Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Step By Step Earring Project

 This is a pair of earrings I spent most of today and some of yesterday making- thought I'd share the step-by-step just so you can see all the steps that go into making an 'artisan' pair of earrings.

I had a general idea yesterday what stones I wanted to use, and generally what I wanted the earrings to look like. I wanted to use the combination of 4 little Australian opals, about 6mm each, with 2 hand-cut Montana agates. I love the combination of those 2 stones. The earthy and  the ethereal. So yesterday I made all the bezels out of serrated fine silver bezel from Rio Grande. For earrings, I don't always like to use thick-walled bezels because it adds weight, and earrings should be kept light. I love the serrated bezels because of the nice edge detail they provide.

I wasn't happy with my first idea, so I sketched out an abstract leaf idea I had- with each opal contained in a leaf, which I thought would turn out really nice, and it also encorporated some leaf design wire I'd been meaning to use for a while... Happy with the sketch, I started creating some paper templates...

I traced out the Montana agate and created a larger-than-needed pattern- I planned to trim the sheet after I had done some granulation. The leaf or teardrop shape took some trial and error to get a size/shape I liked. Then everything was traced onto 22 ga. argentium silver.

I used a Sharpie to trace and then cut out the pieces with my jeweler's saw. I often will use 24 ga. for earrings to cut down on weight, but 22 ga. is visually a nicer weight, especially for pieces that have exposed edges.

Next I used diluted (50/50) flux to attach my pre-made bezels and granulation pattern onto the elements. When designing a piece of jewelry, it's really important to visually think through each step, so the piece comes together as expected. I waited for the flux to dry completely then applied heat until the granules and bezels fused to the sheet below.

Here are the pieces granulated- only took one time and everything stuck! Yay! Next I cut out holes behind each of the opals and also the agates. Transparent stones look best with an open back, so I leave enough lip for the stones to sit on. Plus, it reduces the weight of the earrings by removing as much material as possible. I also trimmed around the bottom elements and filed and sanded the edges.

At this stage I am using solder to attach the leaf design wire to the middle stem, as well as the 2 leaf shapes to each side. Here it is fluxed and ready to heat up. I used spare pieces of silver to lift up the ends of the leaf elements so they'd lay flat when soldered.

I then soldered earwires to the back of each, and used a satin wheel to clean them up a bit. 

I usually prefer my pieces that have any texture to them oxidized. Compare this photo to the one above it- and you can see the pattern better when the piece is blackened, and then the high points buffed off and shined up. It also takes on an antique or aged appearance which I like.

As luck would have it, a couple of balls did fall off from the bottom triangle of granulation while I was doing some buffing/polishing. Dang! I usually use a low-temperature solder (called Tix) to re-attach any wayward granules. I can even use it with stones nearby, because it melts at only 400 some degrees. Nice. Way better than 1600 degrees, which would have destroyed my solder bonds. And the color is a decent match to the silver. AND it's way better than epoxy and more durable too.

And here are the finished pair. The last step was folding over the earwire and hammering the bend slightly to harden it in order to keep it's shape. I also cut and filed the end of the wire. I was happy with them. Might be tempted to keep them for myself, too....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Dopping Stones

 Polishing rocks could be a daunting task if it weren't for the ability to mount the small rock onto a larger handle. This helps enormously to prevent grinding down your fingers as you attempt to turn and sculpt your stone into a masterpiece. Once I noticed my grinding wheel with red on it and quickly realized that my thumb had been ground down and that was MY blood, not the stone's. Ouch. It also provides a more secure hold on that little bugger, preventing the polishing wheel from grabbing the stone out of your hand and flinging it across the room. (Not that that's ever happened to me..... today, anyway) Lastly, it allows you the freedom to turn and sculpt the stone more effectively.

There are many different ways to dop a stone- some use shellac, some use superglue. Some, such as I, use green dopping wax. I got the above dopping station from Kingsley North. They provide me with much of my equipment and tools ( and their customer service is top notch. This dopping station simply plugs in and the copper pot heats up the wax. In addition, there's room on top to place rocks- more on that in a minute....

The above pic shows my dopping sticks- these are wood dowels that I've cut into approximately 6" lengths to house the wax. Some use metal dops, and there are other materials available, but these are cheap and easy for my purposes. The smallest stones can be dopped on a strong piece of steel wire, but honestly, I don't work that small!

My dop sticks range from about 3/16" to 5/8" in diameter, but really I have a good range of sizes just in case I need them. The important thing to remember is that the diameter needs to support the size of the stone. I like my dops to be about half the diameter of the stone being set.

Before I even dop the stones, I do a lot of work preparing them: first, I grind down the bottom to flat and grind the sides into whatever shape I need/want. I make sure I have enough vertical stone surface on the sides- minimum of 1/8"- and then I make sure the sides all meet up nicely. Next, I use 2 more wheels to grind, refine and polish to a matte sheen the bottom and sides of the stone. I also always put a slight bevel on the bottom of the stone for ease in setting. Now I'm ready to plug in the dopping station!

Above is the dopping station heated up most of the way, with 3 sticks 'soaking' and 3 stones heating up. It's really important to heat the stones up, or the dopping wax will not stick to them. I've heated up all kind of rocks and never had a problem- even opals and turquoise. Soaking the sticks helps to melt the dopping wax that was melted on there before.

I also like to mix up the wax in order to evenly distribute the heat. Plus, it's fun.

Once it's nice and melty, put a thick coating of wax on the stick, with enough so that the wax has the ability to sink down to the bottom of the stick and flow a bit to cover the stone. This will come with experience. Don't wait too long to stick it to the stone, or it will cool too much and not stick. 

Your goal is to keep your fingers wet, but not too wet- so that you can form the hot wax to the base of the stone. I tend to use my tongue juice (aka spit) but you can also dip your fingers into a cup of water. If your fingers are too dry, the wax will stick to your skin and you will say ouch, or words that express that. You don't want your fingers dripping with water, though, so be conservative.

Once cooled a bit, the wax will cease to flow and will keep its shape. Your goal is to match the outline of the stone with wax; in a sense, you are creating a buttressed structure of wax that gradually tapers down from the stone to the wood dowel. This helps to reduce stress on the stone as you push, grind and polish it. You want it to be fully supported or the stone may crack or come off the dop while you are working.

Here are the 3 stones dopped and hanging out, cooling. I cool them upside down, and if in forming the wax, some drips down the sides a bit, it's okay as long as it's not more than about 1/8" down, which is where my bezel wall will meet the curved part of the stone. If it covers up any more of the side of the stone, it will make forming the top of the stone difficult until it is removed. With hot flowing wax, it can be a challenge to control it when all that is between you and a burn is spit. Flow happens!

So now you are ready to rock and roll!

IF, by chance (of course), your rock should go flying off the dop, don't despair. Of course you have your safety goggles on and you are protected! Yesterday I polished 8 rocks and one popped off the dop at the last polishing step. It happens with all that pushing, forcing and grinding. 

What you will be left with is a nice flat surface on your dop that closely matches the outer shape of your stone. Dry off the dop and the stone completely. 

What I've found to be successful is to cover the flat dop surface with 2 layers of red double-sided tape. I simply fold down the areas of tape that run off the edge of the dop surface. This provides a nice cushiony surface, and your stone will very much enjoy sitting on it's new perch. Pushing down and completing your polishing will reinforce the bond. Of course, the use of water when grinding/polishing will serve to weaken the bond eventually, but hopefully you'll be pretty much done before the stone starts slipping around on the tape. It's a pretty decent fix for losing a stone off the dopping wax.

I like the red liner tape because it's got some thickness to it; some sponginess is good and creates a better bond.

Getting the stones off the sticky tape is just a matter of firm pulling up- make sure you don't stress a thin area of stone while you're pulling up on it, or it may crack.

To remove the stones from the wax dops, put them in the freezer for 5 minutes. The wax by then will contract and the stones will pull right off. The freezer won't damage the stones. I once forgot about some dops in the freezer for about 3 months, and the stones came out unscathed!