Tag Archives: oxidisation

Making a better mouse

I’m going to be at a craft fair on 5th September 2013 (, which is also a book launch for the next installment of Tales from Beauty Bank.  They are stories about a wonderful family of mice and their exciting adventures in and around the English county of Cheshire.

Well, when I heard that there was to be a new book, I so wanted to make a jewellery version of one of the little mice.  I contacted the author, Michael R. Beddard for his permission, and after checking with the artist, Rebecca Yoxall, I got the go ahead and this is what happened.

I was sent an image of Carlos, a mouse not yet seen in the books, for reference.  He looked so sweet and I decided that he’d make a wonderful brooch.  There had been clues about gems being of some importance in the new story, so I decided to make him holding a sparkling gem in his little paws.

I decided to draw his outline on paper and looked to see if there would be any weaknesses in the design.  To help strengthen the finished piece, I gave him a curl to his tail and took it up and over his body.  To give an extra dimension to the mouse, his tail would be added on in round wire, but to give strength, I would also cut out it’s shape in the silver sheet.

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Above, you can see the silver sheet pierced (using a Knew Concepts hand saw, which is an amazing piece of kit) and with it’s protective film still on.  I’ve left the area for the gem quite large for the moment, just in case I change my mind about the gem or the exact placement.Image

This is Carlos with his tail and bezel soldered on.  He’s had a first filing to smooth any rough edges and to check all the surfaces are joined well. He’ll go in the pickle after I solder the brooch pin on the back.  His tail was slightly flattened at one end and the tip was filed to taper down to a blunt point.  As I was using round wire (1mm diameter), I filed the base down slightly to give a flat edge which would connect well with the main body and give a good connection when soldered.

Just a note on the brooch pin itself.  If it gets heated then it will loose it’s hardness and become annealed (soft for working with).  Also, air-cooling rather than quenching in water will help too.  I work-harden it back to usability by hitting it with my rawhide hammer until it becomes strong enough not to bend easily.

The bezel is made from fancy bezel wire (it just means shaped and not plain strip) which has been soldered into a circle (5mm inside diameter) and a jump ring has been slightly flattened and soldered inside as the bezel shelf.  I checked the gem in the mount, and as the gem was faceted, I filed the seat of the bezel to fit.

On the main body of the piece, I worked out where exactly the bezel would sit, and took out a circle of about 3mm across for both reasons of weight and ease of keeping the stone clean.  The bezel was then sweat-soldered (solder was melted onto one surface only and then gently re-melted with the bezel sitting on top) to the piece.

After pickling, filing and polishing, It was time to give this little boy some colour.  I decided to use Liver of Sulphur with a brush and try to re-create the feel of the original watercolour.  I layered on the liquid LoS and then washed it off in cold water (it stops the chemical reaction, but unfortunately not the rotten egg smell).  I did this quite a few times, as the colours changed from gold to brown to blue and then purple.  I used a fine silicon polishing stick in my Dremel to rub away the patina to give lovely highlights and show off his lovely white tummy.  And here he is …Image

The gem is real garnet and I think he looks splendid with it!

Well, I thought I was finished but I sat thinking about how to protect the finish. Normally, I would use Renaissance Wax but I was really worried about the patina scratching, even through the wax,  This time I decided to seal the colour with a glossy doming resin that is cured by UV rays.  I use a toothpick to drop the resin onto the piece, starting round the edges and curing that before going on to fill in the center (this is because the resin has a tendency to pull in, leaving the edges exposed).

Here is little Carlos with his new protective coat:

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UPDATE:

The author liked my version of Carlos so much, he commissioned me to make a similar one for his mum.  She loves opals and so I sourced a special translucent opal (solid, not a doublet or triplet) with beautiful flashes of colour.  I decided that this mouse would be Rachel, who is in the books!

The differences are the eyelashes and her more finely shaped head. She has a pink nose and pink cheeks, which were done using watercolour & gouache paint after the LoS patina was applied.  The first photo below is before the resin top coat and the second one, after the top coat was applied.ImageT

I can’t wait to see how these two little mice are received at their own little coming out party to celebrate the book launch.  I hope Michael’s mum and whoever has Carlos, will love them as much as I do.Image

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 21: Fluttering in the Dark

I mentioned in my last post that we’d had a visit from my Cousin Adelene and her husband, Jon.  They have a business called Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies UK which I know is do to with moths and butterflies (and bats too, I think).  When they were here, they suggested I make a piece of jewellery like a moth – and as I had more time today to make something, that’s exactly what I did.

I’ve had a small piece of silver in my scrap box for a while – it was originally thick  silver wire but I had hammered it flat for some reason (I’m sure I was trying to see what I could do with a hammer instead of using a rolling mill – sadly, because I don’t have a rolling mill yet…).  Anyway, this little odd piece of silver was just perfect for the body/head of the moth.  I filed a notch in either side to delineate the head from the body and rounded both ends (it was already tapered at one end).

The wings I made from copper sheet.  I looked in a book for a picture of a moth and drew something similar (okay, it didn’t turn out a perfect moth, it’s more of an impression of a moth) onto paper.  The finished piece would be about 5 x 2cm.  The basic wing shapes were cut out with a scalpel and the outlines were traced onto the copper sheet with permanent marker (I do normally prefer scribing my cutting lines but, sometimes if the metal is really shiny, the lines can be hard to see), then cut out with tin-snips.

After a bit of filing to get all the edges smooth; I soldered the bottom wings on first and then soldered the top ones, overlaying them on the bottom wings slightly.  At this point I had cut small pieces of silver wire for legs but then decided to make this a brooch and needed room for the brooch pin.  Also, having legs on the moth would have been at best, a good detail but hidden – and at worst, a nuisance and snagging hazard.

The antenna turned out to be problem enough.  First, I used a single piece of silver wire bent in the middle but this didn’t lay flat and wouldn’t solder to the head – the solder kept to the wire as I couldn’t get the head to the same temperature without risking melting the solder on the wings.  I got round this with sweat soldering the solder to a couple of cut-off head-pins and then soldering these to the head.  It seemed that two ends of wire was easier to solder than a length of wire which I wanted to solder in the middle (I also think that the heat dissipated along the length of the long wire which didn’t help).

I now put the moth in the pickle and then (after neutralising the acid on the piece by dunking it into a solution of bicarbonate of soda) filed off any excess silver solder from the copper wings.  A good deal of polishing later (to get rid of any grooves that were added when I filed off the excess solder) and it was ready to patina.

If you’ve ever heated up something with a torch (or used a copper pan on the stove) – you’ll have noticed that there is a colour change in the metal when it is heated.  To get the patina I wanted, I heated the moth very slowly with a soft flame (less oxygen and less gas than a flame for soldering) and watched as  the metal’s colour changed from it’s polished coppery-gold, through orange, red and then it started to just turn bluish in places.  Copper continues to change colour, even after the heat is taken away and until it’s cooled.  As I didn’t want it to become totally blue or black, I removed turned off the torch and (picking up with tongs) placed the moth on a cool soldering board (the one I had used when heating the moth would still hold some heat for a while and would help continue the colour change).  As it air-cooled, the patina showed as a beautiful bronze with blue -green areas.

A quick polish of the silver areas to get rid of any fire-scale colouring and then a wipe-over with Renaissance Wax to seal the colour, and to protect the wearer from going green!  The wax is wonderful but the colours do dull a little – not a problem here as I didn’t want my moth to look too colourful.

As an after-thought, I decided to curve the wings a little bit to give the moth a bit more interest.  I did this by holding each side of the moth, in turn, on my doming block and pressing the wings into the curve with my fingers.  It didn’t damage the finish and looked quite effective.

I name this moth the Clifton Copper-wing!

Oxidisation – The Joys of Working with Liver of Sulphur

Only once have I used Liver of Sulphur (LOS) inside the house. It was the day I got it in the post and after extensive reading on the internet and in my jewellery books, as well as opening every window possible, I heated some water and added the LOS (in liquid form).

Well, all I can say is the smell didn’t seem too bad at first but even after I cleared everything away, the smell lingered on, and on, and on. I didn’t really do much with the solution that time as I was so aware of the smell going round the house!

So, I set up a table in the garage. Out there I have a couple of chipped mugs and a shallow glass dish dedicated to LOS, as well as disposable gloves, a roll of toilet tissue (in case of spills or to dry the silver when needed), bin bags, tweasers, brass brush, washing up liquid (enviromentally friendly brand) and an old apron.

To start with I make sure the silver pieces (I usually do this with pieces made from PMC) are polished and clean from all grease and any other desposits. Use rubber gloves so you don’t put any more oil from your hands on the clean pieces – also, it means you don’t forget to put your gloves on later (it saves you having stinky hands, and the first time I forgot, I was also wearing my silver wedding ring which went black really quickly!).

I pour some not-quite-boiling water into one of the chipped mugs and add the silver pieces to warm up in the water (I’ve got no heating in the garage so the water cools quite quickly). By the time I get out to the garage, the silver has heated up and is ready to be oxidised. In the other mug I have really cold water and I add some washing up liquid to it – my personal preference, as well as stopping the reaction, it also washes off the LOS ready for either another application or for taking indoors.

I have the liquid LOS and have found it easiest to brush it on – I can choose where to put it and how much to add. Then I either hold it between my thumb and first finger (it keeps the heat better that way – remember, no heating in garage) or place it in the shallow glass container. Sometimes holding the piece whilst oxidising means that hot-spots are formed and the colour is more random. Using the shallow glass container lets me see the colours changing and it’s also easier to pick up the item quickly (if the colour starts going too dark) when the container is shallow. Also it allows me to oxidise more than one piece at a time.

Also, using a brush means I have less clear up to do and hardly any chemically by-product to dispose of.

When the colour is how I want it, the piece is dropped in the cold water. I dry it off and if it needs another go, I gently use a brass brush on the piece before painting it again with the LOS. If the colour isn’t developing enough (maybe the piece is getting too cold), I put on the LOS quite thick and dip it in the hot water for a second or two at the most. The thicker layer of LOS isn’t washed away but the heat from the water will give a much quicker, and normally darker, result.

As each piece is coloured to my satisfaction, I drop them in the cold water so that they stop darkening and are ready to be taken inside. The gloves are either left there in a plastic bag (washing up type of gloves) or binned, if they are the disposable type. I’ve just remembered that I always tie my hair back and sometimes even wear an old hat because, as well as being a safety hazard, the eggy smell of the sulphur seems to cling on to my long hair if I don’t.

I worried about how to keep the patina from either fading or scratching off (LOS oxidisation is a surface treatment only) and had researched this on the internet. I worried that the beeswax and naptha mix wasn’t good to have in a house with a curious toddler (I keep all my chemicals and soldering equipment locked away but you can never be too careful) but have found an excellent wax called Renaissance Wax from KernowCraft. I found that they were really helpful and my order arrived really quickly.

Anyway, the wax works brilliantly and although it did change the colours slightly (I’m sure it did warn me on KernowCraft’s website), I’m really pleased with the end result.

Well, that’s how I use LOS. It may not be the most scientific or efficient method, but it works for me and I’m having fun with it.