Sunday, May 29, 2016

Welcome to Essential Reading from the Jewelry Artist's Bookshelf, where the artist is me, the bookshelf is mine, and I review a book so you know which ones you should run out and buy. This week's book is:

The book: Metal Artist's Workbench: Demystifying the Jeweler's Saw
By Thomas Mann

An entire book dedicated almost solely to to one tool. This seemingly narrow focus might make you think you would be better off investing in a book that explains a broader array of topics, but this book has a special place on my bookshelf, and it's one that I often recommend to my students for one important reason: Sawing is the fundamental skill in the jewellery artist's repertoire. If you can master the jeweller's saw, you have trained your brain, hands, and eyes to communicate with each other effectively and all other jewellery making skills will fall into place.

Thomas Mann writes this book with a fun and casual tone and his enthusiasm for the subject matter is obvious and contagious. The projects in the book cover a variety of ideas as well as materials - it isn't just metal jewelry you will be trying - you can also apply your saw to puzzles, toys and stencils. The projects may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this book is worth the investment if only for the in-depth information contained in the first thirty-five pages.

Here's the skinny:

The Good :
- The photos are great
- Instructions are explicit
- The tone is conversational and helps to make the saw seem less intimidating.
- Projects are widely varied.
- There is a great section on drilling technique, which you will need to know for sawing!
- The book offers a glimpse of the working bench pins of some jewellery making gurus, including Michael David Sturlin and Tim McCreight.
- The author really tries to get you to visualize what's going on at the level of the metal and the saw, using illustrations to bring the workings of the saw into sharp focus.

The Bad:
- The troubleshooting section could have been more comprehensive. The one page dedicated to breaking blades is not enough to address all the problems sawing will present to you, especially for the beginner. Most people learn by making mistakes, but, when you are learning from a book, you lack the corrective guidance of an instructor, and you will need to be given a broader idea of what you may be doing wrong than what the author provides.
- I found the projects were aesthetically not to my liking. They are interesting, but a bit graceless.
- A section on designing for saw work would have been an invaluable addition.
- Thomas Mann categorically rejects using any lubricant for your saw blades. While I agree that wax is not strictly necessary, I find it can make for a smoother, and thus more enjoyable, sawing experience.

Who is this book for?

It's great for beginners or for those who have had some minimal instruction and wish to hone their technique. As an instructor, I find this book to be a useful primer to recommend to students or to have kicking around the classroom for anyone who takes a shine to the saw and wants more information, history, or philosophy regarding this invaluable and versatile tool.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Unexpected Muse of 2015

My 2015 inspiration came from an unexpected source, as inspiration often does. In June of this year, the studio where I'd worked and taught for two and a half years closed down. It would have been easy to see this as a setback rather than an opportunity, but a little shift in perspective and attitude opened up my creative doors - I decided that while I was downsizing my metalsmithing workspace into my small apartment studio, I could revisit an old flame of mine that I flirted with way back in the 1990's - namely, polymer clay.

At first, I had deep doubts about whether I could make this non-precious material look anything but cheap. I had a vague memory of polymer jewelry from the 90's and that memory was uninspiring. But over the past few decades, this material has come into its own bright light as artists from around the world experiment with colours, textures, tools, and complementary materials to make beautiful, incredible works of art.

I immersed myself in books, videos, and tutorials, and pored over Pinterest boards and google searches to see what other artists were doing with the material. Soon I became a fanatic. It helps immensely that I work in a huge craft store - I get to buy clay, alcohol inks, stamps, embeddable scrapbooking brads and mini-beads, gold leaf, sealants, mica powders, pastel chalks, and jewellery findings at a nice discount. As you can well imagine, my small apartment studio is near to overflowing with craft supplies as my polymer fanaticism takes over.

A few goodies from the Mirabilis! studio.
With the help of my good friend Pam (who was also sad about the closing of our metalsmithing studio!) and a weekly bottle of red wine (Wayne Gretzky's The Great Red), I started to hit on some designs and techniques that I was happy with. Every new tutorial, book, and project keeps yielding artistic gold (okay, it's artificial gold leaf and mica powders!) I am looking forward to sharing what I've learned through teaching and tutorials, but until then, I have a ton of polymer clay jewellery that I have to sell...

Find out what inspired my friends from the Etsymetal team in 2015:

Victoria Takahashi of Experimetal
Beth Cyr
Cynthia Del Giudice
Andrea Ring of Amuck Design

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Marriage of Metals Tutorial

Marriage is what brings us together today. Marriage... of metals! This project contains at least two different shades of awesome, and I'm going to let you know, in reasonable detail, how to achieve that awesomeness for yourself.

Awww, I went for the pink latex, sucka!
I started off by acid etching a small sheet of 18 gauge copper. Eighteen gauge is a little thicker than one millimetre, and you are not going to want to go any thinner than that for this project. You want the acid to burn off a significant amount of your metal, so we have to use the thicker stuff.

Here is a list of the things you'll need to gather:

  • Ferric Chloride - this stuff stinks and it's fairly viscous. Keep everything clean and well ventilated. Ferric chloride is used to etch circuit boards, so you should be able to find it at an electronics supply store.
  • glass container - mine is about the size of a bread pan
  • packing tape
  • paintbrush
  • latex or nitrile gloves
  • resist for etching - as you can see from the photograph, I used Staz-On ink with some rubber stamps, but you can use other things for a resist including permanent markers, press and peel paper, spray paint (spray it on and scratch through it with something sharp) or nail polish. 
  • Baldwin's patina - this will patinate your copper without affecting the silver.
  • 18 gauge copper sheet
  • solder flux
  • silver solder (I used hard solder, but any temper will do)
  • solder tweezers and cross-locking tweezers
  • torch
  • soldering pad or brick
  • mild acid in a crock pot for pickling (I used Sparex)
  • a hand file (a flat bastard works! Hah!)
  • a ring clamp
  • emery papers in 600, 1000, and 1500 grit, or your choice of abrasive and polishing media
  • your jeweller's saw with blades and a bench pin to saw your shape out, OR
  • a disc cutter
  • you might need some extra PPE, such as goggles, apron and respirator.

Gadgetzan Waterworks, LLC. Immortalized in metal.

I scrubbed my metal with some soap and a cloth. I applied my resist by simply stamping a design onto the metal with Staz-On ink. True to its name, it did, in fact, stay on quite well during the etching process. 

If you use this method, you may pooch a few tries, as the stamp really likes to slide around on the metal and make a blurry mess of things. You need a steady hand and a bit of luck to get it right. If you get a big icky mess, you can always wipe it off and try again. I had to try 3 or 4 times to get it to where I wanted it.

Purple, blue, and pink in the same outfit. I figured we'd need a photograph for proof that it happened.

I got ready to use the Ferric Chloride, so I put on some goggles, an apron and my trusty, stinky, pink latex gloves. 

I put a length of packing tape on the back of my metal and burnished it down so that the Ferric Chloride would not seep underneath. As you can see from the photograph, this length of tape is long, and I used it to suspend the metal with the etch side down into the chemical bath from the sides of the glass dish. 

I agitated the solution every few minutes by rocking the dish back and forth. Do this gently - no splashing!

It took about 30 minutes to get to the depth I wanted. I tested the depth every ten minutes by lifting the metal from the bath and brushing it gently with my paintbrush to see how it was coming along. Some of the ink lifted off the design in places, so go gently with that paintbrush.

My peacock tail looked like a passably good etch. It was time to marry those metals!

I used quite a lot of flux (I just sprayed it on.) I heated the whole piece of metal, and then began placing my paillions of solder in all the low points. I cut the solder paillions quite large for this project - about 1mm square. You can try stick feeding the solder, or using solder paste if you like. I'm not sure if there is any "best way" to do this part, you just need to get the solder all over the place in an even layer.

I heated the metal up until the solder flowed, quenched the metal in cool water, pickled, and repeated the process a few times until I felt the solder layer was evenly distributed in all the etched points.

The metal looked like this coming out of the pickle. As you can see from the next photo, I cut a little bit off the edges. I wasn't going to use that metal and I didn't want to have to file too much, because in this project, filing is a BIG DEAL and you're going to do a lot of it.

You need to file your metal evenly until the copper peeks back through. This is a touchy process. You want to stop the filing before you're totally done, because there is still going to be some sanding with emery paper that will remove even more of the metal. Be careful that you don't take off too much. 

A word to the wise: use a ring clamp to hold your metal when you file. 


After I sanded my metal with emery papers to a satiny brushed finish, I scribed a nice oval on my metal and cut it out with a jeweller's saw. You can use this method if you like, or you can punch your metal with a disc cutter. I've also given my metal piece a subtle dome. You can do this with a dapping block, a mushroom stake and a nylon mallet or a hydraulic press, or you can leave your metal flat.

Baldwin's Patina will give your copper a beautiful caramel brown colour without affecting the colour of the silver solder. I bought this patina from Rio Grande, and the instructions state that you should clean your metal, heat it (the heat from the hot water in your tap is great) and then apply the liquid with a swab or brush. I had to rinse and repeat a few times to get the following colour:

Do you see how I filed just a bit too much in the middle? SNAP.
The patina is mostly comprised of ammonia, so it's a bit stinky. But you are already in a well ventilated area for this entire project, right?

Hmmm, what kind of setting should I make? Stay tuned...

I hope you enjoyed learning about this technique. It's a bit chemically intense, but it's a fairly straightforward technique. If you are inspired to make your own marriage-of-metals piece of jewellery, please share your results with me!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Etsymetal Blog Carnival: Why Do You Make Jewellery?

I am totally unembarrassed about owning and repeatedly listening to all these tapes.

There are many, many reasons why I make jewellery.  Every stage of the process of creation is enjoyable and satisfying to me, from dreaming up a new idea to the problem solving involved in the metalwork, to the contact and manipulation of the materials, to seeing my creation become emotionally connected to a person.  It's an all-around awesome art to have become involved with, and I can't imagine myself not doing it.  So what does it all have to do with the Smashing Pumpkins and Mariah Carey?

Music is something that I love, and it's something that, if I'm fully engaged and listening properly, provokes an intense emotional experience.  In my opinion, music is best listened to alone.  There is something vaguely embarrassing about being caught listening to music.  That embarrassment increases tenfold if you are caught singing.  If someone walks into your bedroom and you are standing in the middle of the room belting out "Vision of Love" and you get an eyeroll, well, that's mortifying.


This is where the jewellery making comes in.  For me it was a smokescreen for listening to my music.  People were popping in to my bedroom all the time.  There was no door, I just lived in the basement of my parents' house and I shared a room with my sister.  I found that if I could keep my hands occupied while listening to my tapes, and yes, singing along, getting caught was a lot less embarrassing.  I was obviously engaged in doing something, so I couldn't be accused of lollygagging about, but I felt as if I was almost completely zoned out listening to music, as if my mind and body were doing two different things!! 

Flash forward several years to art school.  Our instructor expressly forbade us to use our music players while in the workshop.  I wonder, can I do it without the music?  It seemed like a bummer at first, but I soon realized that there are different types of concentration, and that some of my design and fabrication work requires mindfulness instead of the mechanized repetition of my earlier beadwork and wire designs.

Now that school is done, I usually rock out to music in my workshop.  Once in a while I'll even listen to some of the music I used to play way back when I started this journey.  And yeah, I sing loudly and don't care if someone walks in.

All I Wanna Do is Make Lovely Jewels.

My fellow Etsymetal team members have a bit to say on this topic.  Please visit their blogs:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Multi-technique Pendant Tutorial

Two years ago I gave my good friend Anita a Gracebourne gift certificate so that she could order anything she wanted in my store, including custom work!  She chose a custom pendant, but really had no idea of a style, so she let me pick.  Ok, it took me two years to get it together.

Anita's Epic Necklace.  Hope it was worth the wait!

I used a few different skills in its construction, so I thought I would share them on my blog for anyone who would like to try a similar piece.  It's not too intense, but it took a fairly long time to complete.  A less complex design would be much quicker and easier, and you could also leave out the bail and use a jump ring instead.  But I get ahead of myself.  Here are the skills and techniques that I used in the making of Anita's Epic Necklace:

  • transferring a design onto metal
  • cutting and piercing silver
  • filing, sanding, polishing
  • sweat soldering (fun, fun!)
  • rivetting (the whole process was, indeed, rivetting.)
  • applying a patina
  • some smithing ie. forming with pliers, hammering
The first part of the process is image transferring:
Photos of my original sketch, the cleaned up graphic design, and the transferred and inscribed lines on the silver

The idea for this pendant began with a sketch, which you can see above.  I traced a digital photograph of this sketch with Inkscape to clean it up and make it pretty and symmetrical, then printed out a copy in the size I wanted to make the pendant.

My silver was 20gauge, or about .8mm.  I began by roughing up the surface of my metal with fine grit emery paper so it would take the transfer more easily.  I put graphite tracing paper face down on the silver, placed my design over it, and traced each line carefully with a scriber.  You can see in the pattern photograph that my scriber cut the paper.

After all lines were transferred, I removed the pattern and graphite paper, and again traced each line with a scriber, this time directly onto the metal.  This is important because your graphite lines will wear off when you are sawing.  Be as careful and as exact as you can - you are creating a road map for your saw and you need to be accurate at this stage.

There are other ways to transfer a design onto metal, but I find this works great for me and has the maximum accuracy.  I've tried gluing the pattern directly on the metal, but with the sheer number of lines I usually use in my patterns, the paper gets shredded and I lose accuracy.

The second part of the process involves piercing your metal:
Photos of drilling, sawing, and the completed piercing.
For each piece of negative space you'll be sawing out, you need to make a little divot for your drill bit to grab.  For this, I put my metal on a steel block and used my scriber and a rawhide mallet to make indentations.  Then I chose a drill bit which was small enough not to distort any of the smaller holes I had to cut, but large enough to accommodate the saw blade.  I used 3/0 sawblades for this project.

Piercing with my jeweller's saw is probably the thing I do the most, and it's one of the most enjoyable processes for me in jewellery making.  I could probably write a book about it, but for now I will just lay out the most salient tips:
  • make sure your sawblade is not too loose or too tight.  The more you pierce, the more you will get a good understanding of the tension you need.
  • keep your sawblade lubricated.  There are commercial preparations available for this job, but I use natural beeswax, and it works great.  I put it on the back of the sawblade (the part without teeth!) otherwise I find the teeth get gummed up with wax and silver dust and don't saw very well.  It's good to lubricate the blade regularly, and right before you are about to turn a sharp corner.
  • let the blade do the work.  Your forward motion on your saw should be minimal.  I prefer to think of gravity guiding my sawblade through my metal - you don't need much more force than that.
  • don't freak out when you break a blade.  It's ok, it happens all the time - I go through a ton of blades.  Broken blades are my battle scars.  If you think you are breaking too many blades ( I broke 2 during this project and had to change a dull one) re-read the three preceeding points!  Also check if you are using an appropriate size of blade, and check if your blades are dull or rusted.  You might need different or new saw blades.
  • follow the INSIDE of your scribed line.  Try to be as close to the line as you can without erasing it.  You will need to do a bit of filing when you're done, but you don't want to have to file a piece for an hour.  Most of your metal removal should be done at the piercing stage.  Be careful not to go over your lines, though, because that kind of mistake is much harder to fix. 
After the piercing was complete, I used my needle files to fix any bumps or ridges I made in my piercing, and to smooth all the saw marks.  Filing takes a long time and it isn't fun, but it's crucial to having a nicely finished piece, so take your time, and don't forget to use your ring clamp to hold the piece.

Next step - Turn on the pickle pot.  It's time to do some soldering!
Solder paillions, placing the solder on the piece, clamping the top to the bottom with binding wire, and the finished soldered piece fresh out of the pickle.

Sweat soldering is a little finicky, but not really complicated.  First I cut my solder into paillions - I use silver sheet solder and I would estimate my paillions are about .5mm squares.  You need way more solder when you are sweat soldering than you do for most other soldering jobs just because of the large area of metal you are joining.  I fluxed my piece, heated it, and began placing my solder.  This took a long time and I had to continually heat the piece so the solder would stick to it and not dance around instead of slumping in place.  I dipped every paillion in flux before placement.  You want the solder to be very flowy when melts, so you need a good amount of flux.

After the solder was placed and melted, I pickled the piece it until it was nice and white.  I had to sand it a bit to get rid of a few bumps.  You want your pierced component to sit flat on top of the base so that you get every little bit of metal joined up.

I fluxed the base and placed the pierced component on top, then bound the pieces together with binding wire.  You want the binding wire nice and tight, so that it will "pull" the two pieces together when the solder starts to melt.

The solder needs to flow from the top (pierced) piece to the solid bottom.  For this to happen, the base has to heat up first, so I would recommend raising your piece and applying the torch to the bottom.  I used a metal trivet to support the piece while I torched it. 

After pickling, you might notice that some areas have not joined.  Make sure your metal is touching in the place you need it to join, reapply flux, and torch the piece again. 

When I was done sweat soldering this piece, I noticed that it had warped slightly.  To fix it, I put it on my steel bench block and beat it into shape with my rawhide mallet.  If you are lucky enough to possess two steel blocks, you can sandwich the pendant between them and hit it with a large rubber mallet.

I cleaned up the edges with a file and some rough emery so the top and bottom pieces fit together seamlessly before I moved on to the patination.

Applying the patina

For the patina, I used a preparation called SilverBlack.  It contains hydrochloric acid, so if you choose this chemical patina, use it in a well ventilated area.  I applied it to all the "low" points in the design with a paintbrush, let it sit for a few minutes, rinsed it off, and reapplied.  Two applications seemed to get it to a point that I liked - I used a brass brush to transform the dull, matte black patina into more of a gunmetal gray colour.

There was a lot of spillover onto the top of the pendant - I didn't worry too much because I knew I was going to have a LOT of sanding to do.  I started with a fairly coarse grit emery and graduated to finer papers (I used 3 different grits.)

If you have any firestain on your piece, now is the time to check for it and sand it off.  Hold your pendant perpendicular to a piece of white paper - If you see vague, slightly purplish spots, sand, sand, sand!!

Making and rivetting the bail.  I know I have hobo hands.

This ended up being a moderately heavy piece, so I felt it needed a substantial bail to connect it to its chain.  The triangular shape of a bail is important, because the width of the top part distributes the weight of the pendant and puts less strain on your delicate silver chain.

As you can probably tell from the photograph, I scribed this bail freehand onto a scrap of metal.  Using the same techniques I used for the pendant, I cut it out, filed it, and sanded it with emery paper.

I used my round pliers to form the bail.  These pliers are tapered, so I had to bend carefully on one side, then flip to the other to make a nice, symmetrical loop.

To rivet the bail onto the pendant, I first drilled a hole through one side of the bail and burred it out so it was exactly the diameter of a piece of 16 gauge wire.  I put it on the pendant where I wanted it to sit, and scribed a mark to indicate where to drill on the pendant - I drilled this hole to the proper diameter, then put the two together, placed the drill bit through the two matching holes, then drilled through the bottom part of the bail to get the three holes to match up nicely.

I used a small ball burr on each side of the bail to open the top of the drill holes slightly - this is where you smoosh your metal down to make a strong rivet.  I just held the ball burr in my hand and twisted gently to make a small indentation for the metal to be hammmered into.

Lastly, I cut the 16 gauge wire almost exactly to the size of the rivet and used my rivetting hammer to slightly flatten each side of the wire into a strong rivet.

Everything was done except for more sanding and polishing!  The Gracebourne monkeys are in contract negotiations right now, so I had to do this monkey work myself.  I used Tripoli then fabulustre, with baths in the ultrasonic in between, then I shone it with a Blitz cloth. 

Here's me, modelling the pendant for scale!

I have dinner with Anita tonight, and I hope she likes her Epic Necklace.  I also really hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you now rush off to make something beautiful for yourself!! 

Monday, July 2, 2012

What the heck are you doing?

I've been spending a little less time at the metalsmithing bench lately.  I had a great idea for a project - still jewellery, still opulent in the typical "Gracebourne" style - but made out of something softer, something more pliable and delightfully tactile - leather!!

I came to the realization that my style of jewellery, while detailed (sometimes intricately) is fairly one-dimensional.  I spend a lot of time just sawing away at a flat sheet of metal - sometimes I give that metal a bit of a curve, maybe I set a stone in it, give it a nice patina or enamel it all over - but the style remains the same:  negative space sawn out, metal shape left over.  I decided that this particular style would lend itself beautifully to a laser cutter upon leather.  All I had to do was learn some graphic design basics.

Everything starts with a sketch.
One of the most important techniques I learned in art school was project planning.  Before I had this skill set firmly in place, I would start off with a vague idea of what I wanted to do, and I would take a circuitous and often frustrating path to get to the finish line.  The result was rarely what I envisioned.  I have swept this wishy-washy approach to creation out the door!  Now, everything begins with a sketch in the notebook and a clear idea of where I want to go and how to get there.

I cannibalized old notebooks for semi-discarded sketches and I used existing patterns from my metalsmithing, and I photographed everything.  I downloaded an open source graphic design program and set about learning how to use it to trace my drawings.  It took a while for me to get going with the computer program, but it was a lot of fun to learn, and, best of all, I could do it away from my bench - in a coffee shop, the library, or in the park.

Hard to believe this came from my sketch!

Next step was shopping for the leather.  I really had no idea what to look for.  But I had a basic idea of colour, and I didn't go crazy and buy too much because this is a trial run.  I bought two large pieces in basic black and basic white, and a few smaller pieces for accents.  I printed out some paper maquettes of a few of my designs, to check scale and layout.

Laying out paper maquettes on my leather pieces
The next thing to do before sending it to be laser-cut is to make sure all of my electronic files are in order.  They have to be neat and everything has to fit within the leather economically - I don't want to waste anything!  I realized that some pieces needed a redesign because they were either too complex (always my designer's achilles heel) or they contained lines that were too thin and would be too fragile for leather.  What can I say, I'm used to designing for metal!

You'll have to stay tuned to find out how it all turns out.  Give me a few more weeks and this project will be in full swing!  Until then, here is a cute picture of me modelling my "parentica aspasia" headband maquette!

My biceps are huge.  Yoga, people.  Do it.

I'm not the only one with new and exciting stuff going on.  Please check out my fellow etsymetal team members' blogs to find out what's happening with them, too!

 Laney Clark of Silentgoddess
 Evelyn Markasky
 Victoria Takahashi of Experimetal
 Beth Cyr
 Rebecca Bogan of Adobe Sol Designs
 Ann Walker
 Erin Austin
 Danielle Miller

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


I had to leave my house today and walk up to Broadway to buy some saw blades for a custom order.  It was dismal, misty, windy, and cold.  It reminded me of Vancouver, or of Japan in the rainy season - both places I don't mind being reminded of.  When I lived in Japan and I caught a chill, I would take a trip to the Japanese Denny's for hot chocolate - but this was no water and powder mixture.  Imagine that part in Charlie and the Chocolate factory when they are going down the chocolate river in a boat and Willy Wonka reaches overboard to fill a mug for Charlie.  So think and delicious and warm.  I had dreams all my life of drinking such a beverage, and I believe I finally found it in Japan.  In Vancouver, there was a Spanish Chocolate restaurant, now closed, around the corner from my apartment.  They had thick hot chocolate with chili peppers and cinnamon.  It blew my mind.  Today I was cold after my walk and missing the places I used to live, and I decided to do some experimenting and make some hot chocolate like the stuff I used to drink in Japan and in Vancouver.  Here is my recipe.


1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 bar of chocolate - Jersey Milk or Dairy Milk are good choices, Caramilk could work in a pinch, but that would change the whole drink into something else - worth a try.
Cayenne pepper and Cinnamon to taste

1. Finely grate the chocolate with a cheese grater.
2. Whisk the milk and corn starch together in a small saucepan
3. On medium heat, bring milk to a boil, stirring ocassionally.
4. Remove from heat and add chocolate and a pinch of cayenne to taste.  Stir until chocolate is melted.
5. Put the pan back on the element, but lower the heat slightly.
6. Stir the mixture frequently but not vigorously, until it thickens, then remove from heat and pour into a mug.
7. Top with whipped cream.  I made a mixture of about 1/8 tsp each of cinnamon and cayenne and sprinkled this over the top of my drink.  It was amazing. 

I would say I'm now ready to get back to my jeweller's bench and start working, but I feel more like a nap is in order.

Photo credit: