Day 21: Tree!

Here it is, my latest finished tree of life, a lot like every other tree of life I’ve made:


Yeah, I’m getting a bit bored with these but I suppose I ought to realize that if I ever do take this jewelry-making to another level, production work is something I have to accept. So it was a good exercise in that regard.

A couple days ago I showed a few UFOs (unfinished objects) I had lying around; here are two more I neglected to post. The teardrop-shaped wire is going to be a sweet necklace someday, with one of these “turquoise” stones in the middle of it:

wireufo2And this . . . I don’t even know what to say about this, because I’m trying to do some wire wrapping similar to something I saw online years ago (somewhere!) but I have no idea how to secure an edging . . . and the back . . . how would I do the back? I’d like to work it out myself, but maybe I should find a tutorial somewhere, or buy one at one of those sites that sell you lessons. Might be worth it just to see what that’s like.


The stone is probably an aventurine donut. It was part of a corded necklace I got some years ago, which was starting to look really frayed, so I figured I could recycle it this way.

Here’s hoping the more UFOs I post here, the more likely I am to actually get them done! And here’s hoping I’ll finally get the mystery project done tonight so I can show it off tomorrow!

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Day 20: Wire!

As I’m gearing up to wire together the pieces of my mystery project, I thought I should spend some time brushing up my wire working skills. I started off by making a clasp for my bracelet, as I said I would the other day. So now that’s done:


Then I got out some cheapie fake turquoise beads I had lying around, to see how I’d do at wrapping the ends. Well: not great. But I experimented with a few gauges–26, 22, and 20. I think the 22 works best, although my technique could use a little practice:


And finally–the thing I’m most happy about. I’m making some chain with 22 gauge craft wire and some green aventurine beads. It’s going well enough that I think I’ll make a necklace and maybe add a pendant I bought from Etsy some years ago and never did anything with.


I’ll probably use this technique with some crystal beads to wire my brass pieces together. Maybe I’ll even use it for the chain behind the neck, though I’m not sure I want beads there. We’ll see!


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Day 19: Makeover!

I started this blog two years ago as an attempt to organize my first serious attempts at making jewelry, since my old-school index card method just wasn’t cutting it. I kept it private for about a year and didn’t take too much trouble about the theme or appearance. Lately I’ve been feeling like I should pay more attention to these things–update the look a bit, add some widgets that would make it easier to find things (I hope–don’t want to overclutter the thing, either) and just pay more attention to the blogosphere in general.

So today’s project was to find a new theme, customize it a bit, et voila!  Hope you like it.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s yet another commissioned tree of life in progress:


Everybody’s got their own way of making these things. Once I’ve got the trunk done, I like to work around the piece, adding twists and beads to different areas without definitively finishing off any particular branch just yet. This allows me to keep making adjustments as the look of the piece changes.

You’ll note I’ve got three unused frames there. Each is a little imperfect in its own way–either awkwardly shaped or scuffed to the copper core somewhere–so I’m not using them for commissioned pieces. I do, however, want to use them for practice pendants. I’m thinking of trying out some abstract designs of wire scrollwork and beads . . . eventually. I wish I had time for every single thing that pops into my head!


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Day 18: Doesn’t Look Like Much, but . . .

. . . I did more work on the mystery craft-a-long project last night. Last time I gave the first clue: it’s to do with a movie series.  Here’s the second: think villain.

So I wasn’t super satisfied with the sanding job I’d done so far, and then I remembered we have some red polishing compound in a box of Dremel accessories that I’d completely forgotten about. I’ve never used the stuff before, so I tried out an experiment on some brass and copper scraps, which I did some quick sanding on the bottom halves to get them looking like the stage I’m at:

polish1Now why does this remind me of (The Artist Formerly Known as) Prince’s Symbol?

Okay. Now I put on a felt wheel, got it going, dipped it in the compound a little (less is more when it comes to compounds) and buffed the pieces. I experimented with the side of the wheel and the face; I forgot about the screw tip in the center, which put a few scratches in. So that’s something to watch out for. Here’s what I ended up with:


Well, it did a rather nice job on the copper, but not much at all on the brass. I looked around the internet this morning for tips, advice, and reviews, and it seems like this product is really just for removing oxidation and very, very light scratches. I think, for my purposes, I need something just a bit harder. This is something I should probably discuss with my teacher. All I really know about compounds is that you shouldn’t mix them, and as our studio is a community studio, I can’t be sure students aren’t doing just that, and so I’ve been avoiding using the buffing wheel, especially for important projects.

So in the end, I turned on a book on tape (yep, still got the ol’ 1990s boombox in my basement workshop) and spent some more time wet sanding my pieces just once more, 600 to 2000, being very careful and methodic about it. Now, truly, I have done the best I can do by hand at this point in my learning.


There’s a bit of a satin-y shimmer that I like, and the really good thing about it is that it doesn’t show fingerprints as a truly mirror shine would.

After that, I drilled out some holes (it went easily! YAY!) and then I used the horn of my anvil and a mallet to gently curve the pieces. Tried to remember my teacher’s advice about forming: choose a spot with the kind of curve you’re after, and hammer gently against that. Keep checking and adjusting.

polish4Might need to do a touch more work on a few of them.

One thing I forgot about doing this is that it makes the pieces a bit shorter than they were before. Not to worry here, but I should remember that in the future.

So, next step: put the pieces together with a little wirework and crystal beads. And come up with some kind of chain and clasp idea for the back of the neck. I have yet to decide exactly how I want to do this, so I’ll look into it today. Hopefully the next set of pictures will be more interesting.

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Filed under experiment, metals, necklace, practice

Day 17: Tarnish Talk

I’d hoped to go to the studio today and work on some of the projects I’ve been talking about, but alas that’s not going to happen until next week. So, I’ll probably be getting down to some wire work in the next couple days. (For one thing, my mother-in-law’s friends really seem to like my tree of life pendants, so I’ve got another one of those to do!)

Anyway, I thought I’d take this opportunity to show off some earrings I forgot to mention. I made these to match my golden sheen obsidian necklace:


smokyobs1And here’s the necklace again, if you don’t wanna scroll back to find it.

These are the world’s simplest earrings, by the way, and if you can master them, you can probably do any kind of wire jewelry. The basic instructions can be found in practically any jewelry book or magazine.  It requires a bit of practice, and I’m embarrassed to say that when I look back on my earliest attempts, they now seem awkward and terrible. The only “advanced” thing I did here was to torch/ball up the ends of my 20g sterling wires to make them into headpins. I then put the wires in a drawplate hole just big enough to hold them without the ball slipping through, and hammered down the ball to flatten it slightly (if you don’t have the means to do all that, you could just buy headpins, though.)

Speaking of just buying headpins, this might be a good opportunity to pass along a tip I learned since I started buying findings two years ago. It’s tempting to buy metal pieces like pins, earring wires, clasps, and spacer beads (like the ones you can see above) in a plated base metal rather than solid sterling. I’m just going to tell you flat out–solid silver (or gold) is the best way to go. Buying filled is a good way to economize; there’s a very thick layer of precious metal on there, and it’s bonded to the base metal core in a very strong way. But plated will wear off in time, and finish is just a short-lived waste of money.

I have found one exception to this, however. Here’s a bracelet I made last year. At the time, I was testing out some silver-finish (over copper) Zebra Wire, wondering how well it would hold up to daily wear, because I’d heard lots of bad things about craft wire in general. Amazingly, the wire held up great! The cheap silver-finish pewter clasp, however . . .


Not good. I’ve polished and waxed that clasp several times, but it keeps turning. I’m going to just replace it with something handmade.

So all I’m saying is, if you’re going to take all the time and trouble to make something yourself, even if you’re not hardcore about it, this is something to keep in mind when you go shopping for materials.

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Day 16: Moving Along!

The mystery project continues! I’m not going to reveal the theme yet, but here’s the first clue:  it’s to do with a movie series.

Last time, I had my pieces drawn on brass (jeweler’s bronze, actually; it’s a type of brass made with a higher percentage of copper for a more gold-like color):

craftalong1I re-designed the round piece to look a bit better since I took this picture, BTW.

Monday I cut them out and spent a ridiculous amount of time filing and sanding them by hand. I cut some notches into my homemade v-board to help get at all the angles:


Then I used progressively fine sandpapers from 320 to 2000, turning my work about 90 degrees after each round, to get a nice finish. This seems to be about the best I can do:

brasssandedThat’s the back side of a plastic kitchen placemat they’re on–great surface for wet sanding.

I’m considering taking them to the studio and dropping them into the tumbler for a while to really take out the last of the scratches, but I don’t know. I kind of like the finish the way it is; maybe I don’t want it too perfect. I’ll think about it.

I’m also thinking about whether I want to leave the pieces flat (probably not) or put a slight curve on them. I had my husband carve out the long shape in a block of scrap wood, and pounded a few scrap pieces into it using a hammer and dapping punches:


Well that’s pretty cool, but I don’t know if the resulting surface texture is what I’m going for in this particular piece (But I am so going to make earrings with this technique soon!)

My next hurdle will be to drill holes in the pieces, which always makes me nervous at home. Indeed, I really might just take them to the studio with my own drill bits and do it there with the flex shaft, not my Dremel.

So I’m going to sit on this one for a day and get back to a really unfinished project I didn’t mention the other day because I actually forgot all about it. Here’s hoping I have something to show for that tomorrow!


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Day 15: Ssssssssssssss

Yesterday I was flipping through my old favorite, Tim McCreight’s Fundamentals of Metalsmithing, wanting to review the part about filing and sanding. (I’ve cut out the brass pieces for my mystery project–which I’ll talk about again tomorrow–and wanted to clean them up.) I came across step-by-step instructions for making an S-hook, and thought it would make a good technical exercise to practice. Here’s how I tend to make my S-hooks:


One straight piece of wire, usually around 3 inches long, with a tiny loop at either end, two big curves to make the hooks, and maybe some planishing to work-harden the whole thing, with emphasis on the big loops.

McCreight’s instructions had me take a 1.5 inch piece of 16 gauge wire, and file a taper into it from the middle to the ends. I haven’t seriously tried this before, though the more I do wire projects, the more I feel the need to learn, so I had at it. I used my diamond files to start, and all those sanding sticks I talked about last week to refine the taper. (320, then 400, then 600 grits.) Then I was supposed to make a sort of half-circle curve for the little loops, although I kept feeling more comfortable making them more full and closed (those tiny ends are pointy; maybe I could take a silicone wheel to them next time I’m in the studio.) After that, I formed the big loops and planished them quite heavily on the anvil, using the hit-and-pull method where you don’t just strike straight down, but kind of drag your hammer to exaggerate in the direction you want to the metal to spread.  In the end, I made three pieces with a starting wire of between 1.5 and about 2.25 inches:

sclasp2They are tiny.

Naturally these are fussier and more time-consuming, but they do have a certain grace. I’m looking forward to tapering my wire ends when I get around to making some more wire-wrapping projects of my own design.

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