Christine Cox

Posts tagged ‘jewelry’

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.

Sponsored by:

Volcano Arts

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: Kitchen Tools in the Studio

Metalsmith
(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

The sweeps drawer under my bench used to be a mess. I had tools mixed in with metal scrap, used sandpaper, leather pieces, broken saw blades, and lots and lots of metal shavings from sawing and filing. It was a major undertaking to clean it and a job I avoided. At a local store I found a metal mesh drawer organizer. Now my tools all have individual homes and all I do to clean up the drawer is to lift the organizer out, dump out the sweeps and put the organizer back in. The mesh organizer is a great holder for my most-used tools too.

Silverware holders are also wonderful for organizing tools in drawers. Mandrels, sanding sticks and other hand tools will stay in their assigned slots without beating up their neighbors.

Metalsmith: Triangles and Squares

Metalsmith: Triangles and Squares
(another installment in a typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

templateA fast way to accurately mark 3 or 4 corners on a piece of work is to use a drafter’s template. For example, let’s say you want to put 3 tiny feet on the bottom of a round box. It can be difficult to line up 3 points that look good. Simply lay a triangle template over the bottom of the box and then find the triangle that is closest in size to where you want the feet. Mark the 3 corners with a Sharpie marker and you’re done. If you want the feet in a perfect square instead, simply use whichever square template is the correct size.

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Bookbinding, Metalsmithing and Stained Glass

 

 

Metalsmith: Filing in Tight Places

barrettefilebarrette

Metalsmith
(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

For filing in tight places where adjoining areas could be damaged, use a barrette file. Only one side has teeth and the other edges slope away from them. They come in several sizes and every coarseness you could need. They are even included in most needle file and mini-needle file sets.

Needle and mini-needle file sets are available from Volcano Arts
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Metalsmith: Sweating Solder onto Findings

Metalsmith
(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

Sweating solder onto findings: Dig little holes into your charcoal block and then bury tiny findings (butt-side up) into the holes. This protects the little dears while melting the solder.pinbackscharcoalblock

Metalsmith: Graphite for Alignment

graphitesoldering

Metalsmith
(A typically occasional series by Christine Cox)

When soldering a pin back onto a brooch, use a piece of graphite (you know, for mechanical pencils) to ensure that catch and joint are lined up. The graphite will take the heat of your torch while your pin back stays straight.

Bird brooch available in my Etsy store

Metalsmith: 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 whole 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.

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Inspiration in a Box

Jewels

I got a great box full of inspiration in the mail Friday. It’s a wealth of riches; lovely, lovely books!

At the top of my box of treasures, Victoria Finlay’s Jewels; A Secret History, (originally published in GB as “Buried Treasure; Travels Through the Jewel Box”).” I bought it because I had read the author’s previous book Color; A Natural History of the Palette, and because I heard Ms Finlay on RadioLab (an awesome show that you can podcast through iTunes). I’m about half-way into the book now and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Both of Finlay’s books are travel journals. In both she chooses a personal reason to investigate a jewel or color (depending on the book). Each chapter is a brief but colorful (PTP) history of colors or gemstones and how they were discovered, mined or produced. It’s fascinating stuff, full of unusual characters, beautiful but deadly places and nature’s mysteries.The books are very personal and the author tells us of her failures, as well as her successes. She’s a very brave woman and gets herself into situations I wouldn’t try, like sliding down into ancient emerald mines.

Jewels is arranged by the Moh’s hardness rating of the particular stone: amber is first, diamonds are last. For a woman with a seemingly casual interest in gemstones, the book is full of information that any jeweler would love. It’s also chock-full of ancient history, so history buffs will love it too.

Next in my box of goodies is The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean. Mr Kean’s last book The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements was a really lively history of the discoveries and people around the periodic table. Boring? Absolutely not!!! I got poor marks in high school chemistry, and I just can’t tell you how much Kean’s writing style kept me interested and curious. I got so much out of this book that I use in the studio every day. Oh, and I also learned how electricity works (turns out it’s not magic after all). Unlike a bad movie sequel, I’m not afraid to read “The Violinist’s Thumb.” I have faith in Sam Kean’s writing. I’m sure it will be excellent.

Next up in my haul of books is Mixed Metal Mania by Kim St. Jean. A student recently brought a copy to class and I just had to own it. Ever since watching Harold O’Connor’s DVD on fold-forming, I’ve been on a folding tangent, and Ms St. Jean’s book has several fold-formed projects. Though the photos are small, they’re of excellent quality and there are a lot of them. I’m looking forward to the inspiration I’ll get from St. Jean’s techniques.

My last book is Handmade Photo Albums by Tami Porath. Books on how to make album-style structures are few and far between. The projects in this book look simple and fun and will take a lot of the guesswork out of my future photo albums. I especially like the idea for a folding drawer for folding the edges of papers. I’ll have to give that a whirl.

Now I’m off to the studio to take my inspiration out for a spin and see what it can do today.

 
 
 
 

Soldering Series: I love a 1-handed torch!

anti-ox

When heating non-ferrous metals, oxides form on the surface and prevent the flow of solder and just generally make a mess. This is because 3 things are present; metal, oxygen and heat. Eliminate any one of those 3 things and oxides won’t form (or at least they’ll form much more slowly). An oxide-inhibitor (anti-ox) is a coating that prevents oxygen from reaching the metal just long enough for the solder to flow. You can buy commercial inhibitors, but I make my own by mixing about 2T. of boric acid with about 1/2 c. of denatured alcohol, which I then keep in a covered container. Before soldering or annealing metal, especially if using copper, I dip it into the anti-ox and then burn it off. The alcohol is mostly a carrier to make the boric acid form a thin coating on the metal, thereby preventing oxygen from reaching it.

Boric acid is available at pharmacies (you may have to ask for it at the counter) and denatured alcohol is available at hardware and home stores.

Burning off the oxide-inhibitor is such a quickie little job that it’s kind a pain to light the “big torch” to ignite the inhibitor, and then to turn it right back off while you set up for the actual soldering operation. While most butane torches take 2 hands to light, I use a MicroTorch or other 1-handed torch to burn off the oxide-inhibitor. It’s really simple to light and far safer than keeping an alcohol lamp burning. I even use mine to light my pellet stove!

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