There’s quite a bit of experimentation that goes on in my workshop. Sometimes it’s because I want to play, sometimes it’s because I’ve got a new tool, but mostly it’s because I need to learn or practice a new technique
I’ve a commission ongoing where my customer requested a textured bezel. The bezel (as I’m sure you know) is the wall of metal that holds the stone in place. There are lots of different ways to create texture on metal, from running it through a mill with something patterned, to heating it and reticulating it, to beating texture in – either by laying it on something with an interesting texture, or using the hammer / punch to impart the texture.
With a bezel, there’s the fragility of the stone to factor in, and as I’ve not created textured bezels before (my customer knows this!), I tried two different techniques, both of which created very small bits of scrap silver
Here’s what I did with one of the small pieces.
I’d begun with a strip of fine (99.9) silver that was 1mm in thickness and 6mm in width.
By the time I had rolled it down to 0.8mm and hammered in the texture it was 20 mm longer than it began and 15mm longer than I needed
Not long enough for a pendant, but ideal for some delicate studs
I had some gold leaf scraps from my keum-boo* projects, so I took those and applied them to the textured surface of the rectangle of metal
Then I used the mitre vise to square up the ends and verniers to measure the width to mark out where I needed to divide (using a saw and file) to create a pair of squares.
I soldered some stud posts to the back with ‘easy’ solder (the solder with the lowest temperature melting point**) flipping the studs over whilst still hot and rubbing the gold back on to ensure the bond between the pure metals was secure
Finally, I pickled them and popped them into my little mitre vise to beat in some more texture and give them a very slight dome before dropping them in Betty-The-Barrel for a tumble and polish
Here they are – a birthday gift – with the two test bezels. A gorgeous purple flash labradorite and a not so gorgeous amazonite from my practice stash of stones I’d picked up right back at the beginning of my silversmithing journey when I expected to damage more than I successfully set
**lowest melting point of ‘assay quality silver solder’ – there are solders with lower melting points but they have a lower proportion of silver so I don’t like to use them in jewellery
*Video of the keum-boo process here over on my v v unprofessional YouTube channel, an earlier post explaining the process here
ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join in on the 15th of each month?
I find it's a really useful way to focus my mind on creating something real from what others would send off for refinement
To actively participate, contact Kate at the address on her 'Contact Me' page, or leave a comment on her latest ScrapHappy post. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members and it's a super friendly gang 🙂
You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of them know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so they can add your link.
Below are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).
And only minimally scrappy, but I wanted to share this lovely project I was commissioned to undertake a few months ago.
In a wonderfully sentimental and budget conscious make, Grandad’s old signet ring was repurposed as part of a pre wedding workshop where the bride and groom made their rings, back in 2019, and there was a little of the 9karat gold being left over. The wedding had been due during 2020, but had to be postponed and eventually took place in July 2021
The bride to be had 6 bridesmaids planned and ordered some beaten sterling bangles from me as gifts for them. During our conversation about the finish and weights of these, she mentioned she’d got bits of the signet ring left over from making her wedding ring and asked if I’d be able to do anything of interest with the leftover bits of gold, and in an aside said she’d got a necklace of her Nana’s that needed mending.
I replaced the clasp on the necklace, which left me with a broken bolt ring and worn out jumpring, both appearing to be gold. This brought the total gold up to 4.3grams
I removed the (rusty!) spring within the bolt ring, and set it in the little box with the bits of signet ring. During this time I was able to let my customer know just how much gold there was, and mocked up what I had in mind in silver. Now, gold is heavier than silver, so it wouldn’t be able to stretch as far as 4.3g of silver, but there was still plenty to do what she wanted.
I sawed all the offcuts into 0.4 and 0.5gram pieces, except the part that contained solder, which I divided into two.
Then I melted every offcut into a small ball
Annealing and rolling them through Morris-the-Mill, so that I’d be able to ensure they got to the same shape with more annealing and hammering and we are left with 11 discs, mostly all the same size, but a pair of smaller ones that contained the seam of the signet, so these are slightly different in colour, a pair of larger ones and one other one that is a slightly different colour because that was just the bolt ring and jumpring from the necklace.
Initially the plan had been to solder one ball, slightly flattened onto each bangle, but – as is often the case – as the jewellery was made, and the progress photos sent to my customer, the idea was refined, and instead became a small charm to add to each bangle, with the bride having the two large balls and Nana’s hanging as a triplet and stamped with the initials of the bride and groom, with a heart on the differently coloured one
The two small balls were destined as a another gift for another granddaughter, so I made them into features on a pair of simple circle studs, slightly offset to add interest.
It’s a very simple use of something that was chock full of sentimental value. It would have been more economical to buy in fresh gold, and send off the old for refining, but this has far more meaning.
One of my favourite projects of the past year, I loved every part of the process (even when one of the balls pinged across my workshop and I lost an hour hunting it down!)
ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Either email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page, or leave a comment on her blog. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of them know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link.
Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).
New Tool Alert!! And warning – this post is techy and likely to be of no interest to anyone who doesn’t use heat on their metal; it’s going to contain information I’d have liked to have known before purchase.
I expect this to be the first in an intermittent series of posts about the new blowtorch I’ve bought. A significant investment, an Aquaflame uses hydrogen gas rather than propane / acetylene / butane and oxygen to produce the flame and heat needed for working with precious metals.
Until now, I’ve used small, hand held blow torches – similar to those sold in kitchenware shops – refillable using the small canisters of butane that people use to refill cigarette lighters, supplemented with a portable plumbers blowtorch when I’m brave enough (which is rare!)
These are limited in what they can achieve, even though I’ve been known to have one lit, standing on the soldering station, directed at a kiln of bricks to provide background heat, and then another in each hand. I’ve basically outgrown them and needed to upgrade if I wanted to move on to the types of metal working I’d like to add to my skill set.
A hydrogen torch (aka a microweld, aquaflame, hydrotorch) works using magic, witchcraft electrolysis – here’s what it says on their website:
Aquaflame produces gas from water and works on the principle of electrolysis. Electricity is passed through an electrolyte solution resulting in the production of hydrogen and oxygen. The gas is then passed through a MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) solution that gives a flame with the optimum working temperature of 1850 ° C. (3365 ° F). This produces a highly efficient and low cost high energy heat source. The only by product other than energy is water. The flame is clean and safe with no toxic effects.
The other option would have been a micro torch (most likely a Little Smith) which, although cheaper, and possibly better for larger work, would have necessitated keeping acetylene and oxygen canisters (or an oxygen concentrator machine) in the studio.
My studio / workshop is a converted bedroom, upstairs in our 1930s semi-detached, 10 paces away from our bed. I decided I wanted to upgrade in 2019; got permission from the insurer that it would be acceptable, and then had regular nightmares about the canisters exploding.
Life is too short to invite extra stress into it, so I ruled out the Little Smith and looked into other options
Eventually, I decided on a hydrogen torch and then opted for Aquaflame over the other main UK brand MicroWeld solely based on the interaction I had with the companies when trying to make my decision. One was very keen to help answer all (and there were many!) of my petty and silly questions, the other ignored me.
I put myself on the waiting list for a reconditioned one, and on 25th May 2021, she arrived.
It’s incredible the difference the precision flame makes. I’ve gone from using a wide flame coming from a torch tip of a centimetre wide, to one that’s coming from a hypodermic needle tip of less than a millimetre. As a result, I’m having to relearn every technique, and have been beginning from the basic – balling silver for earwires and headpins and the balls I like to use for embellishments before stepping up to multiple settings and large bangles
It’s like owning a small, slightly temperamental dragon, and I’m in love.
As you’ll know, I name all my significant tools, so clearly she needed a name. My intention had been to name her for the mother dragon in Ivor The Engine – but it turns out that’s she’s got the same name as my first primary school teacher, so it felt far too cheeky given I tend to curse a lot whilst using a torch; instead, she’s #SmeltyMelty.
I’m sharing my progress with the wonderfully supportive jewellery Facebook group The Jeweller’s Bench Cafe run by my favourite tutor Joanne Tinley, but thought it would be sensible to also document it on my blog so it can double as my notes!
I’ve learned the following – Tips supplied range in size from 20 to 24, with 20 and 21 being properly feisty, 22 being significantly smaller than 21, and 23 and 24 super delicate. I could also use a #19 or #18 as there’s just me, but it didn’t come with them. I shared small videos of these with my jewellery gang, but I’ve now uploaded them to YouTube here
I have used #20 to successfully ( and deliberately) melt 6g of scrap, in about 35 seconds on my charcoal block but not so successfully to melt 8 grams in my not terribly clean crucible.
7g is as much as I’ve been able to achieve with my traditional handheld butane torches, and that took either a plumbers torch (comes with a side of free nausea and terror) or a pair of handhelds, and about 20 minutes of said terror and nausea.
Initially I only tried smelting for 10mins with the aquaflame, because I decided the flame and the metal were too bright for safety.
I’ve used the #24 for soldering jump rings (from 0.8 to 1.2 and up to 11mm in diameter) and the ends of earwires that are about 2cm from an earring, with no change to the Liver of Sulphur patination, which suggests I’ll be able to do delicate work with stone set pieces.
I’m using #23 most often for ring bands up to 2mm, and #24 for studs.
The #22 is also working really well for annealing short shank lengths.
The main difference I’m noticing with the actual solder is that the piece will heat more rapidly than with my handhelds, which means that the solder will melt earlier in the process – but crucially, I’ll need to hold the heat for a couple of seconds longer to make sure it flows through the whole joint, as there’s less ambient heat to drive it through. I’ve had lots of pieces where I thought that I hadn’t successfully soldered, but it was because the flash of the molten solder simply isn’t as bright or as obvious as with my trusty dremel.
Whilst sweat soldering, it was much easier to ensure that no solder spilt over the sides of the settings, because I used the #24. The other things, are:
It’s not as huffy, so the pallions are less disobedient
There is less ambient heat in the workshop
The hottest part of the flame is much further along than I’d expected.
Firescale is definitely reduced
It’s not really any noisier than a regular handheld butane torch
The whole piece will heat more rapidly
solder melts earlier
The joint needs heat held on it slightly longer than I’m used to
The colour of the flame means the flash of the solder flow is less visible
It doesn’t need to be left running, so I have it on for only a minute before actually soldering
It doesn’t appear to use any meaningful amount of electricity (conveniently I’ve just had a smart meter installed)
I needed to top up the MEK for the first time after 3 weeks of use
I am gradually repeating regular processes and trying out new with it. This is something I know I’d have struggled with using my handhelds- the cups would either have moved, dropped off, or melted, but I was able to successfully use all hard solder for all 4 cups using the #23 tip(4mm stones, 2mm band) as a side bar, these were really gorgeous shades of stones – faceted green amethyst, green tourmaline, London blue topaz and faceted blue topaz
I’d never have achieved this with my handhelds – four 4mm bezel cups, on a 2mm size L.5 ring, all the bases next to each other. I used the #23 for this
Nb. this was a customer request and the settings are deliberately slightly skew-whiff to fit with all the rest of her jewellery!!
Ordered some #19 and #18 tips, and successfully smelted 8g of silver in les than half the time it’d have taken me to do it with a plumbers torch and the biggest of my small ones.
I then used tip #21 to anneal it before making square wire with #MorrisTheMill
And – Bangles!
I used tip #20 for 3 different bangles – annealing and soldering:
1.1mm thick, 220mm x 6mm
1.1mm thick 220mm x 9mm
and also to reticulate 220 x 9 x 1.1mm which I then soldered into a bangle
It was much faster and easier to control than my handhelds
I recently bought an Aquaflame. It’s like owning a small, slightly temperamental dragon at the moment, but one of the side benefits of buying her, is that I had to do some rearranging in the workshop.
So this month’s #Scraphappy doesn’t involve silver, it involves more traditional scraps 🙂 and fewer words than usual, coz it’s very simple 🙂
I have used a cocoa tin, the inner of an old slipper sock and the top of a Kilner jar that’s too corroded to use again for preserves.
Stone setting is a specialist skill, that requires specialist tools. You might remember an earlier post where I created some bezel pushers from different scrap; today I repurposed stuff from the bin to house my collection of pushers more safely.
And yesterday we repurposed some plastic milk bottles at the allotment to keep the nets (and #LovelySue) safe from the stabby bits of the posts and bamboo canes.
Oh. and here’s the finished ring you can see in the peg. It’s a remodel for one of my regular patrons. The four stones are 4mm flat backed cabochons and are: faceted green amethyst, green tourmaline, london blue topaz and a blue topaz.
One of my favourite way to reuse the waste from my silversmithing is to heat it into balls and pebbles. Casting is going to be next, but for instant gratification of a job well done, it’s hard to beat this.
In February 2020 I showed you how I make small stamped studs from recycled silver; this time I’m showing you the beaten studs and coordinating pebble pendants I’m just adding to my shop following a custom request earlier this month.
I love a custom request. They vary hugely, from straightforward adaptations of something I do already, to more complex requests. Often they lead me to actually create something that’s been on my mind for a while – I’ve always been someone that works best with a deadline 😉
These pebble studs and pendants are exactly that. Something I’ve made for fairs, but not got around to putting into the shop.
You remember I have a lot of offcuts? And more than one scrap pot in varying grades – the heavily contaminated scrap (filings, soldered and completed pieces that I’ve melted in error) slightly contaminated scrap (might have a little solder on it), and fresh sterling offcuts from sheet and wire.
The first two contain proper scrap that I’m keeping back to send off to a refiners, with the aim to get it recycled by them and for me to receive a small payment but the final pot of offcuts is metal I can smelt* down myself and reform into other items, safe in the knowledge that it remains 925 sterling – casting, drawing into wire or forging into sheet.
In this case I’ve made small pebbles from a tiny amount of the content of the third pot. (currently running at 280grams – far too much to allow to accumulate!
The custom request was for a pair of polished, 6mm sterling studs, as fat as possible. And then, a coordinating pendant with a flower stamped in it. Because I like to give people options, and I also knew I wanted to add these to my shops, I worked out through trial and error the correct weight of silver that needed melting to make a ball of 6mm. (It’s just under 1gram) I also made three pairs, in slightly different sizes and with differing finishes. If my customer wanted them to glitter, then the lightly beaten ones are going to do that best, and in the most interesting way.
Although the request is for them to be fat, they will sit better on the lobe if there’s a flattish back, so rather than create a rounded pit in my charcoal block, I melted the scrap on the flattish surface, then pickled the balls, and filed off the top surface to remove any excess copper or fire scale. I did that twice, which I find an effective way to ensure that I get the shape I want.
It always helps to add some borax to the process (something about it helping the metal flow and to draw out impurities**) and the reason for heating on charcoal is twofold; the carbon reduces oxidisation and fire-stain, and the charcoal holds the heat well, which speeds the process up and also makes for a ‘cleaner melt’. You can see some of the shapes I’ve carved into this block for other items I’ve melted*, including a channel for making small areas of wire.
The pebbles get a brief pickle, just to remove the worst of the oxidisation, then I file off and unevenness I don’t like, file and sand the surfaces and fling back for another pickle whilst I crack on with something else.
Once all the silver is pristine and white, I’ll drill a dent into the back of the blob, to help the earpost solder joint have as much surface area as possible, and then pickle again.
These have had 3 different finishes applied – super shiny, satin and lightly beaten. In all cases the process begins the same way – grip the earring with my parallel pliers, and give the dome a super polish with files, emery, polishing papers and the silicone burrs in my pendant motor
Then I either take the shine back down with a burr or drop the stud into my riveting block and hammer it for the dimples.
Finally a turn in the tumbler and they are done.
The principle is the same for the pendants – only these have about 3.5grams of silver and take rather more work, including more effort to be applied to the back, as on a pendant they’ll twist and the back will be visible. These I beat on the steel block, using doubled over masking tape to help them adhere thereby reducing (but not stopping!) the rapidity of them firing elsewhere round the room. I’ve learned it’s best not to try and hold stuff like this with my fingers whilst hammering!
I plan to make lots of variants of these in the next few week between my current commissions because I have an exciting, state of the art Aquaflame torch due to be delivered; this will be the perfect practice project
*deliberate melting is smelting, and rarely creates the cursing that usually emanates from my workshop when I melt something 🙂
**I’m an alchemist now ***
***apologies for gratuitous Doctor Who reference
ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page.
You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. It’s a really welcoming group of creatives. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of them know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.
Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at). This month, we are once again welcoming new members to the group: say hello to Edith and Preeti!