A passion for silversmithing

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

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Problems etching sterling silver


A whole year and a bit has passed sinceI started silversmithing and I love it just as much today as I did whenI started.

End of August is the birthday of myoldest and dearest friend Stephanie Rampton (a print maker living in Melbourne).One wall of my lounge is covered with her gorgeous tree prints and I hadthe idea to make her an etched locket pendant based on my favourite printof hers. She is always in my mind, but even more so at the moment becauseon a trip to London a few months ago, she tripped on a kerb and broke bothher hands. She still has both hands strapped up and is desperate to beable to get back to normal and to be able to do her art.

For my birthday she had bought me alarger disc cutter from Cooksongold.com and I wanted to use it for herpendant. I started with a photo of the print, then in paint shop pro, removedbackground, sharpened and reversed it to a negative. I reversed it so thatthe branches would etch and be dark, and the gaps between remain silver.

I have done quite a few etchings withvery little trouble, but not this time! I reckon I tried this etch 5 timesbefore finally getting it to work, and even the final one I wasn't completelyhappy with but was running out of time to get it posted to Australia.

As usual I had a block of wood withsheet of kitchen roll on top, then squeaky clean sheet silver, then laserprinted paper image ink side down, then sheet of kitchen roll on top, thenthe flat of the iron on its hottest setting.

After 5 minutes, nothing had happened.The ink was still on the paper and the silver was bare. Tried it all secondtime, still nothing. The iron was new and had a non stick base - maybeit was that? The paper and ink could be different though the printer wasone I had used before. I tried it again sandwiching the silver and paperbetween my daughters hair straighteners - still nothing. The silver wasstarting to get discoloured and scruffy by this time. So weird that itwouldn't work. Eventually frustrated I bought a new cheap iron with a stainlesssteel base and I got hold of a sheet of OHP transparency. Printed the designonto that and tried it again with the new iron. At last success! (andrelief!).

I have since tried it again with transparencyand old iron and it didn't work. Haven't yet tried paper and new iron combination.I wasn't completely happy with the design on the silver, there must havebeen one or two air bubbles under it which show up a little. I cut my twodiscs of silver using my new present, and stuck them on double sided stickytape to protect the reverse. I used a sharpie to colour in the edges tostop them etching and dropped them into a fresh new mix of ferric nitrateand left it for two hours.

When I took them out they were slightly over-etched,but even worse they had come loose from the sticky tape and the backs hadbegun to etch - not really the look I was going for but too late to startagain and the silver is too precious to waste. I decided there and thenthat rustic was indeed the look I was after!!!

So, I domed them with my stainless steeldoming block and wood punches then sanded the edges (round and round onsandpaper flat on the bench) to make sure they fit together well. Usingthe disc cutter again, I made a smaller disc with centre hole which I solderedinside one the halves of the locket. In theory you could hold a small photobehind it but I just like it for its look.

I had drilled a hole in each of thethree pieces before soldering, and brought the two sides (one now solderedwith the inner ring) of the locket together with a heavy jump ring.

After much polishing and dipping inliver of sulphur to bring out the dark branches I am reasonably happy with.I have hung it from one of my favourite chains, 2.3mm belcher from Cooksongold(approx £5 per foot) and I have attached jump rings and my handmade claspto the ends. I broke the chain a couple of inches in and soldered in asecond jump ring so that it can be worn two lengths. Posted this morning,hope it arrrives before her birthday.

Taken when I last saw Stephanie, just after she broke both hands. Just found out she has plaster off tomorrow!


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Shame about the day job...

I have had so many orders over the last few weeks that I have to take leave from my day job to keep up with. Not that I am complaining, I would MUCH rather be in my workshop all day everyday if I could. 
I made a bracelet like this one for a one year old baby called Mikayla in Melbourne. Its made from 1.5mm wire, hammered for texture and strength. The little charms are cut using a disc cutter from 0.8mm silver sheet.

Gave me a chance to use my new letter punches which are not as easy to use as you might think. If the silver is too thin the imprint shows on the reverse. If you don't bang it hard enough or evenly enough the first time you can't go over it again. Bit more practice needed I think. I have some copper from old heating pipes which I use to practice this sort of thing.

I was inspired by a vintage hairpin that my friend Jo wears. 

I thought it would be an easy thing to make. I balled up the ends of some 1.5mm wire, then shaped it and soldered on a flower. Looks lovely BUT no matter how much I fiddle with it, I can't get the pin to grip together enough to stay in the hair. In the end I took the flower part off and re-attached the flower to a proper (non-silver) jewellery hairpin and it looks fine, but would have preferred to make the whole piece in silver. 

This lovely hammered heart ring is now my best seller. It has been bought around the world and has also been used by a guy to propose to his girlfriend in lieu of her choosing an engagement ring. How nice is that!

Nothing to do with silver at all, but these are my first new potato pickings this year. They were lovely, but shame there wasn't a few more beans to go with them. We had one each !

Annealing and work-hardening sterling silver

Annealing silver is the process of heating the silver to make it soft enough to work with. You may have to anneal the silver several times during the making of a piece of jewellery, because working with the silver makes it hard again.

Most of the silver I buy from Cooksons comes ready annealed, but I still anneal it frequently during the making process using my gas torch. I move the torch over and over the surface of the silver as it goes from light whitey grey to dark grey and then glows pinky red. I don't cover my silver in flux before annealing as some do,  I just anneal it bare. As soon as I see it turn glowy pinky red, before it begins to melt, I pull the torch back and just maintain a gentle heat for about 30 seconds, then remove the torch and quench the silver in water. If it's the final anneal, I will then pickle it to remove the oxidization, otherwise I keep working and annealing and quenching it until I am finished, and then I pickle it.  I especially like to anneal a piece before I texture with a hammer, as the hammer marks are smoother and softer on annealed silver.

Working with the silver, that is hammering, sawing, bending, rolling, causes it to gradually harden again and this makes it less flexible. If you keep on working it without annealing it becomes brittle, and if you are bending or folding it again and again it will eventually crack and break, so frequent annealing is essential.
Sometimes a piece of silver becomes soft when you want it to be hard, and it can be too late in the making to work harden it some more. In these cases you can use a tumbler.

For example, many of my rings have thin hammered shanks. I hammer the silver wire on my ring mandrel before I cut the final length as hammering stretches the wire and you can end up wasting precious millimetres.   Then I have to heat the piece to solder the join which can soften it again. Apart from hammering over the join, I don't want to hammer it anymore because it is now the size I want. Then I have to heat it again to attach the bezel or flower, or whatever else I am fixing to it. You can hammer it with a rawhide, or nylon mallet which will harden it a little, but not enough to make it hard-wearing. This is when a tumbler can be really useful.

Mine was given to me second hand by a friend. It's actually a National Geographic rock tumbler aimed at children, and came with little packets of sharp stones, gems and some polishing compounds

I bought some stainless steel shot,

and some soap flakes.....

....and used it for the first time last week. What a great little piece of kit! I put in a large handful of shot, enough water to cover it, half teaspoon of soap flakes and then whatever jewellery I want to harden or polish

 The hammered rings come out beautifully hardened and shiny after only 30 minutes tumbling. I keep it in the garage on the freezer where it can't drive anyone mad with its whirring noise. It doesn't have a short timer (only 1 day, 2 day etc) so I set the oven timer so that I don't forget about it. Because the shot is stainless steel it shouldn't rust and can be used again and again. 

I like to oxidize most of my jewellery with liver of sulphur so I do this after tumbling then hand polish afterwards.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Can't believe I found it!

The thing that first inspired me to take up silversmithing was a custom made pendant that I bought from kutuu.co.uk. It's imprinted with a blossom pattern and I absolutely adore it. I have often wondered how it was made, unsure if  the pattern was etched, or pressed using a rolling mill. By chance I found a brass pattern plate on Cooksongold that was exactly the same pattern as my locket. I bought the plate and have used it 2 or 3 times to make an imprint on silver sheet using my rolling mill. I love the pattern and the way the blossom picks up a patina when oxidised. I have made various pieces of jewellery featuring the blossom print. 

The pearl in the ring below is from a vintage earring that had lost its partner...its a lovely creamy rich colour and in perfect condition.

I couldn't resist making a larger version of my original locket, really just to see if I could. SO very very pleased with it. This lovely chain is from Cooksongold.com, its a small but good wight belcher chain which oxidizes beautifully to look lovely and old.

Glass cabochon heart pendant

This lovely glass cabochon pendant is made from a piece of the silver still left from my Grampys silver cigarette case. The case has a very fine vintage wavy pattern which you can just see in the second photo. 

A friend ordered this, but specifically wanted it in turquoise blue glass. What a job I had sourcing that one! I could not find ANY clear glass cabochons in the right shade of blue. I bought a bag of those glass flattish beads that you see in vases, but the blue wasn't quite the right shade. I made the bezel cup with the heart in the back, and popped in one of the beads and it lookd awful. It was cheap and fat and you couldn't see the heart properly from the front. Then I found this vintage tie pin on ebay and took a chance.

When it arrived it was perfect. I unfixed it from its pin and sanded the back to remove the gold coloured coating, then prepared to make another bezel cup. Couldn't believe my luck when I tried it in the cup I had already made and it plopped in a treat. Perfect fit! I just love it for it's colour, a one off, custom made pendant that no-one else in the world will have.  How would I ever have found that stone without the internet......