Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pendant from Another Time

The project for self-challenge week 4 is this pendant. It's a piece in the Elsewhen Antiquities series. From the excavation catalog:
Presumably a decorative plaque or mount of some kind, this chased and repousséed copper piece has been stabilized and tab set in a brass holder to serve as a pendant. From Mound 5, age unknown because it was located in surface screening as part of the site survey.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Finished Piece for Challenge Week 3

This week my finish-a-piece challenge is met by a small vessel. It's one of three that I made several years ago when I was just starting to learn how to raise bowls from sheet. I didn't have proper stakes, just some large dapping punches that I had to jerry-rig a method of holding in order to use them like stakes. Not knowing any better, I used 16 gauge copper and a 4 inch diameter starting disc so I had very little leverage to use in holding the disc against the stake while I hit it. This little guy took me a week of evenings to get formed!

Later, after I'd learned more about raising, it became my first practice piece to learn how to patina and how to apply gold leaf. The patina was good. The leafing job was... barely acceptable. Lots of weird spots and lumps where dust or something had contaminated the gold size (glue) or the leaf itself. So it sat on a shelf. Then, in this fall's class at Flo Valley, I had a chance to try commercial gold plating on a piece. This was something I'd been interested in for a while. So I took off the gold leaf, polished up the inside, masked off the outside, and sent it off to get electroplated. When it came back the patina was ruined. Lesson learned - plate before patina.

I wanted to see how well the plating would hold up to a hot patina process so this week I removed the old patina and re-applied ferric nitrate which goes on at about 212 to 220 F. The result is that the gold is unharmed but slightly darkened. I suspect that there may be some alloying of copper from the substrate to the plating. It's a nice look though. Unlike the gold leaf, this interior is safe to drink from.

Unfortunately, the plater missed a spot so I don't think this piece is saleable. But it's a good end to an experimental piece and I'll hang on to it as a reminder of where I started and how experimentation is always a good idea.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Weekly Challenge Dec 11, 2016

I've been laid low by a bad back this week, so there isn't much to report.

A picture on the web got me interested in trying chasing on air so I went to the studio and turned this out from a piece of scrap 22 gauge copper. First time I've tried a bracelet. I've since chased three more but haven't gotten them shaped, trimmed, and patinated. So just one piece this week.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Challenge Week One - Achievement Unlocked!

Despite some setbacks I was able to finish eleven pairs of earrings this week. They were UFOs* from a while back.

The three egg-shaped repousse ones are brass with a commercial patina, Birchwood Casey Cold Blue for Steel. It's intended for restoring gun bluing but I found that it makes a beautiful iridescent dark blue-purple on brass. I think it looks like beetle elytra (wing covers.)

The photo doesn't do it justice (because I'm not a very good photographer.)

The other earrings are copper. The skulls are jewelry saw exercises I did about two years ago and never turned into anything. The slender drops are a shape I call earfinger (that needs a different post.) Half of the copper earrings were patinated with vinegar and salt and the other half with ammonia and salt. They've been sealed with a spray urethane so the patina won't rub or flake off.

All eleven are on commercial earwires. I'm not certain if they are brass or gold-plated brass.
I'd intended to make my own wires but it turned out that I had the wrong wire and the jig I was going to use was a failure. I was in despair thinking that I was going to fail my challenge the first week.
But Carole managed to locate some earwires in her stash of beading and jewelry findings so I was saved. Thank you for hauling my butt out of the fire, dear.

There are only nine pairs showing in the photos because I took them all to the bluegrass jam at the Schlafly Bottleworks to finish putting them on ear wires and two pair sold before I had a chance to take a photo. So I'm a happy metalsmith!

On to week two!

* UFO = unfinished objects

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I Just Hit Myself With A Gauntlet

As part of my ongoing development as an artist I need to set some goals and work towards them.

I want to challenge myself to do two things each week. They are:

  1. Finish at least one art project a week. 
  2. Post to this blog at least once a week. 

Here's the fine print defining what that means.

  • Art projects don't have to be big but they do have to be complete.
  • For the next six months, getting something done to upgrade the studio is going to count as a art project. That way I can take some time to continue to work on the studio projects that need to be done before I can tackle some of the art projects I have in mind.
  • At the very least, the post should tell you what art project got done.
  • Weeks start on Mondays because it's easier not to split the weekend. That means I've got til Sunday night to finish something and let you know about it this week.
  • More than one project or post in a week doesn't mean I get to skip the next week.

There's a problem though.

I've found that just deciding to do something isn't enough to make sure I do it. There's a devious little part of me who insists that just because I decided something doesn't mean I can't undecide it. He tells me, 'No one will know. It's OK to skip it this time.' And then I do.

Once that happens, it's easier the next time. Pretty soon, the resolve is gone and it's all over.

No, if I really want to commit to doing something, I have to make it embarrassing to fail.

What can I say? It's not a trait I'm proud of but it seems to be ingrained. I just have to learn to work with what I've got.

So, I need your help.

If I miss a week, call me on it. Let me know that I messed up in the comments.

One caveat (see how sneaky that inner guy can be?)
I give myself the right not to finish an art piece or post to the blog in a given week if there is a real emergency. You know, if I'm truly ill or there's an emergency in the family. In that case, however, I have to tell you all why it happened.

And you guys get to tell me if my reason is sufficient or not.
Don't be shy about it. The embarrassment is part of the way this works.

Can I count on you?

Gauntlet's down, self. Time to get to work.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Doing the Happy Hammer Dance

There's all sorts of things that I could write about but this has to go first.

My new heavy chasing hammer from Nechamkin Silver Studios arrived today! I've wanted one of these since I took a chasing and repousse workshop from Liza Nechamkin two years ago. At the time I bought her standard chasing hammer and the standard set of tools plus the matting tool set but couldn't afford the heavy hammer. So when I saw that they were going out of stock I splurged and ordered one.
Isn't it sweet? Walnut handle, forged steel head with a lovely blued finish.

Works beautifully too. Fits my hand as comfortably as the original Nechamkin pistol grip hammer but the extra weight and stiffness of the handle mean that I can strike a deep mark with much less effort. Less effort makes for greater control and longer working time. I love it.

Here's a comparison with my other chasing hammer.

Thanks Liza! 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Two vessels a little later on

The two vessels that I posted about on the 20th are getting closer to done.

Here's the high relief vessel.

The shapes are lots crisper now. I soldered the hole that it had and was able to chase over the repair. So it's a good solid repair.

The solder repair from the back (before it gets scraped down to the minimum amount needed.)
The solder repair from the front. Practically invisible.
What remains is to decide how to handle the eye. There are some dings in it that interrupt the smoothness of the plain copper surface. If the metal were thicker, I'd sand and buff them out. But that won't work in this gauge metal without making it too thin. So I need to chase a texture into it that will obscure the dings and, ideally, enhance the look of the piece. That will have to wait for a new day and a fresh eye.

This is where I've gotten to on the low relief one.

There's some more texturing to do but it's pretty close to the point where all the hammering is done and it's time to patina it.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the way these are going. They've presented some interesting challenges and I've learned a good deal from them.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Been Busy

It's been several months since I last posted something. My bad - I need to post more regularly. In the meantime I've been busy.

I have a new bench for hot work now. Much better than the make-do I was working with.

It's a Harbor Freight special, but it has a nice wide surface, drawers and pegboard storage, lighting, and a lower shelf for extras. I'll be able to safety-chain the acetylene tank to the leg.

The whole bench frame is metal so I can use magnets to add features.

That round thing on the overhead shelf is a magnetic stick-on timer so I can put something in the pickle pot or other solution and have it tell me when it's ready to come out.

There's also two new vessel projects in the works. These are the first in a style I'm calling Elsewhen Antiquities.

First is a piece in thin (22 gauge) copper. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the earliest stages. It's being done in high relief. Right now it's on the second pass of repousse. The initial stage was dishing to make a smooth, shallow bowl. The design was drawn on freehand and the basic lines put in with chasing tools. I filled the bowl with red sculptor's wax for this stage. Some of the larger shapes were simply hammered into place, no chasing tools needed. That speeds things up. I did manage to poke a hole in one spot while I was trying to deepen the major spiral of the piece. I'll solder that closed when I've finished this repousse pass. For now, I'm just avoiding that spot.

In place on the pitch bowl. Not all of the piece is supported, so I need to be careful where I work. But this way I can use the pitch bowl to advantage in tilting the piece and I don't need a pitch bowl bigger than the piece I'm working on. That's good because I only have one large pitch bowl and it's got the second piece on it.

Top view before the second pass. My intention is to sharpen up the lines that form the crests and valleys of the shapes.

After the second pass of repousse. See how much crisper the lines are?

Front side of the piece after I popped it off the pitch.

The second piece is in 18 gauge copper and will be done in lower relief.
Here it is after being dished and having the design drawn in Sharpie.

And here it is after I've scratched the design in with a scribe and set it into my large pitch bowl. Scratching the design in makes it fairly permanent. The Sharpie would have worn off of before I got the whole thing lined in with chasing tools for the first pass of chasing. Pencil is no better. The scribe lines are harder to see, but they don't rub off and they're narrow, so I have a very clear idea where the chasing tool is supposed to go.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Fire This Time

For now, this is the torch setup in the studio. I planned something more elaborate, but the lack of a torch was really getting in the way. So I used a portable bench that I had, found the pickle pot, pumice pan, and torch, and got a temporary hot work station set up.

It'll do for now.

Pickle pot on the left, quench bucket underneath, pumice pan in the middle, igniter and torch on the right. The pickle pot is a crock pot from Goodwill. The pumice pan was a cookie tin and sits on a lazy susan that I picked up somewhere. (No, honest, I didn't make off with one from the kitchen.) Quench bucket used to have kitty litter in it. The torch is my trusty Smith Handy Heet air-acetylene rig. I love it.

Ventilation is not what it will be, but that has to wait for a place to install a hood. So for now I can anneal and solder indoors. Anything that produces lots of smoke or vapors will have to get done outside. That would be filling and emptying vessels with pitch and doing hot patinas.

But at this point I can actually get back to raising vessels.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why Pushing Copper?

I call this blog pushing copper because that's mostly what I do in my work. I push metal around with hammers, punches, stakes, pliers, my fingers, anything that will do the work of shaping the piece from its original form into the form I want. Metal is plastic, like clay. Really stiff clay, but still plastic. Hit it and it deforms. It bends, squishes, thins or thickens, all depending on the direction of the force applied. The tools just make it possible to apply that force in the desired direction and location.

Iron and steel are cheap and readily available. But they have to be heated to make them soft enough to work by hand. That adds a level of difficulty to the task; you have to be able to hold the work as well as the tools and you can't get too close or you risk getting burned. Silver and gold can be worked by hand at room temperature. That's an advantage. You can hold onto your work and get very close to it. Or you can fix it into something like wax or pitch. That leaves both hands free to hold the tools for shaping the metal. But precious metals are expensive. That makes mistakes expensive.

Copper and its alloys are a wonderful compromise. They are relatively inexpensive and they can be worked at room temperature. Copper, brass, and bronze have beautiful warm colors and can take a wide range of patinas. Copper is particularly malleable. It works easily under the hammer and the experience of shaping it is relaxing, almost meditative.

Copper is also the first functional metal that humans learned to work, around 11,000 years ago. It can be found in native form, as metal not ore, so early humans learned the uses of metal before they learned how to smelt it. Silver and gold can also be found this way, but they are rare and are too soft to make functional use of. Around the same time that humans began cultivating crops, some 9,500 years ago, they learned how to smelt copper from its ore. Humanity was on its way to civilization.

The work I do in copper and copper alloys is based on the tools and techniques learned in this deep history. It gives me a sense of connection to the artisans of the past; knowing that they would recognize much of what I do as their craft.

Copper is one of the seven ancient metals: gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, lead, and mercury. The ancients associated each of them with a deity and a bright feature in the sky. The names and sometimes the genders change depending on the culture. Of the seven, only one was always female: Copper, the Queen of metals.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Building the Frankenbench

The first thing I need is a jewelers bench and I devoted this week to getting that done. Here's how the build went.

This is the desk that I had been using for a bench in the old studio.
The original desk/bench.
Big old school desk. The floor flange is where I had a flex-shaft hanger mounted.
It's solid and in good shape, but it's still a desk, not really a proper bench. I'd promised myself that I would alter it once we were moved. It's time for Frankenbench. (Cue thunder and lightning.)

 Brian Meek posted the original Frankenbench instructions that I'm following. The top will be raised 8 inches. That should put it just about armpit level when I'm seated. Since I've never used a European style bench (and only occasionally used a real bench of any kind) I'm waiting until I'm into the build before deciding what shape it should be.

Here's the desk with the top off.
Top off and innards exposed.
Top off and innards exposed.
The center drawer will become a tool and sweeps drawer. 
Taking a cue from Brian Meek's post, I'll put in two half-depth supports on top of the inner drawer stack rails. I determined that I needed the following bill of materials:
  • 1" x 8" x 8' common board (2) for the risers
  • 1/4" MDF sheet (1) for the drawer stack tops
  • corner braces (12) to attach the risers to each other and the top
  • strap plates (4) to attach the top assembly to the base
  • wood screws

Build Log

Sun 29 May 2016 - I've been to the hardware store and gotten lumber for the bench risers and the drawer stack tops as well as the hardware I'll need to build and attach the risers. While there I also picked up the lumber for the power tool benches that I'll need to build after this.

Mon 30 May 2016 - Today I'm getting started on the Frankenbench. I pulled the top off the desk so that I could measure, cut and fit risers to lift the top to the correct height. There were some fixes that needed to be done before anything else could be done. There were two braces that spanned the center of the desk. They had to go because they would interfere with the open space needed to access the bench pin. Out they went.
First one gone and the second to follow shortly.
I then added a foot brace to strengthen the bench since the other two braces across the center space had to be removed.
Left connects to right again.
Had to lay the desk on its back to get this screwed into place.
 The center drawer guide rails needed some repair. They'd been abused and needed to be glued back to solidity.
A little TLC - wood glue and clamps
Using the strap plates I got the sides and back connected to the bench body. Then they got attached to each other with heavy corner braces. Finally I connected the two interior short walls to the back riser.
Risers attached
It's ready to attach the top after the drawer stacks are capped off. 

I'll want a light under the counter and a power strip. And I'd like to cut down the center drawer for a tool drawer and add a sweeps pan. I still haven't decided what shape to make the bench pin opening.

Tue 31 May 2016 - Today's task was getting the drawer stacks covered. That was a fiddly job because of the shape left by the interior short walls. So I made a cardboard template before cutting the MDF.
Cardboard template for the right side.

Fits the other side when turned over.
The MDF was fussy but I managed to get a reasonably tight fit.
This side needed a support glued in at the back.
There were other things to do today so I only got a couple of hours in. Tomorrow should be more productive.

Wed 1 Jun 2016 - Got a lot done today. The bench top is secured to the risers and the body of the bench.
And now it's almost too heavy for me to lift.
I cut a semi-circle out of the top for the main opening. That took about an hour of jigsawing. This is a solid wood desktop.
Looks like a jeweler's bench now.
Against my expectations the cabinet that used to fit on my old hot-work bench fits on top of the raised bench top. I'd been worried that the ceiling might not be quite high enough.
It fits! I have on-bench storage.
 At this point the bench is usable and a lot more solid than I could have hoped.

Thu 2 Jun 2016 - I cut down the center drawer and added a wooden brace to the front. Then I mounted a small fluorescent light fixture under the bench top. Finally I attached a power strip to the side of the bench.
Sweeps drawer and under-counter light.
"It's alive! It's alive!
Frankenbench has electrical power, a tool/sweeps drawer, under-counter lighting, and it's in the intended spot in the studio. I've got the flex-shaft mounted and some tools in place.There may be some tweaks yet to come but for now it's ready for work.

Time for a happy dance.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

First post

I've been procrastinating trying to think of a way to start this blog. The best place to start is often right in the middle. So here goes.

My studio is in chaos. A month and a half ago I retired and we moved out of the building we lived in for 34 years. My studio was in the basement, which was ill-lit, had a low ceiling, and no heating or cooling. Here's a panorama of what I used to have:
Hot work bench on the left, jeweler's bench in the middle, storage on the right
 There was also a stump where the raising stakes got mounted.
Stump and hammer storage
Hard to imagine that anything got done in that, but I started my journey to be a metals artist there and managed to get a number of pieces made.
All of that - all my tools and materials - are stacked in boxes all over the basement of the new house. Since the whole purpose of the move was so that I could set up a metalwork studio for my retirement, it's time to get to work on that.

Here's the studio today. It used to be a finished basement. The previous owners had a pool table and a bar down here.
Left side of the basement
Right side of the basement
It's a mess, isn't it? It is a much bigger space though. The ceiling is higher, the lighting is better, and it's connected to the heating and cooling for the rest of the house. I think it's going to be wonderful!

When we were moving in and getting things fixed up I took the opportunity to add electrical outlets to the wall on the left side. I intend to build a bench for my power tools - belt sander, drill press, tumbler, etc. Underneath will be storage for other tools and consumables like sanding belts.
This area will have the jeweler's bench. I've been using a big old wooden teacher's desk but I have plans for upgrading it.
Near this will be the forming area. I've got a stump and will build a stake horse. I'll also want to put together better tool storage for hammers and stakes. Right now they're in buckets and bags.

Behind the bench is a closed off area where the gas meter and main water valve are. Luckily, it's well lit so I've turned it into a storage area for chemicals and other stuff that I don't want just sitting out.

Over here is where I'd like to have the hot work area. The window would allow for venting and a fume hood. Since that will take some time and doing, I'm going to have to figure out how to do annealing and soldering for now. I didn't move the metal desk that used to be the hot work station so I need to come up with a substitute. Hot patinas will have to be applied outdoors.
Somewhere in all this will be bookshelves for the metalwork texts that I have.