|Copyright 2010 - B. de Corbin and Splendid Fish Studio|
What's new, Bill?
Last update 4/16/2010
I am very excited to be a sponsor for this great event! To find out more about one of Michigan's best parties, click the link above.
All sales are now being handled through my Etsy shop: www.splendidfish.etsy.com
I've added a new section called
When I create a new piece
Don't forget to click on the BLUE WORDS anywhere on this site to enter
I always like it when I get to take on a project like this. Normally, I have to think like a businessman and balance what I want to do against what is profitably salable in a price range that my customers can afford. I really don't want to get into a hole where I make stuff just for rich folks - I'd really like people who are like myself to be able to buy the things I make.
Although I don't mind selling to rich folks when I can...
But, anyway, when I do something like this, I get to cut loose completely, forget all about selling the thing, and just do what I'd really like to do if I didn't have to sell things. Giving gifts is kind of like my path to artistic liberation.
Well, I really like doing the work I do, and it occurred to me that people who aren't familiar with what goes into making a handcrafted, one of a kind piece of jewelry might be interested in following along as I make one. Or, if you are already a jewelry maker, maybe we can compare techniques, and you can send me some tips.
So here goes - but, before I start, I want to make an announcement.
OK - back to work, then!
Just below the hammer is the stone I'll be using. This is a deep red garnet. This is one of my favorite stones - it is so deeply red that it looks black, although when it catches the light, it shows an incredible blood red. Check it out (my fingers are pretty filthy pretty much all the time. The curse of a working man):
Next to the hammer and garnet is the sheet of Sterling Silver I'm going to use. This is the single biggest chunk of Sterling Silver I've ever used in a project before, and I'm a bit nervous about using it. I don't want to screw it up...
And finally, the scarlet silk ribbon cord I'll be using. I really like these cords - they cost me more than a silver chain, but this one will add the visual drama I want for this piece.
What that means is that I have to visualize how the metal is going to move throughout the forging process so I'll know what it has to look like when I start.
To do this, I begin with the final shape, them make a mental movie of the whole process, and run it backwards in my head. Then, I draw the beginning shape of the movie. That's the shape I have to cut out.
Once I have this shape drawn on paper, I can glue the paper to the sheet of silver and cut it out with a jeweler's saw.
They're sitting on top of a piece of wood which is screwed to my workbench. This block is called a v-block (because of the v-shaped notch cut into it), or, if you want to get fancy, a bench pin. It's used to support the metal while cutting.
Now I'm ready to start the hammer work - almost. First, I have to soften the metal up a bit.
I'll have to do this a couple of times while I am forging because every time I hit the metal with a hammer, it gets harder (called "work hardening"). If the metal gets too hard, it'll start to crack, and then crumble like stale cheese. One of the tricks to forging is to know how much you can hammer before you anneal. You can actually tell by the way the metal feels and sounds when you strike it.
The trick at this point is to understand how the metal moves when struck by different shaped hammerheads, and, using that and some experience which teaches how hard to hit, you can push the metal around in any way you'd like.
I'd also like to point out that, if you look closely at my anvil, you'll see that it's a chunk of old railroad tie I picked up while rambling along the railroad tracks. I mention this because I've noticed that a lot of people imagine that they need all kinds of expensive tools to make nice jewelry. You don't. You could probably outfit yourself to make most of the things I do for less than $200. I do have some very nice hammers currently, but for a lot of years I got by very well with two ball pein hammers I got for $3 each. Good work comes from the hand of the artist, and from the mind the moves the hand. Good tools can make the work go faster, but, unless you have a mind for the work, and take the time to develop the skills in your hands, good tools will only make junk.
If you have particular stakes that you use a lot, you'll probably eventually want to buy good ones. But for occasional use you can often find something like the ball end of this ball pein hammer that will work.
That's one of the $3 hammers I mentioned earlier, by the way.
I start by temporarily gluing the stone in place, then line everything up around that. I've marked the silver with a permanent marker. The marker will burn off later on when I heat the silver again.
I've already drawn the design for the piercing on tracing paper. All the measuring is simply to help me get it located properly on the silver.
Everything looks good, so I can go on to the next step.
Hey - there's my pipe in the back there! Yeah, it's true. I'm a hillbilly. I smoke a corncob.
And my fingers are still filthy.
All I have to do is saw following the line. Ideally, I want to saw directly through the center of the line. That isn't actually as hard as it sounds - with a little practice - but it's more difficult in this case because the metal is no longer flat.
It would have been easy to cut this while the silver was flat, but the forging moves the metal around. If I had cut the design before I forged, the design would have been distorted as the metal moved under the hammer.
What I need to do now is peel off the paper pattern. I use rubber cement as the glue because it sticks well when I need it to - there's nothing more annoying than when the pattern comes loose while I'm sawing. When I want to take the paper and glue off, I can just peel up the paper, and rub the metal to remove the rubbery glue.
The first step I skipped was soldering the rings to the back of the neckpiece that the ribbon cord goes through. This was a PITA step of very picky soldering which took me two hours, and I was in no mood to stop and take pictures while doing it.
The second step I skipped was making the silver bezel to hold the stone, and soldering it to the silver neckpiece. That's what the red arrow is pointing to...
A bezel is like a little cup made out of pure silver that holds the stone. Pure silver is used because it is softer that Sterling Silver (which is an alloy made of a mixture of silver and copper). The bezel has to be soft because when the stone is in place, it is pushed up against the stone to hold it.
Notice that I've also cut a hole through the piece where the stone will go. That's there to allow light to come through the stone from the back, which will show off the red color of the stone better than a solid back will.
I have to be really careful here - if I don't do it right, the bezel will wrinkle and look sloppy. If I push too hard, I can crack the stone. If the tool slips while I'm using it, it'll leave a ugly gouge across the neckpiece which is very, very difficult to remove.
But, if I do it right, the bezel will be nice and smooth, and the tool will polish the soft silver as I work. You can usually tell the general quality of a piece of handmade jewelry by looking closely at the bezel.
Kinda purty, yeah?
Hang on, we're almost done... I want to change the color of the metal a bit to show off the hammer marks from forging. I was very careful when forging to align the hammer blows in such a way that they would accent the final piece, rather than detract from it, and a bit of chemical wizardry is needed here to bring out the full effect.
I love patinas on metal, and if you look at my work, you'll see that almost everything I make uses a patina in some way. The patina on this piece is going to be the final step in making the physical reality of the piece match the mental picture I had of it when I started.
The yellow liquid in the picture (no, it's not urine. Although urine does give metal nice colors) is "Liver of Sulphur" (potassium sulphate) and water. This stuff really, really stinks. It's kind of like a fart, but a hundred times worse. Sulphur is the "brimstone" in "fire and brimstone." I think they have it in hell because of the aroma.
I actually want a grey/black color to contrast with the silver color of the metal, so I need to dip it a bit longer.
You can change the color of the patina on metals by altering the technique you use to patinate them, but it all comes from the magic of rust!
At this point, the metalwork is essentially done. I'll put a light coating of wax on it, buff up the wax, and string the silk cord through.
And there ya go!
I wanted this to be a particularly special piece, so I made a pair of matching earrings to go with it, and put the whole thing in a handcrafted wooden chest. I'm not going to show you how I did all that, I think I've already used up enough of your time, but I hope you'll forgive me for showing off a bit - I'm pretty happy with the way it all came together.