Thursday, October 20, 2011

Home Jewelry Studio part 3

HI all! Ok, last week we went over the very basics that many home jewelers tend to not use or know about, the jewelers saw, and filing the shapes we've cut with the saw.  (if you are just tuning in, you may want to start at part 1)   There are endless possibilities of shapes you can cut to create necklace and bracelet links, earrings, charms or pendants.  I would like to add one more important step to sawing:

As you have been cutting out your shapes, you probably have noticed that sometimes you want to cut a shape out from the inside.  This is called piercing.  Draw your shapes onto your metal, or glue on a paper drawing. Use your hole punching pliers (or drill press and tiny bits) to put a small hole in the shape you want to remove. Do not put the hole on your line, bring it in some, like an 1/8th of an inch inside your line.

If you are cutting a more complex pattern, punch all of you holes at once, kinda like being a production line.  Once your holes have been punched, take your saw frame and insert the blade into the bottom screw-y thing.  Teeth down and out!  Once your blade is securely in the bottom of the frame, feed the blade through one of your holes, insert the blade into the top screw-y thing and tighten it up.  Make sure the blade is taught, and start cutting out your shape.  Once your done, open up the top of the frame and slide your piece out.

Like all sawing, it is really important to file your pierced shapes.  Continue to practice your filing and it will become easier and slightly addictive.  Filing is one of the best ways to make your work look well crafted and professional looking.

Student work.  She drilled all the holes through a very precise drawing.

Student work.  He did all of his piercing and filing before forming these adorable creatures.

To drill press or not to drill press...

Drilling holes is kinda essential to jewelry making, especially if you are going to be using sheet metal.  In fact, even wire can be drilled and I will explain how in a the next post.  There are 2 forms of hand held hole punchers, the hole punching pliers that I showed you in the last post, and a precision hole punch (page 112 of the Rio catalog)  Both are excellent for punching holes in thin metal.  The pliers will punch up to 18 gauge which is a pretty typical gauge to be working in, and comes in different hole sizes.    These punches are affordable and small so they take up no bench space.

Sometimes however, you will want to put holes in thicker metals, or in different materials.  These punches cannot punch PLexiglas for example.  If you use found objects, being able to drill through them is important and again, you can't do that with one of these hand held punches.  Fortunately, table top drill presses are fairly inexpensive and easy to pick up at your local hardware store.  Sears has a Craftsman brand, I got mine used on Craigslist a zillion years ago and it is still going strong.  I paid I think around $50.  Home Depot has a brand called Ryobe, it's not the greatest tool brand, but for the small and delicate work we do, it's a fine machine.

The important thing to know about drilling through metals, is that you have to have a small indent or hole to help guide the drill bit into the metal.  You can use a nail, or you can buy a tool called a center punch (Rio page 261)  Just use a heavy hammer and create a mark in your metal.  Don't hit too hard, and don't try to punch through.

Note that we are doing this on a big piece of steel, I will discuss this in next weeks post!
Once you have your small indent (I call it the "inverted nipple", anything to get the kids to remember to do it!) you can drill your hole.  Another really important thing about drilling through metals, you can't drill through with a big bit, you have to go incrementally small to large.

Look how small the drill bit is.
When drilling through, go slowly, take little slivers, go up and down a few times rather than aggressively going through.  Drill bits do break, the tip can either get stuck in your piece, or it can fly around and hit you in the face, so always wear safety glasses!  If your drill bit breaks, it looks almost the same as a good one so remove immediately and through it away so you don't accidentally try to use it again.

When drilling through plastics you don't need to do the inverted nippler, you can go right through, but go slowly.  Also, if you are a glass artist, you can use your drill press to drill through glass, you need to order glass drill bits however and also research the proper way to drill glass.

Let me know if  you have any questions, or if there is any important info you would like to add!

I had to drill through the letters to connect them to the metal.  All cutting with a jewelers saw, and lots of filing!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Home Jewelry Studio part 2

Welcome to part 2 of many on how to create your own jewelry studio at home, including lots of tip, tricks and project ideas.  By now you have hopefully ordered you Rio Grande catalogs?  If you have not read part 1 of this post, please go back and check out the info on the catalogs, because these are going to be essential to creating your studio. 

What to buy first:

Creating your studio does not have to be too expensive.  You can buy a few things at a time and keep adding tools gradually.   I will give you some info on how to use the tools I have recommended, but I would also suggest further on-line exploration if you need more details about the tools.   This is not a detailed and thorough explanation of every tool and technique but it should be enough to get you started with understanding the general function of the  tools and why they are the home studio essentials.  If you have specific questions that I have not addressed, please leave a message and I will answer your questions.  What I would buy first would be:

From Rio:
- a jewelers saw
-1 gross saw blades size 1/0
-blade lube, Bur Life
-a bench pin
-20 gauge sheet copper, and or brass (or sterling)
-Liver of Sulfur (patina) (only if you buy copper or sterling)
-hole punching pliers

From a hardware store:
-wet dry sandpaper, 220, 320, 400, 600
-steel wool extra fine
-glue stick
-fine tip sharpies

From bookstore or Amazon:
-The Complete Metalsmith by Tim McCreight

The jewelers saw is an essential tool for cutting detailed shapes out of your metal.  You can also cut many other materials such as Plexiglas,  game boards,  and vinyl records.  (i will do a future post about Plexiglas).  Saw frames come in many different sizes.  The overall height is always the same, but the depth or throat size varies.  I would suggest a mid range throat size which is a 4 inch. (page 86 of tools and equipement, letter C)
Saw blades are inserted into the frame and they too come in a variety of sizes.  The overall length of the blades are all the same, but the number of teeth per blade can vary.  So, the smallest blade is an 8/0 and the biggest is an 8.  (page 88)  You want a blade with less and bigger teeth for thicker metals, and more smaller teeth for thinner metals.  I use something in the middle usually, 1/0.    They come in little bundles of a dozen.  I buy them buy the gross, which is 12 bundles because they do break frequently and it' s a lot cheaper to buy them in bigger quantities.

Bur Life is a lube that will make your cutting way smoother and you will break less blades.  Once your blade is inserted, just run the bur life up the blade once.  Re apply often, when cutting gets rougher.

A saw with a blade in it, a bundle of blades and Bur-Life

How to use your saw:

The trickiest part of using a jewelers saw is inserting the saw blade.  The key to using the saw is to make sure your blade is taught.  Your saw frame will have 3 screw-y things on it.

Looking at the picture above, the 2 screw-y things on the right hold the blade.  The one on the left controls the height of the frame.    Before inserting the blade, the 2 screw-y things on the right side should be loose, the one on the left should be tight with around 1-1/2 inches of frame coming out of it.  Take a blade and look at the teeth.  Pretty darn small aren't they? The teeth should be pointing down and out when inserting the blade.

Here  are a few links to show you how to insert a blade:

In addition to your saw you also need a bench pin.  A bench pin is a block of wood that extends out from your work table that you place your metal on when cutting.  In the catalog there are many different kinds.  The cheapest one is called a V slot bench pin and clamp (tools and equipment, page 293).  If you have a piece of scrap wood that you can cut a V into and a C clamp you can make your own bench pin. NOTE:  the bench pin is there to support your metal when you are cutting.  It is ok to cut into it.

Cutting with a saw, on a bench pin.

Once you have your saw, blades, bur life and metal, you are ready to cut.  The amazing thing about a jewelers saw is that you can cut anything you can draw.  You can draw directly onto your metal with a FINE tip sharpie.  Or,  you can draw your design onto a piece of paper and glue the paper onto your metal.  You do not have to cut your shape out of the paper, glue down your entire drawing and just cut through the paper.  I like to give my metal a fine tooth before I glue it down with a glue stick and I use a little bit of 400 sand paper to give it the tooth.

A piece of brass in the process of being cut.

In the beginning to practice just draw onto your metal with a sharpie.  Practice really staying on your line.  Practice curves and turns.
-Use the full length of the blade for each stroke.
-Keep the frame straight, not at an angle,  perpendicular to the the ground.
-Keep the frame in front of you always in the same position.  Your non dominant hand moves the metal while your dominant hand just moves the frame up and down.
-When making turns, keep the frame in front of you, in the same position, continue sawing while you rotate your metal.
-Be aware of where your index finger is in relationship to the blade.  These can be nasty cuts!
Again, this is a helpful link:

Once you have cut out a variety of shapes we need to deal with the edges and the surface of the metal. Every shape you cut with a saw needs to be filed!

Files come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I would recommend buying the 12 pack of economy needle files to start off with.  (tools and equip page 77)

There are around 12 file shapes, so choose the right shape for the line you are filing.  Here's a tip I give my students:  The outside of the doughnut is a flat file, (even though the shape is round) the inside of the doughnut hole is a curved file.

The file cuts in the away from you direction.  Keep your metal supported on your bench pin or workbench and clean up your lines.  

The brass is supported on the table, the file is pushing in the away direction and the file is at 90 degrees.

Filing is really a 2 step process.  The first step is to clean up your lines, make them straight and smooth, fix any weirdness or irregularities that you might have created when cutting. The second step to filing is something called beveling.  Beveling is the process of angling the edge so the metal appears thicker than it is.  This is a very important step and can really transform your flat metal into something a lot more sculptural and refined.  To bevel, work from the front of the piece and angle your file so that it is way smaller than 90 degrees to your metal.  The smaller the angle, the more bevel you get.

Notice the beveling on the inside of the A and D on the left.

 Here is more info on filing.

Filing is an essential step that will make your parts look professional and well crafted.  Consider all the shapes you can cut and turn into charms, earrings, pendants.  But you do need holes punched into your shapes to make them functional.  Hole punching pliers are amazingly easy to use and are so handy.  (tools and equip page 59, letter D)  You can now punch holes in everything, add some jump rings, hooks, clasps, and voila....!

Punching a hole through a little charm.

Next weeks post I will discuss how to deal with the surface of your metal and cool texturing techniques.   I will also talk a bit about safety issues we face using these materials.

Leave a comment if you would like more detail about the processes I have touched on.
Happy making!!

A variety of silver parts that could become charms, earrings or pendants, all cut with the jewelers saw.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Home Jewelry Studio part 1

When I am not working in the lab on Lolo's Laboratory items, I am Ms. Nathanson to 50 adorable (yes, adorable) teenagers.  Well, at this point they call me Laurel, and a handful call me Goddess which I admit, I find rather charming.  I am very stoked to have an incredible day job as a high school shop teacher.  My back ground is as a jeweler and metalsmith, and I have been teaching this to kids for the past 10 years.
I am always talking to parents and other adults who really want to go deeper with their jewelry hobby, and extend beyond bead stringing.  (No disrespect to bead stringing, my collection of beads and beading supplies is obscene!)  Folks really want to know what the basics are they need to set up a small jewelry "shop" at home, so here goes...

Fire is so overrated!!  For now...
I am pretty torch savvy and I have been soldering for a long time.  I love soldering.  However, having a tank full of combustible gas in your basement or second bedroom is not an ideal situation for most people.  You don't need a torch to create amazing, professional, sophisticated, skillful jewelry.  With the tools and techniques I will discuss you can do incredible things at home and safely.

List of tools and supplies:
jewelers saw                                     
saw blades (1/0)                                          
blade lube                                          
bench pin
steel bench block
center punch hole punching pliers or precision hole punch
design and letter stamps
hammers: chasing, riveting, texturing, plastic or rawhide
pliers: round nose, chain nose, flat nose and cutters
wet dry sandpaper (220, 320, 400, 600)                            
steel wool (extra fine)
liver of sulfur (patina)  
safety glasses
sheet metal (silver, brass, copper)
wire (silver, brass, copper)
small drill press
drill bits #55, #60
ring mandrel
wood or steel dapping block and punches
bench vice

I will go into more detail about each of these things as these posts progress, but these are the essentials that will take you very far.  The first thing to do if you are interested in getting started with this process is to contact Rio Grande, the ultimate jewelry supply store, and order 2 of their catalogues:  Tools and Equipment, & Gems and Findings.  Everything you need will be in these 2 catalogs.  They also have an online catalog, but I find having the physical catalog way more useful.  They are huge fat books and you will learn so much by going through them.  Here's their phone number so you can order your catalogs: 800-545-6566

Note the hugeness of these catalogs!

Saw frames from all over the world....

A million mallets...
Clasps for days...

Chain in all different metals...The findings go on forever!
Metal basics:
Okay, here we go...
Metal comes in many workable forms: sheet, wire, casting grain, and PMC (precious metal clay).  In your home studio you will be working with sheet and wire.  Sheet and wire are sized by gauges, typically 2 to 26 gauge.  The higher the gauge number, the thinner the metal.  Most jewelry projects are done with around 14-22 gauge sheet, 18 being the most typical.   Wire sizes can vary a lot, I use usually 12-22 gauge.

The kinds of metal jewelers use are fine silver (99% pure), sterling silver (93% silver) copper, brass and bronze, and gold.

The costs of all these metals have sky rocketed in the past few years, so if you want the look of silver you can use nickel silver.  Nickel however is pretty toxic and lots of people are allergic to it.  If you plan on using nickel a lot, then wear a dust mask when you saw, file and sand.  Nickel is also difficult to form and bend if you can't heat it up, so I don't recommend nickel for wire when starting out, but it is ok in sheet form for now.

Sheet brass, nickel and copper.
Wire brass, nickel and copper in many different gauges.

Closing thoughts on fire:
It's important to note that in addition to using a torch for soldering, the other process a torch is used for is annealing metal.  Annealing is a way to make your metal more malleable.  Without a torch there are certain forming and bending actions that are going to be hard to perform.  As these posts progress I will show you project ideas that require little or no forming of sheet metal.  Wire is best annealed too, but we can get away with a lot more forming with un-annealed wire than we can with un-annealed sheet.  If you have been using wire in your work, you may have noticed that it gets stiffer, or harder as you continue to bend and form it.  This is called "work hardening".  The more we form and bend and hammer, the harder metals become.  As you become more invested and addicted to your home jewelry studio, I can go over safer torches that can be used for annealing and eventually soldering.  I think soldering however needs to be learned in a class with a professonial, but annealing you can do on your own with good advice and books.

Please let me know your thoughts on part 1 of this series and if there is anything you would like me to focus on in particular in future posts.  In the meantime, get your Rio catalogs and I will post part 2 next week with more details about the shopping list and to discuss the awesomeness of the jewelers saw!!!

I leave you with a piece of my metalsmithing from back in the day...Bye!

Blast Off the Friendly Tea Pot