Tools That Delight

13 02 2011

I’ve wanted to to post a review feature on tools for a while, so I decided it’s time to do it! This is the first in a series called “Tools that Delight” and they will be tagged for easy searching in the Categories menu to the right…

As a tool junkie, I mentally rate my tools into different categories depending on how much I want them. It is not unusual for tools to change the category they are in, especially when I learn new techniques:

  • Must Have: these are the tools I can’t work without
  • Gotta Get: these are the ones that I really want, that I will use alot
  • Cool Tool: usually very specific for one unique purpose
  • Next Level Tools: usually really expensive versions of tools I have
  • Big Boys: the tools that are really expensive, or take up alot of room!

First up… the nylon faced bracelet former pliers!

Cool Tool ----> Must Have

I considered these pliers a “cool tool” for many years, but over the years, they’ve become part of my “must have” toolset (yes – they are still really cool!). These pliers have nylon jaw pads that are shaped to easily bend thin metal and wire in a light consistent curve.

Smiling Jaws!

One side is convex, the other concave, so that they fit together when closed. Many of these pliers have replaceable nylon pads so that when you ding them up (and you will!) you can easily fix them – note the nylon screws that are holding them to the jaws.

Ready to Shape

These pliers are great for shaping both narrow strips of metal sheet, as well as wire. I can easily shape up to 12g – for reference, the copper strip above is 16g, and the wire is 14g. And using them is so simple – it doesn’t get any easier!

  • STEP 1: lay wire into nylon jaw
  • STEP 2: close pliers
  • STEP 3: repeat as needed

Shaping Wire

Shaping Wire from a Bend

So simple, and the results are so clean and nice and consistent! You can easily shape wire for a bangle, or to create a “frame” which can be hammered and wrapped.

Shaping Flat Stoc

For this piece, I had already finished the copper strip design with some letter stamping, texturing, and hole punching. I am going to use it as a link for a bracelet… look how easily it gets formed!

Curved Metal Strip

Doesn’t this look great?! Nice and even, with no warping or damage, and the nylon ensures that the strip doesn’t get scratched. I am planning on antiquing the copper to bring out the details, and will add some chain, or maybe attach some leather cord, to make up a bracelet.

Hopefully… I’ve shown reason why this pair of pliers has moved into my “Must Have” list – I have a few pairs with slightly different shapes – all of them are well loved!

I’ll be posting more photos of my favorite tools, as well as some info on how they are used – let me know if there’s anything is particular you’re interested in, and I’ll try to oblige!

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Oxidizing With LOS

22 11 2010

If you like to create mixed metal jewelry like I do, you’ll soon discover that oxidizing the pieces really give them some depth and enhance the texture. Last week I got an order for a a bangle bracelet that a customer liked, but needed made smaller, so I figured it would be a good time to write up a tutorial on how to use liver of sulpher (LOS) for oxidizing. LOS is great for creating an antiqued look on copper and silver  – it works on brass too, but has a weaker affect.

One Oxidized, One Shiny!

Here is the original bangle, oxidized and “aged” to a beautiful warm patina, shown with the “brand spaking new” bangle I just finished. You can clearly see the difference in the finish – the oxidized bangle (top) has the detailed texture and stamping highlighted, whereas the new one I made doesn’t show the depth.

In Rock Form

I use the solid LOS – I’ve been using it for years, and I’m pretty used to it, but you can also buy liquid form and gel form, which is easier to use, but has a shorter life span. Solid LOS comes in rocks, and the container is cloudy to protect from direct light. It is very, very, very important to keep LOS stored in a way to keep moisture from getting into the container – moisture will make LOS useless. I always tighten my container, put it in a ziplock bag, and place that into a brown bag – protecting it from light, and moisture. To use, I take a small rock, and put it into a glass bowl, then add very hot water.

Dissolved...

Make sure not to use a metal bowl or it will contaminate the solution, and mess up the bowl too!  The LOS will dissolve in the hot water, becoming a greenish yellow color. Please note – LOS is a chemical – it STINKS like sulpher (duh…), and some folks are sensitive to it. I don’t have any issues, but I try to keep it off my skin, and use a piece of copper wire as a hook to dip items into the LOS.

Like Magic!

I just drop the bangle in, and very quickly, the bangle turns black. It only takes a few seconds (really!) to completely change the copper and silver. I always make sure that I use a copper hook, so I don’t need to fish it out with my fingers!

...And 10 Seconds Later...!

Once I get the coverage I want, I remove the piece and rinse it in cold water. You want to be sure that you don’t leave it in the LOS too long, because if you “over” oxidize, the black will actually solidify, and flake off. The LOS will continue to work in heat, so it is important to rinse in cold water, and dry completely.

Yuck!!

You can really see how black it gets when you compare the bangles! It’s hard to believe, but in just 15 minutes, these bangles will look like twins! But to get there, we need to get down and dirty…

Take it off, take it off, take it all off!!

There are several different ways to remove the excess surface black. Basically, you need to gently scratch it off, to expose the surface underneath. These are the three products I used for this bangle: 3M Scotch-Bright green scrubbies (for some reson, generic scrubbies just don’t work!), a fine sanding sponge block (you can get these from the hardware store), and 3M Crocus Cloth, which I get from jewelry suppliers. First I use the green scrubbie  and rub it over the surface, getting as much black off as I can. The sanding block can be a bit scratchy on the surface, so make sure to practice using this on scrap metal to get used to it. I also use the green scrubbie to get the inside cleaned up, and then I use a strip of the crocus cloth to buff it up and soften any scratches. Crocus cloth is a denim material with a fine sandpaper paint on one side. It will dissolve and make a big mess if it gets wet, so make sure your piece is dry.

Just like the other one!

And here’s the final “twin bangles” – the original is on the bottom (you can see the word “DREAM” on the inside back), and the new one is up top. It is still a little bright – it will take a few days for the copper “pink” to age and take on a beautiful warm color. I will rub a little oil onto the surface, which protects the piece a bit, and adds to the patina. Over time, the new owner will need to occasionally rub  the piece clean with a green scrubbie, because the copper will continue to oxidize naturally.

I rarely make 2 items like this EXACTLY the same. I usually stamp a different phrase or texture, so this was a great chance to compare all the steps in the process with the final bangle. I hope this helped to show folks that using LOS is pretty easy, and the results are great!





Amazing Students!

2 08 2010

This weekend I had a really great class – a great fun project, alot of different wire techniques, beautiful beads, and just absolutely wonderful students!  In my class yesterday at Beaded Bliss (one of my favorite places!),the students created such great projects – I decided that this week I would focus on them, instead of me!

We worked in wire from 12g – 22g gauge, and did alot of design planning. To start, we learned first how to twist wire in different gauges, and then how to make perfectly wrapped coils…

Twisted up and Coiled!

Some folks used silver, but some decided to use copper instead, especially folks who were new to wire working. No one wants to spend big $$ on silver when you’re learning new skills, and aren’t sure how it will come out.

Kuchi, Kuchi, koo!

Once we mastered basic coiling and twisting, we learned how to make Kuchi beads from wrapped wire. I’m not sure where the name “Kuchi” comes from, but that’s what I’ve always heard them called.

Antiquing makes it come to life!

Everyone made up a nice selection of coils and Kuchi’s, and then those wanting to antique them, gave their components a bath with Liver of Sulpher (LOS). I love how copper gets such a rich look from the LOS – it changes the wire from “hardware looking” to jewelry grade!

So what was everyone making….? They combined their wire components with  some beautiful lampwork beads, natural stones, and a variety of metal, bone, glass, and ceramic spacers. And they made these beautiful bangles!

Copper Bangle 1

I love how these beads work together – the copper really works with the colors she chose, and the end result is a beautiful bracelet.

Copper Bangle 2

Aren’t these cool beads? The carnelians have some real unusual patterns, and they are balanced with the cool blue beads, and tied together with the cream accents. Another beautiful bracelet.

Copper Bangle 3

The beads and spacers in this bangle really work well together – the group of spacers next to Kuchi show such a wonderful variety of textures – when they are all together, they become a subtle focus.

Silver Bangle 1

This is a great bangle… the blue beads are amazonite, and they look fabulous with the carnelian and bone beads. The silver work is really well done – the very precise Kuchi and tightly wound coils provide a very clean look. The decision to leave this bright (not antiqued) gives is a wonderful light feel.

Silver Bangle 2

This bangle reminds me of the African Savannah! The colors, and the patterns on the lampwork beads – they look great with the antiqued silver wire, and ever time it moves on the wrist, you see something new – what a different look than the first silver bangle!

Silver Bangle 3

I love the neutral palette of this design… the lampwork beads have a very organic feel, and the green aventurine beads accent them really nicely. I like how the darker beads make the rest of the bangle pop

I never forget that students take classes for a number of reasons – they want to be among people who share their passion, they want to learn how to do something, and they hope to walk away with a new skill… and hopefully a great new piece of jewelry!

I was really thrilled with the amazing pieces everyone created, and I think they were too!





I’ve Been Booked!

18 07 2010

I have a great library of jewelry making books – wirework, metalwork, resin, beading… even polymer clay! I get inspired looking thru them, and I love learning and applying new techniques, and developing my skills.

So I’m thrilled that some of my pieces will be in the gallery section of a new book from Lisa Niven Kelly, the creator of the online Beaducation workshops and website. Lisa is a great designer, and a great teacher, and much of her work involves stamping and cold connections – just my kinda thing!.

Stamped Metal Jewelry by Lisa Niven Kelly

Her new book has some great projects – if you have any interest in metal work, you will love this book! And check out her Beaducation website for videos, tools, metal blanks, design and letter sets – everything you need for stamping projects!

Stamped and Riveted Bangles (StudioDax)

The “LAUGH” bangle above, and a few other similar ones I made, are in the gallery section… I love, love, love, using mixed metals, and rivets are just such a cool design element, in addition to being functional.

"Seek Love" ID Style Bracelet (StudioDax)

The “SEEK LOVE” bracelet is also in the book, at least I think so…. this was a “maybe” so I’ll find out when I get my copy. It’s a favorite of mine, with heavy link chain, Thai Hill silver heart charm, and copper rivet accents… what’s not love?

If you ever get a chance to take one of Lisa’s classes at a bead show, make sure to sign up, you’ll be thrilled with both the skills you pick up, and the project you create!





How the Bead Breaks

6 06 2010

I have always admired the folks who work with seed beads making beautiful intricate patterns – they make the beads come to life. But my brain and fingers just don’t work that way… the beads get the best of me! But after taking a class in Bead Crochet Ropes a few years ago, I have found a way to satisfy my occasional seed bead craving!!

One of my favorites bangles - I love the colors

There are re are many options and variations in the bangles – I can create spiral patterns by changing up the bead colors, textured spirals by varying the bead size, and mosaic looking patterns by randomizing the beads. But no matter how I string on the pattern, invariably there will always be a bead or two that is not right, and needs to be broken off the thread.

A Rope in Progress

You can do this the wrong way – by whacking the bead with a hammer, or squeezing it in pliers (you might cut the thread), or you can do it the right way, by breaking the bead from the inside.

A Beady Boo-Boo...

In this example, I am showing that the pattern is incorrectly strung with 2 black beads together. I need to break the bead to keep the 5 color spiral pattern, and I want to do it without cutting the thread.

Step 1: there's an awl in my bead...

The first thing you need to do is put the tip if an awl into the bead you want to break. Make sure that the awl does not slide all the way into the bead – most beading awls are very fine, and may be too thin to break the bead.

Step 2: put the bead on the block

The next thing you need to do is put the bead on a block of wood , with the awl positioned in the hole (make sure the point of the awl does not split the thread). You can use a stack of cardboard instead of wood – you just need a surface that is firm, but will give under the point of the awl.

Step 3: push, push... and crack!

Now just push the awl firmly thru the bead. The pressure of pushing on the awl will crack the bead, leaving the thread intact. Keep your hand around the bead as you crack it, so that the glass doesn’t shoot out. In this example, I show breaking one bead, but if you’re stringing a 5 color pattern, and you leave out a bead, you’ll need to break several beads until the pattern is correct

I love creating these bangles, and have created a tool for making it easy to get started. If you’ve ever wanted to make them, or have tried, and found it frustrating, please check out the tool/tutorial I have in my Etsy shop.





An Oldie but Goodie…

7 05 2010

Ok, So Maybe I'm a Little Defensive....

I have this stamped bracelet that I made many, many years ago when I was first starting to do metal work. The original clasp had a small wrapped lampwork bead, which I replaced with a simple hook when the bead eventually broke. I’ve made a lot of cool bracelets since then – wireworked, hand made chains, some with etched copper panels – all sorts. But THIS is the bangle I’ve been wearing 4-5 times a week lately –  I kinda feel a little naked without it.

As a jewelry designer, like other artists and craftspeople, I am always looking to expand my skills and learn new techniques. But this very simple and easy stamped bracelet is like an amulet to me now – it represents my start in metalworking, and I always feel a little creative when I feel it on my wrist.

I’m sure I’ll eventually swap it out for something else, but for now, I’m a little superstitious, and I think I’ll keep it on