A Cool Cool, Clasp

23 04 2011

I doodle with wire… that’s right, I’m a doodler! When I’m sitting in front of the TV, I often have a few spools of copper wire in front me, along with my tools, and just twist and wrap and fold and coil! Seeing different designs and ideas come together is very satisfying!

Sometimes I start out with a sketch that I made, and see how it turns out. And sometimes I start with something specific in mind, to see if I can make it work. I wanted to see if I could come up with a simple circular clasp, maybe to use for some multi-stranded necklace designs, and this is how it progressed!

Doodle Try #1

I had a few parameters for the clasp: I wanted clean lines, I wanted the hook side and the eye side to lay in the same direction so it would be comfortable on the neck, and it needed to be easy to use. The first “doodle” started with a figure “8” in wire, which I sorta folded over, so that the smaller loop rested on top of the bigger loop. This has a construction issue, because I would have to solder both ends to a common wire at the point where the clasp folds, leaving 2 potential weak spots.

Doodle Try #2

The next doodle was similar in look, but it starts with an “O” shape that is pinched to create the two loops. This has a real advantage over the first style, in that the ends of the wire meet together, so it only has one connecting point. And since the original shape is round, it is easy to make sure the solder point doesn’t get stressed.

Final Clasp in Silver

I decided to create the clasp using some twisted wire I had, and I love the end result. I started by soldering a large ring, and then shaped it like an “8” using some mandrels. Once the loops were nice and round, I carefully folded it at the place it pinched to create the hook. Next, I created the other side sizing it to the clasp.

Silver Clasp Closed

Here is the clasp closed – you can see how the two sides are balanced, so it looks nice, both sides lay in the same direction, so it is flat against the neck, and there are no wire ends, so nothing catches onto your clothes or sticks into you.

I have tried variations of this without soldering, some work ok, but the advantage of the soldering is that it makes the clasp robust. Knowing a variety of techniques is key to being able to create your designs as you envision them…!

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I Love Mandrels!

31 03 2011

Part of the “Tools that Delight” posts… As a wire worker, mandrels are some of my all time favorite tools. Since there are always lots of wraps and loops and coiling in my designs, it is important that there is consistency in the techniques used – sloppy wire work stands out, and makes a good design cheap.

Wire Wrap Stepped Mandrels

These are a new favorite tool of mine! I’ve been doing wire work for many years, and I’ve always used round nose pliers – I’m pretty good at it too! But there are some problems that folks have with pliers – most notably, it is difficult to repeat wire wraps with consistency, because the wire is easily moved up and down the pliers, resulting in loops that are not the same size.

Wire Wraps.... Step Style!

Using stepped mandrels ensures that the wraps are always consistent, because the mandrels are cylindrical (rather than cone shaped), and the wire actually rests on a “step” so it can be repeated over and over with no change.

Coils and Jump Rings

Look how nice this coil looks, perfect to make a few jump rings. I confess – I have a complete jump ringer power system to make jump rings in quantity. But often, I just need a few, and it’s easier to wrap up a coil and saw or cut them.

Easy Links - a "Figure 8"

And it’s simple to make links – these mandrels have a range of sizes between 1.5mm and 10mm, so it’s super simple to create whatever size you need for your project. I make a whole bunch of these at one sitting, so that I always have them ready when needed.

Hammered Link

This component (above) was made using a small wrap on one end, and a much larger wrap on the other. Then, the link was hammered flat to harden it so it doesn’t pull open, and also, because it looks cool hammered

I really really love these, and I now keep a set in my portable tool kit and bring them to class for my students to use.

Textured Padded Grip - Set of 2 Steel Stepped Mandrels

I also decided to sell them – if interested, they are available at my Etsy store in the Tools section. I include a tutorial on using the mandrels, as well as some practice wire, so it’s easy to get going… wire work is fun, and the ability to make your own jump rings and links and clasps is a great way to start adding handmade wire to your jewelry.





Getting Hammered…. Again!

4 12 2010

A few months back, I wrote a post about hammering, showing the differences between hammers and mallets (read post HERE). Today’s post is provide more detail about chasing hammers, and the two distinct purposes they have: to “chase” a tool into metal (such as stamping, or repousse work), or, to flatten wire. They are lightweight hammers made with a springy wood, which reduces hand fatigue whed doing repetitive striking. Personally, I like a heavier hammer for stamping, but it is an excellent hammer for repousse (a technique sorta like embossing on thin metal), which requires a lighter touch.

Domed Face vs. Flat Face Chasing Hammers

Chasing hammers are also a great shape/weight for hammering wire… which is how many jewelry artisans use them. The faces come in two different “flavors” – the domed face, and the flat face. In the photo above, you can clearly see how they different as they rest on a steel block… but do you know when to use each one??

Domed Face vs. Flat Face: Hammering Wire

Look at how the hammers are positioned above, on a piece of wire. The domed face hammer (left) strikes the wire with only the center part of the face, but the edges don’t strike the wire at all. The flat face hammer (right) strikes the wire with more surface, but the sharp edge of the hammer can easily mar the wire.

"Not so Pretty" vs. "Pretty Nice"

On the left, you can see the markes made from repeated strikes when the edge of the flat face hammer hits the wire.. On the right, the wire is paddled flat and is mar free – no sharp edges hit the wire when properly using a domed face hammer. In addition, the force is focused at the center, rather than across the entire face, so you have more power when striking.

Tapered Hammered Link

This link is a great example of how useful a domed face hammer is – you can see how it was possible to hammer just the bottom part of the link, to taper the wire on each side, providing an even, gradual change from round to flat. If I tried to use the flat face hammer on this link, it would be very difficult to create this smooth transition. and it would be difficult to avoid hitting the top of the link, where the wire is doubled over.

Round and round we go....

Although I loooove my domed face hammer, and it is my favorite hammer to use with wire, the flat face hammer has it’s place too! In the photo above, you can see how the domed face hammer leaves the surface of Spiral “A” a bit less consistent than the surface of Spiral “B,” which was hit with the flat face. Because the domed face has a curve, the hammer strikes with a bit more force at the exact center, which can leave slight differences in the pressure placed on the surface. A flat face hammer is a good choice when flattening an item that is smaller than it’s face diameter, because the force is displaced evenly across the head.

This week, I decided to start selling my favorite domed face hammer in my Etsy shop. I looked around at the other hammers being offered, and realized that there was no info being posted on using the hammers, which is why I decided to write this post. Hopefully, it will be helpful – for someone new to hammering, a flat face hammer can be very very frustrating, because it is so difficult to obtain mar-free results!





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!





What’s the Hoopla over Hoops??

5 10 2010

Like many women, I loooove hoops! I make quite a few, in different shapes and weights, and although some designs can get a bit complex, the basic “one piece of wire”  hoop style is quite easy to make. It’s been a while since I posted a new tutorial (sorry!), so tonight it’s a “how-to” on making hoops! You’ll need the basic jewelry tools (chain nose pliers, cutters, and round nose pliers), as well as some metal smithing tools (steel block, chasing hammer, and a steel ring mandrel). But if you don’t have all of the metal smithing tools items, you can still practice all the basic steps without hammering…

How to grasp the wire

First, we cut 2 pieces of 20g dead soft round wire, each 3 1/4 inch long, and file/sand the ends flus. For reference, I am using sterling silver wire (plated wires may get damaged, but copper works great). Next, we will create a small, centered loop on one end of each wire. Start by grasping the wire between the jaws of the round nose pliers – note how the wire is flush, and doesn’t stick up!

TECHNIQUE TIP: The closer the wire is to the tip of the pliers, the smaller the loop.

Rotate the wire - create the loop

Now, while holding the pliers firm, rotate the wire around one of the jaws to create a loop. If the loop doesn’t close, just reposition it, and pull the wire until you get a nice closed loop. Repeat with the second wire, making sure they look the same.

Centering the loop

Now we need to center the loop over the wire. The easiest way to do this is to grasp the wire with the round nose pliers, so that the wire is hanging down between the jaws, and then gently pushing the wire back, which will reposition the loop and bring it to the center. If the loop opens up, just adjust it a bit…. this takes a little fiddling with, so just be gentle and keep at it until it looks right!

Flatten the loops.... a little bit!

Wire is pretty malleable, and we need to harden the loops up a bit to keep them from opening. An easy way to do this is to lightly hammer them, using a chasing hammer on a steel block. The photo above on the right shows how hammering the loop lightly will flatten the wire, and change it’s appearance a little. The wire on the left has not yet been hammered, so you can see the difference. If needed, close up the loop – hammering will open it up a little.

Shaping the hoops

Now comes the part where they actually start to look like earrings! Start by wrapping the wire around a small end of the ring mandrel, and then sliding it down until the ends just meet. This way, the wire hugs the mandrel – if you start out wrapping it at the larger end, the wire springs open a bit, and you may not get the hoop to close. If you don’t have a ring mandrel, you can wrap the wire around anything that is the right size – a fat marker, a bottle top, or a pool cue make good alternatives.

Hardening the hoops

We’re almost done! Lightly hammering the hoops will harden them, so that when we open and close them, they spring back to shape. Make sure to position the loop over the side, and leave about 1/2 inch from each end unhammered. The hoops may get a little out of shape from the hammering – that’s ok – we will get them back in shape!

Finishing them up

The hoops look pretty good, but we need to finish them by making the earring “catch” which fits into the loops to keep them from falling off. Using chain nose pliers (I am using bent chain nose, but any flat pliers will work), bend up the end sharply  – about  1/8 inch.

Final touches

If needed, close up the hoops, and slide them back over the mandrel – this will make them nice and round, and ready to wear. You can easily add additional charms or bead drops (I added some raw faceted citrine bead dangles), and change them to match your outfit.

TECHNIQUE TIP: Hammering the wire is an easy way to harden the wire, which helps to keep it shape. I also like the look of hammered wire. But an alternative is to create the hoops without any hammering, and then throw them in a jewelers tumbler for an hour or so – the tumbling will harden the wires, so that they have a springiness to them.

Have fun…!





Math and Jewelry

8 09 2010

When you make a ring, it’s always a little tricky figuring out how much material you need. For some techniques, such as wire wrapping, or riveting, it’s easy… and you can always make small adjustments. But when you’re making a soldered band, you need to know how long the strip should be.

I will be teaching a rings class in a few weeks that requires being able to figure this out… that’s where math comes in!

A Perfect Fit... Message Rings

I love these rings… but then again, I love stamping and heavy metal!! It can be tempting to buy a prefabricated band and just stamp a pattern or message on them, but it is too easy to stretch the ring a bit when stamping. If you create the pattern on flat stock, then cut it to appropriate length and solder, you are guaranteed a good fit. And this is really really important when making a custom ring!

The length of the stock metal sheet will vary, depending on how thick the metal is. A ring made with thicker gauge metal needs to be longer than one made with thinner gauge to accommodate for the matching of the cut ends. So what is the magic formula used??

(diameter x pi) + (thickness x pi) = metal length

You remember “pi” don’t you…. from high school?? Well, we will only need to use pi two places out to 3.14. It is much much, much easier to use millimeters (mm) instead of inches, since mm are smaller, so the sizing is more exact. So here is an example using 18g metal (1.02mm) in a size 7 ring (17.35mm diameter):

(17.35 x 3.14) + (1.02 x 3.14) = 54.48 + 3.20 = 57.68mm length

Really, the formula is easy, and it’s not difficult to do – just cut metal a little longer (ie: 59mm) to get started, and stamp your design across the band. Re-measure and mark the metal to be as close as possible to 58mm (I always round up), then cut. file and sand the edges flush, so that when they meet, they do not have a gap. Fold the metal ends gently together, then solder and finish off as usual.

Formula Works for All Band Styles!

For this ring, a strip of silver was soldered to one end of the copper disc. The overall length was determined using the formula above, and then the measurement was marked on the metal, including the radius of the disc into the length – easy!!

Or, if you prefer… you can always download a table online with the sizing already figured out!





Dramatic Photo… Amateur Set-up!

16 08 2010

Over the past year, I’ve improved my photo taking abilities alot – I look back at some old pictures, and the difference I see is really obvious. The one thing I just never got was taking photos on models.. Now I know it’s important – it helps folks see the size of an item, and it shows how a piece lays. But I never felt comfortable about using real people. So I recently bought a jewelry mannequin, and I just love how my new photos are coming out!

Pink Ice and Crystals

I think this looks so cool…. of course, I love my jewelry (Simple Pink Crystal Earrings, Triple Crystal Necklace, and Pink Ice Crocheted Necklace), but I am so impressed with the dramatic look I got! But I am NOT a photographer…. I am a jewelry designer, and creating a professional shooting location is not something I can do now.

So I am going to embarrass myself and show you all the “great” set-up I finally created, which gives me such dramatic shots!

The Photo Set-up!

Lucky for me, I have great light in my bedroom, from the window on the left…. But I had a problem, since all my surface areas were against the walls, making it impossible to shoot with the light behind me (I close the curtains with the light behind me, which gives me diffused, but bright lighting). So, my TV has become my photo shoot stand!

Adding the Dramatic Black Background

I had a piece of heavy black board from years ago, and I just stand it up behind the mannequin – it’s a bit of a balancing act, but it works for me! I make sure to turn the TV (the stand is on casters) so that the light hits the surface straight on, which reduces the shadows and keeps the color bright.

Three Strands

I am so thrilled – the colors look so true on the white, and the whole thing just pops against the black, and I don’t even have to do any adjusting to the photos… Who would have guessed that I could get this result while balancing the mannequin on top of my TV?!