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.”


For the Bezel Challenged

My friend Sherman claims to be bezel challenged.    That got me thinking.   Who hasn’t had a cool stone or glass cab that would look great in a metal setting?  And while you can  always wire wrap or make a tab setting (here’s a link to a great  tutorial from Jewelry Making Daily on making tab settings)  maybe you are ready for something a little more advanced’

     So, here is a setting idea for the bezel challenged.  Are you listening Sherman?.

 I took 14 gauge copper wire, cleaned it and made a shape.  I filed the wire ends flat  for a butt join and soldered the join with medium solder.
 

After pickling and rinsing, I laid three 18 gauge wires with balls on both ends on top of  the shape and  soldered them on, again with medium solder.    I also  soldered  the bail on during this step. (It has a little tab of metal I slipped under the 14 gauge wire and gravity held everything in place).  You might prefer to solder on the bail in a different step.    The beauty here is that you don’t have to worry about fit because the wires you’re soldering together already touch each other.  The soldering goes very quickly.  If you solder in three stages you might consider using easy solder for the last step.


  Here I am making a bail from a strip of 18 gauge copper and bail making pliers.

Here’s  another shape cleaned up.  You can see that I was too generous with the solder on one of the wires.  But there is an easy solution.  Toss a steel nail and your copper piece back in the pickle.  I don’t heat my pickle so I leave it for maybe five hours.  The steel makes the copper that is floating around in the pickle coat the copper piece.   If you have any silver or brass pieces in the pickle, they will become copper coated too, so leave them out.    At the end of the period, fish out the nail and it will be slimy with copper  (and your pickle will be cleaner!) The silver solder on the copper piece will no longer be visible.  You can still sand and file it off,  so don’t be any more vigorous than you have to be with the finishing.  And yes, it is durable.

The final step is to bend the prongs front and back to hold the cab in place.  You can also use your pliers to make interesting shapes with the prongs.    You can make the prongs long and coil them into spirals if you like.  You need to make at least three prongs to hold the cab securely.

With this technique,  you don’t have to measure your stone or cab as accurately as you need to when you make a bezel.    I just eyeballed the pieces in this post.  Another advantage of this technique is that you can see both sides of the item you are setting unlike a bezel where you only see the front.    The backs of fused cabs are usually not that interesting but stones are another story.

This technique lends itself to playing with the metal too.  For the piece below, I soldered a bunch of copper rings together and then added a smaller circle with the soldered prongs.

If you are using a micro torch, be sure it’s hot enough; not all  micro torches are created equal.  A good choice  is the Blazer GB2100.  Also, you need a soldering surface that will work with you and not against you.  I prefer a refractory block.   A  Solderite soldering board is another option.

I am not sure how I am going to use this yet.  If I had to do over,  I would have balled the wire that holds the cab from the back.  It doesn’t look bad the way it is, but it could have looked better.

Even though I  “discovered” this technique while playing around,  I  am sure it’s been around for years because it’s so intuitive.  I am  interested in seeing what  other people have made with it.  If you know about anything, send it my way.

My First Quilt


I did not plan to make this quilt.  I wanted new quilts or comforters for my bedroom but could not justify buying new ones when the old ones were perfectly fine and I was just tired of the way they looked.  Then I started searching for the perfect duvet cover.  I didn’t see anything I liked.  Then I saw quilts I liked in a catalog and thought about making a patchwork design duvet cover.  I started dreaming in patchwork and going on line and looking at quilting supplies and fabric.   That’s when I got the idea of making quilts for my bedroom using the old comforter as the insides.  Have I ever done this before?  No.  But the Internet is full of blogs and tutorials with information on how to do things.   I read and watched videos.  A lot of videos.  I read books.  The main idea I came away with is that a beginner (me) should start small.  It was then that I remembered that a baby was due in our family in a few weeks and, if I put the (sewing machine) pedal to the metal, perhaps I could make a baby quilt.

What about the fabric?  I knew the little Tater Tot was a boy.  I had some great fabric I found at Jo-Mar in Philadelphia, along with some Bohemian Chic   style tablecloths bought at deep discount.   Not appropriate for a baby boy quilt.  So I went looking on line and saw all these kits and jelly rolls and charm packs  with gorgeous color coordinated fabric meant to be cut and sewn together.  But that didn’t resonate with me.  This project wasn’t about recreating someone else’s idea; I wanted to create my own palette and  I wanted to recycle fabric.  So I  bought old clothes at thrift stores, and raided  my small fabric stash and closet.  A co-worker gave me fabric that belonged to her late aunt who had made baby quilts for her family.  That seemed appropriate to use. I brought everything home,  washed and dried it, ripped out the seams in the clothes and ironed everything. 

Plumpton helped me to “audition” the colors.  He took his job seriously!

                                                                                                                               

I decided to make the quilt five (six inch) blocks across and down and to have blocks on both sides.  Because I intended to do the quilting on my sewing machine and didn’t have a walking foot, I used a baby blanket for the inner layer.  My first step was to cut out 50 blocks, arrange them in two sets of 25 and sew each set together.

One side sewn together.


After I completed both sides, I sandwiched the baby blanket in the middle using spray adhesive to hold everything in place and smoothed out the layers.  I put in a few pins for added stability.  Then I started to machine quilt.  It was here that tips from two friends came in handy.  I had watched one video where the quilter  started machine quilting from an outside corner.  “No,” instructed Jeri Beading Yoda, “You start from the center and go out.”  And since I had never machine quilted anything,  Susie B recommended I practice on some cheap fabric first. I’m glad I did.

I used a modified zig zag stitch because I knew my quilting was going to be crooked and this stitch would sort of hide that.

 

After quilting, I trimmed everything square and sewed on the binding.

 

Here I am machine stitching part of the binding.  I did it over  about three times before I was happy with it.  I ended up machine stitching one side of the binding and hand sewing the other.  You can see this technique here

They say you should sign the quilt, so I did.  I thought it was important to mention that I sewed it on a machine that had belonged to baby’s Great Grandmother Vicky.  It wasn’t until after I signed the quilt that I remembered that Vicky had  made me a beautiful quilted jacket  on the very same machine. 

 

Here is the finished baby quilt.

On-Line Ideas and Inspiration for Jewelry Makers

I troll the Internet in search of ideas and inspiration.  Here are some new finds and some old favorites I want to share:

Nancy LT Hamilton offers free metalsmithing videos on sawing, riveting, soldering,  making findings and other techniques.  She offers a few metal working tools and her site is full of  useful  information about tools, metal, measuring, ring sizing, drill bits and more.

Beaducation sells jewelry making tools, books. DVDs and findings.  In addition paid on line classes,  Beaducation offers  free on line classes in several mediums including metalsmithing, felting, resin jewelry making  and beading

Brenda Sue Lansdowne  sells cool  vintage jewelry supplies on her web site, B’Sue Boutique  and her  blog, Jewelry Making Outside the Box  is chock full of interesting information.   She also offers free on line videos  showing how she uses her products to make eye-catching  mixed media jewelry.  The videos and blog are great places to get ideas and inspiration.

Speaking of ideas and inspiration,  I found these silver plated serving forks at a flea market.  I plan to saw off the handles and make the serving ends into pendants. 

If you think you have seen it all when it comes to jewelry made from spoons, knives or forks, you must watch this  video  by Italian Artist Giovanni Scafuro.



Viking Knit Unraveled and Revealed

I recently spent time trying to puzzle out the Viking Knit.  There some excellent directions on the Internet including these on the Fine Art by Rocio website.  The problem is, the Viking Knit that looks so cool is double or triple knit and all of the instructions that I saw, including those in Irene Petersen’s otherwise marvelous book,  tell you to loop down a couple of rows with a single wire and then go up a couple of rows and come back down to double knit and repeat to triple knit.  I don’t know about you, but that would drive me “Ape-something that rhymes with knit.”  Plus it’s hard to keep your rows and stitches even and the wires lying evenly instead of whopper jawed and all kinked up.

And then there was this thing about clamping an Allen Wrench in a vise that seemed like overkill. Viking Knit wants to spiral and as long as you keep your stitches fairly even,  you don’t have to be fanatical.  You can straighten your wire work when you take it off the mandrel.  I was able to find several artists on the Internet who used a mandrel of some sort.  I have had success with dowels and chopsticks.

But my biggest discovery is that you don’t have to do the up and down nonsense to do triple and double knit.  All you have to do is work with two or three wires at a time.  It’s  really not that difficult.

Here’s a crudely drawn picture of how you start:

The red loops are what they call the petals.  The above diagram shows the stitch worked flat, and you can see examples of this in Arlene Fisch’s classic book Textile Techniques in Metal.  But for now, think round.  Since it’s recommended that you work in 24 or 26 gauge wire, working with 2 or 3 strands at a time is easier than it sounds.  When I work with copper wire,  I work with yard long strands of wire taped together one end and proceed as if I was using a single wire.  When I work with brass wire,  I use  18″ to 24″ strands because the wire is stiffer and a little harder to work with, but it is not difficult.  Here are some pictures:

Here is a triple knit chain in progress.  It is three stitches around and I am using 24 gauge wire.  They say that 24 or 26 gauge wire is the best size to use.

Here is a detail:

I add new chain according to the standard directions you will find in Internet tutorials or Irene Peterson’s book.  I worked on this brass wire chain until it was about 16″ long.  Then I annealed it with a micro torch (you don’t need to do this with copper or fine silver, but brass is stiffer) after brushing it with flux to cut down any fire scale.

The next step is passing it through the wooden  draw plate.

The above picture shows the chain during the drawing process.  I passed it through three successively smaller holes, then stopped.  I once saw a video of Charles Lewton-Brain demonstrating fold forming and he said something that stuck with me.  I don’t remember the exact quote, but he said that when you are working on something and reach a point where you like how it looks, STOP!


The picture above is the finished necklace.  I soldered the knitted ends together and soldered a 14 gauge wire to each end.  Then I made the end caps from brass, passed the 14 gauge wire through the holes in the end,  I formed wrapped loops. made jump rings and soldered them closed and finished with an “S” clasp I made for the necklace.

Here is a close up.

To give you a little perspective, the two copper sections below are five stitches around.  The top one is triple knit the same way I did the brass necklace and the bottom one is single knit.

The final picture is a close up of a wide hole bead I slipped over the chain.  The final necklace was about 24″ long.  How long do the chains get when you draw them?  There isn’t a hard and fast answer.  It depends on the stiffness of your wire, how many times you draw the chain and how many stitches around your chain is.  The only thing I can say for sure is better two long than too short.

So now that you know how to make a double or triple Viking Knit chain without all the up and down maneuvering, go ahead and give it a try.  OK, you might think it’s cheating.  You might be a purist.  Just remember, as someone wiser than me once said, “Virtue is its own reward and little else.”

Here’s a late addition:  the Viking Knit is the same as the “Acorn Stitch” or Celyon Stitch” used in embroidery, only it’s worked upside down.  Sometimes you can get the hang of a technique by trying it in another medium first.  If you’re new to wire work but good at sewing,  try the technique with thread to get the hang of it.

Jewelry from the Trash Can

I have been exploring textile arts and learning  techniques for incorporating them into jewelry.  And making up a few of my  own.  The bracelets below are from recycled materials:  old clothing dyed, stamped, painted and shredded, cast off electrical wire stripped and straightened, scrap stained glass tumbled and drilled, some gilded twigs from the sidewalk, pieces of old jewelry, and old plastic bangles or wire forms,  There is no plan; I just start to wrap and embellish.   I hit some of the bracelets with a heat gun to see how it would affect the fabric.  Depending on the fabric, it will burn, seal the frayed edges, or melt the fabric to reveal  what’s beneath.  I got this idea from a video by  Textile  and Mixed Media Artist Maggie Ayres.  There is so much information out there.  Don’t limit yourself to what you already know or think you have to take a class (unless you are learning how to use a torch, or another technique where proper safety instruction is vital).   Don’t be afraid to try something new!

More Collage Jewelry

I am doing a demonstration on making collage jewelry for the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild this Sunday.  You can have a lot of fun making little assemblages, pendants, and memory pieces.  Press here for some how-to information and tool suggestions, and here for books I have found to be helpful and inspiring.

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.

 

New Ideas for Making Jewelry from Spoons

A couple of years ago, I posted a tutorial on making a bracelet from old spoons that proved to be quite popular.  Here are examples of more types of jewelry you can make from old spoons.

Here’s a torch enameled spoon bowl pendant that I drilled  for a jump ring before enameling.   The copper ring is a big jump ring soldered shut, hammered flat and textured.  When my friend Terri saw it, she remarked that she would have used the concave part of the spoon bowl instead of the convex side as I did.  Which opens up a bunch of new design possibilities that I plan to explore.

Here are two pairs of earrings made from different parts of the spoon handle.  First, I cut the pieces to the proper length and filed them smooth.  I filed a gentle curve on the top pair because I think it looks more attractive than a straight edge.  Then I drilled holes and filed off the burs.  I patinated them in liver of sulfur,  and made ear wires from fine silver on which I had previously balled the ends.  After inserting the wires through the holes in the earrings I gently hammered fhe balls flat so the  wire would stay in place and the earrings would hang  properly.  Finally, I smoothed the  other end of the wires with a cup bur in a rotary tool.

Clayathon Wrap Up with Pictures

 

Clayathon is a place to relax, mix with great people, see the work other people’s work in progress and watch demos of  polymer and non-polymer techniques.  I saw demos on caning, faux dichroic glass,  soldering solver bezels, metal fold forming, and I gave a demo on drilling glass and making ring clasps with copper washers.  Lisa Clarke of Polka Dot Creations was there with the latest books and videos and Wilma Yost was there with the latest products from Polymer Clay Express  including their Shape Frames  that Wilma showed everyone how to use.  We had a cane swap and worked on a group cane too.  To sum it up, we had a blast.

Here are some pictures.