carry used tools, too. The last time I was there I saw hole cutters, rolling mills and ring stretchers among the items they had for sale.

One of the best places to shop for everything related to jewelry making is Beadfest Philadelphia.  The shopping bazaar runs from August 19 to August 21.   For a list of vendors, press here.  You can even download a floor plan.  Just remember that the Beadfest  venue has changed to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center this year.  Maybe I will see you there!

More Ideas for Making Jewelry Tools

Even though I have posted articles on making simple jewelry tools, there is always something more to learn.  Here are some of my recent efforts: You can make texturing hammers  out of cheap ball peen hammers. I filed the faces of the hammers  and used grinding tools on my flex shaft (you can also use a rotary tool) to get some interesting textures.  I didn’t have any instructions; I just made it up as I went.   If you try this, however,   wear safety goggles,  because  they hug your head with no gaps for tiny metal fragments to fly through.  When sanding and finishing metal, I also wear a dust mask because you can breathe in tiny metal particles.  You might want to go a step further and use a respirator.

You can also file and grind metal punches and chisels to get great texturing effects.

Here are examples of textures I achieved on annealed copper with the tools I made.  The upper left was made with the altered chisel.  The other three were made with the altered hammers.  I worked on a metal block.

Another tool I love is a gizmo to hold jump rings while you saw them.  I first saw a picture of this tool in Robert Dancik’s book Amulets and Talismans. He didn’t give any directions, but  it looked so simple to make and such a great idea that I made my own.  You can buy one at John Lewis’ Etsy Shop, and  you can find directions on how to use it on Barbara Lewis’ blog, Painting with Fire. If you want to try making one yourself, Art Jewelry Magazine published and article by Howard Siegel that subscribers can download here.

My V block tool.  Not pretty, but it gets  the job done.

It wasn’t until I saw Shailyn Miller’s DVD Rings of Beauty, that I realized how useful a ring mandrel holder could be.  I built a home made version from a wood box that held a bottle of wine.  If you are handy with hole saws or and spade drill bits, you could make one easily and clamp it to your table when you work on wire rings.

 

 

Last in my bag of tricks is a makeshift clamp for small jewelry pieces.  If you are trying to saw a small piece on your bench pin and can’t hold it still, try using a large metal binder clip with a piece of craft felt or other sturdy fabric.   Your piece won’t move and you can saw or file to your heart’s content.

 

Mixing It Up

This year, I’ve  gone from a metal and soldering frenzy to a  lamp working frenzy, to a  glass and ceramics tumbling frenzy, to a glass fusing frenzy, to a felting frenzy.  Every so often, I get in the torch enameling.  And there are always the seed beading designs I’m  working on.  Did I mention that I ruin a lot of stuff?  But some of the metal can be recycled and most of it started out as recycled anyway. (I used to have a lovely let of brass charger plates.)   The fused glass can be cut up and refused.  The lamp working failures can be turned into frit or  become elements in fused pieces so long as you keep the COE straight.  And you can use an ugly felted bead as a base for another bead.

I decided to combine the polymer beads and lamp work into a necklace and make a clasp. The polymer beads are interspersed with the lamp worked beads.  Many of the lamp worked beads are fumed with silver and the focal  bead is hollow .  For for the clasp. I made jump rings and soldered them to copper washers from Harbor Freight that I textured with my home made texturing hammers.  I’m not sure if I am happy with all of the polymer beads; I might make  some new polymer beads at Clayathon .    But here’s what I have so far.

What I made in Olivia Surratt’s Class


I first met Olivia Surratt at a two-day workshop the  Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild sponsored with Robert Dancik.  For some reason, I liked Olivia right from the start.  I don’t know why; sometimes that’s the way it goes.  So when Olivia offered to teach a wire and fusing class to benefit the guild, I jumped at the chance to take it, even though wire working is not new to me.  Not only has Olivia studied with some great teachers, no matter what you think you know, you can always learn something new or a better way to do something from a good teacher.  Olivia did not disappoint me.

One of the first things I did was to replace my portable butane torch with the model Olivia likes best, the original Blazer GB 2001 Self Igniting Micro Blazer Torch. It actually costs less than the torch I already have, but works so much better.

Olivia  and Pauline, her trusty assistant, led us through her methods for fusing fine solver and  wrapping with copper wire.  I used beads I made. Here are some pictures.  I give the class an A plus!

It’s Mural Arts Month in Philadelphia.  Go out and kiss a mural!!!

For earlier posts on Philadelphia Murals,  press here and here.

Bargain Tool Discoveries

Harbor Freight sells a steel shot filled leather pouch used to repair dents in cars. It makes a great noise-deadening surface for your bench block and the price is right at  $2.59. They also sell a flint striker for $1.79  which is great for lighting torches. This cheap model works better than the “high quality” one I bought elsewhere. I also got a small bolt cutter that I use to cut cable and heavy wire, a  bargain at $3.99.    I plan to use their digital pocket scale for weighing resin and hardener. That way I won’t mix more than I need and I can pour out equal amounts more easily.

I confess, weighing resin is not my idea; I read the tip in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. But it makes sense.  Serious bakers weigh their ingredients because the measurements are more accurate.

And for all you tool lovers out there, Toolmonger is a blog you shouldn’t miss!