art playground

Old Gold

I love a new challenge and this one was a blast. My friend Lauri and I decided to take some old gold jewelry and turn it into sheet. I had a couple of pieces of 14k gold jewelry that I knew I’d never wear again so we studied up, melted it down and rolled away. What started out as a very ugly nugget bracelet and an old wedding ring are now 2 small 23 gauge sheets of gold ready for my creative vision. We learned a lot through the process.

There was definitely a learning curve on the adventure as neither of us had ever melted down anything in a crucible, only silver on a charcoal block. We set up a little kiln using firebricks. This would allow us to hold as much heat inside the crucible as possible. I had a brand new crucible (a ceramic dish made to take the heat) so it needed to be prepared ahead of time. The crucible needs a glaze inside to prevent the metal from sticking or being absorbed into the ceramic. We had read online that it could be done in an oven so we assumed that we could do it in the kiln at no more than 500 degrees or so. Bad assumption. We chose a mix of borax and boric acid, neither of which melts at 500 degrees. The powders kept getting harder and harder inside the kiln. No signs of liquid to swirl around and glaze the crucible.

We decided to be brave and use a torch (MAPP gas because it was handy). We got it unbelievably hot: so hot that the crucible was glowing orange! I kept expecting it to blow up and kill us at any second, and then lo and behold we saw that the borax and boric acid were melting! Suddenly we had another problem in that our crucible tongs were absolutely the wrong type for the job. We couldn’t swirl the borax mixture around to coat the inside of the crucible. A quick trip to the kitchen and one pasta server later, we had a great little tong setup that made us feel like maybe we weren’t going to drop the whole mess and melt my floor. Sometimes my kitchen is the best supplier of metalsmithing tools.

Crucible seasoned, we started experimenting with pieces of the old bracelet. We figured out early on that one torch wasn’t enough so we put 2 torches to the task. Lauri held the torches while I stirred the gold and borax mixture with a graphite rod. Hotter and hotter it all became until the gold melted into a little glowing orange blob. I poured the gold into a graphite ingot mold while Lauri kept the torch on the crucible to prevent oxides from forming.

We felt like amazons! There were problems, but we forged ahead (PTP) to the rolling stage. I rolled the ingot into a tiny sheet, but because it wasn’t as homogenous as it should have been it started to develop air bubbles as I rolled. We had a feel for the process now so it was a no-brainer to melt it all again and start over. Besides, it was really fun. Given all the heating, I’m pretty sure that my 14k gold is more like 18k now.

This time we added the rest of my ugly bracelet and the wedding ring and melted down the hold shebang in 2 batches. It took a lot of heat to melt down .87 oz of gold! The keys to getting the perfect ingot were to add more borax as we were heating, to stir well with the graphite rod in order to burn off any impurities, and to follow the crucible with the torch all the way through pouring into the mold.

Once the ingot was made I started rolling, annealing, rolling, annealing until the sheet was down to 23 gauge, which is where the project is now. I just love my little sheets of gold, and the fact that they are made from old jewelry is wonderful. After we were finished Lauri and I searched our jewelry boxes for more gold to melt down! I have an old herringbone necklace that is in serious danger.

Image

Image

“Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique” by Marc Drogin

I have a whole bookshelf full of books on calligraphy, but this title is extraordinary. The author wrote it in 1980 as a frustrated calligraphy teacher who wanted a comprehensive book for his students. He felt that most other books on the subject were either too simple and glossed over important information, or were written for scholars and therefore inaccessible to the average student. “Medieval Calligraphy” is the result, and an impressive one it is!

The book is full of history and technique, but more importantly, it’s eminently readable. Most books on calligraphy are heavy on technique (unfortunately “modernized”); more of a reference than a good read. I sat and read the book as if it were a novel, looking forward each day to my private reading time, and as with reading any good novel I was sad to come to the end.

The scripts are explained in chronological order so there is a clear historical line drawn from, say, Roman Rustic to Roman half-uncial and the scripts in between. Drogin explains the pressures of the day, the movement of people, the politics and other factors that went into the development from one script to another. Included are dozens of pictures of original documents so that you can see the scripts in their native habitat. The author also includes technical notes on each script, though full alphabets are not included. Other interesting sections show page layout used by the scribes and also how to order facsimiles.

If you are passionate about calligraphy and are hungry for more than mere technical guidance, I highly recommend this book.

Get it on Amazon.com

2013 in review

Thank you to everyone who read and recommended my blog in 2013. I plan to do even more with it this year.  In the meantime, the WordPress.com stats helpers prepared a 2013 annual report for the Volcano Arts blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Photo of Christine

Here I'm engraving glass and grooving to NPR

Here I’m engraving glass and grooving to NPR

Image

Being both a metalsmith and an enamelist means that I’m constantly using tools made for one medium while playing in the other. I’ve made some fascinating discoveries that have made both jobs easier.

  • Better detail in Keum-boo (photo above)
    Keum-boo is the Korean art of fusing gold leaf to depleted sterling silver. The complicated technique involves heat and burnishing. Dissatisfaction with the level of detail I was able to obtain with traditional burnishing tools led me to a fiberglass brush used in enamel work. (Available from Thompson Enamel). Since the fiberglass can take the heat, it’s the perfect tool to pounce the leaf down into the smallest textural details while the metal is still on the hotplate. The photo above shows a piece of keum-boo over a texture made by passing the sterling silver through a rolling mill with a skeleton leaf. Just look at that awesome detail!
  • Glue that can take the heat
    If you are soldering something and you have difficulty getting the solder to stay where you put it, try this trick. Get some Klyr-Fire from your favorite enamel supplier. It’s a low-tack adhesive liquid which is made to take the heat of a kiln for just a little while.
    Using tweezers, dip each piece of solder into the adhesive before setting it into place on your piece. While soldering, the Klyr-Fire will last just long enough to keep the solder in place while you bring everything up to temperature. This is great for beginners who might burn their fingers while trying to heat flux to the glossy point and then add solder, or for those who tend to upset the soldering set-up while placing balls or chips of solder on a precarious surface. If you’ve been using hide glue for this type of thing, you’ll appreciate the lack of odor in the Klyr-Fire. (And in case you were going to ask, it won’t work for granulation)
  • Saturated pickle
    Sometimes a metalsmith needs pickle that’s really saturated to electroplate the silver line left on copper after soldering with silver solder. Save the pickle from enameling on copper. I keep a truly nasty pot of saturated pickle around for use in both enameling (to remove oxides) and for electroplating.
  • Polishing papers
    After years of experimenting, I have yet to find anything better than our 400 grit polishing papers for cleaning metal prior to enameling. Simply sand the metal under running water and with a few strokes the water will sheet off and not bead up. Perfect!
  • Triangle kiln supports
    You know how it is; every soldering operation is a new adventure in supports, clips, third-hands and binding wire. I’ve found that for flat items, which need to be heated from below as well as above, there’s often nothing better than a triangle kiln support (also available from Thompson Enamel). They’re made of steel, so they can take the heat, and they stay out of the way while you move the torch. They’re small and therefore not a giant heat-sink, as a soldering tripod would be. They’re far more stable than a nest or coil of metal. Use them right-side-up or upside-down for the best support option for the job.
  • Old soldering tripod use
    If you have an old soldering tripod, use the steel mesh that came with it for transporting enameled items in and out of the kiln. Just bend the corners down so that you can get a kiln fork underneath. A piece of mica on top of the mesh will stabilize the piece during the trip to the kiln.
  • Silver Dust in the Sky
    If you work in either sterling or fine silver, save your silver dust when you are sawing. When you are enameling, use a sifter to clean out the silver dust and then sift a tiny bit of the silver onto your last fired layer of enamel. Fire it one more time and remove it from the kiln when the silver and glass have just fused together (think: fire polish). A quick polish and the silver will look like stars. This looks especially gorgeous on a dark enamel. You can also use the silver dust under transparent enamel (as you would silver leaf), but spend more time cleaning the silver ahead of time. You don’t want to pollute your enamel.

    Silver dust on a blue enameled copper flower

oldest-torah_67952_600x450

There is definitely something to be said for making a mistake! In 1889 an Italian librarian looked at the writing on a parchment Torah scroll (the 5 Books of Moses) and decided that it was probably an inferior 17th century copy. He felt that the copyist must have been clumsy and that the letters were uncommon and strange.

Fast forward to the present time (and technology) and we find that the scroll was written between 1155 and 1225! The “uncommon and strange” letters were based on the Babylonian tradition of writing Hebrew rather than the Palestinian style with which our librarian was familiar. The benefit? The scroll is in perfect condition because it was mis-catalogued, and the world has the oldest existing complete Torah.

Read more about this wonderful find on National Geographic’s website:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/05/130530-worlds-oldest-torah-scroll-bible-bologna-carbon-dating/

During the holidays, my jewelry inventory was almost wiped out by friends and fans. Thank you very much! What with running a retail art supply company and all, my Etsy shop was pretty dry there for a while.

So, I just spent all day photographing and listing sterling silver and enamel earrings for my shop. I’m really exploring my style, and find that right now I’m into simple and elegant designs, clear colors, and shine (yes, like a crow). I’m not into too much foofaraw, ya know?

I hope that you’ll hop on over to the shop and let me know what you think!

Thanks!
Christine

https://www.etsy.com/shop/volcanoarts

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 245 other followers