A passion for silversmithing

STERLING SILVER : Noun, meaning silver of 92 and a quarter percent purity.....

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Anniversary waltz.....

We have been married for 25 years in August and I want to make Paul a wedding ring to replace the one he lost years ago whilst on holiday in Cape Town.

I'm excited but apprehensive, working with an expensive strip of gold wire, without my tutor Jane Shellard guiding me. The other 'slight' problem is that I don't actually know Pauls ring size. He has no other rings that I can measure, and I want this to be a surprise, so I have to guess. A conspirital friend managed to get Paul to try on his own ring after a few beers one night, and it measured U1/2. It was a little big on Paul, so I plump for one size down, V1/2.

Next problem was calculating how much gold wire I need. I found charts online that give ring circumferences for every size, but for V1/2 it varies between 64mm and 67mm and it seems too small. Thinking it's better to make it too big than too small, I decide to make it 70mm. I had already bought 80mm of 9ct 'D' wire, 5mm by 1.5mm and a tiny piece of gold solder wire from cooksongold.com . It looks really ordinary, and thin, and not very gold.

The ring will be completely plain like the original.

I take the plunge, using my brand new saw on my brand new bench peg, and cut the gold strip at 70mm. 

I bend the ends round to meet each other using half round pliers and with a thin glass nail file I file both ends together until they are flush. We were taught to hold the join up to the light and make sure no chinks of light can be seen through the join.

It takes me a while to get some usable flux from my new borax cone, but lots of water later I have enough to cover the join and to hold a tiny strip of solder wire in place (I place it on the inside along the join).

 In the workshops we only soldered silver, and my first attempt at soldering the ring doesn't work. I am frightened of melting the ring, and end up not melting the solder either. I remember Jane told us to heat the all of the ring, nd not actually the solder joint, then the joint and the heat from the torch will draw the solder into the joint. The torch I am using is a chunky blowtorch with a fat nozzle and fat flame. Not ideal but all I have for now. Second attempt and the gold turns red as the solder flows. I drop it into my pickle solution which is warmed in a mini slow cooker bought for £6 in an Argos sale. 

In an effort to save money on tools I am using an old wooden spindle chair leg as a ring mandrel. Unfortunately it is not that successful as the wood is too soft. I get the ring kind of round, and can see that it is too big. I should have trusted the measurements on the chart after all. I saw out a piece a few mm wide where I had soldered and start again. Success this time, but its not a perfect joint by any stretch!

I need a proper mandrel, but the only shop in Hampshire does not have one and cooksongold do not have the ones I want in stock. I get one from ebay, and now have to wait til it arrives.......

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Gathering my tools

I begin to gather the tools I need for silversmithing. Paul dug out a set of needle files (2) that were lurking in the shed, never used, and a rather chunky gas blow torch that will do for now. I make a ring mandrel from an old chair leg, and a bangle mandrel from a table leg. I buy a second hand leather bag from the charity shop and though tempted to keep it as a bag, I cut it up into decent size pieces. I keep my eye on ebay, and almost bagged a second hand set of silversmithing tools.

I love to trawl the charity shops, and I came across an ‘as new’ Cougar Hand Tool set (6) , which I buy assuming it must be a bargain. It has umpteen bits and will be very useful – though no instructions with it. (google it when I get home and find I paid the same as a brand new one – hey ho!)

I buy a doming block (1) for a very good price on ebay, and later a disc cutter (8) and doming punches (which when they arrive are MUCH smaller than I expected and may be a waste of money).

The toolkit is growing. 

To buy the rest of the tools I want will cost over £400 which is way too much. I decide to buy just the tools I need to get started on my first few projects. They are:- 

     1)  To make a wedding ring for Paul. He lost his in Cape Town years ago, and as this year is our Silver Wedding Anniversary I decide to make him a new ring. 
     2)  To make bezel set stone rings in silver using some of the lovely shiny semi precious stones my Dad tumbled many years ago.

cooksongold.com have everything I need and my tools and bullion are delivered the next day. It feels like Christmas, and I can’t wait to get home from work. I savour each and every tool, as I unwrap them. The only disappointment is the ball pein hammer (9) which I expected to be round and this one has a small point to it.

The little magnifier (5) is old, I can't remember where it came from but I have had it for many years. I LOVE the bench peg and anvil (11) and the doming block. MMM mmmmmm!

I spend a couple of hours ‘moving in’. I am not sure where best to put everything, but I think after a few weeks use things will find their place. 

My studio

Weekend 30th May 2011
Since the workshops I have thought of little else. I am so full of ideas and so desperate to get started. But this can’t be rushed. I can’t do this from the dining room table or the sofa as I have done all my other hobbies. The tools can’t easily be tidied away at the end of the day, and frankly it’s a messy business. And then there is the start up costs. I need tools – lots of them – to get started. Many are cheap, but others are not.

I want to do this properly and so I make some plans.

First I make a decision that my workshop will be in the spare small bedroom, currently housing my printer, scanner, computer desk, ironing board, clothes drying rack etc etc. All of which have to stay and somehow fit around a new workbench. The room is pastel green and lemon yellow – that has to go, so I paint the walls a  flax colour, and I make curtains from some slubby linen from a charity shop. I acquire an old desktop from the office and my father-in-law Cyril, and husband Paul cut it to size and fit it over the computer table.

It's perfect, really sturdy....
The room is much improved, and it gets the sun which is nice. It is also my old childhood bedroom so it is meant to be.

Meanwhile I am gathering tools.....

Saturday, 16 July 2011

And so it begins....

May 2011

I am 52 and ¾, and seem to be at one of those moments in one’s life where something shifts and everything seems to come together, and you find something you didn’t know you were looking for, something that was missing that you didn’t know was missing until you found it. 

Life is good, I have a lovely husband, beautiful grown up daughters, a steady job, a home and garden that I love, but I am missing the busyness of being a mother to younger children. I like to be at home, pottering, doing things, but I don’t have enough interesting things to do. 

Since childhood I have been into 'making things', like my parents before me, from sewing clothes for my dolls to pottery, crochet, beading, painting, and I have a passion for photography which led to making greeting cads which I have done for the last 6 years.

And so I was looking at my favourite website Etsy.com, admiring some handcrafted sterling silver jewellery, wishing I had the skills to do that.   I googled silver workshops in Hampshire and found the Hampshire Design and Jewellery Studio. Next thing I know I have signed up for a one day course in silversmithing.

And basically that was it – I was absolutely hooked from the start. I loved every minute of that workshop, it was so completely absorbing and utterly satisfying. I could have cried when I completed my first piece, a simple hammered ring. I could not believe that the bent, misshapen blackened piece of metal would end up so shiny and gorgeous, and that I had made this happen (with a lot of guidance from the lovely Jane Shellard). Two more workshop days later, and I had learnt enough basic skills to do it on my own.  We learnt to saw and file, flux and solder, anneal and pickle, hammer and texture, punch and dome and sand, and sand, and sand and lastly polish, and polish, and polish some more.

We made rings and bangles, set a cabouchon in our own bezel setting, and I punched domed and textured a locket and matching earrings. Awesome.

All of it, awsome...

And that was the start of it.........