Silver + Heat

In my small world there’s nothing quite as beautiful as organic texture; like the chunky rough planes of a mountain rock face cut in light and shadow, or the layered hide of a tree trunk, gnarled by decades. I find it difficult capturing those surfaces on a piece of metal though. Yes, I’ve carved a replica of a natural texture in wax and although I’ve not tried it I could make a rubber mold of an organic object and cast it. Or there’s sand and surface casting that make some great textures too.

Pink Wax Texture Experiment
Blue Wax Carving

Sand Casting of Coral

But is there a way to transform a smooth piece of sterling silver wire or sheet into chaotic gorgeousness without all that fuss and equipment? If you own a propane or acetylene torch and a ceramic brick then the answer is yes…because sterling silver + heat = texture.

It’s good to know (especially if you’re new to jewellery making) that sterling silver is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (added to increase hardness). As you heat it with a gentle to medium flame it begins to glow dark red. At that moment the piece is annealed…previously disorganized molecules become more organized. With continued heating molecules of copper in the piece which have a higher melting point than the silver begin to migrate to the surface. You’ll know this because the surface will turn from silver to black.

Copper (AKA Fire-scale) on Sterling Silver Wire

If you quench the piece (in water) and pickle it (in an acid solution which removes the fire-scale) and repeat that heat/quench/pickle cycle 10-15 times, a layer of pure silver will gradually accumulate at the surface while the copper beneath (remember it has a higher melting point) will begin to ripple with the silver flowing over it. And that’s where the weird wavy patterns on the surface become apparent. The process is called reticulation and you can read more about it here. I love the randomness of it and am playing with my heat level and the surface I’m melting on – ceramic brick, charcoal etc. So many variables and so much fun.

Below is my latest sampling of textured bits and pieces; 2 twigs that I sand casted, a large (6 gauge) link (bottom left), a twist of brass wire I fused with sterling silver (top centre) and some molten silver plops that formed when I heated them on my brick. And it’s those plops that have me all excited about trying to make larger pieces. It’s that particular gritty texture that I’m looking for. It’s not a mountain cliff or a tree trunk but it’s getting close. 🙂

Cheers.

Reticulated Samples

Maker Break

Merry Christmas (if you happen to celebrate it) from me to you. I hope you’re able to spend it with the people you hold dear in your life and that the world wakes up in 2019 with fresh hope. I’ll be taking a break from MAKERS until then, returning in January with new posts about amazing people and the art they make.

All the best,

Barbara 

Some baubles at my house

Winter Vacation

It’s always a weird experience trundling down the jet bridge toward a plane, trying to catch a last glimpse before you leave a place, even if it’s just the trees in the distance that line the massive expanse of airport tarmac. It’s even more weird to sit in the dimmed lighting of that plane for 15 hours knowing that you’re hurtling across the planet over deep black oceans and that when it finally touches down you’ll arrive on the same day you left. Such was my experience of a recent trip to Australia.

So as I dust off my tools, refill my dusty quench bowl and consider my next projects in the workroom, let me share some of my many memories of that beautiful country…

p.s. coming soon, some amazing Australian makers

 

 



A family of kangaroos in the early morning, Yarra Glen
Garden plant at M & R’s, Yarra Glen
Sorrento back beach
Koala resting on the road between Corowa and Beechworth
Redwood plantation near Warburton in Victoria

From Mistake to Favourite Ring

Have you ever made something with your art that you later wished you hadn’t? I have. This is a story of spending time with your mistakes, persevering and reworking an idea if you can.

I made this ring last year but when I got it back from the caster I wasn’t happy with it. The casting itself was imperfect (bubbles and cavities that weren’t part of the wax model) and the texture boring (an experiment using a piece of cotton gauze dabbed into the molten wax). I thought I could jazz it up by oxidizing it but in the end it was relegated to a shelf in my workroom to gather dust.

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Booorrr…ring 

Months later I came across it and without much thought tossed it into my crucible for an upcoming sand casting attempt. It was a mistake I could simply melt away. I don’t know why but several days later when I got around to the sand casting project I noticed it in amongst all the other bits and pieces in the crucible and took it out. I might’ve stared at it for a few seconds before deciding to put the sand casting aside because I HAD to hit that boring texture with some heat to see what would happen. 

So much fun! The heat from the propane torch softened out the original texture and as parts of the surface of the ring began to flow I had a brilliant idea…why not solder on a tiny ball of 9k gold. Oooh la la! So I positioned the band in my 3rd hand tool and placed the gold ball carefully on a chip of solder and slowly added some heat again.

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Heat + Time + Gold = Fun?

Now, if you’ve ever heated silver with a torch you’ll understand something of metallurgy, that there’s a precise moment when a millisecond more heat is a millisecond too much. You can be thrilled one second and totally defeated the next. And I was defeated when I saw that .35 gms of gold disappear into the molten flow of solder and silver just as I pulled the torch away. Damn it!! I was left with a silver ring that had only the faintest hint of a pale gold tinge along its surface. Such a drag! I kept the ring like that for a couple of days before deciding to add some more heat, secretly hoping that the gold would somehow find it’s way back to the surface. As if.

The more I heated the band though the more interesting it became. It was morphing into a moonscape with parts of the surface that held the original casting flaws deepening and pitting as others bubbled and moved. I kind of lost interest in the gold at that point because I was so excited about this new texture. I wore this new version for several more days before deciding it needed oxidizing…

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When in doubt…add more heat

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Left ring  – oxidized and posing with other rings

I would’ve left it at that but the more I looked at it the more I wanted to try setting a stone into it, somewhere inside the pitted area that would become a focal point. I chose the spot for the stone and drilled out a seat for a 2mm garnet I had kicking around in my jewel box. I’d planned to do a bead setting but soon realized another fact regarding metallurgy – continual heating of .925% silver brings the .075% alloys to the surface causing the remaining silver to become brittle. Damn it again. Out with the beading tool and plan B was to solder on 4 silver beads around the seat that would act as prongs. Out came the 3rd hand tool again with the solder chips placed ever so carefully underneath the 4 silver beads.

Now, if you’re like me, soldering is both exciting and terrifying because again, heat + time needs to be precise – especially when you’re trying to solder on a thinner area of the band. Everything was going great, the solder was beginning to set down where it should and the silver beads were all in place. I was queen of jewellery making in that moment. That was until one of the beads suddenly jumped off the ring and 2 others decided to coalesce. DAMMNN IT! After some fiddling I was able to set the stone securely and added some texture to the surface. Voila!

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The final version

In the end I decided this was where I wanted to leave the ring and I have to say from start to finish I learned a lot about re-working a piece, transforming it from a mistake for melting in a crucible to my favourite ring of all time. Amen,

My Work – Sandcasting

A note before I get started here – Thank you for following my blog. From today I’m moving it from twice weekly postings to a single post on Saturdays; not because I’m running low on makers but because I’m the first person to admit I get annoyed when my inbox fills with blogs I don’t have time to read. Do I hear monthly anybody?

And now, for this week’s post…we return to the fascinating world of sand casting. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I’ve been attempting to learn this process, first with a delft 2 part aluminum cylinder flask that I had to modify by drilling a hole into each half to create a wider pouring channel…

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$144 (CAD) for this and a 4.4 lb. bag of delft sand – horrors!

And then with this larger iron flask which already has a wide mouth for easier pours…

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$55 (CAD) – and it works 🙂

With this new flask I’m finding my pours are more successful – in other words the molten silver fills whatever form I make completely. And, I’m having fun making my own forms out of whatever I find around the house, such as squished up tin foil…

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tin foil form with resulting silver cast (bud removed) and the characteristic burnt sand after pouring

So now I have one more trick up my sleeve when it comes to casting which is what I wanted in the first place. The only issue I have now is getting my hands on enough silver to melt down, which means some of my earliest lost wax cast rings are finding themselves in the crucible 🙂

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progress – sand cast link on a hand forged chain

The Morphing Ring

I love raw stones and have always wanted to learn how to set them using lost wax. The trick in working with the wax is to be able to form the wax around the stone and more importantly to be able to remove the stone without messing up the model before casting. This purple wax is quite stiff compared to blue or pink wax so I decided to build up the setting to a certain point and add prongs AFTER the casting was done. That was the plan.

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Wax with Jelly Opal

After casting the stone fit easily into it’s setting but it needed those strategically placed prongs to hold it securely in place.

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The jelly opal resting in it’s silver setting after casting

Now, this is where things got ugly and I must admit it’s because I’d been impatient at this point (ie; I didn’t take the time to properly file clean joints between the ring and the new prongs and I used way too much heat). But I was also liking the reticulation happening on all the once-smooth droplets so I kept going.

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Addition of 3 new prongs to set the opal

Now…if you’ve ever worked with solder you’ll know it reaches a split-second magic moment in time when it glows and then flows through a joint. If you’re not paying attention for even a second you can miss that moment.  And as you continue to apply heat the metal does what metal does as it changes from solid to almost molten – it shrinks into itself, with droplets coalescing into other droplets nearby, forming random lumps. Soooo…now my carefully carved ring was reticulated (nice) but had 2 ugly lumps in it. I figured I could still work with it though. Plan B was to saw off the prongs, anneal the shank and see if I could magically secure the opal this time using only the lumps and droplets to hold it.

Of course I split the jelly opal trying to pry open one of the cracked prongs (fffffff…) and plan B morphed into plan C which was to find a new stone…a sun stone that seemed to fit in it’s place. So I annealed the shank and got to work coaxing the existing blobs and droplets around the sun stone.

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Removal of 3 new prongs with a new stone

Yeah, no. It wasn’t meant to be. I could NOT get the stone to sit securely in the end because the blobs were too thick to move. So…I thought – what the hell, I’ll add some more blobs to this blobby ring and use the existing caverns between them to set some CZs, a total 180 degree shift from using a lovely raw stone.

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Blobs with 3 CZs

But now I couldn’t get beyond the look of the ring with those gigantic blobs. It was off balance, sooo…out came the CZs as I contemplated throwing the shank into my crucible in absolute defeat. That was when plan D came into focus which was to attack the shank with the toothiest burr I could find, maybe out of anger, I don’t know. So now all those carefully melted and placed wax droplets I’d placed on the ring in the first place were chewed down. At last I set a white topaz into it which is a million miles from the raw stone(s) I’d started with.

I’ll leave it on the shelf for a while so I can work on other pieces. It’ll sit in that limbo between ‘work in progress’ and ‘done!’ so that in a few weeks I can see it with fresh eyes, this wretched morphed ring.

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White Topaz 

Update: after some fiddling and a sore back from bending over my vice here is the finished ring…set with a mixture of 7 faceted stones including the white topaz, and assorted CZs from my random collection. Amen.

Success at Last

A few weeks ago, in an attempt to bring down my casting costs I decided to try my hand at sand casting. I had a basic understanding of it’s principles (thanks youtube) which are 1) a metal form, 2) a mould pressed into sand and 3) molten metal to fill that mould.

I chose the 2-part aluminum ring-type casting system which also includes a bag of delft clay and a somewhat confusing instruction sheet.

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My first 2 attempts following the instruction sheet were unsuccessful, both highlighting the principle that molten metal cools very quickly if your sprue channel is too short and wide or too long and narrow…

Thanks to several sand caster experts I follow on Instagram who kindly shared their knowledge I learned that I needed to ‘use gravity’ which meant modifying the aluminum rings by drilling a hole through the ring sides, like so…

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15 mm diametre (minimum) opening drilled into the sides of the 2 rings

Attempt # 3 didn’t go to plan at all though despite the side pouring. Apparently, my mould was too thin this time…

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attempt #3 – mould too narrow

And just when I figured I’d give up on sand casting with one last attempt, this happened – a complete fill of a chubbier mould!

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attempt #4 – a success!

Sandcasting 101

I bought a sand casting kit the other day. After fumbling through the supplied instruction sheet, thoughtfully placing the crucible, sand container, propane tank and kitchen tongs in just the right locations around me I turned up the gas and pointed it at the scraps of silver in the crucible. It took forever for the bits to melt down into a single lump and longer still for it to become shiny molten metal.

It was a scary moment placing the tongs around the crucible and eyeballing it’s placement on the rim of the sand container, all the time keeping the blue point of the propane flame on the now slippery metal. But just as I moved my eyes from the metal to the container rim the dumb tongs slipped which meant the silver slid backwards in the crucible and out the air vent at the back, onto the brick. I swore as I watched the splashed silver turn instantly dirty black as it shrank into the patterns you see below. Worse even is the fact that I repeated the whole procedure later that day with the same result; another splattered, wrinkled silver mess. BUT, I’m going to keep trying and I can’t wait to see how a sand cast ring turns out. Stay tuned.

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How Thin Can You Go?

An hour or two after I dropped off these wax pieces to Expert Casting in Vancouver I got a message from the caster warning me that several of the pieces might not come through the investment/melt out process. The reasons were that, 1) some of the wax in places was less than .6mm thick and 2) the ones that look like pillows would likely explode in the kiln. He was right of course and now I know how thin I can go with the wax and that when I make more pillows (beads really) that the pinholes I poke into them should be large enough to allow heated gases to escape from the inside during the intense heat used during casting.

I’m LOVING how they all turned out though, despite my mistakes, especially the weird holes in the tubes and the way the beads and some of the petals now look like broken christmas ornaments. Now it’s time to head  into the studio to remove all the sprue nubs and figure out what I’m going to do with all of them. Stay tuned.

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pink wax tubes, petals and beads

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fresh from casting in argentium silver

Waxworks

A couple of progress shots of the latest projects I’m working on…pink wax tubes and blobs. The wax comes in 4″x4″ sheets that I’m trying to thin down using a ceramic sculpting tool and eucalyptus oil. You can see in the image below the marks left by the tool on some of the tubes and to the left, what’s been removed from the sheet surface; curly flakes that may become a project themselves some day. And the blobs, I’m loving the blobs, a couple of which have been poked with a sewing pin as you can see.  I’ve rubbed each piece in the palm of my hand with the oil which softens and thins the sheet into these subtle curved bits. It’s a soothing process and the room smells of lovely fresh eucalyptus for a change, instead of toxic, smoking wax. Stay tuned.

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