Use a piece of steel tie wire as a mandrel when making tiny jump rings. It doesn’t bend as much as copper, nickel-silver or brass so it’s a lot easier to wrap the jump ring wire around it. I like to capture both the tie wire and the jump ring wire in a small vise and then use a pair of flatnose pliers and my fingers to manipulate the jump ring wire around the tie wire.
Posts tagged ‘sterling silver’
(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
(another installment in a typically occasional series by Christine Cox)
A 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.
(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
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.
- The triangle kiln supports are listed in the Thompson catalog as “three point trivets” and are numbers TPT-1 through TPT-5
- 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.
Great question in my email this morning:
Natalie: I recently ordered a wood base steel bench block from you, and am so in love with it! I’m now looking to upgrade my hammer for wire hardening, as I’m finding that the finer wire (28 gauge and smaller) is not hardening well with my current plastic mallet. Would your rawhide mallet do the trick, or is there anything else you would recommend? (It would be a bonus if the rawhide is quieter than the plastic too, since I work out of a home studio and have a 4-year-old). 🙂
Christine Cox: Yes, our rawhide mallet is what you want! When they are new they are a little stiff, so they can be noisy. As the hammer wears in (a desirable trait) it gets quieter. You didn’t mention what alloy you’re using, but if it’s sterling, you can bake it for about an hour at 600 and it will increase the hardness. Copper and fine silver don’t really harden much.
Rawhide mallets are here:
You might want to consider a pounding mat to help quiet your hammering. Put your bench block on top of it and then you don’t have wood smacking wood while you hammer:
Thanks for your inquiry. I hope this helps.
Elaine K. emailed about etching silver:
Q. I’ve been fascinated with your website and its offerings, but am not sure I am ready to equip my studio for etching sterling silver. Can I etch silver, either sterling or fine?
A. One can etch silver, but it takes a different chemical and different equipment than one would use for etching base-metals (copper, brass, nickel-silver). Most people use nitric acid to etch silver (either sterling or fine), which can be very dangerous (I burned my eyes a little the first time I used it), and it has a short shelf-life. I etch base-metals in ferric chloride (relatively benign). If I can avoid etching silver, I do. For texture, I tend to either use a rolling mill or else hand-texture the silver with a hammer or flex-shaft. If you absolutely must use nitric acid, please follow all the safety instructions.
Thanks for the great questions, Elaine.