Sunday, March 12, 2017

Self-challenge, self-gift

Just a quick post for this week's completed item.

While I was getting things put away in the new studio storage space I came across a piece of brass that I had air-chased for a cuff a while back and never finished. So I tested how well the new layout worked by seeing how fast I could finish it. Pretty fast, as it turns out. About half an hour.

To make sure it worked I tried it on. Darned if I didn't like it. I'd never made a piece for myself and decided this one would be mine.
What do you think?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

While I was out...

Apologies are in order. I haven't posted for nearly four weeks. The purpose of my self challenge was to push me to be more productive in the studio and to tell the world about it. It worked for a while but I think the pace of the Super Bowl Challenge burned me out. I needed to absorb the lessons and regroup. It showed me the pain points in the studio and pushed me to fix them. But I ought to have told that story to my friends on-line. So I'm going to do that. It's March, the days are getting longer and warmer. Spring is coming and I'm going to renew my art, my studio, and myself.

Here's what's happened while I've been absent from posting.

I installed a keyboard tray on my desk. That makes working at the computer a whole lot easier, particularly typing long blocks of text. It was a PITA because of the way the desk was built but now I can write without straining my back.

I also did a lot of adulting - going to doctors appointments, filing taxes, dealing with family issues. The death of a friend caused grief and care. The graveyard where my maternal grandparents are buried was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism. Their graves were not disturbed, but it was yet another emotional blow.

Toward the end of February I decided to change the jewelry bench topper and rearrange items in the shop. That took several days of clearing things from the bench, moving the topper off, moving power tools and shelving units around, rearranging boxes. I moved two sewing machines from near the bench to over by the bathroom. I made a path from the left side of the studio to the right side so I don't have to walk all the way around the hot bench and the stuff past it. I took a pair of shoe racks and put them on top of the bench to make a more useful organizer. I moved a shelving unit from its awkward location in the middle of the floor to the wall at the left of the bench.
Before the rearranging. Note the bench topper and the shelf sticking out on the left.
Afterward. New bench topper, Shelf moved. Stuff neatly placed on wall.
After resting from that work, I started on the next upgrade by salvaging pegboard from the garage and painting it white. Then I built a support frame for the pegboard and attached it to the wall next to the bench. I added hooks and put tools on it. It makes a big difference in the accessibility of hammers, saws and other tools that were either hard to get to or ended up in a clutter on the bench.
A lovely, easy-to-get-to wall o' tools.
With that done I tested the improvements by making a non-conforming die out of scrap acrylic sheet and tested it by dapping out two identical shapes in much less time than repousse would have taken.

I wanted some sort of holder for files that could be mounted under the bench top or under the shelves on the bench. They were stuck in a coffee can that was filled with a roll of carpet scrap. The files were protected from banging into each other but it made them difficult to get to. A better design would be a set of plastic tubes for them to rest in; each file in its own tube, handle out, ready to slide out and slide back in.

So I bought 10 feet of 3/4" PVC pipe for a file holder. The small pipe cutter I had raised a blister on the inside of my thumb just making the two cuts needed to get the pipe into the car. So I searched for the large pipe cutter that I knew I had but hadn't found before going to the hardware store. I sorted through all the boxes of tools and miscellany, ended up combining some, finding places for other stuff, generally clearing and consolidating for hours. But no pipe cutter. Then just as I was cleaning up and preparing to go upstairs it showed up - sitting on the shelves next to the jeweler's bench. Hours of searching, bending and standing, sorting, kneeling, all to find the thing I was looking for in plain sight. So I sat down and started cutting 8" lengths of PVC. Got 9 of them done before my arms gave out. The next day I finished cutting the tubes and hot glued them together. Let everything cool then loaded it up with files and put it in place on the bench.
Before - files in a can. Note the lazy susan lash-up on the right. That's gotta go

PVC and hot glue, So easy (once you've got the pipe cutter.)
Added a tube on the bottom to tilt everything up a little.
In place on the bench and loaded with files.
I cleaned up a rotating tool carousel that I'd gotten in a batch of crafting supplies and put tools into it, replacing the makeshift that I had on a lazy susan. Cleaned the bench top and sweeps/tool tray. That put the bench in good working order.
A clean bench top.

Much better now.

The view from the driver's seat.
There's yet more work to do. I still want some better storage for metals and a heavy bench that can take pounding. Racks for raising forging hammers and stakes. I'm debating moving the hot bench around the corner from the jeweler's bench. I could do that if I can pull electricity from elsewhere. I don't want both benches on the same circuit. The power tools still need a home. The whole place needs some decoration.

But that's in the future and I'll be back to posting weekly.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Self-challenge Week 11

A while back I posted my progress on two bowls. The first one got finished in week 6 of this self-challenge. And today, the second one is done.

In the time between January 8 and now, I decided to do something with the interior and finally settled on etching in a text. This is intended to be an enigmatic object, so I won't be revealing the nature of the text. LSMW-2017-EA-003 is a Bowl of Unknown Use With Interior Text. It was found in a non-grave context in one of the mounds excavated by the Elsewhen Antiquities project.

Exterior patina is ferric nitrate with a little cupric nitrate.

Liver of Sulfur patina on the inside.

Some of the text. Any guesses what it says?


Thursday, February 9, 2017

SBC 9 -What's in a Name?

The bowl I made for this year's Super Bowl Challenge is now finally, completely, absolutely, finished. The last little tweaks are done, it has its patina, the finish is sealed. Thanks to Meri Ellen Taylor it has a name. She pointed out that the shape is that of a Scottish vessel form called a quaich. I'd intended it to be a ceremonial vessel, possibly a libation bowl. So it's now the Libation Quaich. Accession Number LSMW-2017-EA-002 in the Elsewhen Antiquities catalog.
Ready to shine.
I had thought about doing the kind of patina that's on all the other Elsewhen Antiquities pieces; an all-over aged, restored-from-out-of-the-ground look. But when I started to do the final prep before applying the patina I had to do some polishing. Ended up polishing the whole thing, just to see what it would look like. Oddly, I've never high polished a vessel of mine before. I found that I could not bear to cover up that shine. So the only patina it got was some darkening in the etched lines, to make them stand out a bit better.

Hope you like it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

SBC 9 - Last Day

This is just a short post to let you all know that I've completed the Super Bowl Challenge.

Before anything else: Thank you!, Wendy Edsall-Kerwin, for hosting this challenge. It has kicked my butt and forced me to grow as a metalsmith. I've learned a tremendous amount in the past week while I struggled to get this project completed. I'm a better artist because of it.

That said, here's the (mostly) finished piece.



This is part of the Elsewhen Antiquities project. Notionally, it's a libation bowl or drinking cup from a culture that doesn't exist in our history, but might have in an alternate time. It's 2 7/8ths inches tall, 3 5/8ths inches diameter, 5 5/8ths inches across the handles. 16 gauge brass, raised, chased, etched, and fabricated.

Today's work included masking off the interior and etching the bowl, making the handles and attachment brackets and rivets, and assembling the whole thing. Of all the things to give me trouble, assembly was the worst. I'm not used to small precise fabrication. The piece still needs its final patina and finish but I am out of time and energy. I intend to make more bowls like this, partly to see if the lessons stuck, partly to see if I can improve it with some different decisions and better tooling.

Like I said, just a short post today. I'll post an overview with lessons learned in a few days after I catch my breath.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

SBC 9 - Days 5 and 6

When you don't know what the result will be, it's an experiment. When you think you know the result but want to check, it's a confirming experiment. When you know the result and want to show the method to others, it's a demonstration. When you need to use the result by itself or as part of a larger process, it's a technique.

Day 5


This was supposed to be the day I got the band design laid out on the metal and etched. Instead, it was a day of trying all sorts of ways to scale the repeating design element so that it would fit evenly into the space. Nothing I tried seemed to work. I ended up frustrated and running out of time for the day.

Finally I decided to resort to a method that I knew would work. It's not a good methond. It's incredibly labor intensive but I knew it would work because I've used it before. It's a technique, not an experiment.

I spray painted the bowl with Rustoleum flat white spray paint. It works as a resist and takes pencil. The paint comes off with mineral spirits when you're done etching. That was all I got done - spray painting the bowl. It felt like I'd wasted the whole day.

Day 6


Today I figured exactly how the repeat element in the design worked and redrew it to the size I needed. I made sure that it would fit, then drew it again in ink on tracing paper. Flip the tracing paper over, redraw the lines in pencil on the back. Flip it right side up, hold it onto the bowl, and rub to transfer the pencil lines to the resist. That takes the pencil off of the tracing paper, so redraw it, hold it up to the bowl shifted one repeat to the right, and transfer the pencil. Do this twelve times. Now go over the pencil lines on the bowl and fix any dropouts, smudges, and errors. Make sure it's all linked up properly. Then - go over the whole thing again with a sharp tool, scratching through the resist to expose metal to be etched. Be careful not to slip or scratch through any place that should not be etched because that will require repainting the resist to repair the defect.
The repeating design drawn on.
The design scratched in and ready to etch.
That took hours. I have vowed to find A Better Way™ so that I never have to use this method again. But at this point I can mask off the interior of the bowl and it will be ready to soak for an hour or two in an etching bath. That's time I can use to fabricate the handles. Those will get attached with rivets and it will be ready to clean up and have a finish put on.

Tomorrow. It gets done tomorrow.

Friday, February 3, 2017

SBC 9 - Days 3 and 4

I've been working too hard on the bowl to take many pictures and have been too tired at the end of the day to post about it. So this is a catch-up post before I start today's work.

Day 3

I spent a little time working out how to chase in the flutes. The bowl will have 12 and they should be as even as possible. Since I'm not familiar with how this is done and my skills aren't great for repetitive motifs, I worried about putting them in consecutively. Errors might creep in and accumulate from one flute to the next. So I'm going to lay them out and then chase them lightly in an order that scatters them around the surface. Sort of like tightening the nuts on a car wheel. A drawing would show it best but the order will be: 1,8,3,10,5,12,7,2,9,4,11,6. Each one is offset by 7 from the previous one. That should keep errors from accumulating and as the flute deepen I can work to even them up. That's the plan anyway.

Layout will be done using a circle grade that I have laminated up. Put the bowl top down on the grid, center it, and mark the points with a sharpie. Then I can use a piece of wire formed with the profile as a conforming straight edge to line up and mark from edge mark to kernel. Then mark the top of the flutes, the bottom of them, and the widest point level when they start to pull in at the top. That gets done with dividers. I also want a center line for each flute since that's what I'll be following with the tracing tool. That should give me all the guidelines I need. I'll number the flutes in sequence of hammering so I don't get confused.

Layout seemed so easy when I wrote that out. Nope. Almost nothing I had planned for worked. I was always getting uneven divisions of the circle. I ended up doing it an entirely different way, tracing around the bowl rim, using a compass to divide the rim into 12 segments, and using a thread to guide my marks on the metal. Eventually the layout got drawn on.

Then I started preparing my large pitch bowl for fixturing. That at least went well and works much better than anything I could have devised. Thank you, Liza Nechamkin, for the video that showed me how to do it.
Layout done. Fixed in the pitch bowl and ready to chase.

By the time all of that got done it was 3pm and I could only get started on the chasing. I did follow my plan of staggering the order in which I chased the flutes and was able to get them all roughed in evenly.

Day 4

Today was all about chasing flutes. They got deeper, evened up, the ridges in between got sharpened and straightened. When I started, the bottoms of the flutes didn't match where they come into the foot. Now they do. In the middle of the day I had to melt out the red sculptors wax that I use for this, anneal the bowl, and refill it. That was a PITA.

The pitch bowl fixturing worked well, but I was hammering very hard at times and the bowl would loosen up making it hard to control. I ended up resetting it twice. Each time I got better at it and it lasted longer before loosening up. Finally I called it done, melted out the wax and cleaned it all up.


Day 5 - beginning.

So, the flutes are chased in, it's empty and polished (sort of), and now it's time to prepare for etching. It's also time to take stock of the piece, consider the time I have left, and see what I can do to finish it. Listen to the metal and find out where the piece is going. It's brass, not copper. If I solder on a copper rim it will look different from the rest of the bowl. It will take patina differently. If I plate the whole thing with copper before patinating it will all look the same but then I'm not taking advantage of the brass. There may not be time to gold leaf the interior.

What if I skip the rim and gold leaf and put on handles? Make it a drinking cup or libation bowl? In brass, it would actually be usable. I might still put a patina on - with brass handles it would all match. I'll need to experiment with how to attach the handles. But first I have to lay out the design for etching and get it etched.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SBC 9 - A New Challenge

This is the post that I should have made yesterday and was too wiped to get it done. Read on and you'll see why.

Day 1

I'm picking up another gauntlet. Wendy Edsall-Kerwin has offered a challenge for several years - make a bowl (or complete it) on Super Bowl Sunday. I wanted to do this last year but we were in the middle of moving house. But this year I can say "challenge accepted!"

On Sunday I sketched out an idea for a bowl and tried to figure out how long it would take to complete. My guess was one day to raise it from sheet, another day to chase in the flutes. A day to etch a design into the vertical part of the bowl. Another day to solder on a rim, polish, and apply a patina. Apply the gold size to the interior the same day and then a few hours the next morning to apply gold leaf. All told, a little more than 4 days. That gives me some wiggle room since Officer Murphy is always on duty and he is The Law.
The original sketch. Measurements are wrong.

The border design.
There was one potential pitfall. I didn't have any half-round copper wire in a large gauge (6 or 10) so I'd have to order some or figure out something else to do. As it turned out, I ended up ordering some.

I got started about 11:30 am by annealing a 6 inch diameter disk of 16 gauge copper that I already had on hand. That was the first goof. I normally use 18 gauge, a little lighter. 16 gauge is just enough heavier that I had to work harder than I wanted to get the metal to move.

The first step is to lay out concentric circles as guides for hammering. The circles go on what will be the outside of the vessel. But the first pass for forming is to dish the bowl a little, working with a plastic auto body mallet and a hollow cut into a tree stump. Dishing works from the inside of the piece.
Hammer guides scribed in.
Dishing stump and mallet.
After that I started raising. I didn't bother to anneal between dishing and the first round of raising. I hadn't moved the metal that much, the guidelines were still clear, and I thought I could get away with it. It went well and I bouged the shape into some semblance of regularity with a leather mallet and a large (5" ball) steel sphere stake, then took it to the hot bench to anneal and pickle it.
Ready to raise.

After round 1.
From then on it was round after round of raising, bouging, annealing and pickling. I tried to take photos at each round but apparently missed some. After round 2 I spent some time setting the foot and beginning to define it. I refined it a little over the next several rounds and was then able to leave it alone. As the bowl rose, I took note of where the profile was supposed to transition from hemisphere to vertical. When I got close to that point I started to planish the hemisphere part so that I could get it nice and round and smooth. I used a smaller (3" ball) steel sphere stake for that.
After round 2.

Round 6

Round 7

Round 8

Round 9
By 7 o'clock I had raised the bowl through nine rounds and was exhausted and hungry. It was obvious that I was not going to get the raising done in one day. Rather than push myself when I was too tired and risk making a mistake, I called it a day.

SBC 9 - Day 2

Today was supposed to be putting in flutes but the bowl was no where near ready. I got to work about 10 am and went through 7 more rounds of raising to pull the walls up to vertical. Luckily I had essentially finished the hemisphere portion of the bowl yesterday so I didn't have to go over that area any more. That makes the rounds go faster. But it's still slow going to get that much metal to come in and form a smooth vertical surface. I should note that this is the first time that I've tried to do this kind of shape. I'm used to conical or egg shapes and a cylinder was new to me. But it went pretty well and finally got to a point where I could start the next phase.
Round 10

Round 11

Round 12

Round 13

Round 14

Round 15

Round 16
Raising makes an uneven edge at the top and I wanted to cut that off so that the shape was ready to planish. I used a surface gauge instead of the dividers I had been using to scribe guide lines. That's so I was sure to have the edge parallel to the foot. I cut off the excess with shears and then evened and flattened the rim with a file and a belt sander. A little sandpaper to smooth the rim and the basic shape was done.
Rough edges must go.

Using a surface gauge to mark the trim line.

Neatly trimmed.

Then it was on to planishing the cylinder portion of the bowl. The hemishpere was pretty well done yesterday but there were a lot of raising marks that needed to be smoothed out. In the process I also made sure that the cylinder didn't have any dips or bulges or waves left over from when the shape was being formed. Normally this would be done on a cylinder stake of a size that matched the curve. But I don't have one and didn't have time to make one. So I improvised with the 3" sphere stake, my large raising stake, and a process where I gridded off the cylinder into 8 columns and three rows and worked them over in sequence by columns from bottom to top. As each area got planished it also got blended with the areas below and behind it. By the end of the process, I had a smooth cylinder. Then the foot got a little attention and the whole thing was planished and ready to prepare for chasing.
All planished and shiny.
I want to be able to start up tomorrow ready to lay out the flutes and get right to chasing. To do that, I have to fill the bowl with chaser's pitch or something like it. I've been using red sculptor's was for this instead of actual chaser's pitch. I'm following David Huang's recommendation in this and have found that it works quite well and causes fewer problems for me than the pitch. Before filling the bowl, I annealed it one more time so that it would be soft and workable for the chasing punches. That's when I got a surprise.

I'd been annealing this bowl frequently for two days. Somehow it had escaped me that when it was quenched after annealing and before pickling it didn't look the way copper usually does. After pickling it looked like normal copper, a lovely pale pink. But before that it looked oddly bronze-ish and mottled. Well, after this pickling I wanted to scrub it up nice and clean  so layout lines would show up well. That's when I noticed that the scrubbed parts looked golden yellow, not coppery. What the...? A quick check with a file on a piece of the sheared off edge confirmed it. I've been working 16 gauge brass for two days. No wonder I was getting tired!

Yep. I'm an idiot.

With that out of the way I filled the bowl with wax and left it to cool while I had dinner. Tomorrow I'll do the layout of the flutes and see if I can get them chased in before the day is done.
Ready to fill.

Filled and cooling.
It's been a long fun day. See you tomorrow.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week 9 - Working on the Chain, Gang

This week's finished project is an extension to last week's. A focal needs something to hang from so this week I made a chain for 'Don't Leave Home Without It'. 

The setting for DLHWI is made of iron binding wire, so I thought I'd continue using that for the chain. It was a challenge because I'd never made any chain before. I started by making a single link and then trying to duplicate it. No luck. Could not get the links to match. Then I tried to make a batch of links starting with cutting a set of identical length blanks. That worked, but didn't match the original link that I had made and liked. 

So I measured out a piece of wire that I knew was too long, Starting at one end, I went through the steps to form the link carefully matching the length of the link I wanted. When it was done, I cut off the finished link and checked to make sure it duplicated the original. It did. I measured the remaining wire, subtracted that from the original wire length and that was the length I needed to make the links I wanted. Turns out I needed 2 and 7/8ths inches for a link.

I cut one to that length and formed it to make sure that it matched. Once I was sure that it did I went into production. Here's the steps:
  1. Cut off a length of wire about a yard long, enough for a batch of links.
  2. Secure one end in the vise and use a green scrubby to scour off the black oxide coating of the iron binding wire. This also helps straighten the wire.
  3. Mark off the link length on a piece of wood and use that to mark and cut link blanks; as many as can be gotten from the length of wire. A set of diagonal cutters was used to cut the blanks.
  4. Grab six or so blanks and align them so all the ends on one side are even. Use a disc sander to sand them all flat. Flip the stack over and sand the other side so they are all flat and even. Now all the blanks are the same length and have trimmed ends. Do this until all the blanks in the batch are done. Note, you will want to quench the first end in a dish of water before flipping it around and grabbing the freshly sanded (hot) end. Ask me how I learned this.
  5. Using a pair of bail-making pliers (or a marked pair of round-nosed pliers) turn the eye on one end of each blank. Make sure that you get the cut end of the wire to touch the shaft of the link and that you reverse curve at the base of the eye so it's centered on the shaft.
  6. Use a mallet and bench block to flatten the eyes and make sure that they are on the same plane as the link shaft. Take the opportunity to straighten any kinks or curves in the shaft at well.
  7. Turn the eyes at the other end of the link. If you want them to be like the one's I did, make sure that the second eye is at right angles to the first eye.
  8. Look them all over and make any tweeks needed to get them just right.
That's one batch of links. Lay them out and see if you've got enough. If not, go back to step one and make another batch. I ended up making three batches and have several left over.

Once I had enough links I used Birchwood Casey Cold Gun Bluing solution to patina each link a nice dark black. I dried them and applied Renaissance Wax to coat and seal them. After they were dried and buffed the links were ready to connect to each other and to the loop of the pendant. I wrapped my pliers jaws with tape to protect the links from scratches while I opened and closed the eyes to join them.

And this is the result.
I'm pretty pleased with my first chain.

Here's the whole thing. Remember, it's your brain. Don't Leave Home Without It.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 8 - Steel on My Mind

This week I have two finished items to show. More than that got done, but these are the ones I took photos of.

First is the piece I had hoped to finish last week, then gacked when I was closing the last prong. It's fixed, has a new patina, and a new prong mount. May I present Don't Leave Home Without It. Copper, chased and repouss├ęd, cupric nitrate patina, sealed with Renaissance wax.
This is your brain on jewelry.
Back side showing the steel setting.
The setting is steel wire soldered together. I owe a debt of thanks to Peg Fetter, who was kind enough to field my phone call full of questions out of the blue and who pointed me in the direction of a book which had clear instructions and photos on how to solder steel. That's The Penland Book of Jewelry: Master Classes in Jewelry Techniques. The chapter by Rob Jackson covers fabricating jewelry with steel. Thanks Peg!

When the focal was done I decided to try fabricating a chain for it. That's currently in pieces on the bench.