Tag Archives: soldering

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 27: Birthday Present

Wow, Day 27 already?  Where has the time gone?

Talking of time – apologies for the lateness of this post (it’s already half past midnight) but it’s been a busy day with both creating jewellery and going with my little girl to a birthday party at the local play-barn.

Today I wondered that when I talk or write about making things from scrap or recycled materials (even if they are precious metals), do those phrases bring to mind rubbish or even that the end product is sub-standard in some way?  It’s so hard to get beyond those concepts when recycling is part of the discussion; as if something that is reused or recycled has to be flawed in some way or that it’s previous life has to be hidden to value the new item in any way.

I suppose this came to mind more today because I was making a birthday present for a little girl and I wanted to include it in this challenge.  I didn’t need to – I could have made her something from new silver sheet or wire, but I really believe in not wasting precious resources and all my silver is the same (well, either pure or sterling, anyway), even if it has been made into something else before.

The elements that I wanted to re-use were some pure silver PMC3* pieces, which were either testers or were reclaimed from other jewellery I had previously made (and then taken apart again – artist’s prerogative).  Luckily, I had made a tester of the right initial for the little girl’s name and it was sitting, waiting, in my box of misc. fired PMC pieces.  Looking through the box, I also found some stars of different sizes and took two – one big and one small.

I really dislike the phrase “on-trend” – it’s overused everywhere these days.  Well, something that seems on-trend (*winces*) in jewellery at the moment is chain necklaces with a drop of chain at the front with charms hanging from it – very bohemian, but with a chic style that could go well with a little black dress or a smart work suit.  It also seemed a fun and light necklace for a little girl’s jewellery box – something special but not too grown up (children should be children, in my book) that she could grow into.

Checking my box of chains (wow, that doesn’t sound *quite* as it should!), by now you’ll have realised that I keep all my materials grouped by colour or type in compartmented boxes , I found a small section of good quality silver belcher chain and some jump-rings of different sizes (although I don’t know why they were in there, my putting away must have been off that day!).  Looking at all the pieces, a design was sketched out and then off to the bench to put it all together.

I added all the pieces together with the jump-rings, which were then soldered closed carefully so as not to solder the jump-ring to anything else except itself – easier said than done!  A pair of locking tweezers, holding the jump-ring about mid-way, were very helpful in acting as a heat sink and stopping the solder travelling past the join and onto anything else.  A larger jump-ring (in a wider gauge wire) was attached to the top of the chain to act as a bail, and was also soldered closed.

As chain is notoriously hard (and dangerous) to polish with a rotary motor – the chain went into the tumbler, alongside the head-pin which I would use for the last dangle off the chain.  This would work-harden the silver, making it more hard-wearing, as well as giving it a mirror-shine.

After tumbling, I added the last dangle – a single freshwater pearl.  I believe that the pearl is the oldest known gem and was originally seen as the most valuable.  The story I like best about pearls, is that they are formed by angels travelling through the clouds of heaven.  A perfect gem for a little girl, I think.

(Sorry for how the pearl looks in the photo – I don’t seem to be able to take a good photo of pearls – it’s another thing for me still to learn)

Oh, see how time flies when posting?  It’s now 1:20 am and I think I’d better show you the necklace now before I go and collapse after this tiring day.  Well, here it is – and don’t tell me that it doesn’t look perfectly beautiful, even more so because I re-used and recycled.

 

 

 

 

*Precious Metal Clay is pure silver, which has itself been recycled, in an organic clay binder which can be moulded or worked like clay but when fired at the right temperature, will turn back into pure silver with the binder burning away totally

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 26: A Girlfriend for Pete

Remember Pete, my little bat from Day 16?  Well, today he got a girlfriend.

I’m down to really tiny pieces of silver sheet and odd pieces of wire in my main scrap box – so I wasn’t going to be making something big today.  I had made myself a replacement engagement ring a little while ago (the original had worn too thin and was uncomfortable to wear) out of two circles of wire soldered together, with the front part opened up enough so that I could set a rainbow moonstone with a heart shape either side.  I wanted to try this technique out again and I thought that a little bat would look great in the frame of silver wire.

The silver wire I would be using is the Reflections silver wire, which would make life easier with less pickling because of resisting fire-scale.

As you can see, the bat had to be cut in sections from lots of little pieces of scrap silver sheet.  It was quite difficult to use a hand saw with such small pieces but, apart from one broken saw blade, everything turned out how I wanted it.  Then, I soldered it all together with hard solder, making sure that all the seams were tight.

To make the ring, I decided to take two lengths of round 0.8mm silver wire and shape the middle of each to be a half-oval.  Putting the two wires together as a mirror-image of each other, both ends (where the wires lay parallel to each other) were soldered to make the ring shank.

When the bat was placed in the oval, even though it looked fine, I decided to shape the wire around the bat rather than leave it the oval shape.  This was easier said than done because the wires had already been soldered together and that left me with only so much wire that would still move.  Oh well, hindsight is always 20:20, yes?

Once the “oval” was roughly the right bat-shape, the little bat was soldered in place with hard solder.  Any previous solder joints that melted would re-harden again without moving due to the fact that all the pieces were still flat.  If this had been shaped or already formed into a ring, this technique would not have worked and a lower temperature solder would have been used to avoid melting the original joins.

The ring was then formed on a metal ring mandrel (looks like a thin cone which is marked out in graded ring sizes) with a raw-hide hammer, so as not to mark or distort the silver.  The ring shank cut to size and the joint soldered with medium solder (after having been taken off the mandrel!).  I took this opportunity to check the back of the ring and solder again any part that had not been done to my satisfaction.

The ring was put back on the mandrel to check that it was still round and to make sure the ring shank was level (heating the ring for soldering can distort the piece so it is always best to re-check your work afterwards).  Looking at the little bat, it occurred to me that she was missing any definition (except for her eyes, which were round indents punched with a sharpened nail and a hammer).  Leaving the ring on the mandrel for support, the lines on her wings where her bones would be and the fur-like texture on the main body were created with a motorised engraver.  I don’t use the engraver much as it buzzes extremely loudly – even a few minutes of using it is enough for me!

Another check and then into the tumbler for about an hour.  It comes out looking really shiny, but after taking photos, I decide that it could do with a final polish by hand to make sure any fine scratches (which show up on the photos but you can’t see by the naked eye) are removed.  I am in two minds about adding black (by either Liver of Sulphur or by Gilder’s wax) into the details; on one hand – the patina may not stay in the engraved lines and just polish off, but on the other hand – it may make it easier to see the details and this little bat is really pretty.  If I decide to add the black, I will do an update post with new photos.

Anyway, here is the little ring (it’s size is about halfway between “O” and “P” on the ring mandrel):

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 25: Problems with Pumpkins

How I hate having ideas but not being able to bring them to life (How apt – I feel a bit like Dr Frankenstein today; although my monster didn’t even make it off the slab).

I wanted to make a copper pumpkin, built up in layers with the top layer having the face cut out and so I could then give the whole thing a patina but polish it away in the cut-outs so that they would glow with the polished ‘raw’ copper.  I thought  it would look good that way, and so went about designing it.

Well, it turns out that soldering two pieces of copper together (in the freezing cold – I could see my breath as I was working!) wasn’t too bad; but then trying to solder that to another piece was nigh on impossible!  I don’t think my blow-torch could get the metal hot enough for the solder to flow smoothly.  The cold probably didn’t help either.  After a few tries and some time in the pickle in-between (to take any old flux and fire-scale off before trying again), I was ready to throw the piece out the window (without opening the window first!).

The model of restraint that I am (*cough*), I decided instead to sit down and rethink the design.  I liked the shape and the copper, but how to get the face of the pumpkin right?  Well, it turned out to be as simple as cutting the shapes out of silver and soldering them on the basic shape of the pumpkin (single layer of copper).  The silver solder leaked out slightly around the pieces of silver sheet and instead of sanding it away, I decided to keep it as it gave the pumpkin a sort of silvery glow around it’s features – very spooky!

To get the 3D feel without the layers, which proved so tricky in my first attempt, I used a hammer with a small flat-head screwdriver and did a very (deliberately) rough repoussé  technique where the pumpkin’s curves would be.

The pumpkin polished up well with the silicon wheels and then I heated the whole thing very gently to give the bright copper a more orange patina.  In fact, the colours were a very beautiful pink and orange but after the Renaissance Wax was applied, the colours dulled to a more all-over pumpkin orange.

So here is my pretty pumpkin, all ready to be a pendant or a fob on a key chain. He’s so light-weight – just don’t tell him how simple he is too.

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 19: Learning Something New Everyday

Today, I found a piece of 2mm round sterling silver wire that had tucked itself behind my tool holder on my workbench.  At 6cm long it’s not strictly scrap, but I can’t actually remember what I originally cut it to size for and by using it, it gives me a chance to try a technique I’ve been itching to do for ages.

I’ve got a couple of great technique books by Stephen O’Keeffe (I can’t recommend them highly enough if you want to do make some jewellery for the first time or just want to learn some new techniques), and today’s piece is from one of them (Practical Jewellery-Making Techniques: Problem Solving).

The technique I wanted to try out is making a compression setting for a stone in a ring.   The book made it sound so easy: solder a length of 2mm wire into a ring and planish (hardening the metal and creating a surface texture) before sawing through the original join with a piercing saw (it would weaken the ring if I sawed through at any other point – doing it this way keeps the rings integrity and strength which is needed with this ring).

The next part was to open the ring sideways to be able to drill into the flat ends. Well, so far, so good – but here’s where things went a little off from the instructions.  I don’t have a chuck for my rotary drill that’s small enough for the 1mm drill bit – I use a pin vice or Archimedes drill – and so I need to make a dent in the wire to help the drill bit bite in the right place.  For this, I use a nail that has been sharpened to a good point which works as a pretty good punch.  Trying to get it dead centre on a 2mm diameter wire isn’t as easy as it looks, and then trying to get the drill to stay in the centre isn’t easy either.  Well, both holes were mostly in the centre, and it probably doesn’t show in the finished product, but the perfectionist in me did a bit of silent swearing at this point.

Not to be put off, I then shaped the ring back on the mandrel and made sure that the tension was right, that it would spring back to shape if pulled slightly apart.  I did have to make the ring slightly oval in shape, rather than round, because the stone is a marquise cut CZ and the gap needed to be larger.  This is where I wish I had an oval mandrel as well as the more traditional tapering cylindrical one – but I made do with forming it manually, with the hide mallet and with my fingers for the last adjustments.

In the book, Stephen has a tapered strip for ring sizing, which was perfect for sliding the ring along till the gap opened up wide enough for the stone to be positioned in the gap and seated in the drilled-out ends of the ring.  Not having a tapered strip, I looked around the house for a suitable replacement.  I found a softwood fork which came as a pack with wooden cooking spoons, the neck tapered down to the bottom of the handle and it was flat.  A quick minute of sawing the top part (with the prongs) off from the handle, and I was left with a pretty good alternative.

Before I set the stone, I filed off any fire-scale from the soldering (I decided not to pickle this piece as there was only minimal fire-scale) and polished with my rotary drill and abrasive-embedded silicon cylinders, to get a mirror shine.  The photos don’t show the polishing really well – it wasn’t till I was checking the photos out that I realised I had been handling the ring with mucky fingers (polishing does get the hands a bit black!) and had smudged the shine 😦

Setting the stone was easy, using Stephen’s technique and the finished ring looks amazing.  I think, in hindsight, I would make the ring more oval than it is, and also maybe use a stone with a flatter back (or keep it round and use a small stone which would only be as thick as the wire itself) so as to make it more comfortable to wear.

I’ve also now had an idea about making the ring so as to have another, complete band inside the first; so that the stone doesn’t touch the skin of the wearer.  I’ll have to do some sketches later.

Well, thank you to Stephen O’Keeffe for teaching me another new thing.  I can’t wait to see what I learn to do tomorrow.

cubic zirconia compression ring

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 18: My Own Cheshire Cat. UPDATE!

As I said yesterday, My boy Frodo is my own Cheshire cat and this brooch is based upon him. (Please check out the previous post for the details of how I made it.)  I’ve now done the photos and, even though I think I still need to do more polishing, here they are:

First is the design I came up with.  It was originally to have had a gold ring suspended from a loop at the back, so it looked like he was holding it.  This was because of both of his name (Frodo from Lord of the Rings with the One Ring) and because it could then be used as a brooch to hold spectacles when they’re not being worn (not my typical type of jewellery, but it was a work in progress sort of idea).

As you will see from the photo of the finished brooch (see below), I decided against adding the ring.  The brooch looked pretty enough without it; although if I make another one, I may add one to see how it would look in real life.

The photo doesn’t show very well that the silver contrasts beautifully against the copper.  I know I need to polish it more, but I am quite proud of how smiley this Cheshire cat looks – just like my Frodo.

Oh, and I promised I’d post a photo of my beautiful boy – so here he is:

Beautiful, isn’t he?

“One-a-Day” Recycling Challenge – Day 18: My Own Cheshire Cat

My boy Frodo is my own Cheshire cat.  Not only is he stripy and is a pale orangey-pink, he was also born in Cheshire and he has the cutest smiley mouth (it really does turn up at the corners and looks like he’s smiling).

Now Frodo has always been important but even more so now that he has CRF (Chronic Renal Failure or Kidney disease to the rest of us).  I’ve got lots of sketches of him as he is quite the laid-back kitty, and I decided to turn one into a brooch design.

As he is such a pale coppery pink, what better than to make his brooch out of copper.  I used the same technique as with yesterday’s bat pin but with silver wire on copper sheet.  I won’t go into the same details (go read my bat post!) but I will say that after cutting out all the pieces, I soldered the face first, the leg next and then soldered both to the body.

I don’t know if it was just me, but I had way more trouble soldering silver onto copper than copper onto silver.  I think that the melting point of copper is lower (don’t quote me on that until I can go check) but anyway it was a headache I could do without and I think I spent way too much time soldering and problem-solving because of it.

I don’t have any way of cutting tiny circles, except by hand, so I decided to take two of my silver beads (they were flattish rather than round to begin with) and hammer them flat.  I also filed into the middle to make the cat-eye shape I wanted.

The brooch pin was made by coiling silver wire around a thin mandrel about 4 times (you could use a thin knitting needle or a metal skewer as long as it’s cross-section was round) and soldering the last loop of the coil to the back of the brooch.  The unsoldered loops of the coil are then (as one) pulled 90° to the side (making sure the tail of the pin is uppermost) and then the pin is trimmed to size and the end filed to a point.  I don’t push the pin down horizontal to the back until after I have added the catch.  The catch was added the same way but the wire had only one loop which was soldered in place.  The tail of the wire was then cut to size and curled round, leaving a gap for the pin to tuck under and be held in the curve of the catch.

I wanted the silver to have a high shine but the copper to be more muted.  With this in mind, I  haven’t tumbled this piece but polished by hand and with silicon polishing wheels on the rotary “drill”.

As I type, it’s 1am and my Frodo brooch is still a little polish away from being finished.  I will post this and then add the photo tomorrow, when it’s all shiny and pretty.  I’ll also add a photo of the pretty boy it’s based on.

BTW, just in case anyone was wondering … Frodo was originally a nickname for him when he was a little kitten and we were trying to think of a proper name.  He has the hairiest, tufty-est paws I had ever seen (he’s half Maine Coon) and he ate at least seven breakfasts a day.  The name just stuck and forever after, he has been known as Frodo (but more often as Mr Frodo or Frodo Bun (short for bunny – a term of endearment, just not a species-correct one).