Christine Cox

Archive for the ‘Metalsmithing’ Category

Torch Comfort

Most metalsmiths set up their torch like thisI set mine up like this

Most metalsmiths hold their torches differently than I do.

Others set up their torch head so that the tip is opposite the control knob. Check out the first photo accompanying this post. Setting up the torch tip this way means that adjusting the flame requires a deft little move involving the joints of your thumb and your index finger. It takes a little getting used to, especially since you’re using your non-dominant hand (or at least you “should” be).

I like to set up the torch so that the control knob and the tip are on the same side of the torch head (see photo). This way I can adjust the control knob with the tips of my index and thumb, and it feels quite natural.

The beauty of working in your own studio is that it’s up to you. Try my way. You may find it more comfortable.

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Metalsmith: Antique Tools

A typically occasional series by Christine Cox

I’m sure that if I had been a seamstress I’d save meaningful bits of fabric, or if I had been an engineer I’d collect antique slide rules or something similar. The fact is that I’m a metalsmith and a bookbinder. I collect antique tools made for those trades.

They’ve come to me in various ways; purchased in antique stores, given to me by a doting grandfather, found on garage sale tables. What they all have in common is that they are functional and that they wear the patina of time.

What to watch out for:

Avoid rust, or be prepared to clean it off (a nasty job that can yield great rewards)

Check that nothing is loose.

Wooden handles don’t last well. If the wood is dry and cracked, walk on by. The tool won’t be safe to use.

Because they are antiques, they often aren’t up to their original jobs, but metalsmiths are nothing if not flexible. I was once the honored recipient of an ice pick that had rusted, but the pick’s pedigree made it a worthy acquisition. I cleaned off the rust, but the underlying metal was pitted. It wasn’t up to picking or poking anymore, but perfect for stirring, and that’s its new life. I think the original owner would be pleased that it’s still being used.

I’m sure the file pictured with this article was sharp and robust at some time in the past, but now it’s teeth are worn. I use it as my “fine” file and smile every time I do. The beautiful file is now reserved for only the lightest finishing strokes on a piece and it’s exactly the right tool.

Keep your eyes open. They’re out there!

Sponsored by:

Volcano Arts

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Metalsmith: Cushion Behind a Stone

There are times when a jeweler needs a cushion behind a stone or enamel that’s being bezel-set, whether to raise it higher, or to even out an unevenness such as in the case of a warped enamel. One solution is to use fine sawdust between the piece and the bezel. Some people like to use an old credit card. On a larger piece, like the enamel in the accompanying photos, I like to use a piece of a plastic lid, as from a can of coffee or something similar. They come in different thicknesses, and this little safety measure gives me a lot of peace of mind when working with a bezel roller later.

Update: I’ve had a few people write to me about using plastic for this step (some for, some against). I use plastic because it is a long-lived, neutral substance. It doesn’t rot away making the stone loose, or swell when it’s wet, potentially breaking the stone. Sawdust and cork are fine, but beware of the pitfalls.

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Metalsmith: Mini Anvil

Metalsmith
(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

Need to hallmark or center-punch your piece of metal? It’s such a simple job when your piece is flat. Just lay the metal down on a flat, hard surface and whack away.

But what if the piece isn’t flat?

As long as there’s enough room underneath the piece to set it on an anvil, you can stamp or center-punch at will. Here’s the secret, anything can be an anvil, as long as it’s up to the job. I have a corner in my bench drawer devoted to small “thingys” made of steel in every shape.

One of my favorites is the little steel dot made for setting rivets I got somewhere, but I also have knife handles, hammer heads, ball bearings and more.

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Metalsmith: Binding Wire Wizardry

By Christine Cox

Spinner rings – Fidget rings – Worry rings – Meditation rings

It’s a beautiful design, a ring bound by another ring, which spins freely. They’re great for people who like something to fiddle with, and, it’s a fantastic design element.

Whatever you call them, when one breaks, it can be a challenge for a jeweler to fix, especially if what fails is the solder on the inner ring.

Thus was a repair job that was brought to me a few months ago. The solder on the inner ring had broken, but not the solder on the outer ring. The problem was that there was no way to get the outer ring off so that I could solder the inner ring.

Let’s back up a little. The way one of these rings is made is by shaping and soldering the 2 rings separately and then sliding one onto the other. The inner ring is then flared open (or separate rim pieces soldered on) so that the outer ring can’t slide off again. Unfortunately for the jeweler who has to make the repair, the flared edges of the inner ring cannot be un-flared to allow the outer ring to slip off again. The ring has to be repaired as a whole.

Binding wire to the rescuebraidedring

For this repair I needed to clean up the old solder joint, reshape the inner ring into a fully closed circle, and then hold it closed as I soldered, all without accidentally soldering the outer ring to the inner ring and causing it to stop spinning.

If you look at the process photo carefully, you’ll see that there are 3 pieces of binding wire on the ring. Two are around the perimeter of the inner ring, holding it closed.  I put one wire at the top and one at the bottom of the ring to hold the solder joint together along its entire length (the ring was a heavy gauge and wanted to spring open). There was no room for manipulating the metal to get the tension needed for it to hold itself closed (a trick that every ring maker learns early), so the binding wire would have to do that job.

spinnerring_smThe third piece of wire was used to hold the outer ring up and away from the inner ring so that they wouldn’t be soldered together. I fed the wire between the 2 rings and then oozled it around to a position near the seam, but not close enough to accidentally solder the wire to the ring. The thickness of the wire was now giving me the distance I needed between the 2 rings and I was ready to solder as normal.

Everything went swimmingly, my client was pleased, and the ring spins like new.

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Metalsmith: Studio Use for Metal Planters

By Christine Cox

You never know what you’ll find at the nursery or a thrift store that will be perfect in the studio. These metal planters are a great solution for storing heavy, sharp sheet metal. They’re durable and some have handles that make transporting heavy metal from one place to another much easier.

I’ve used mine for years and years, and they’re still in great shape (even after a cat peed in one of them and “patinated” both the planter and all the metal in it). If you buy the type with handles, make sure that they — and you — are up to carrying a lot of weight.

If they ever get a little rusty, you can sand the rust off and then use a sealant (brush or spray) to prevent the rust from returning. Some come with plastic liners, though they won’t last long when storing sharp metal.

You wouldn’t want to store precious metal this way, but for non-precious alloys, it’s a very good solution.

breadpans

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Spraying Polyurethane

I’ve been using spray paint for years, but I’ve avoided polyurethane sealant spray. It’s a whole ‘nother beast and I could never quite get it laid down right. It’s thicker than spray paint so my efforts tended to look spotted or to have drips. Unacceptable!

I recently spent 2 days practicing on small pieces of metal, and, sisters and brothers in art, I’ve done it! I now feel very good about my polyurethane spraying abilities.

Notes from the field:

  • Use a raking light so that you can watch the polyurethane land on the piece. You’ll be able to see the wetness of the spray as you apply it, allowing you to spot fix anything missed. Watching the spray hit the piece will also help you judge the correct distance and speed.
  • Ignore that 12″ to 14″ instruction on the can. For the small pieces I just finished, spraying from 8″ was about right.
  • To get rid of dust, use a can of pressurized air on the piece right before spraying the polyurethane.
  • The room needs to be 70 to 90 degrees (and well-ventilated). This helps the polyurethane self-level. I rigged up a little heat lamp over my spray station.
  • Wearing an OptiVisor is a necessity when spraying small pieces. Tiny surfaces mean no room for errors.

Happy spraying!

By Christine Cox

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Metalsmith: Avoid Sanding Low Spots In Ring Rims

Metalsmith: Avoid Sanding Low Spots In Ring Rims
(A typically occasional metalsmithing series by Christine Cox)

There’s a point in every metalsmith’s early career where they realize that they are tired of compensating for their mistakes, tired of making something that is the best they can do, but still not quite what was pictured. There’s a desire to make a piece from beginning to end, exactly how it’s pictured in the mind – but a small gap in technical skills gets in the way.

Here’s an example of a tiny technical error that affected my work. The worst part is that I knew better.

If you’ve ever sanded a ring of some kind, whether a bezel, a finger ring, the side walls of a box, or even the rim of a domed disk, chances are, you’ve had to deal with having sanded a low spot. There’s one particular low area that prevents the entire edge from being even. Since metal is stubborn and won’t grow when we need it to, the only solution is to file the entire edge down to the height of the low spot, which can have an effect on every aspect of your project’s design from that point forward. You start compromising on your original vision.

How much better to prevent the low spot to begin with? See the photo at right showing the two bezels? I was sanding the edges to make them the same height and I got lazy. I started sanding back and forth, as we’ve all done when we haven’t been taught otherwise (and some of us, even when we have).

Do this little experiment. Picture a large figure eight on some flat surface near you and slowly rub one finger along it, noting the shift of the pressure on the pad of your finger from front to back and side to side as you complete the course of the symbol.

The same situation happens when you’re sanding. If you sand in a figure eight pattern, you subtly shift your weight from one point to another as you sand along the shape, and therefore the rim stays even. If you just sand back and forth, you’re going to sand a low spot into the rim because you’re putting weight on only limited areas.

It’s such a small change in work habit, but realizing that the change needs to be made is exactly the point where we reach, stretch, and become better smiths and produce better quality work.

 

Volcano Arts

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

Metalsmith: Ferric Chloride Exhaustion

For decades, I’ve been etching copper, brass and nickel-silver with ferric chloride (FeCl3), an industrial ferrous salt normally used in water purification and sanitation.

If you’re using ferric chloride, you may wonder how you can tell if it’s exhausted. How often you etch, which alloys you etch, and how large your metal pieces are all affect how long the etchant will last.

The first clue that the etchant is approaching the end of its usefulness is that the pattern you’re etching will be shallow, meaning that etching process will take longer and longer as the ferric chloride gives up the ghost. Nickel-silver presents an interesting side effect when the ferric chloride is exhausted. When you pull the metal out of the etching tank, it will be coated in a brown film. This film acts as a resist and the piece will never etch without the coating being removed, and then re-etching the metal again in a fresh tank.

Of course, we don’t want to waste a piece of metal and all the time to prepare it only to have our exhausted ferric chloride let us down. Another good way to test the ferric chloride is to judge the color. From the accompanying photos you can see that new and exhausted ferric chloride look very similar, but study the pictures closely and you’ll note that there is a slight difference in the overall yellow tone. The new liquid is a reddish/yellow, while the old, used up liquid is a greenish/yellow.

 

The cup on the left contains new, unused ferric chloride. The greenish/yellow liquid on the right is headed for the dump.

New ferric chloride (reddish/yellow)

Exhausted ferric chloride (greenish/yellow)

Bottles of ferric chloride that have been neutralized and are headed for the dump

Sponsored by:

Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Glass
We have the tools and supplies you need for your projects and classes
www.volcanoarts.com

 

Metalsmith: Straighten a Crooked Balled Rivet

(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

Balling up the end of a wire for rivets, findings or decorative elements is one of the first things a metalsmith learns. It’s a fun and rewarding activity, though there’s a bit of a knack to it. The wire needs to be in the hottest part of the flame. You can’t dwell too long or stop too early. You can’t stop part way through and then resume without lowering the odds of success. Always hold the wire straight down so that gravity can help.

In spite of our best efforts, sometimes there’s a problem:

  • The ball doesn’t form or only forms a little (too short a time in the flame, too short a wire, holding pliers too close to where ball should form, too large a wire gauge to heat ratio)
  • The ball isn’t round (probably too long in the flame)
  • The ball falls off (waaaaaaay too long in the flame)
  • The ball is pitted (using the wrong part of the flame, or an inferior alloy such as brass)
  • The ball is on the side of the wire (either too short in the flame, or not holding wire straight down)

That last one can be frustrating, but it’s easy to fix (mostly).

Take a look at the photos accompanying this post. In the first photo, a sterling silver wire has its ball off to the side. In macro terms, the fix is to grab the ball in a pair of pliers and bend the wire until it aligns with the ball. Unfortunately, you would likely end up with a ball crushed by the pliers and a bent wire that still wouldn’t line up.

Let’s take a micro look at the fix.

The crushed ball would be caused by using steel pliers. The jaws on a pair of brass or nylon-lined pliers are softer than steel. Hold the ball in a way that gives you access to the exact spot where the ball and wire meet.

Now place your finger where the ball meets the wire and bend the wire until it lines up. If your wire bends anywhere other than at the point where it meets the ball, you need to put your finger right up against the ball.

That’s it! Now, go back through all your old balled wires and see if you can fix any of them.

http://www.volcanoarts.com/cart/metalsmithing/pliers.htm

Sponsored by:

Volcano Arts
www.volcanoarts.com

Volcano Arts

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