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…!





Perfect Wirework!

11 04 2011

Although most of my work is very “one-of-a-kind” and organic in nature, being a professional means that I don’t mess around with my wirework! It takes time and practice to achieve a clean line, and it can be difficult to get repeatable results.

One of the things I’ve been doing for years is to always prototype and document my new work. Whenever I develop a project for a  class, I write out notes and sketch my ideas – many don’t work out, but I often find an element of the idea that appeals to me, and I wind up using it for something totally different.

I also teach my students one of the “tricks” I use for wire components, which helps to really ensure repeatability – I create wire templates.

16g Wire Clasp Components

Once I know HOW to make something, I like to play around with different wire gauges and lengths – there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” so if something works, I always see how far I can take it! In the photo above, it’s easy to see how the different length of wire makes clasps of different sizes (you can learn to make a wire clasp in this TUTORIAL). This way, I can just pick the clasp that works for my project, and easily make it the same size. On one side of the tag I mark the wire gauge, on the other, the length.

Wire Wrapped Beads

Not just for clasps – I make this type of template for other wire components (such as wire spirals HERE), as well as these wire wrapped beads, so I can make sure to cut the right size wire when making bead links (I just love making the link with the zigzag on the wrap!).

And if you like to make earwires that are as creative as your earrings, than wire templates are a great help – it’s important to get the proportions accurate.

A Variety of Hooks and Hoops

I love creating different earwires – these are the ones I use most because they are the most flexible. You can make a whole earring wardrobe using simple gemstone or pearl drops, and putting them on different wires! I have already posted two tutorials in this blog for SIMPLE EARWIRES and SIMPLE HOOPS – I always seem to get alot of folks who check out the wire tutorials, so I’m thinking it’s time to post a few more… any favorites?? Just post a comment, and I’ll see what I can do!





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.





I Heart Hearts!

16 01 2011

Valentines day is just a few weeks away, so I figure now is the time to post a tutorial for making a simple wire heart pendant! This is a basic heart, but once you create it, you can embellish it however you want…

You will need basic wire jewelry pliers (chain or bent-nose, round nose, cutters), a small file, a hammer and steel block. You will also need 16g wire and 24g or 26g wire, and a mandrel about 1/2 inch diameter… a fat marker works well.

Preparing the Wire

To start…. cut a piece of 16g wire 5 inches long, and file the ends so that they are flush. Then bend the wire using your chain nose pliers, so that one side is 2.25 inches, and the other is 2.75 inches.

Shaping the Heart

Now use the mandrel (ie: fat marker) to shape the sides of the heart. 16 g wire is a bit difficult to work with, so don’t get discouraged….! Start by holding the wire tightly on the marker, and then rolling (you are pushing – not wrapping!) the wire until you get a nice rounded shape – repeat for each side:

 

Shaped Heart Sides...

Once the sides are rounded (one side will be longer than the other), it’s time to turn the ends further inward, using the round nose pliers. It is very important to make sure that you don’t pull open the shape you just made on the mandrel! This may take a bit of practice since 16g wire is a bit difficult to work with.

 

Turning in the Ends

It is more effective to grasp the end of the wire tightly in the round nose pliers, and then PUSH the wire around the pliers, rather than trying to pull the wire, which will warp the shape of the sides and pull them straight.

 

Shaping the Heart

After you turn in the ends, you can shape the sides by PUSHING the ends toward each other, and gently pushing the sides out a bit, until it is the shape as shown on the right.

 

Hammering - the Final Shaping Step

Using a nice slightly rounded hammer and a steel block, flatten the heart frame – the ends may open a bit, and the sides may separate a little… that’s normal, you just need to tighten up the ends and bring the sides back together, as shown above. Next, we will use thin gauge wire to wrap the sides together, so the heart doesn’t open.

 

Closing the Heart

Cut about 4 inches of the thin wire (24g or 26g), and make a small hook at one end, then start to wrap the sides of the heart, as shown above. Wrap the wire through the loops on each side 3-4 times, and pull the wire taut, using your pliers as needed. Decide which side will be the front, and make sure that you pull the wire through, and cut both ends on the back.

 

The Wraps on the Back

The photo above shows the wraps neatly cut, and pressed down on the back… the only thing left is to add the bail, and hang on a chain.

 

Shiny... or Antiqued - Either Choice is a Winner!

I made a simple bail by wrapping a piece of 16g wire twice on the base round nose pliers, cutting and filing the ends, and hammering it a bit for texture. I then opened it and slipped it thru the loop of the higher side of the heart, so that it hangs balanced. Personally, I’m a fan of the antiqued look! If you have some wire wrapping skills, you may want to embellish the heart with additional wire wrapping, or adding some beads.

 

Bold Heart!

This photo shows a heart frame with spirals (the technique is similar), which is then wrapped with some faceted garnets… this is a class I’ll be teaching locally next month… just in time for Valentines Day!

You may want to check these posts for info on Hammering and on using Liver of Sulpher for Antiquing.

 





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!





Bye, Bye, Halloween!

31 10 2010

The Halloween Season is Over!

My very favorite Halloween activity is watching the special Halloween themed sitcom marathons…. especially the episodes of “Roseanne” – no one does it any better! And now, before we start the massive end of the year retail blitz, I’d like to say goodbye to Halloween, and show off my favorite holiday projects:

Eeeek! Caught in My Web!

A little web, and a little sparkle – this crystal “spider” always gets noticed. I was so disappointed that this class never got filled – maybe I’m the only one who thinks it’s cool???

Bat with a Heart On!

Yeah…. I know, but really, what else could I name this piece?? I love etching, and  always have great fun teaching it… next year I’m gonna have to get more of these bats!

Blood Lust... Bite Me!

It could be True Blood, or maybe it’s Twilight, but all of a sudden “Bite Me” means something totally different than I remember…! I always love wearing stamped saying pendants (mine says “Runs with Scissors”), and this one seems to be pretty popular….  I’m thinking as long as movies and books are focusing on fangs, this will remain a favorite!

So it’s time to put the spiders and bats away – Hannuka Harry and Santa Claus wanna come out and play!





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…!