Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Adventures in Jewellery Making Week Four

I am officially the queen of jewellery making! I am currently wearing my handmade ring and although it is far too wide for me to wear comfortably, it fits and is pretty damn shiny. I felt a little bit like Gollum on the bus ride home staring at it and wanting to say ‘my precious’ lovingly every so often. That type of behaviour wouldn’t have made me the weirdest person on that bus though so that’s reassuring at least. Nuala wasn’t at the class this week because she has a stall at the Origin Craft Fair at Somerset House. I am going tomorrow to see the Goldsmiths fair and will try to get to Origin too if I have time. It was definitely worth going to Bellore on Saturday because the shop assistant was really helpful and also I had a chance to start on making my ring out of silver this week whilst I was waiting for the copper ring to polish.

My first task to finish my copper ring was to anneal (heat) the metal so that it could be hammered easily into shape. You need two firebricks for this, one horizontal and the other vertical to create a kind of wall so that the torch flame heats the metal evenly. The metal turns black as it oxidizes and it needs to be very dark red to show that you have reached the right temperature. Using steel tweezers you carefully carry the hot metal and quench it in a tub of cold water. Using copper tweezers (steel tweezers can affect the acid and damage silver pieces that are being pickled) I manage to get the copper into the acid bath to clean. This takes five to ten minutes.

I have decided to make a more wearable castle cut out ring out of silver with a narrower band and more elaborate castle shapes so I get to work filing the piece of silver that I bought from bellore (you don’t get much for your money!!!) to make it flat and start to measure out the design. I’m not being particularly precise because I quite like the fact that each castle looks a little bit different. I will probably make quite a few versions of this ring by the end of the course especially as I now have a saw and so can do some of the work at home.

Anyway, after about ten minutes my ring seems pretty clean. All of the signs of oxidization have disappeared and so I use the tweezers to wash the ring in water and dry it before I can start working on it again. Before I can solder the ring it has to be hammered into a ring shape over a mandrel with a mallet. This has to be done systematically from one end so that the metal doesn’t weaken and is shaped evenly. The joining ends are not flush so I have to use the saw to saw between the two edges to make it straight. This is easier said than done. Once I am relatively happy with the join I can attempt the process of soldering! You have to use a substance called borax to coat the join. This needs to be mixed in a pestle and mortar and painted onto the edges on the inner and outer sides of the ring. I am using hard silver solder cut into a very tiny square (around 2mm.) This is placed over the join at the top of the ring. When the solder is heated, gravity causes it to trickle down the join ensuring that any tiny gaps are filled and flush. It takes several minutes for the solder to melt and as soon as it does the flame has to be removed. I quench the metal and put it in the acid to pickle it again. Now I can go back to my silver ring and complete the design.

After I have left the copper ring to clean for ten minutes I use needle files and wet and dry sand paper to remove any excess solder and to give the metal surface an even finish. It is then time to polish the ring, which is a magical process whereby you place the metal ring in a plastic cylindrical tub that opens on either end. The tub has hundreds of ball bearings inside it and is filled with soapy water. It is placed on rotating pins, which polishes the ring by swishing it about with the ball bearings. I use this opportunity to drill holes in each castle design on my silver ring. After I have done this I remove the copper ring and dry it. It is incredibly shiny and looks like a proper piece of jewellery. Everyone crowds round each other’s pieces and marvels at our creations. It is nice to have something to wear so early on in the course! We are all experimenting with different techniques and I think I made the right choice with the mixed levels course as it is good to see what the more advanced students are making and they are all really helpful and happy to give tips. 

My final act on my ring is to buff it using a buffing machine, which looks like someone has taped roadkill to a rotating cog and left it spinning. The buffer ages the copper by blackening the shapes. This is a nice effect but I prefer the high shine finish and so a little bit of soap and water returns the gleam to an even more polished surface. I feel like I’ve got a lot done this week and am confident that I can finish my silver castle ring next week. Then I can learn how to set stones!

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