Monday, August 8, 2016

First attempts at enamel

 So yes, the summer heat has made me lazy and reluctant indulge my torch work of late but I do have a something to share.  As I mentioned I was awaiting on some enameling supplies and while I haven't done individual shots for a gallery posting here is a sampling of what you can do with no training and a pile of powdered glass.  

They say you can start enameling in a day but can spend your life learning it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Working to the limitations of your materials.

In my last post you saw the big ass coil of 1 inch copper banding I picked up at the scrap yard and while a very good find it's obvious I won't be manufacturing any 2 inch round medallions from this materiel.   While I'd certainly like some nice flat copper plate  I'm going to get my practice in, stretch my range of designs and make some money from my existing investment before I start throwing more money at materials

So I now have copper at 1 inch by several hundred inches at what I think is about 20 gauge, (I need one of those gauge measuring dooleys but a piece of plate with notches in it for $20+ seems just stupid). So what do I do with it?

While the material has sections that are almost perfect there are dents, warps and other imperfections to work around so the best/easiest use is of course to hammer the copper.  Between hammer and torch I can make a variety of pieces that hide or alleviate any issues with the materials, including simple hammered cuffs, pendants, earrings 

The cuffs require cutting to a cuff-ish length, most around 7-7.5 inches, flattening the ends, trimming and sanding the corners to make them safe and then pounding the snot out of them.. While I have a metal anvil I like using a tree stump for this work, less chance of marring the metal and pounding on wood is much easier on my carpal tunnel.  The average cuff can be hammered out in 15-20 minutes but requires being torched and quenched 3 times to soften the work hardened metal..  

As I pound the cuff the stretched copper naturally curls in on itself and requires softening and flattening so I can actually hammer the entire piece which is why it takes 3 torchings, at this point for texture I'm use 2 sizes of ball bean hammer , one that goes to a cone like point and finally the sharp end of a light machinists hammer.  For the cuffs at least I'm liking the look of the machinist hammer which gives lines rather than dimples.   After heating and quenching I soflty flatten the cuff and start hammering on a new area until complete or it requires softening again.  After a final softening I hammer the cuff around a tree limb that's nearly round giving it a final shape and hardening it just enough it will bend but not too easily.  

For any of these projects I have the option of using the fire blackening and just sanding off the high points for contrast and texture, or cleaning them right up to a high polish,, using liver of sulfur to age them brown, using other techniques to bring a real green patina up, using patina paints, or alcohol inks to give different finishes.   In most cases I use fine wet sandpaper to clean up the pieces, take off any rough or sharp edges the hammering might have caused,  final sanding is with steel wool and buffing wheel should one want a high finish or get every bit of patina off.    A final seal with car wax will stop any new corrosion ad keep your arm from going green.

The limitations of the size of the copper banding still allows me a variety of rectangles to play with, as long as I keep in small I can cut squares, diamonds, harts and other shapes for hammered projects.  I took these 3 pieces, 3 cuffs and and a selection of beaded chain mail earrings to a pub night with friends and sold 11 pieces.  So yes there is a market, no I don't have enough friends and pub nights to attend ;)

Another way I've started to use this copper is for etching,, I've tried electro etching but I'm having better but unpredictable results with peroxide and muriatic acid.   There will be an entire post on etching in the near future.   So long as this material is flat other imperfections can be covered up/burnt away by the acid.

Once again the use of patinas or inks can make two pieces with similar patterns into distinct pieces.   Perhaps the owners of the first pieces of etching I made and sold (without documenting) will send me pics to use.

At this point getting two pieces similar enough to for earrings is iffy at best but I've have a number of one offs quite suitable for pendants or broaches.   I'm not all that sure I'm looking for uniformity in my pieces I just hate to take something out of the etch and have to toss it back in the recycle pile.  I only have so much time to play and I hate using several hours prepping and etching to have a failure,, pottery will kill me.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Gallery1 Stuff I'm working on for my first craft show

The first wave of pieces for a fall craft show with many more earrings, cuffs and bent silver plate pieces to go but I'm definitely tiring of the failure rate in etching
(50% plus or minus) as the resist wears off too soon,, the acid wears out and after pulling a piece out after hours it's not deep enough to use.

on the bright side I've ordered my first batch of enameling supplies so I'll have something new to play with shortly,, add some needed colour to the collection.


                                2 pieces, 1 sold



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The search for affordable crafting materials

At the beginning of any craft you have to be very careful about buying supplies, 

Did I buy the right supplies?
Will I actually use all this shit?
Doesn't this come in a smaller package?
Do I really need to spend $20 dollars a pound to buy copper sheets or wire?

I had the hardest time justifying $20/lb for copper when I know it sells for about $4 at the investment level of the market so I started looking for alternative sources, I could buy copper pipe, cut and flatten it but it's till not all that cheap and a fair bit of work that will probably leave you with imperfect, dented or scratched copper stock that will make your work that much harder to finish. 

I then thought about scrap dealers which would seem to be viable but in this region it would seem that most of the scrap dealers don't want to deal with buyers, especially small buyers who want to pick. Fortunately for me I did find one that was reasonably close who said yes on the phone, it wasn't until I got there that the guy in the tie said they didn't allow picking of the copper "because it was inside and not safe, besides what could we possibly have you could use?"  Luckily his resistance was limited and he quickly handed me over to one of the fellows who was more than happy to both let me graze and quite willing to show me treasures they had set aside like plated spoons, copper decorative plates and to my excitement a roll of dirty copper banding 1 inch wide.  I never measured it but I guess I scored about 30 ft of it.   I also cut off several sections of heavy braided copper bus wire in different gauges  in all I acquired some 15 pounds of workable copper for a total of  85$

Sure this material was dirty, in some cases dented, scratched or otherwise marred but at the same time there was lots of it, it was cheap and I suddenly didn't feel so bad about experimenting my money away having already discounted my time as having no real value when calculating the price I could charge for the finish product. 

and most importantly it works.  Sure I have to include the cost of  propane, sand paper and steel wool but 10 of these babies will totally cover my costs for the copper and the anvil I purchased with the savings..   and I have enough copper to make a lot more projects than that.  So scramble and search you might just find materials you can afford to play with.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BentWood rings (aka, yes you can glue your fingers together)

Welcome to the world of bentwood jewelry, 

By laminating several layers  of veneer around an appropriately sized form you can create rings that are unique, strong, attractive with a wide variety of colours, grain patterns and embellishments possible

One of my first rings had a piece torn out by aggressive use of the dremel so I cut the hole bigger and inserted a piece of shell.  Even mistakes can teach you something.

Bentwood is a relatively simple process but it does take some time and planning as it requires a bit of work over a number of days instead of an afternoon project.   The best thing you can do is start a score of them at once because the early steps take little more time for 20 than one.

This seems like a lot of work to  when you could just drill/bore the center out of a solid slab of wood to make a ring, bangle, one of those horrid spacers for the giant hole in your ear lobe etc.  The major difference between the two techniques is a drilled ring won't have the  the continuous run of wood grain to make it strong,, an average ring made with 3 layers of veneer is very hard to deform by compression between finger and thumb.  While you could squeeze and break it in a vice or  channel locks  the average non gorilla like person would be hard pressed to accidentally destroy their ring.  Scaling the technique up to  bangle size would requires 4-5 layers of lamination to hold this strength but it would still be more resilient than many plastic, jade, glass bangles I’ve seen.  When a solid piece of wood is turned into a ring/bangle the grain is not continuous and be as short as a few mm wide, definitely a ring you could easily break by striking or squeezing,  It could even just dry out and crack.

Of course that’s not to say you can’t bash your hand into something and take a chip out of bentwood ring but I expect most people wearing these are more dainty and lets klutzy than I am. I’m also not likely to take it off when doing rough work in the garden, shop or garage.   I do take it off for showers and dish-washing but not much else.  I have these rings in several colours but the one I wear most often seems to be holding up fairly well, that said I’m starting to put more layers of CA glue on the inside of all my rings as the constant wearing seems to be thinning the inner finish far more than the outer.

Just a few of the woods I received, some work, some don't and many weren't labeled by species so I sell my rings by colour not wood type.. "what kind of wood is this?"  "Brown with spots." 

Ok so you're hooked, the first thing is find some veneer, you can buy a sample pack like I did at Lee Valley or some other wood working store and have enough sheets for several thousand rings (what the hell was I thinking?) or with a nice piece of wood and a good carpenters plane you can make your own shavings which will work just as well so long as you can make the long enough and a consistent thickness

As I don’t always wrap and glue the veneer perfectly straight I generally cut my strips at least 1-1.5 cm wide so I have plenty of leeway to sand my mistakes out. With practice you can eventually save wood but with the glut of veneer I have now I’m not really that concerned about it.  Cut your veneer with the grain using a good straight ruler,  a hobby knife, or one of those mini  pizza cutters things they use for crafts or even an office surplus guillotine.  When using a blade  make several shallow passes rather than hack through the wood in one cut so you have less chance of slippage from your straight edge and so you cut rather than tear the fiber in the wood.

Don't tell my wife where her biggest roast pan went

Next you find a container to soak your veneer strips in, many will say 2 hours of soaking is enough but I find a day or two works better and I’m even experimenting with boiling them for an hour or 2 then letting them sit.  If you find a type of wood you particularly like (the unlabeled black wood in my sample kit) but you find it hard to work with you can always experiment with an Alkali solution similar to many furniture manufactures use for bending wood,, that said I’m not too keen to playing with Caustic Soda in my basement but I might try it outside come summer. If you get a big selection of woods like I got in my sample pack you'll soon find that some were too thick and needed sanding down, some are either too brittle , have very short grain which won’t bent too well and some might even have burl hoes.  Trial and error time but remember to sort them into piles of ,,” good”,  “workable”, “needs to be sanded thinner” and “not suitable , AKA find a different project”   Trying the same wood 3 times only to find out it sucks ,, Sucks..

Once you have thoroughly  soaked your veneer you can wrap it around a doweling that’s roughly ring size and tape it down to dry.  Once dry the veneer will be in a coil already very close to the right curve for your project.   If you find a wood that is still brittle when you try to wrap it you might need to work it a bit.  Add a little tension and pull the veneer around a partial radius of the dowel  much like you’d curl a piece of ribbon when gift wrapping..  Keep stressing and pulling the veneer over the dowel with increasing bend until it’s becomes more pliable.   This worrying can break or release tight fibres and while it may  take some time you can sometimes soften woods you’d otherwise not be able to use.. think of it like that note or piece of paper you folded so many times it became like cloth instead. 

Give them a day or two to dry, take the tape off and  toss your veneer blanks into a bin, from this point the work becomes less assembly line and you might decide to complete one project at a time

Next you need a form to wrap the veneer around for gluing,, I’m sure there are many things you could use, me I’d like to have a bunch of exactly sized forms turned on a lathe, in reality I’m using several sizes of dowel which I tape up with green painters tape to make  the dowel pieces a variety of sizes.   Generally I make from size 5 to 10 by  half sizes.  Since most of my rings have been  for ladies , sizes 5 to 8 would be fine for 90% of customers.

The trickiest part is the lamination.  
1. you need to roll the strips evenly so you don’t end up with a ring  that's twice as wide as the strip.

2. You need to apply enough pressure that you don’t end up with voids in the bonding,  you will not always notice these until you start sanding and find a space between layers

3. You should sand both ends of the veneer strip, 1/2-3/4 inch so they gradually thin enough they transition smoothly when glued down,, you can glue and sand latter but pre-sanding makes it easier, especially if you are going to blend two colours by layering two different wood strips.

4.  You need to judge the number of wraps and overhang of the two ends so ensure the ring is approximately the same thickness all around the ring.  (I suffer here)

5. You must use enough glue , generally a quick setting super glue aka CA (
Cyanoacrylate) to bond the piece but not glue it to your dowel, desk, fingers, etc.   (and yes I’ve done it all.)  (Don't bother with latex gloves,, the glue melts them)

Yes these glues set quickly but it pays to take as much time as you have to ensure your ring starts wrapping straight, I glue the portion of the veneer facing up while I push and roll against the bench to avoid glue voids, I progress in ¾ to 1 inch sections, glue, roll, glue roll until it's complete.  You want full coverage with the glue but no leakage or soaking right through like some woods allow.    After a minute to set I push the ring off the dowel, sometimes I must really push hard or even use a small hammer and screwdriver and top it off.  Occasionally you destroy a ring you that you can't get off without it ripping apart , other times it comes off clean or with just a little green tape on the inside of the ring to be sanded off.   Of course you may turn out to be a hell of lot more careful or precise than me and won’t have these issues.
While you need these veneer strips to be dry or the glue will go cloudy and set almost instantly,  if the wood is too dry the glue won’t set at all.  If I’m using veneer that was I coiled and dried many days ago I often wipe the wood with a damp sponge and then dry it off with a dust free towel.. That little bit of moisture will make all the difference between a 20 second bond to 5 minutes later your hand is cramping and it’s not set yet.

At this point you have your blanks ready to sand.  Start with the two sides making the ring straight with an even width on the entire diameter.    I generally use the bench sander to take the bulk off and then proceed to use sandpaper tacked down to the work bench..   The bench sander is very aggressive so  use a light touch and keep your finger off of it.   When you start to do the finer work on the bench a fine sand paper and a figure 8 motion works best to give you a nice even ring, many people on the web only use hand sanding but the lucky ones use a lathe to cut the rings from an over sized  blank.  

At the next stage use can use pin files, a dremel or more sandpaper to smooth and shape the edges,  while finishing the top and inside with progressively finer sand paper. Your goals are smooth, even and the correct size,, good luck with that. 

The final stage is to finish the ring.. While you could use wax, wood sealer, or resin, most people simply use the same CA glue used for the lamination  Apply multiple light coats with lint free rag and give it  a find sanding between coats until you build up a nice finish.   You could even go with wet sandpaper, brass or steel wool and eventually a supper fine sanding to finish.  In my case I polish with blue compound on a dremel pad but the cleaning and buffing I generally do by hand as the heat from a clean buffer pad on the dremel actually heats up enough to mar the finish.

Make sure to seal all the edges too not just the flat surface, the leading edge of the ring is where you'll take the most dents.   Don't attempt to seal the entire ring at once, you'll just end up gluing the ring to yourself or a tool, do inside and outside layers separately, it drys fast you can wait.

In this pic you can see the difference between the inside unfinished and the outside with only 2 of it probable 5 coats.

A selection of Bentwood Rings

Once you get confident you can even set a stone (as above) or attempt an inlay with a different woods,  crushed stone, glitter or (as below) some sterling wire.

Give it a try , or if you know me personally buy one please
sorry kind of a long post!