Category Archives: casting

I Still Exist!

And I’m still making things!

I won’t linger over the details anymore, but I’ve been busy in the metals lab since I stopped keeping up with this blog. Here are a few things I’ve completed.

This is a labradorite bead riveted into a silver frame. I like the look of these riveted projects but I’ve become tired of trying to find long beads that are drilled through cleanly and without chips around the ends (which can cause the rivet to bend and distort.) I had to really ream this one out–but it was so worth it.



Ah, I finally found something to do with the copper “crazy quilt” disc I made a couple years ago when I was experimenting with copper solder. I really like how this turned out (and I also recently made a bead with nine little texture samples on each side like this, but don’t have a picture.)


Here’s a bit of fun made with some scraps. I got the color with a power stripper.


Malachite is always good for some drama, I think.


Inevitably, when you get a reputation for making jewelry, friends and coworkers come up to you with broken jewelry, hoping you can fix it. This piece is pretty much a copy of a cheap, plated bypass ring that someone I work with wore for years until the band snapped at the point where it adjusts to size. She’d hoped I could fix it–nope. But I thought about it, and made a band that night with a piece of sterling wire and a hammer and a mandrel. From there, I got the OK to recreate the ring (tip: get the shell bits out by heating the back with an alcohol lamp until the epoxy weakens and they fall right out.) She was really pleased with it, and I am too. It was a good learning experience (and I made the band thicker so it won’t break this time!)


After I finished the above piece, I still had bypass rings on my mind, so I hammered out one for myself and tried out different stones until I fell in love with the look of this red agate. Soldering was tricky, but I’m getting better all the time.


I bought this stone a few years ago and made a few failed attempts to design a pendant and set it (remember?):


Well, here she is now! That brass framework was a real . . . challenge. I bought my own solderite board to bring to the studio–perfectly flat, and with grooves carved into it to hold those pieces exactly where I needed them. The end result comes close to what I had in mind all this time. Still waiting for the chain to tarnish a bit, though. I randomly melted some silver solder around for an old, industrial look (note the solder around the joined areas) but it doesn’t quite show up on the links yet.


Here’s a fun scrap piece I made with some wire bits I melted together some time ago but never knew what to do with. At one point last spring I was making a simple ring with this stone (and, for the first time, adding a jump ring inside the bezel to make the stone stand taller) when I held it up next to the scrappy bit and thought, “Wow! Perfect!” And that’s how this happened.


Remember these old dudes I hammered out back in the day? The two on top became earrings, and I hung onto the big piece for a long time, trying to think up a good necklace idea. A little extra piece and a little crochet later:

I rather wish I hadn’t punched holes in the corners, but I did, and that made what I ultimately came up with a bit more difficult than if, say, I had soldered loops on the back. Still, I’m loving the simplicity of this one. I’m glad I waited on it.


I sketched this out last October, hoping to make use of this neat sardonyx cabochon I’d been holding on to. This piece turned out a bit difficult due to its size (and trying to solder on square copper wire bits without silver solder blorps everywhere!) The back has a pin mechanism that was a bit tough–the pieces are so tiny and need to be placed exactly, and you have to be sure not to clog up or fuse the catch during the process . . . but I pulled it off. I even made a pin/pendant converter with a piece of tubing and wire.


My teacher, Bob, was recently given a huge box full of jewelry supplies, casting stuff, sterling silver, you name it, from a donor who had retired from jewelry making and didn’t want the stuff anymore. Among the treasures was a spool of 30 gauge argentium which he had no idea what to do with–but knew that I would, as a knitter/crocheter. I ended up buying it off him (with proceeds going back to the studio) and made this crochet cuff with some beads and a sterling frame I made myself. It’s got a bit of beginner’s wonk to it, and I ought to have practiced more before making the real thing because one side of the strip is looser and sloppier than the other, when I started really getting the hang of it. But this was interesting–and I’m in the middle of using the remainder to make a kind of mesh amulet bag from instructions I found in an old Lapidary Journal from the 90s.

And last but so, so not least. Remember when I started futzing around with wax to carve rings?

I finally got these both finished after months of inactivity, messing up one and doing it over, and just generally worrying about doing something wrong and ruining all that work. Last week, they were cast in silver.

They’re still not done (clearly), but man, is it a relief to have gotten this far! They are heavy as hell–I wish I’d carved away more wax on the interior but the wax was getting delicate and I was nervous about breakage. I shouldn’t have been, though. The thing on the left, if you’re wondering, was a slice of ring wax that I’d carved into with a new set of wax working tools as a kind of technical exercise. I figured if I made the design well enough, I’d cast it. And so I did–with a different design on each side. It’ll be a reversible pendant when I’m done.

And that’s about where I am on the jewelry front. As for knitting, I haven’t bothered all that much. I’ve got two pairs of socks made with crazy rainbow yarn I tried to dilute with solid colors, and a clone of my cat.

Pattern: SlipStripe Spiral


Pattern: Ugly Duckling Socks


Pattern: The Parlor Cat

And that is . . . probably . . . all for now! I’m sure I’ll catch up again in a few months. Until then, keep crafting!


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Filed under amigurumi, beads, bracelet, casting, crochet, knitting, metals, necklace, pendant, pin, ring, riveting, socks, soldering, stones/gems, wax carving, yak yak yak

Feeling Better, or: Something Old, Something New


A couple weeks ago I made a trip to the local bead store to do a little impulse shopping (actually, there was one thing I needed . . . and I’ll get to that in the coming days . . . ) and these are some beads I took home and strung up. A bit more expensive than I usually do, but I really liked the iridescent daggers and thought I’d just go for it. I like to have beading breaks in between classes, although this time around we had studio time every single week right up until fall session started.

And speaking of studio time, I’ve decided it’s time. Time to learn how to do this.


Hoo boy. I’ve heard that it’s good to always be a novice at something; keeps the brain sharp. Well, here we go. I tend to suck at subtractive processes–I can add bits together to make something, but to see it in a block of wax and carve away the excess? No, I don’t have any innate abilities there. But maybe I can get some experience. Anyway, I’m excited. The project is a very simple ring and surely I can’t . . . no, I won’t jinx it.

And in other news, I hit the annual gem, fossil, and rock show and scored (among a few other things) these beauties, which remind me of nothing so much as vintage 1970s art:

stones1pretty sure that bottom one is a sunset from an old Sesame Street cartoon

I’d like to sit down and draw up some sketches for what I could do with these stones, and as luck has it, it’s now October, which you might know as #Inktober. I’ve been meaning and meaning to get back into drawing again, but my efforts have been sporadic and my hand has gone to crap. Really, I’m terribly out of practice, and my writing/drawing hand is now just my mouse hand and it shows. So, every day this month, I am going to draw. Maybe not always with ink. Maybe I’ll just doodle or do exercises some days, I don’t know. I’m not going to bother posting them anywhere. I just need to do it and be that person who draws again.

And one last thing I’ve been doing: I set aside the crafty business books for a while in favor of some guides with titles like “Art and Fear” and “Staying Sane in the Arts.” So far they’ve been very helpful for me in deciding what I want to do and how I want to go about it and how to get and sustain the mental energy I need to accomplish this. More on that as I go.

And more posting in general. I might go back to, indeed, posting my works in progress instead of waiting until something’s finished. It seems to keep me going some days when I don’t feel like it.


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Filed under beads, casting, drawing, necklace, stones/gems, yak yak yak

Sand Casting in the Sand*

I’ve been a touch burned out lately, or bored, or just avoidypants because I need to get out of my office job and find a new one and thinking about going for it and selling jewelry like a Real Artist instead seems alternately like a great idea and an awfully stupid one.

But enough about me, I spent some time in class learning a new thing: sand casting.


The sand feels like brown sugar and smells like Play-Doh. You smush it into half of the two-part circular mold, place the object you want to cast (in my case, a “coin” from a game), fit the second circle on top (there’s a groove on both so you can line them up perfectly, which is important later), and tamp more sand in there, being careful not to shift or rock the piece. Oh, I forgot–that white dust? Mica. It’s a release, so you can get the two halves apart again. Just brush it on your object and the bottom sand with a paintbrush and you’ll be fine.


So when you have your two parts separated again, you can turn your attention to the top piece. Here I’ve used a hollow brass rod to make the pour spout for the  metal. And I’ve used a soldering pick to make vent holes around half the coin. I didn’t do the world’s greatest job on this, and consequently the edges of my repro coin didn’t come out as smoothly as they should have. It’s hard to think in reverse, but remember you can always grind away excess metal, so scrape away the sandy bits and make sure you’ll get enough metal around the holes.


On the reverse side of this top piece, carve out a funnel shape on the pour hole (I used an X-acto knife for this.) Make it good and wide. Put the two halves back together, lining up the grooves I mentioned before so top and bottom match up like they should. Now–if your two halves aren’t a tight fit (anymore), you may want to put a band of tape around them. I didn’t on my first try, and pouring the pewter made them come apart and my coin ended up looking like when you overpour a waffle.


Here’s the big reveal! A nice pewter knockoff. Although I’ve cut off the excess metal bits and ground down the edges (so easy with pewter) I haven’t quite finished it yet, and maybe I never will. I understand I can use black acrylic paint to make it antique looking, and I suppose eventually I will.

But first I should really get back to looking at job ads. Ugh, art and craft breaks just don’t last long enough.

*Robin Sparkles

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Filed under casting, experiment


A couple months ago, my husband, a former art major, was feeling a bit sad that he hasn’t cast anything since college.

You know, like . . .



. . . big guys cast in a forge. Not stuff you can do at home any time. But still, it made me wonder . . . dude . . . where do you think I GO every Thursday night?


And what does my teacher do there with a torch and a furnace and a casting machine and a vacuum casting table?

So I got him to sign up for a round. His goal was to carve a wax dinosaur and cast it–but there are size limitations in a jewelry studio with only a small furnace. Bob advised him to try a few small practice pieces first. And by small, I mean, still the biggest things ever cast in that studio, but . . .


And here’s how they turned out, one in brass .  .  .


And one in white bronze . . .

brassfroggieA frog? Totally my idea, of course.

The dinosaur is still a lump of wax in progress. We’ll see how that goes.

And meanwhile, I have finished my pendant for the State Fair, dropped it off yesterday, and now I suppose I should write about it but I’m not ready. Soon.

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Hey, I Finished Something!



I cast the band of this ring last fall, when I started fiddling with the old commercially-made wax ring molds we have sitting around the studio where I take classes (how old are they? The foam they’re packed in is crumbling. The wax is dried out and brittle. You can do it, but you have to be careful.)

castingsHere it is front and center.

castring2And here it is cleaned up.

My problem with this ring is that it had a little flat spot, probably from me neglecting to be careful when cutting off the sprue and grinding down the scar. Plus . . . I don’t know. Meh. So I poked through my collection of cheap cabs in search of something I could pop on over that spot, and found a sodalite I thought worked well. I made a bezel cup for it in the first weeks of class (not as easy as it should have been; how is it that I keep forgetting how to solder when I haven’t done it for a few weeks?) and filed that flat spot down larger and flatter.

sodaliteringprogressLike so.

A little soldering, a little setting, a lot of cleaning up, and now I actually love it!


Here’s one other thing: Bob has been playing around with enamel. He made these two discs out of argentium silver, torch fired some blue vitreous enamel on them, and added some steel hooks. Having no further need of them, he told me I could have them. Then I immediately dropped one on the concrete floor and chipped some enamel off the edge. (“Now they’re really yours.”) I tried to think of how I could make the best of this and came up with some riveting.


Yeah, kinda worked, except I cracked a little bit off the other one during riveting. Sigh. I put it back on with a little clear nail polish, because that’s how I roll.

Coming soon:  more casting, more knitting, and maybe a long-neglected project finished?

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Filed under casting, earrings, ring, stones/gems

Labradorite Pendant, and a Couple Castings

Jeez, this may be the most . . . beautiful thing I’ve ever made.


Labradorite is one of my all-time favorite stones, so when I found this little teardrop at the local bead store, I snapped it up.

Getting to work on it, however, was a bit of a challenge. I keep wanting to do something Artsy and Different and Postmodern, but then I choose gorgeous stones that really don’t need all that. Clearly the design I ended up with is a typical pretty princess necklace, but . . ? I like it.

Here’s the lowdown on my process and some nice new mistakes (oh boy!) I hope never to repeat again.


Here, right off the bat, is my backing, with a swirl cut out of it. This (1) makes things more interesting; (2) makes test setting the stone easier, as I can poke it back out with a tool; and (3) was a dumb, dumb thing to do before soldering on the bezel and everything. I nearly melted the center of the swirl getting the bezel on; fortunately, I soon realized that placing a few bits of pumice over it during subsequent solderings was a good way to protect it from too much heat. So there’s that.


Next, I agonized over how to decorate the thing. I had planned to have silver danglies all hippie-like from the bottom, but somehow neglected to leave enough room to do it properly. I poked around my tin of scraps to see what might look good where, and came upon a twisted piece of silver wire. The gauge (14) was too thick, but no matter: I made another in 16 gauge. Soldering this on was a bit of a bear; I got solder blorps galore (note to self: practice stick soldering on scrap, not a real piece, especially when you’ve been told the tank on the torch you’re using has a somewhat messed-up regulator.) I also seem to have made the twisty piece just a touch too large–not terribly obvious, but I know one side could have been better. Ugh, I always know–too late.

The bail is on just, just slightly off center because that’s where it wanted to snap on tight over the twist. Screw it, said I. It’s secure there and unlikely to shift around during soldering–and it didn’t.

Now the stone. This is the weird part, because my bezel was initially too small, and I had to stretch it out on the ring mandrel a bit. Got it right but still snug. Soldered it on, tested the stone a couple times along the way, and . . . found it just a bit loose upon final setting. It actually rattles a little. I think this may be due to either the metal expanding a bit from all that soldering (does that happen?) or else it’s just a matter of the cut of the stone being a bit irregular around the edges, which it is. It’s secure, it won’t fall out, but it annoyed me–and so I pried up the center of the swirl, popped a little epoxy under there, and clamped it down again. No more rattle.

Speaking of that swirl, though, check this out.


Neat, huh?

So the other big thing I’ve been up to is a casting project. Actually, three casting projects in one. I’ve alluded to them before, and there are two rings in one of the pictures above that used to look like this:


This (on the left) is a pair of commercially made wax rings from the studio. Someone donated a ton of these years ago, and anyone who wants to cast one or two or whatever can. These two fit and I liked them, so what the hell, because I also wanted to cast some magnolia seeds (on the right) from my back yard, just to see if it would work. It did.

castingsHere’s my “tree” of all the pieces ready for the casting flask . . . 


4castings. . . and here they are afterward, needing a cleaning.

castring1This one’s my favorite . . . kind of a nest . . . maybe I’ll cast some tiny brass wasps and solder them on?

castring2Bob joked that I should set 1 point diamonds in all the holes, because that’s what they’re for. Ha ha. If I could find a mix of color cubic zirconias in that size, I might actually try it someday, because that might be cute. For now, though, I need to try “thrumming”–loading up a string with red rouge and polishing out all those tiny holes with it.

castmag1And my magnolia seeds . . . what to do with them? Maybe I’ll decide after I clean them up some more.

Now I have one class period left to go next week, and I’m not sure what to work on, so I’d better go figure it out.

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Filed under casting, ring, Uncategorized

A Tale of Two Leafies


Remember these? It’s okay if you don’t. Last time I posted, they looked quite different.

leafcastsmoldAll waxed up . . . 


. . . and ready to go!

At the beginning of this round of classes, I got around to cleaning up the oak leaf and soldering a small, flattish bail on the back of the stem: unobtrusive yet large enough to pass a chain end. I think. Then I cleaned it up and dipped it in some liver of sulfur (yuck) a couple times until I got a nice tarnish patina.


It’s a bit wrinkly near the bottom, but there’s not much I can do about it. It’s a totally natural leaf, after all, and it did what it did.

Now this guy. This guy.


This one gave me some grief, because I decided it was time I learned how to solder a pin stem mechanism thingy on there. A commercial one. I mean, I could have soldered the ends of a long wire back there, snipped it, curled one end under for a catch and put a coil on the other end and work hardened the remainder for a pin, but how secure is that? This thing is a bit heavy. So I ordered something commercial–actually, three somethings. The hinge end, the catch end, and pin stems, all sold separately. And because I’m stubborn and value security over looks, I ordered a (shudder) nickel pin stem rather than sterling. I understand that in a show or contest I’d get dinged for this. But this is no juried show, this is me learning–thank goodness, because it didn’t go very well.

leaf soldering

This is what fear looks like, to me. Yet, I pulled it off, and got both ends on in the correct places, correct orientation, no melting, no solder blorps. I thought I might be home free at this point, even though the catch was stuck in place when I took the piece out of the pickle. Oops.

Now, the pack of catches (they sell ’em in groups of 10!) came with instructions that advised washing the catch in a boiling solution of ammonia and dishwashing soap, which I found brilliant. I may do this all the time in future, to neutralize any remaining pickle residue, if nothing else.* This did not solve my problem, though. Having none of the recommended floor wax or silicone lubricant on hand, I shot some WD40 in the mechanism and it worked. So there.

New problem: pin stem won’t fit in the catch. Like, it’s too thick all of a sudden. What the hell? I tried filing it down a bit thinner (tip: order the longest pin stems available and always cut them exactly to size) but it became obvious that wasn’t the problem. What happened was, somehow the C-shaped bit that spins around became distorted, or it annealed and drooped, or something. In the fully open position, it was overhanging a bit. I tried futzing at it with nails and pins and things, and ultimately in desperation ground that bit down ever so slightly with a polishing pin (thanks, Dedeco!) It worked enough.

Okay. Working catch: check. Right size pin stem: check. Now fold the hinge up over the pin stem rivet.


One side folds up accurately. The other? I don’t know. I just can’t get the hole to line up. (Here’s a handy guide to what I’m talking about, which I wish I’d researched before I ever began.) Now I’ve folded and fussed it so much I don’t think I can open it back up enough to take out the pin stem. It works, actually, and it’s pretty secure (for now?) but it’s not smooth, it’s not professional looking, and it irks me. But I’ve been plenty irked already with this project, and just can’t deal with it right now. Perhaps I’ll practice making more pins and come back to this one when I’m ready. It’s my first, and I learned a lot.

pin wonkThe bad side: the rivet isn’t quite in that hole, but somehow it isn’t falling out or anything.

Update: fixed it! I fussed with the hinge so much (using teeny tiny screwdrivers for fixing eyeglasses with) that the rivet came loose–very bad news, as this type of rivet isn’t really designed to be hammered/flared at the ends, only to sit inside the holes. So I took it out, dug up a bit of 18 gauge wire, and threaded it through a hole, the pin stem, and the other hole. Cut and hammered it, and voila! It’s not perfect, it’s not great, but it’s secure and it works.

And next time I’ll do better all around, I’m sure. I think. I hope.


*Got a slightly greenish tarnish on your sterling jewelry? Pickling acid residue! I’ve encountered it recently, myself. And so I shall become a better washer of things.

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Filed under casting, metals, pendant, pin, riveting, soldering