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.

 

 

Make a Tabletop Jeweler’s Bench Part 2: Everything You Need to Know

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!19 benchMaterials

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.

Tools

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.

3Snack Table top marked opening
Snack ray top disassembled and marked for cutting.  I opted not to go for a round cut out on the bench top because I don’t have the skill to cut one.
4 jigsaw cut
Cutting out the bench top.

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.

20 -16 inches deep, 24 inches wide and 9 inches high

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.

Make Yourself a Tabletop Jeweler’s Bench

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!

19 finished bench

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.

19 Back of bench

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.

What’s On My Bench Now

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.

 

Second firing before cleaning. Everything sintered

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.

Porcelain and Bronze Make Jewelry

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.

diagramI 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.

1
I cleaned up the ring and bent the prongs around the focal so I could measure where to cut them before balling them with a torch,

 

2
I didn’t use easy solder on the ring because I didn’t want to detach a prong when I balled it.

3
Shaping the prongs around the focal and making sure it is centered on the ring

5
I tapped the prongs very lightly with a hammer to tighten them.

6
View from underneath

7
Definitely not a ring for everyday wear!

I now have a small kiln that fires to cone 6, so I expect to be making more ceramic components in the future.

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!

 

A Cheap and Easy-to-Make Jump Ring Tool

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.)

Sawing with commercial jig

 

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.

Experiment number 2-note dowel is in a vise

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.

Wood dowel in vise shiftingdowel

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.

Success clamp not vise

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.

Experiment number 2 sawing

The modified dowel works pretty well.  No more fighting to control my tools and materials.

SawingJR from Dowel 2
Sawed jump rings falling off the dowel

JumpRings3
The finished product

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.

Off the Wall: American Art to Wear

I went to a couple of great  exhibits this year before the coronavirus shut the museums.  One of them,  Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was especially enjoyable.

1OffTheWall

While I’ve never been a fashionista, I’ve always loved colorful, striking clothing.  I grew up in the 70’s with a mother who thought that Leslie Fay was a fashion icon.  Oh, dear.  This made for some interesting discussions best left to memory.  But a lot of people felt like my Mother.

View

There has always been art clothing, but usually not for the hoi polloi like me and my Mother who were expected to wear sensible “uniforms” and not stand out.  That seemed to change in the late 60’s and early 70’s when brighter colors became acceptable, tie dye was all the rage, and the hand-made movement took off.   I think that the American art clothing movement was a product of this, and it has definitely left a mark on what we wear today.

Some of my favorite pieces from the exhibit:

2Schildknecht
Embroidered Top and Skirt, Mary Ann Schildknecht

There is a saying somewhere  that an article of clothing does not qualify as couture unless a dozen nuns went blind making it.    So I was amused  to learn that nuns taught Mary Ann Schildknecht how to embroider while she was serving a two-year prison sentence in Italy for hashish trafficking.  The result is this astounding top and skirt, above.

I first saw this cape and hat by Susanna Lewis in an issue of Ornament Magazine years ago.  Ornament is the best magazine if you are interested in art clothing.

Double click on the pictures to get  a look at the full sized versions of this headdress and cape by Debra Rappaport.  They are made entirely of found objects.

Knitwear

JoanSteinerManhattanCollar
Joan Steiner, Manhattan Collar

KatherineWestphal
Katherine Westphal

 

1
One of the entries from the Levis Art Denim contest of 1974. Levis Jeans sponsored a contest inviting its customers to decorate their denim and send them pictures.

This is just a sampling of the wonderful articles of clothing displayed in the exhibit.   The Philadelphia Museum of Art has put together an exhibition book which you can order here.  There’s also a real interesting out-of-print book on the Art to Wear movement,  Art to Wear by Julie Schafler Dale.  You can order a used copy here.  Julie Shafler Dale ran a gallery in Manhattan for a number of years that was known for showcasing innovative crafts and new craft mediums (including polymer) before they made their way into the mainstream.  The Julie Artisans Gallery  is closed now, but you can read about it here.  You can read about the Levis Art Denim Contest  and see the winning entries  here.   If you would like more information on Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, click  here and here and here.

 

What’s on my Table

The days are flying by. We are now into week five of social distancing and I could use some nice warm weather and some sunshine. I have been working on the family genealogy and sharing what I find with family members on a Facebook page we set up for that purpose. I read David Copperfield and my new life goal is to be as wise as Betsey Trotwood. I ordered some Fairy Lights to brighten up my basement workshop. The Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild had its first online meeting and it went so well we are going to continue. I am baking bread having had the foresight to order 40 pounds of winter wheat berries (and two pounds of baker’s yeast by mistake; I could start a black market business) which arrived before the pandemic.

Here’s what’s on my work table right now:

I thought it would be fun to combine galvanized steel wire with vintage Swarovski crystals. I love making funky asymmetrical chains and I have a bunch of gorgeous crystals from old necklaces I snatched up at house sales. This is what I have so far:

I like the look, but I have to get motivated to to more. Here are some polymer beads. I am waiting for them to talk to me and tell me what they want to be (and if they want to be back filled first.)

polymer

I have been experimenting with different methods of cutting jump rings.  I prefer sawing to cutting because I always have to spend time cleaning up the ones I’ve cut, even though I use good flush cutters.  Too fussy I guess.  But sawing has its own problems.    For a long time I was using a jump ring jig I made myself.

jrholder

The problem is how to hold the coils in place as you saw them.  The jig I made was small enough that I could hold the coils with my thumb as I sawed.

Here’s one great solution-using a wedge of wood rather than your fingers to hold the coils in place as you saw.

But there are other ways of sawing perfect jump rings and I continue to search them out.  I will share my favorites here.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Remember: We’re Resilient

This is the second week that I have been “sheltering in place” with Boris and my spouse (who has been doing the grocery shopping and duly sanitizing household surfaces.)  We are probably getting some things wrong, but doing our best.

oneway

The stay home order in Philadelphia does allow residents to go outside for, among other things,  exercise so long as we observe social distancing rules.

yophilly

We’ve been having some beautiful weather here, so I’ve been trying to get out when the weather is nice.  The streets are nearly deserted.  Most of the people we encounter are cheerful and careful to keep the prescribed distance.  Perfect for an introvert who just wants to take a walk.

lombardSt
Lombard Street near dusk

Moshulu
Moshulu Penn’s Landing

turtle
Turtle, who lives in Bob’s koi pond, catching a few rays on a sunny afternoon

Boris
Boris relaxing on his cat tree with his stuffed cat, Sweetie.

Martha
I got a new hair cut courtesy of my husband, and made some masks in case friends or neighbors need them later on.

And now for some useful stuff.  Press here for information on sites offering longer free trial video streaming.  I’ve cut my cable, but I might actually try some of these.   I already have tried the live streaming from the Metropolitan Opera.  If you think you hate opera, try streaming one of the Met’s operas complete with subtitles.  For more information, press here. Or explore some  art museums online here.

And finally, a recommendation by my friend Olivia.   Even if you are a non-believer, this is sure to lift up your spirits.  We are nothing but resilient and need a reminder from time to  time.