Category Archives: helpers and devices



Here’s a little something that turned out better than I could have hoped! I came up with the design shortly after finding that beautiful central agate at a rock, gem, & mineral show in October.



(As you can see, I opted for the second idea.)

There were some design challenges here. And some funny moments, like when I soldered the big bezel on using a brand-new solderite board. The silver kept sliding around as I worked, like a sweating glass on a wet tabletop. Never had that happen before!


Getting the three discs on the bottom soldered onto square wires was a particularly tough challenge, especially since the central one was thicker than the sides. I had to work from the back (heating from the front would only make the solder on the bezels flow again, plus I wouldn’t be able to see when the solder flowed in back.), and getting the pieces lined up straight and pressing against each other was a bit of a challenge; I’m used to working with pieces that have a flat side so it’s easy, and this was not so. I ended up blorping on more extra-easy solder than I might have liked, and while I was able to grind a lot of it away, there’s still a color mis-match on the back of those discs, and with extra-easy it only takes a day or two for a tarnished look to pop up again.

But live and learn. And speaking of learning, I had to figure out how to set the stones. For some of them, putting wooden blocks behind them on either side of the central wire worked really well (like the uppermost, round agate.) For the lowest, smallest ones, not so much. It was very tough using hand tools to set those stones without bending or warping anything; I tried setting the whole piece on a sandbag, but that was of limited use. Also, I nearly f’ed up setting the big stone.


Here I used a common trick to test the fit: lay down a bit of dental floss, insert the stone, and use the floss to lift it out again. Well, that worked fine, so I popped the stone back in without the floss. Only THEN did I realize I forgot to take down the corners of the bezel first.


And that stone wasn’t coming back out.

So, I carefully drilled a hole in the back. I was afraid of hitting the stone, but you can definitely feel when the bit is done with the silver, so that was fine. I pushed the stone out easily enough with the other end of the drill bit, filed down my corners, and . . . wait, what about this hole now? I had to think about it. I drilled three more, and sawed out little squiggly shapes around each one so it would look like a deliberate design. Well, it worked well enough, and gave me an idea for another project later, so that part made me happy. But–

I just could not set any of those stones to my satisfaction with bezel pushers and rockers and burnishers. For one thing, I’m starting to develop pain in my hands, especially around my thumbs, and this didn’t help. Also, like I said, the wires in back were different gauges and I had a hard time getting just the right support underneath the pieces to be able to apply so much pressure without ruining anything. So when I got done setting them all at home in my basement workshop, I just felt depressed about the whole stupid thing because it didn’t look right at all, and I was a big failure, and all that.

But I took it to class anyway, and Bob knew exactly what I needed.

handpieceAre you there, Santa Claus? It’s me, Jennifer.

Here’s a bezel pushing tool I had dismissed as a silly gadget for lazy people, because I am a closed-minded, short-sighted, and stupid person. Sometimes. This hammering attachment for the flex shaft is exactly what I needed to get into all the awkward angles and push down those silver bezels exactly where I needed to. AND there was no need to worry about putting pressure DOWN–the force just goes horizontally from metal to stone (and if you’re worried about damaging the stone, as I was, you probably don’t need to be. These agates and carnelians took it well. Maybe an opal wouldn’t, I don’t know. And don’t forgot to protect their surfaces with masking tape, just in case.)

So that was my adventure, and the big project of this class cycle.

Just for posterity, here’s the pretty, pretty back of the agate. Because I guess I’ll never see it again, except through four tiny squiggle-shaped holes.


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Filed under helpers and devices, metals, necklace, pendant, soldering, stones/gems

Day 5: Useful Things

I have to tell you, after months of feeling sluggish and dull in the studio, my fire is now lit. I’ve got quite a few things going on at once, but for now I’m going to avoid talking about half-finished projects.  I think it might inspire me to actually finish something.

So meanwhile, I thought I’d mention some useful tools I made myself.  Well, this first one was actually made by my husband last week.


This block of wood with a piece of plexiglas and a strip of leather screwed to it is a jump ring cutter. The usual way of making jump rings is to make a spiral from wire, thread your blade through it, and hold it down on your V-board with your fingers and saw away at it.  It can be a bit awkward, the rings can get hot, and your fingers can get sore.  This is meant to alleviate all that (the leather is especially nice for keeping your fingers loose and cool). I’ve used this device once so far, and I have to admit it was a bit awkward.  There might be a learning curve here; also, I’m not sure, but the v-notch in the wood may be a bit too large.  If so, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to try again on another block of wood (oh, do we have the scraps lying around!)

If you’d like to make one yourself, you can just wing it with a one inch x three-ish block of wood. If you need a bit more detail, you can check out Mixed Metal Mania by Kim St. Jean. (This is a book I love for all the tools, tips, tricks, equipment, and studio shots in the front matter, more than the actual jewelry projects!)

As for useful things I made myself, that would have to encompass my sanding sticks and split mandrels:


As I’m striving to become a better hand filer/sander, these have proved invaluable. The sticks are super easy to make; all you need is some sandpaper in various grits, and some long, flat pieces of scrap wood (hey, even popsicle sticks would work). A good thing to do would be to score the back side of the paper at every fold so it will lie very flat against the wood when you glue it on.  The mandrels are a bit more involved, but only a bit: you need to saw a slit into the end of a piece of brass tubing to hold the end of a strip of sandpaper. Then just put some glue on the back and wind it around a couple times. I’ve made a round and a rectangular one; both have proved useful.

One last thing: be sure to write the grit number somewhere on your tool so you’ll always know what you’re using.

No wait, this is the one last thing: I got the tip for the split mandrels from a blogger known as the Jewelry Monk.  He’s full of useful information, so take a look if you want to see more.

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Shadow Box Jewelry Case



I’ve had a shadow box lying around for maybe five years . . . you know the kind, it’s from a craft store and it has a glass front and magnetic catch, it’s a couple inches deep and you can stash memorabilia in it.  For a while now, I’ve been thinking of making a jewelry display case, and this week I’ve finally gotten around to it!

Quite a few people on Pinterest have simply stuck sewing pins into the white fabric background and hung jewelry that way, but I wanted to take the concept up a notch.  So I got my husband to make an interior framework with some scrap wood, and I found some matboard scraps I could cover with black fabric for the background.


The wood piece fit so well that painting it black actually made it too tight, so I had to sand down the edges (oops.) Then I drilled small holes for all the hooks, and twisted those in. (Side note: after wrestling with drilling metal all this time, drilling wood is super easy and awesome.)

Now that it’s done, I wish I’d realized the center row of hooks would have been better higher up (I have far more necklaces than bracelets), but live and learn.  I’m happy to be able to see my handmade sparklies every day!


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Filed under helpers and devices, wood projects

Stand (in the place where you work)

The good news is, my husband made an anvil stand and a pliers rack for me.  The bad news is, I had to clean all my jewelry crap off the work table first.  The good news is, I cleaned out and organized all the scraps & bits I created. I’ll stop there because, really, it’s all good.  Check this out:

anvilstandEventually I’d like to tack up a leather scrap and hang my hammers in it.

Also very close to completion is this, inspired by similar tool organizers commercially available:

pliersstandThe clamp and stick in the back there are holding on a just-glued decorative bit similar to the one you see in front.  Those were salvaged by me from a rather beat-up old model boat my husband got rid of a couple years ago–a Chinese junk, I think he said it was.  I always thought I could use the colorful emblems on something someday.  The rack inside the rack was the boat’s stand.  I’m not sure whether it will prove useful, but it does fit inside, so there it will stay for now.

In other news, I sold three pairs of earrings this week!  I’m thinking that after class is all done I might want to dive into my beads again and see what else I can come up with for earrings, bracelets and the like.  Until then, I have a few pieces I need to start designing now if I want to get them done tonight. A comical charm idea came to me while watching DVDs last night . . . let’s see how that goes . . .



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Night of a Thousand Earrings!

Okay, three pairs.  But it felt like a thousand!

Last night, after reading some forum posts here and there about plated components and their tendency to tarnish or wear away, I started thinking about the silver plated pewter components in my stash.  I do know that the clasp I used on my beaded crochet spiral bracelet has already started to tarnish.  So I decided to make some various earrings for myself (like I needed an excuse) and see how they hold up to wear.

I should also note that today, January 14, 2013, is the day I finally admit that my ol’ go-to camera–a Kodak EasyShare purchased in 2007–is inadequate to the task of photographing jewelry.  And it’s also true that the lighting I have available in my basement isn’t good enough either.  So I am making it a priority to learn how to use our Canon, and I’m going to need a light stand or something comparable.  Meanwhile, I have this:



First up, I had two promo quality (cheapish stone beads sold in bulk that may have serious flaws, hence the price) green aventurine beads that were chipped at one hole end.  This is a job for bead caps!  So I’m trying out these copper finish pewter ones:

greenavearringsoldcamThat’s an old camera shot, by the way.  This next pair is a set of silver plated pewter lotus charms and Swarovski pearls (yeah, Swarovski makes “pearls” now.  Nice quality, gotta admit.)  I used some surgical steel hooks on these.  They may not be as pretty, but I really dislike how silver tends to leave black marks around your earring holes.  I was able to at least get good detail on the charms with the new camera here:

lotusearringsnewcamAnd these are composed entirely of crap from my stash and were made just for fun.  I got the dark purple glass fish beads years ago (Blue Moon Beads, I think), and the bits of chain are from a junk necklace my grandmother gave me (I’m still amazed how well costume jewelry from back then holds up compared to the junk you can buy now).

purplefishearnewcamSo, that was a fun evening well spent.  And tonight’s takeaways:

  • study up on photography (and join local photography club?)
  • I need to practice basic wire loop techniques with some junk wire and plastic beads
  • make something every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes.  The creative mood boost is incredible!




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So That’s How You Do It!

I promised my friend a mala bracelet . . . oh . . . it was a while ago.  It’s the holiday season now and I’m going to see her for a coffee date, so I decided it was time to get on this.  Not to mention, I now have a great stockpile of stone beads, “power bracelet ends,” spacers, and elastic cords.  So let’s get cracking!  My first idea was a little blah:


My husband suggested silver spacers, which I agreed looked better (even though I really wanted to do something different. Sometimes things are classic for a reason.)  He also agreed that a couple of green aventurine beads would look sharp next to the focal:

rosiesmalacrochethookNow the real problem:  what kind of three-holed end bead to use (I don’t have any red aventurine, but this red jasper seemed nice) and how the $%^# do you get the elastic ends through there, anyhow?  I’ve managed before, but this particular bead seemed impossible due to the way it was drilled.  This was also my first time using thicker jelly cord (so strong!) and it just would not go.  The answer was just too obvious:  use a crochet hook.  I dug out my size 14, passed the ends through as you see in the picture, and managed to grab them both up through the end hole with the hook.  Nice!  Except . . .I don’t think that red end was really working.  So, once again, green aventurine to the rescue.

rosiesmalaThere we go.  I made a tassel with some cotton embroidery floss, managed to get it onto the elastic, pulled tight and made knots and more knots (all hidden in the tubular end), cemented the thing with some hypo cement, and trimmed the ends.  This was a fun lesson in patience, and I’m really pleased with how it came out.  Hope it was worth the wait!

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Filed under beads, bracelet, helpers and devices

And there was light (box)

As promised, my husband went to the hardware store, picked up some 1/2 inch PVC pipe and eight “elbow” connectors, and made the beginnings of my light box so that I can–with any luck–photograph jewelry better:

The pipes were cut to one and a half feet, which seems a good length.  Now I need to rummage through my old stash of art paper to see what works best for covering the top and sides.

In other projects, I’ve been slowly working on a purple beaded crochet spiral lariat.  I’ve seen holders for this kind of work around the internet and may try to devise something for myself to make it easier.  In knitting, I’m still working on my awful primary color stashbuster blanket.  Ooh, and speaking of stashbusters, I’m totally making this clock edger with my scraps.  I have just the wall clock, too.  The plastic edge is missing a chunk around the eight since it fell off the wall once.  This will hide it perfectly.

And one more thing:  I’m finally going to venture into colorwork/stranded knitting.  I need to make more cowls to cover my mouth when I go running this fall; cold air is not a friend to asthmatics.  I figured this would be a perfect time to finally try out the very charts I learned knitting for two years ago:  space invaders.  More on that as I get it going.


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