I always love to see behind the scenes of manufacturing – maybe it all stems from that cool crayon factory clip that used to be on Sesame Street? One of my gorgeous clients, Natasha, asked me to use this charoite in a ring for her mum, and her mum was interested to see the work in progress. I have written before here, here and here about my processes, and I thought you might like to see some more!
It started with this luscious piece of charoite which Natasha spotted in my gemstone collection. Using a strip of silver and my trusty half round pliers, I made a bezel for the stone.
I fitted the stone to a piece of sheet silver.
After sawing out the shape of the backing plate, I prepared to solder.
After soldering, the silver becomes oxidised and it seems far-fetched that this will ever turn into something beautiful!
Some careful measurement, and more bending with my half round pliers, and a ring shank is made.
A quick check that the stone fits properly, then I’m ready to solder the shank to the top.
The shank is lined up on the top, and soldered firmly in place.
Time for lots of filing and emerying to get the silver ready for the stone to be set.
It’s always a joy to see other people’s creative techniques. I have written before here and here about the process of silversmithing, and I thought you might like another little insight into this world.
First, the drusy gemstone (from my never-ending collection!) and a rough design sketch. I’ve already created the bezel (the metal that wraps around the stone) in this picture, bending a straight strip of metal (like the one pictured) around the stone.
The next step is preparing the backing plate. He’s some sawing and filing in action.
After filing, comes emerying.
And laying out the component parts to see how it will look. The balls of silver are made by heating some little pieces of silver until they melt – the molten silver naturally gathers up into a sphere. It’s fun stuff!
I emery the back of the bezel flat, so that the join between the two pieces of metal will be exact and the solder will flow correctly.
Then it’s time for a bit of heat.
I love how from this dirty blackened thing comes an object of beauty!
Into a solution of sulphuric acid to remove all the oxidization etc.
While the piece is pickling, I create the bail (the part from which the pendant will hang), and a little plate stamped with my maker’s mark and ‘925’ to show the piece is made from sterling silver.
Those are soldered onto the piece, then it’s back in the pickle and after that, a rinse off.
After a good clean-up, with lots of emerying down to a fine grade, I mount the piece on a wax dop so that i can set the stone.
Under my bench in this photo is the page I use to bend ring shanks to size when they are not going to be a complete ring, for example when they are going underneath a cabochon setting. I can see some of the pieces from my new extraterrestrial collection, and the work in progress on this divine custom chrysoprase set – one of my favourites, I confess!
30 Jun 2015
There is a sheet of silver over on the right rear, and I see the beginnings of some drusy earrings and this lapis ring – and a few other goodies, too.
30 Jun 2015
And here am I, working away. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy what I do!
14 Aug 2015
A sneak peak at some upcoming treasures for you here – and as always, tea. A nice cup of tea’s what keeps me going sometimes. How about you?
That long hanging thing in the middle of this picture? That’s my flex drive. The first flexible shaft was invented by the famous Scottish engineer James Hall Nasmyth (1808-1890), who is best known for his later development of the steam hammer.
The motor is this part the top, which, through a long spiral shaft, drives the little piece at the end. If you’re thinking ‘dentist’, you’re absolutely right! These are used by dentists, too. They’re like a tiny drill at the end of a long hose.
There are endless variations of bits you can use with your flex drive.
My favourites are a particular diamond burr, kindly given to me by the lovely Bill from my Goldsmithing class (I use it all the time!) and my slotted mandrels (for emery paper – that’s one you see on the flex drive head in the picture above this one). I have so many other very useful attachments for this great device! I use my flex drive on just about every piece I make. Thanks, Mr Nasmyth!
Following on from my previous post in which you’ll find the first batch of workshop shots, and bringing us up to the minute, I’m visiting my workshop space in space and time. You can sometimes catch me posting more of these snaps on my Instagram page and my FaceBook page – I’d love to see you there!
Here, I’ve come along further with some of those previous pieces, and added this rest of the faceted onyx set and green mojave turquoise ring to the mix. That is my pair of nylon jaw flat nose parallel pliers on the right – fabulous for holding components that are too tiny to be held with fingers while I saw or file or emery, without leaving marks on the metal! Also, a little batch of jellyfish earrings in the making on my soldering block.
6 Nov 2014
The storage expansion continues.. and while it has been there for a while, I draw your attention to my tree stump, kindly provided by a neighbour. It is extremely useful as an ‘anvil’ base, and I’m pleased that even though a tree had to be chopped down, I could salvage a piece of it for a good purpose!
9 Nov 2014
Bead obsessed, much?
21 Nov 2014
Amongst that mass of tools, I see this pendant on my bench peg, and I am still working on that crazy creation underneath!
I quite often have things on my bench waiting for inspiration or the right time to strike – some seaglass is in the process here! Also a bunch of forget-me-nots, which I will post more about another time.
1 Apr 2015
Beads for the beginnings of my Ceramic collection are on my bench this day, as well as a number of stones waiting to be set – including this rhodochrosite pendant! The forget-me-nots are all on my soldering block. Stay tuned.
For a while now, I’ve been taking random pictures of my workspace. Sometimes I post these on my Instagram page, and sometimes on my FaceBook page; but I thought it was time I posted them here for you to see. Look how clean my workspace was only a few months after I first got my jeweller’s bench set up! Look at that nice new engraving ball.
2 Jul 2013
A year later, and I’ve achieved the more lived in look. All clean work in progress mess of course! I spy the beginnings of the Elementals collection.
24 Jan 2014
As time goes on, storage becomes more of an issue, as you can see by the stacks of boxes full of Czech glass.
Besser brick is not very exciting, but I brighten up my space with a fabulous piece painted by a three year old, and I love my beautiful Granny’s landscape oil painting of the cliffs at Fairlight – it is calming and inspirational. And yes, I do drink a lot of tea!
One of the useful pieces of equipment in my workshop is my tumbler.
It can be hard to get a shiny finish on small pieces and pieces made from wire, so popping them into the tumbler with some steel shot, water and a tiny bit of dish soap does the trick!
The lid is cleverly made to seal completely, and bolted on tightly.
The base of the tumbler rotates the pot around and around, which rubs the shot against whatever you place inside, polishing it beautifully.
The tumbler I have is actually sold as a gemstone tumbler, but works beautifully for silver as well. Not that you can see in this last picture, but twenty minutes sees the finished product looking shiny and great!
I love seeing other people’s processes, and I thought it was time to give you all another look into what goes on in my workshop. I have blogged before about how I create one of my signature big chunky rings, and I thought it was time to examine that process again. Here’s how I do it!
Firstly, an appropriate width strip of sterling silver sheet .6mm thick is selected.
This is curved by hand using a pair of half round pliers to fit the gemstone.
Next, the strip is cut to approximately the right length on my bench peg using my jeweller’s saw, leaving a small extension for soldering against.
In this video, you see me prepare and apply the borax, position the solder (not usually quite so fumbly, I had a bit of stage fright!) and solder the bezel together.
Once the metal is cool, it goes into the pickle to be cleaned. An explanation of pickle can be found in my previous blog post.
I trim the excess bezel metal away from the solder join.
I check to make sure the bezel is a good fit.
I emery the bottom of the bezel so that it is completely flat and will make a good join with the base plate.
I select a piece of 1mm thick sterling silver sheet to fit the bezel.
I solder the bezel to the backing plate. Here you see me applying the paillons of solder with borax, and soldering the join. Then it’s back to the pickle.
After rinsing and drying, a bit of a check to see how it’s looking!
Now, I saw the excess metal from around the bezel setting.
After filing the edges of the bezel setting, I start creating the ring shank.
Using the appropriate width of 1.2mm thick sterling silver plate, I bend the shank to the right shape and size.
I trim the shank to the right length.
I hammer the shank with a mallet to get it perfectly round (this shot is for explanation only, I actually have the mandrel hard up against the bench to absorb the force when I’m really hammering the ring!).
Emerying the inside of the shank with my flex drive makes life easier.
After more filing and emerying, I stamp the inside of the shank with my maker’s mark and 925, which marks the metal as being sterling silver (the 92.5% is the fine silver content).
I solder the shank to the bezel setting assembly.
Then it’s time for plenty more filing, and coarse to fine emerying to bring the ring close to it’s finished state. (Zen or tedium, you decide!)
Next, I head over to my trusty engraving ball to set the stone.
I have a very lovely mum and granny, who sometimes give me cash for birthday and Christmas presents with instructions to buy myself smithing tools. I have a little wish list (of course!), and one of the items on it was a disc cutter.
I use a lot of circles in my pieces, (being a fan of the ellipse!) and cutting them out by hand is a lengthy and sometimes tedious process.
The disc cutter is made from two steel ‘wheels’, bolted together, with various sized circles (in this case from 3mm to 32mm) cut in them. You slide a sheet of metal in between the wheels, tighten the bolt, and use the appropriate matching punch (which are made from special tool steel, hardened and ground) to cut through the metal.. The ends of punches are sharpened at a slight angle to enable them to cut through metal up to 1mm thick as if it were – well – butter!
You can see the sheet of silver I’m cutting here has already seen some disc cutting action.
The end result is a perfect circle, every time. I do love my disc cutter ~ thank you, lovely family!
In order to create rings that fit my lovely customers, I need to know their ring size. I’ve written a post about measuring your own ring size, however the best way of finding out your ring size is to have your finger measured at a jewellers – this is the easiest and most accurate way of fitting a ring.
Above you can see my ring sizing gauges. The rings are for measuring fingers, and are graded in sizes – here in Australia we use letters of the alphabet (which are followed by numbers), so these go from size H up to Z, and then on from 1 to 6. The stick is for measuring the size of rings, and has different measurements, including the alphabet system, millimetres, and US sizing.
If you’re in Brisbane, I’m always happy to measure you up for one of my custom made rings!
A jeweller is nothing without a jeweller’s bench! As you can see, my bench is a busy place – I even tidied it a little for you here. My bench was made by my silversmithing teacher, Elmar – it’s robust, utilitarian, set up just how I need it – and I love it.
One of the most important parts of the bench is the jeweller’s peg. This is the wooden piece that juts out the front of the bench. It is used to balance and stabilise whatever you’re working on – great for sawing, filing, emerying – anything that requires gentle force to be applied to metal. I leave most hammering for my large tree stump however! You can see the scars of filing and sawing on my peg – as time goes on, you develop your own comfortable nicks and dents for holding wire, filing rings etc. Eventually your peg wears away, and it has to be replaced – though I think mine has many more good years left in it yet.
There are so many different tools that help a jeweller – I try to accumulate only the ones that I really need and will use, but the temptation to collect is great! Pictured above are: my tri square – useful for making sure the ends of ring shanks are exactly square before bending and soldering, and for getting exact square angles on pieces I’m cutting out; a scribe and a pushing tool – The scribe is great for scoring silver before sawing it if I need a long straight piece i.e. if for cutting my own bezel, and as a general jiggery-pokery thing. I confess I don’t often use the bezel pusher, and never for bezel setting – but it’s a piece I made at a tool-making workshop I did, and I’m fond of it!; dividers – very useful for scribing a circle, or transferring measurements from one piece of metal to another; and my scraper – great for the occasional removal of pesky burrs.
An my bench – ok, confession time, it usually looks a bit more like this! With every piece, there are periods of time where you’re waiting i.e. for the metal to cool after soldering, or to pickle, so I work on a number of different pieces at once.
Ah, my workplace – a very zen space, where the sky’s the limit! If you’re interested, you can see more posts about my silversmithing tools here.
The process of creating is sometimes more intricate than you might think when looking at the final object, so I thought we’d take a look at how chain is handmade.
To start, I use some lengths of wire (which is made by rolling a block of silver repeatedly in the same direction through a rolling mill, until it is thin enough to draw through a draw-plate down to the right dimension).
After annealing the wire (a process where the wire is heated to a dark red to line the molecules up, making the silver malleable), I pickle it, by placing the metal in an acid solution to remove any oxidisation, dirt, or flux.
I then wrap it around a steel post of a suitable diameter (this tool is called a jump ring maker, and comes with steel posts of varying widths).
Once the wire is wrapped into shape, I remove it from the steel rod.
I saw each link with a jeweller’s saw.
Each link is individually created.
After a tidy up of the links if required, I join them together, in this case in a specific mathematical combination. (I love how science, maths and creativity collide!)
Once all the links are joined, I make sure the chain is the correct length.
Then I solder each link closed. Yes, each and every link! In this case, that means around two hundred and eighty links to be made, joined and soldered individually.
Once that is complete, the final links are added which join the chain together in a specific way to create the spiral effect. Then it’s back in the pickle for another bath, followed by some time in the tumbler, to polish and harden the chain. (I’ll post about my tumbler another day, I promise!)
The finished product is quite spectacular, IMHO. You can see more pics of this twisted spiral chain technique being used here and here. I love what I do!
The engraving ball (also known as the engraving vise) is a steel ball with a slot cut out of it, and a vise clamp across it. It is seated in a cup (in this case, a leather donut, lubricated with graphite) which enables it to be rotated 360 degrees around, and around 180 degrees side to side.
Used most often for engraving (obviously!) the ball gives you a full range of movement so that as you are cutting, you can spin the piece around for ease of access.
Although I have a set of gravers, and understand the principle of engraving (and of faceted stone setting which also requires gravers), I don’t practise those disciplines. Instead, I use my engraving ball for another of its purposes – setting cabochon gemstones.
The same principle applies, in that you can rotate the piece so that you can approach the setting from all angles.I love my engraving ball, and use it all the time – I’d be lost without it!
When creating jewellery and tableware, precious metal is usually stamped to mark both the chemical composition of the metal and the origin of the piece.
There are many variations on this theme, based on what country the piece is from, and in which era it was made. There are thousands of stamps. Here in Australia, the following symbols are used to denote the composition of precious metals.
Fineness Marks (with thanks to The Gold and Silversmith’s Guild of Australia)
Because I work in sterling silver, the stamp you will find on my pieces is 925. This denotes that the content of the metal is not less than 92.5% pure silver. You may be wondering – the other 7.5% is copper. Sterling silver is used because fine silver (100% silver) is very soft and malleable, and won’t retain its shape properly when worked.
Stamps are applied to the metal by holding the stamp onto the metal, and giving the end of the stamp one blow with a large hammer! The crooks in the handle of the stamp are there so that you can get the stamp inside rings.
My maker’s stamp is one that I designed myself, and was lucky enough to have my teacher at Goldsmith’s School create for me. I wanted to incorporate some of the many things that I am always drawn to, find beautiful and am inspired by, so the spiral and elements of the ocean are both prominent in my mark.
The history and intricacy of maker’s marks and hallmarking makes for some interesting googling, if you have the time. I wonder if many years down the track, some buff on the Antiques Roadshow will be shown one of my pieces, and wonder who created it?
Next time you are looking at jewellery or tableware, see if you can find the hallmarks, and work out what they mean!
I was all set this month to write about what I was taught is called an Archimedes drill. While researching it online, I discovered that this tool is actually called a pump drill and an Archimedes drill is something different! So, no interesting information on Archimedes to be found here today. He was pretty amazing, though, worth researching if you can find the time.
The pump drill is composed of a long drill shaft with a collet on one end, a handle with a hole through the centre, a weighted flywheel, and a length of cord. The flywheel is attached near the bottom of the shaft and the handle slides over the top. The cord is run through a hole near the top of the shaft and affixed to either end of the handle so that it hangs just above the flywheel. To use it, the correct size drill bit is inserted in the collet, one hand is placed on the handle while the other hand turns the shaft to wind the cord around its length, raising the handle near to the top of the shaft, where the cord becomes tight. Holding the drill upright and placing the drill tip against the material to be drilled, a smooth downward pressure is exerted on the handle causing the drill to rapidly spin. Once the bottom is reached, the weight is relieved and the drill allowed to rebound re-winding the cord around the shaft and the process is repeated. It is a simple concept but a skill that takes practice to master.
The pump drill is a variation of the bow drill, which has been in use for at least seven thousand years. As well as drilling holes, the bow drill can be used to start a fire using friction. My occasionally burnt fingers can attest to the heat that can be generated by a drill spinning – silver is a great conductor of heat, and I have not only heated my fingers but made burn marks in my bench peg by drilling a piece of silver before now! As well as my pump drill, I sometimes use my flex-drive with a drill bit attached for drilling holes – there is something far more satisfying about using the lovely, simple, ancient pump drill though!
This month, I thought I’d show you my jeweller’s files. As with most smithing equipment, there are a vast array of files, and I have just a few.
The largest file I have is a good old half round file, and the smaller files are barette, half round, pillar, round, three square & square needle files.
Files are mostly used to shape and remove excess metal, so you can imagine there’s a lot of that going on! The larger files move more metal, of course, and the smaller needle files are more delicate and precise.
After you’ve filed a piece, there will be file marks left in the metal. That’s where emery paper comes in. With each stage, you remove the marks that the last stage left, so the file marks are taken away with a coarser emery paper first.
Emery, not to be confused with sandpaper, is mostly corundum, which is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide with traces of iron, titanium and chromium.
I use two grades of emery: a coarser 400 grade, and a finer 1200 grade. I use it wrapped around a metal stick, or a needle file, or just by itself in a small sheet, depending on what I’m emerying! Sometimes a piece looks great just left at this stage – it can provide a lovely matte surface. Most often, though, I brass brush after the emery stage to leave a great satin finish, as you can see on these butterflies. I really love the softer shine this gives the silver.
There are more steps after this used to create a polished finish, but that’s for another day!
Mandrels are tapered steel rods, which come in various shapes and sizes. I have three round ones, which go from a millimetre or so up to maybe 40mm in diameter.
Using either my wooden mallet, which will reshape silver but not stretch or resize it, or my bench hammer, which will both shape and stretch the silver to a different size, I use my mandrels to shape bezels, shanks and various other things as I am creating a piece. I even bend my round hoop earrings on my mandrel!
You can get oval mandrels, square mandrels, teardrop shaped mandrels, hexagonal mandrels.. I do have another one or two on my wish list, but for now I love my round mandrels!
One of the most important pieces of equipment a jeweller needs is the soldering torch. I use an LPG gas torch. LPG is a mixture of propane and butane.
Nearly every piece requires some amount of soldering. Soldering is the process of joining two pieces of metal together by heating them, using a material of another similarly coloured and structured alloy metal with a lower melting point than the metal being joined.
There are three types of silver solder commonly used: Hard solder – the highest melting point of between 745-778⁰C. Medium solder – melting point of between 720-765⁰C. Easy solder – the lowest melting point of between 705-723⁰C.
As sterling silver melts at 893⁰C, the solder will reach melting point before the silver and fuse the two pieces together.
Flux is painted onto the surfaces to be soldered to prevent oxidization and firescale and ensure that the solder will fuse to the metal. I use borax, which you can see in the dish at the back of my heat resistant blocks.
Paillons of solder are positioned so that they touch both pieces of metal to be joined. The entire piece is heated evenly with the torch to the melting point of the solder, causing the solder to run and join the pieces of metal together.
Once the metal has cooled, the piece is placed in a sulphuric acid solution (which is known as pickle) until it is a white silver colour to remove any oxide and flux, then it is rinsed in water and dried.
This ring is an example of a piece that required soldering. The ring itself is soldered together at the bottom. The swirls and the balls are all soldered individually to the top of the ring.
One of the many joys of silver is that no matter how many times it is heated, melted, beaten, bent, twisted, cut, it maintains the same qualities and substance, so can be repurposed over and over again. I’m proud to say that the supplier I source my silver from manufacture right here in Australia using reclaimed silver wherever possible, so that no unnecessary mining takes place. This recycled silver is refined and tested to ensure that it is 100% pure sterling silver. The planet thanks us!
The humble hammer. I used to think a hammer was just a hammer, right? But no! There are many different sorts of hammers, with many different purposes. I have a small collection, and I use at least one with just about every piece that I create.
First up, the claw hammer. Great for hammering in and pulling out nails in the carpentry world. I use mine for heavy hammering, such as stamping pieces with my maker’s mark and 925 stamp, or hitting the ends of my doming punches.
Next, my jeweller’s bench hammer. This baby has a flat face and a cross pein. (The pein is the ‘other’ end of the hammer). Great for such things as using with my bench block to harden earring hooks, and with my mandrels to straighten and stretch rings. The pein end is useful for things like curving silver in my swage block for rings like this cuff ring. (Don’t worry, posts on all those other weird tools will be along sooner or later! 🙂 )
Thirdly, my wooden mallet. Great for shaping silver without making it thinner – rounding a ring on my mandrel without making it larger, for instance. (Has not been used as a judge’s gavel -yet!!)
Finally, my favourite hammer, my chasing hammer. This baby is great for setting gemstones, using my engraving ball and a setting punch. (Yep, more on those at a later date, too!!) The handle thins dramatically towards the head of the hammer, making it very whippy and easy on the wrist, which is a nice thing when it can take up to an hour’s hammering to set a stone.
There are lots more jewellery hammers, used for various things like forming, planishing, rivetting etc. These four are the tip of the iceberg.. but they are all I need at the moment for all of my creations. A simple everyday tool, the hammer; but indispensable in the jeweller’s studio!
There are many pieces of equipment that are essential to the creative silversmithing process, and one that gets used in practically every piece is the jeweller’s saw. From cutting through fine chain links, to carving out an entire pendant, the saw is a very useful piece of equipment!
One of the first things I learned when I started smithing was how to saw – first straight lines, then curves, then around corners. There is an art to sawing! Jeweller’s saw blades come in many sizes, the tooth count varying depending on the job you need to do.
Saw blades are replaced when they become blunt or more often when they break – which happens all the time. Inserting the blade correctly, holding the saw upright, not applying pressure and letting the blade do the work will all help. “Doh! Another one!” is still a frequent cry around the workshop though!
Saws can also be used for piercing. First a small hole is drilled, the saw blade is fed through the hole, and then tightened into the saw.
Bill, one of my class mates at the school I attended, makes the most fabulous and intricate finely detailed pieces with the use of his saw, but I limit myself to these larger piercings at present!
For a long time, I have been coveting a doming block. For Christmas this year, my lovely husband gave me a beautiful set, including a 80mm square block and 12 punches. Love a man who knows what you REALLY want – thank you sweetheart!!
Also known as a dapping block, and made from stainless steel, this doming block makes it easy to turn flat sheets of silver into beautifully curved domes.
This great tool makes it possible to create everything from a slight curve to a full semi-circle:
which means that I can make spheres, too.
I’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless!! Check out my current range ‘Beyond Silver Dome‘ – and stay tuned for more fabulous creations.