handmade jewelry & metalsmithing

Making Jewelry

Setting Stones: Tube Settings

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One of the first things new metalsmiths want to learn is how to set gemstones. It’s a great way to add color and value to a piece. I’m going to cover some simple ways to set stones, beginning with the easiest- tube setting. Tube setting is ideal for small round stones. It is great for beginners because there is less soldering, and the small size hides flaws.

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Here is the round Amethyst cabochon and a thick walled fine silver tube.

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A tube-cutting jig is a tool which makes it easier to saw the tube. You’ll want to cut a length of tube that ends just where the straight sides of the stone begin to curve into a dome. When you push the metal over the stone, you don’t need a lot to hold it in place, and you don’t want to cover more of the stone than necessary.

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Now you can solder your piece of tubing to a backing, using medium solder.

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You can use a file to make the height exactly right for the stone. Keep in mind that there are variations between the cut of stones that are the same size. Make sure you create a bezel for the exact stone you intend to use.

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Gemstones that have translucency are accented by allowing more light to pass through the stone. You can drill a hole inside your bezel setting, pass your saw blade through, sawing and filing to create an opening.

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Complete all the filing, sanding, heat and chemical treatments you intend for the finished piece before you insert the stone.

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Drop the stone in place. Using a tool called a bezel pusher, push the metal over the stone in a specific pattern: from opposite ends, one push at a time, nudging the metal straight against the side of the stone and over the top.

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Use a burnishing tool to polish out the unevenness and strengthen the metal.

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Polish without abrasives and remember to check the Moh’s level of hardness for your particular stone if you want to tumble it.

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Let me hear any questions you have about this process and good luck!
These earrings are available in my Etsy shop!

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It’s the Little Things

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I like gifts. When the price is friendly, I can give a lot more gifts, and that is especially important around the holidays! So, I’m making little things-they have a lot of individuality and are easy on the wallet. You can see them all on my etsy shop, but I’m going to show you aspiring jewelry-makers how to construct your own.
To begin, take sterling silver sheet, 22 gauge.

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Apply masking tape, so that you can draw on the metal. This will also make the metal dust stick and allow you to see your lines more clearly and breathe in less silver.

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Making tiny things is a great way to make use of scrap from other projects. Take a look at your leftovers before you send them to be recycled, sometimes interesting shapes suggest new ideas!

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Saw out your design with your jeweler’s saw, then place the two pieces together to file both at the same time.

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For the earring post, snip 21 gauge sterling round wire at about 1.1cm and file one end flat.

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Next step is soldering, so now’s the time to do any stamping or texture!

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Hold with a third hand (tweezers in a stand). Apply flux and one pallion of medium solder, then heat with the torch until it flows.

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Use copper tongs to pick up the hot metal. Quench in water, the soak in the warm pickling acid until the flux glass and oxidation are gone.

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The last step is to polish it up! This means sanding and buffing and don’t forget rounding the sharp end of the post. You can use pre-made butterfly clasp on a short post, or hook a long post to the side to make a cool ear clip.
Little posts are a fun project. There’s a lot of work involved, but the results are one of a kind and last a lifetime. It’s a great way to make a really unique gift for someone special. Try it out yourself, or request a custom item from my etsy shop!


Handmade Men’s Ring, Hammered Silver and Gold

To begin this ring, I saw the band from a sheet of sterling silver. I snip off chips of 14k gold wire and heat them with a hand torch until they spin into little granules. Using tweezers, flux and gold solder, I place them in line and solder them with a hand torch.

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After pickling it in a warm citric acid bath, It is ready to be shaped into a ring. I first bend it with my fingers and flat nose pliers to bring the ends flush for soldering.

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After soldering and cleaning the solder joint with sandpaper, it is ready to be shaped on the ring mandrel with a rawhide mallet. Then I will use a ball peen jeweler’s hammer to create texture and flare out the edges.

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I polish the ring with white diamond, tripoli and rouge on the buffing wheel. Next, I mix a warm solution of liver of sulphur to darken the polished silver to a purplish black.

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The gold is not affected by the liver of sulphur. I tumble the ring with steel shot for a few hours to add a luster to the black finish. This also work-hardens the ring for wear.

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This ring and more original handmade works are available in my Etsy shop.


New Year of Handmade Adventures

It’s a New year and a time when lots of art lovers are looking for a new outlet. Well, I have some advice: make whatever you want, whenever you can.
If you feel inspired to try your hand at creating something in metal, here are some excellent books to guide you.
The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight
Gemstone Settings by Anastasia Young
The Complete Book of Jewelry Making by Carles Codina
The Design and Creation of Jewelry by Robert Von Neumann
Indian Jewelry Making by Oscar T. Branson
If you can only get one: The Complete Metalsmith
But if you can get two, get that and Indian Jewelry.

This year, keep an eye out for beautiful craftsmanship and make some of your own! Here are some shots of the studios, craftsfolk and craftwork at Colonial Williamsburg for further inspiration.

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Adventures in Torch-Fired Enameling

It’s the start of a good day- going to explore and experiment with the contents of this box!

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After ten years of metalsmithing, I’ve finally become curious about trying my luck with enameling. I’m looking forward to seeing shiny colors and experimenting with torch-firing. I’ve ordered sifters, trivets and colors. No kiln though- I want to be up close for the changing colors and molten glass!

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I’m excited-blue, yellow, black and white opaque enamel to play with!
But first, I will make copper earrings to hold the enamel.

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I love the potential of the copper to be shiny pink, black, purple and red-and the way that plays against the colors of the enamel. So much fun!


Amethyst Earrings

My first time ‘smithing in my new place, and my first fully iphoned post! Let’s hope for the best! I’m sharing space with my bunny buddy Moops-rocking out to Devo radio on Spotify- sipping tart bubbly apple cider…all in all I am in heaven.

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First I saw out the shape in copper.

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Then I hammer the edges for texture, and file it to correct the shape.

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After that, the bezel setting is soldered into place.

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But first it has to be fitted to the stone.

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And with earrings, you do things twice.
After you take a hay-break!

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After pickling the metal overnight, I’m ready for the torch!

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After some clean up, it is time to set the amethyst into the silver bezel.

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All done and ready for polishing. I’ll have these up on ETSY soon-ish. Thanks for watching me work! Let me know if you have any questions it would like to see a particular item or technique!


Creating a More Natural, Chemical-Free Jewelry Studio

Jewelry Bench

Do you ever wonder if you really need something toxic-strength to do a simple job? As I moved my studio recently, I had to neutralize my pickling acid-creating a bubbling blue sludge volcano, mop up all traces of flux with a wearing a mask and gloves, and try not to chemically dissolve the carpet out of my new car, as I did last time I moved my studio.
So it got me thinking about switching to ingredients that are a little less harsh. My husband and I gave green cleaners a try for our home, as we hate smelling windex/pine sol/bleach. Yuck. So we gave vinegar, baking soda and borax a try. Wow. They have not let us down, and the savings are unbelievable. We even switched to pure glycerin soap, and now we don’t have to clean up soap scum from those other soaps.
But, it’s metal…it needs a really hardcore toxic action to do the job, right? Flux has got to stand up to torches that could reach 1500° to melt hard solder, and the pickling acid needs to be able to eat up the flux glass that forms on the metal. But I’m game, so I do a little research like a good librarian should, and here is how I work now:

Borax Flux

1. Flux: In blacksmithing, we used 20 Mule Team Borax to forge weld steel. An awesomely fun endeavor-as it bubbles and sprays hot molten stuff out when you smash it with your hammer. Waaaaayyy out! I used to love doing demos and watching people jump back! But anyway, British jewelers, and a lot here, use a cone of Borax that they grind into a dish (looks like a mortar and pestle) with a little water. The Borax in the box maybe isn’t so finely ground, so I pulverized it a little with the back of a spoon, and put it into a little jar with water. Accustomed to using handy flux, I will tell you the main differences: you will have to shake it , stir it and apply it fairly quickly-the borax and the water separate. If you had thrown away your solder pick because your flux stuck like glue-go get one-you’ll need it. It can bubble and jostle all your pieces around until you get a feel for the mixture. It also helps to wait a little for it to dry, which is the opposite of working with handy flux. Also different, is that you can get it all over your piece to prevent oxidation, then still control your solder flow with the torch and solder pick. If you don’t have one, I have always used the needle tool from my clay-working tools. The wood-handled ones for soldering metal where always to bulky and bendy in my experience. Advantages of Borax: easily available from the laundry aisle of your supermarket for around $5 a box. That means borax is about $1 per pound, handy flux is about $11 per pound. Commercial fluxes contain fluorides, potassium and hydroxide. You don’t want to breathe their fumes or let them touch your skin. Borax is naturally derived sodium tetraborate-the only dangers it warns you of is not to eat it or put it in your eyes. You still don’t want to breathe the soldering fumes (solder, carbon monoxide), but think of it this way–you can wash your clothes in it. It’s not scary.

Pickling Acid

2. Pickling Acid: There’s a lot of ways to pickle-sulfuric acid, sodium bisulfate, sparex, pool chemicals. And then you are responsible for neutralizing and ethically disposing of your sludge. Not to mention that you are going to be breathing some amount of it, as a big puff of steam escapes each time you raise the lid. My first alternative solution was to try Citric Acid. This can also be found at your supermarket (well, maybe your more country-ish supermarket. Food City, not Kroger) in the canning and pickling section. Also at sporting goods/outdoorsman stores with the sausage-making/meat preserving items. I used a mixture of 2 cups water (16oz) and added 3 oz. citric acid. Always add acid to water. They also say you can use 1 cup white vinegar with 1 tsp-1 tbsp of salt. But guess what-it will stink like a pot of simmering vinegar all the time. I’ve found that the citric acid has excellent results, comparable to chemicals, and is still going strong now that it’s a month old. Just add water as the water level lowers. There’s still a lot of granules floating around the bottom, but nothing funky is growing and it has no smell. It costs about $5 for 5oz. Which will make a couple batches. I worked out the cost difference to be about $2 to make a quart with either chemical or natural pickle. But the citric acid won’t eat through your clothes. It’s citric acid, as in sour candy, lemons-stuff you know. The chemical pickles have a long list of warnings-each one ending with “seek medical attention.”

Hand Torches

3. Torches: There are a lot of ways to spend a lot of money to get a simple flame. My first torch was my most expensive-an acetylene cylinder. It cost about $90-filled, I got $40 back when I turned in the empty cylinder 6 years later. The Smith hoses, regulator, handset and assortment of tips were well over $300. Of course I loved it-worth every penny. The best set up for working a range of sizes. But somehow I got over having to be responsible for that cylinder of gas-driving it in my car when I move, carrying that behemoth up flights of stairs, knowing that it could be potentially disastrous in a house fire. I was kind of relieved when it ran out, and I decided to explore other options. So, what’s actually legal to have in your home? A disposable propane cylinder, not a grilling size tank. They can even be recycled http://www.bernzomatic.com/green-key/green-key-english.aspx I use the Bernzomatic TS 4000T Trigger Start hand torch, which is about $35 at your hardware store. The propane fuel cylinders are about $2, and last me several months using them pretty heavily. You can do anything with this flame, and it is much cleaner than the acetylene-no black on your piece and it’s a nice heat. It was priceless when I had concrete floors, space, and a ventilation hood. But in a smaller area with windows and fans, it set off my carbon monoxide detector after soldering. So use it outside if you don’t have a big, well ventilated setup. I purchased the Bernzomatic Butane Micro Torch Kit at a hardware store for $25, that is filled with butane. At about $4 for 5.5 oz, I have refilled it twice and haven’t run out yet. It’s a lovely little flame to work with. However, I prefer the propane hand torch -the large neutral flame is perfect for enveloping your piece to prevent firescale. The butane flame is burning bright blue and pointy (oxidizing)-so you’ll want to coat your piece with flux, or have a terrible cleanup ahead of you. I do appreciate it’s adjustable flame, otherwise it really might be useless in soldering with thaIt has its limits, you will not be doing large pieces with this flame, and if you try, the tip will melt at extended periods of high heat. But it’s very convenient for findings, which was risky business with the large non-adjustable flame of the propane torch. I like having them both.

Dremel Stylus

4. Rotary Tool: My Grobet FlexShaft tool is indispensable. I need it to drill, to grind, to sand and polish. But when you have an old house with no nearby grounded plugs- you don’t want to blow a fuse, or fry your over $200 investment. So , I decided to try the Dremel Stylus-again, from a hardware store around $70. I picked up additional collets (quick change assorted pack-$7) so I could use my jeweler’s drill bits and flex shaft bits. And it works like a dream. It sits on a charging station, so it is cordless, but always ready to go. And to me, the greatest advantage is that it comes with instructions for which speed settings to use for which bits and materials-drilling metal, buffing with a felt wheel, grinding. The speeds correspond to the rpm, which allow you to use precisely the right speed for your bit. My polishing results are more reliable now that I’m at a steady speed rather than using a foot pedal. But be careful, if something catches, the off button is near the bit (bad design choice). It’s much more comfortable to use, being cordless and lightweight is a nice bonus. I hate that Dremel is made in China though-Grobet and Foredom FlexShafts are made in the US. But this is an affordable, capable, compact alternative to a flexshaft.

Bench and Anvil

5. Work Area: My jeweler’s bench is surrounded on 3 sides by open windows. A fan gives a nice cross breeze, and the natural light is so much better for my eyes. Although, I do have to sometimes draw the blinds to make it dim enough to watch my flame. I always wear a 3M P100 respirator (vapors and particulate) when I’m soldering or using chemicals. And a regular dust mask when I’m sanding, sawing or polishing.

Window View

6. Preventing Eyestrain: I always wear safety glasses, but how do I keep my eyes strong when I spend hours squinting at tiny objects? You must periodically take breaks to focus on something far away. Now I can look out the window at my vegetable patch, and combine that with the sounds of the birds and the fresh air, and I really don’t mind that it is hot…so verrrry hot in Tennessee! I hope this gave you some inspiration about how you can be more natural in your workshop. It’s safer and more economic, and generally we can be more creative when we are more minimalist in our processes. Pare your studio down to the basics that you understand, and you can be more comfortable and intuitive about what’s happening in there.