A Little Bling Bling

28 02 2011

A Little Bling Goes A Long Way….

It can be tricky to combine the sparkle of crystal with stark metalwork, but if you keep the design sleek and simple, then the materials work together really well. Back in September, I taught a class at Hooked on Wire, and attended a presentation from the Swarovski folks… I got loads of little crystal bits (see my previous post on this HERE),  and finally got around to creating a new design, which I really love!

I designed the piece using heavy gauge sterling silver (18g), which I gave a soft matte finish, and added a preset 7mm crystal rivet cup (NOTE: click on photos to enlarge):

Simplicity - Sparkle and Silver

Isn’t this a great look!?! I cut a simple triangle from some scrap silver sheet I had, rounded the edges and the corners, and used a combination of files, sanding blocks, and polishing papers to get the soft finish. I then drilled a hole so I could add the crystal (the crystal comes pre-set in the rivet setting).

A Modern Style, A Classic Look

From the side view, you can see a bit more detail – when I drilled the hole for the crystal setting, I beveled the edge of the hole to accommodate the angle and allow the cup to seat into the silver. I curved the silver lightly to balance the formed bale – the minimalist shape provides a graceful way to hang the pendant on a chain.

Best Not Seen... The Back!

The back looks a bit messier than it really is… the tube (rivet) was quite long, so I had to cut it’s length, and then cut down the tube to create tabs to fasten it to the silver. Since the rivet is brass, I was concerned that if I manipulated it too much, it would become brittle and crack. So I simply hammered the tabs down, and added a blob of E6000 to cover the tab edges so they don’t catch or scratch (E6000 is a thick adhesive).

Just Hanging Around

I love how this pendant looks – right at the collarbone, showing on the skin. The crystal makes it pop, and with the matte finish on the silver, this is a piece that looks great jeans and a sweater, or all dressed up – since it’s Swarovski, the quality crystal  sparkles however you wear it!

I gave this one to a friend as a thank you gift, but I’ll be making a few more, maybe even with different shapes, but the same styling. I just love when the end result looks better than what I imagined!


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!

Mistakes Happen

13 12 2010

I enjoy doing custom work – but I hate when I mess it up! A few months ago, I made a simple heart pendant with the name of a friends daughter stamped into the surface. I started in the middle to center the name, and worked outward, but unfortunately, I messed up the next to last letter by stamping it too far away, and not leaving me room for the last letter – so poor “MERCEDES” wound up “ERCEDES” on my first try!


I eventually created another one (which came out just fine!), and just threw this into my recycle pile. But I’d much rather reuse, than recycle, so in the back of my mind, I had the idea to rework it with a copper heart, but I wasn’t too sure what to do.

Heart on Heart...

The first thing I realized is that I had to reshape the copper heart to be closer to the shape of the silver one. So I traced the heart, and did a bit of grinding and sanding to make the heart more rounded, like the silver shape.

Shaping My Heart

You can see how I reshaped the bottom to make the sides a bit rounder, and I filed the separation at the top, to exaggerate the shape a little. Once I got the copper done, I needed to do something to the silver, and I decided to do a simple texture using a polished ball pien hammer, working on the back, Once the texture looked good, I laid it on the copper heart, to see how I wanted to proceed.

Two Hearts are Better than One

Not bad…! I really like how the copper base highlights the textured silver, and although I originally thought I’d drill some holes on each side and add jumprings, instead, I think I’ll make a bail in the center. I was also going to rivet the 2 hearts with some brass rod, but I like the solid look of the silver, so I’m going to just solder it up instead.

My Messy Heart!

I did a simple sweat solder join between the 2 pieces by just soldering the back of the silver heart, then laying it over the copper heart, and reheating. Unfortunately, I was concerned that I wasn’t making contact across the whole disk, and I reheated it a bit too much – you can see how the solder flowed out the edges on the sides (sorry I didn’t take a photo before I antiqued it!). I also curved the hearts before soldering them together, so that I didn’t warp the top silver disc, and added a center bail. Then I did a little clean up, oxidized the pendant, and buffed it up with a satin finish.

The Back Counts Too...

When possible, I try to keep the back clean and in the same style as the front – this shows the curve, the patina, and the clean solder of the bail. I only wish the silver heart was as cleanly soldered onto the copper as the bail!

My Heart Belongs to..... Me?

Well… this is not sell quality, but I love the look. So I’m not sure if it’s mine (feels a little strange giving myself a heart!), or if I’ll gift it to a friend. And lucky for me, I’ve got another mis-stamped silver heart in my recycle bin, so I can make another one, which I hope will come out a bit better!!

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.


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.


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!

Gotta Have It… Soldering

8 11 2010

Wanna Solder??

People are always looking to add to their skillset – learning new techniques is how we expand and grow our craft. And the one area that jewelry designers always have concerns with is soldering:

  • “It’s too complicated”
  • “It cost’s too much”
  • “It takes up too much room
  • ‘I’m afraid I’ll burn the house down”

These are the basics that most people come up with. So I’m going to write a few posts explaining soldering in a “real” environment – mine! This first post will look at the tools you need, and later on, I’ll post more about the techniques and how-tos.

Not as Much Space as You Thought!

I have a very, very, very, small workspace – it’s actually in a closet! So I am very careful about what I buy, making sure it is absolutely necessary. And this photo shows the items you absolutely must have to get started: You can see the can of butane (the fuel) and to the right of that is the mini torch (aka: creme brule torch). Behind the torch, you’ll see a small crockpot – this is my “pickle” pot, where I keep the pickle, which is an acid used to clean up metal after soldering. To the right of the torch, on the worktop, is copper tongs (use these when removing a piece from the pickle pot), some tweezers and pics, and tubes of solder paste. I use solder paste because it mixes the solder with the flux (a solution used to help solder flow), and in a small space, I prefer to make it as simple as possible! There is a small tripod, which has a screen laying across the top, and a charcoal block on top of that:

On the Block

The tripod is great for raising your pieces to working level, the screen is both a working surface (useful when you want to torch the piece from underneath), as well as a shelf for the charcoal bloack. I like to solder on compressed charcoal, because it holds the heat from the flame, making it easier to get your piece to come to soldering temperature. As you can see – it can get pretty messy and ashy, but it still works fine. I occasionally rub the surface of the block to even out the surface and make it flat.

This is really it – a torch, the fuel, solder/flux, something to solder on, tweezers to move and pick up the item as it heats up, and pickle to clean off the firescale.

When 2 Hands Aren't Enough

Another item that is handy (but not necessary!) is a 3rd hand, used to hold an item in position. In this photo, the ring is being held firmly on a square of silver so it doesn’t shift when the torch is applied.

Not as complicated as you thought…. and this set-up is perfectly fine to get started. I have been soldering for many years, but my space is limited (a closet – remember!), so I cannot have a more elaborate set-up. And this simple set-up is sufficient for almost all the work I want to do.

In my next Soldering post, I’ll explain more about the tools and materials, and in future posts, I’ll show how to set up your projects for basic soldering techniques.

Sparkly, Shiny, Things!

15 09 2010

Ohhhhh…. Swarovski!

If you look at my jewelry, you’ll notice that my style leans toward natural, organic styles. And even though most of my jewley just doesn’t work with them, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to play with sparkly shiny things! So last week at Hooked on Wire, I was just as excited as everyone else to see the presentation from the Swarovski rep, and check out all the new products coming out. There were various crystal items strewn all over the tables to keep us in our seats! And even more fun, at the end of the presentation, WE GOT TO SWEEP UP THE TABLES!

Shiny Goodies!!

So look at what I got…! I have no designs in mind for what I’ll be doing with these, but I just couldn’t help myself – I wanted them, so I took’em!! Most of these will need to be set with prongs, like faceted gemstones, but some are flat backed, like the fabulous blue checkerboard crystal. Some styles have rivet backings, that require the use of a special setting tool to prevent the crystal from breaking. But I don’t have the special setting tool, so I had to see if my riveting skills would be good enough…

Silver Petals with Crystal Rivets

Aren’t these just so cute!? These crystals are only 4mm each (less than 1/4 inch), but they have a really great shine. They are pre-set in small brass multi-prong rivet seats, which makes them easy to use… ok, not real easy, but since I’ve been riveting tubes for a few years, I guess my riveting skills were just fine!

Side View Close-up

These look so cool from the side – the textured sterling petals (5/8 inch) are curved, creating a basin for the crystals. The brass seat has a cone shape, which holds the crystal up… I like that it gives it a more dimensional look.

Side View of the Crystal Rivet

At this angle, you can see the bottom a little. The brass seat includes a short tube, which was set in a hole in the silver, and then flared to hold the crystal tight. It’s a little tricky to flare the rivet without breaking the crystal, but I was able to get it done by going slow. The result is a very sweet pair of earrings. They measure less than an inch total, but they have a brilliant sparkle!

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!