Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring has does it mean for me as a metalsmith?

It's that time Aspiring Metalsmiths team has chosen a topic that we will all write about it as a fun team project.  This time the topic is "How does the coming of spring affect your work as a metal smith?".

 I work in my garage with the door wide open because much of what I do involves fumes from a torch or other chemicals, so you can imagine how freezing cold my studio can get in Fall and winter.  So the arrival of spring means happy sunshine streaming in and warm hands to work with.  And what happens when the happy spring sunshine streams in?  It reveals all of the dust and dirt and that mountain of tools that never seem to get put back in their place.  Anxious to shed the cold, gloom and cobwebs of winter, on the day before the official start of spring, I did a major cleaning overhaul of my studio.  I even swept, and then vacuumed my studio floor, something I’ve been avoiding for a long time since so much of what I vacuumed up was probably tiny balls of real gold that have a habit of rolling away, or that itty bitty candy pink sapphire that flew out of my hands or that little handmade gold leaf that dropped with a tiny ping…to never be seen again.  But, ahhhh…it feels good to have a nice clean studio.   

Spring also means that I get to stare at beautiful blooming trees like this one that sits right outside of my studio door. 

  And staring at bright beautiful Spring flowering trees makes me of course….buy stones in bright beautiful spring colors.  These remind me of bright blue skies, fresh green leaves, and the raspberry pink flowers on the tree outside my studio door.  The freshly cleaned studio, the warm sunny days, the brightly colored flowers, the new stones…all lead to one thing…an explosion of new design ideas; enough to fill an entire notebook.  And when I don’t have my notebook, I scribble designs onto the backs of receipts and odd scraps of paper found at the bottom of my purse.

But...spring also brings something else…lots and lots and lots of extra curricular activities for the kids.  Some organized...
And some not so organized...mud soup anyone?
These new springtime activities mean less and less and less time to spend in my freshly cleaned sunlit studio happily creating jewelry with my brightly colored sparkly new stones.  Maybe I’ll have time to get to them next winter!

To see how springtime has inspired my Aspiring Metalsmiths teammates, click on their blog inks below:
Steph Stargell
Pennee - All Wired Up Jewelry Designs
Autumn Bradley
Contemporary Jewelry by Beatriz Fortes
Jessica @ Abella Blue
Sylvia Anderson
Amy Estelle

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Drilling and Soldering with Sea Glass

For this months "Aspiring Metalsmiths" blog roll we've decided to do tutorials to share information and learn from each other.  My tutorial is about drilling sea glass and soldering it onto a closed sterling silver ring that can be hung from a necklace or made into earrings.  There may be a better way of doing it...but after lots of trial and error, this is the method that works for me.  I should add that this tutorial is geared for people with some basic knowledge of soldering.  While I go into great detail about working with the glass, I don't go into great detail about the actual soldering.

First, you'll need to find yourself some sea glass. 

The best beaches for finding sea glass are beaches near old city dumps or beaches where the sand is pebbly.  If it's not too cold, wade out a little to where the waves crash...that's where the best sea glass can be found.  Also...get there early before other beach combers take all the beautiful cobalt blue!

Drilling the sea glass:
*I use a 1mm diamond tipped ball bur for a dremel that I purchased at my local hardware store.

* I fill a glass pyrex baking pan with about 1" of water and attach my dremel bur to my Flex shaft.  You can use a dremel or a drill press...I just happen to have a flex shaft, so that's what I use.
*First, mark the spot that you want to drill with a sharpee.  Turn it over and mark the other side as well.  It helps to hold the glass up to the light so you can see the first sharpee mark through the glass...this will help you to be able to place the second mark directly opposite it.  You want the sharpee marks to line up as perfectly as possible since you will be drilling halfway through on one side, and halfway through on the want the holes to line up.

*Place the sea glass glass in the water...I just hold it with my hands.  Being careful to only get the tip of the bur wet and NOT the flex shaft, drill halfway through one side of the glass...flip it over and drill the rest of the way through the other side.  Don't apply pressure...just let your drill bit do the work.  You'll know it's working when you see clouds of powdered glass swirling around your bur.

*Because you will be putting the glass onto a ring that will be soldered closed, you don't want the hole to be too tight on the metal.  If the fit is too snug, the glass will conduct too much heat and the glass will break.  Even though 16g round sterling silver wire fits perfectly through the hole made by the 1mm ball bur, I still like to widen the hole a little just to be safe.  For this, I attach a diamond tipped bead reamer to my flex shaft.  Again, place the glass in the water and drill with the graduated reamer to enlarge the hole.

Soldering a Sterling Silver ring closed with the sea glass on it:
* Make a ring whatever size you like with your 16g wire (other gauges of wire can be used...I'm using 16g for this project).  

At this point I set the glass aside and solder the ring closed without the glass on it.  This way I can hammer it perfectly round on my round mandrel.  Once I have a perfectly round ring, I cut it open at the seam, file the ends and put the sea glass on.  Close it the same way you would close a jump ring.

*Now to solder...Hold the ring of silver with your third hand tool and at the same time clamp the sea glass with a pair of cross locking tweezers.  The tweezers act as a heat sink and help to prevent the sea glass glass from breaking.  I use medium Silver solder for this step because it requires less heat than hard solder, yet is still strong enough for everyday wear.  I have had success with hard solder, but the chances of breaking the sea glass are higher.  Solder your ring closed by pick soldering.  Basically, heat the ring and place your solder on the join.  Circle the ring again with your flame and heat the solder to help it flow.  Try not to directly hit the glass with your flame if you can.  Do this step as quickly as you can to avoid excess heat flowing to the glass.  Get in and get out!

DO NOT QUENCH!!  after your solder flows....walk away!  Sorry to scream, but this is important. :-)  Go heat up your coffee, check your e-mail.  Basically...let the glass cool on it's own.

Pickling and Finishing:

* I use eco-pickle, which is basically just distilled white vinegar and table salt...OR sometimes red wine vinegar and pink Himalayan salt for a gourmet pickle, if that's all I have left in the cupboards.  I take a coffee cup, fill it with just enough vinegar to cover my piece...and microwave it about 60 seconds until its hot.  I then put it on the warmer on my stove top and add the salt.  (sometimes I put it on an electric coffee cup warmer in the garage because nobody in my house likes the strong smell of warm vinegar).   IN THE MEAN TIME...I put my sea glass charm into a cup and ran it under luke warm water...gradually turning the water warmer and warmer until it is sitting in a cup of hot water.  Only then do I put the charm into the hot pickle.  Basically, when working with glass, you want to avoid ANY abrupt temperature changes that will result in your glass breaking.
*Rinse in warm water...then file, sand, finish as you would finish any silver jewelry.  Finally, I tumble it for about 15 minutes to clean the glass and give an even finish to the doesn't break the least not yet. :-)

Click on the links below to view the tutorials written by my fellow Aspiring Metalsmiths: