Monday, 30 March 2015

JewelleryMaker Bracelet Project Kit - A Product Review

Just over a week ago I was contacted by Frances, the editor of JewelleryMaker and asked if I would like to blog about one of their recently launched project kits. The kits are for charm bracelets and contain all the components you need to make the bracelet, the only items you need yourself are two pairs of pliers and a good pair of reading glasses if your eyesight is anything like mine!

The bracelet kits are available in plated gold, plated silver, plated antique bronze and plated rose gold. There are different charms available too - stars, leaf and heart mix, gemstone dangles and hearts.
I chose a rose gold plated bracelet with leaf and heart charms. It's a far cry from the type of jewellery I usually make but I thought it would be fun to do for a change.

I sat down in my shed with my two pairs of pliers, glasses and a cup of tea and began.
So what's in the box?

The box is a square shape with a lift off lid and multi-coloured stripes down the sides. Inside you find the instructions and all the components you need for making the charm bracelet in separate plastic bags.

For anyone using the kit who hasn't done any jewellery making the all-important instructions for opening and closing jump rings the correct way are found on one side of the instruction card.

The card also contains a list of the 80 components in this kit and the instructions. There are five steps to making the bracelet and the instructions are clear and easy to follow.

I started by linking one end of the toggle fastener and the S links together with the jump rings. The jump rings are quite soft but sturdy enough and neatly cut.

Once all the S links were joined together I added the other end of the toggle fastener then started adding the heart and leaf charms. All the charms have jump rings already attached which saves a bit of time. Adding the charms was a bit fiddly but not difficult. The charms are nicely made and light but sturdy. I added half to one side of the links then the rest to the other side.

The finished bracelet. As you can see there are plenty of charms - you get 20 of each design making the bracelet jingle nicely when you wear it. The toggle makes it easy to fasten too. I used all of the S links and the finished bracelet length was 10 inches/26cm which was too long for me but it would be easy enough to alter the length by adding or removing an S link. Or do what I didn't do and check the length as you make it!

I was left with 19 jump rings which puzzled me a bit but these could be used to double up on the joins between the S links and the two toggle parts for added security.

The kit costs £9.95 and for that money I think you end up with a decent charm bracelet that can be made in less than an hour. It would make an ideal present for someone who is thinking about trying jewellery making for the first time and teaming it with a pliers kit would be even better!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Malachite And Bronze Earrings Revisited

I haven't had much spare time recently so haven't had the chance to make much new stuff but I did get round to altering the etched bronze and malachite earrings I made a few weeks ago. I wrote in this post about how they didn't hang well. The design means they are a bit bottom heavy and hang at an angle like this....

So I was at a quandry with what to do with them. Do I leave them or do I cut them down and change the way they hang? I couldn't do any more soldering as the stone was set so I decided {eventually} to cut them down and add an earwire to the pierced hole at the top.

They now hang evenly but it was a shame to have to alter them although I have come to the conclusion that I'm not keen on the type of earwire I used originally for them. The type that is soldered to the back of the earring then formed into an earwire. The length of the wire and the size of the earrings meant the earwires could easily have been bent {accidently} out of shape. So it's something I wouldn't repeat on a larger earring. Not that I use that style of earwire that often anyway!

I also had the chance last week to finish a couple more of the "pod" earrings I posted about a couple of weeks ago, this time I made hoop versions using the sterling silver and bronze pods I made. I haven't had chance to photograph them properly yet but took a couple of snaps in my shed earlier today.

Bronze pods with bronze hoops

Sterling silver version

I'm up to date with my made to order stuff now so I might get the chance to take some proper photos of these today!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Don't Buy A New Soldering Block Clean Your Old One!

If you solder as part of your jewellery making then like me you probably have a selection of soldering boards. The good old asbestos-substitute, the honeycomb board and the fibre brick. I've yet to try a charcoal soldering block strangely - I've looked at them a lot but never clicked the buy button as yet.... There's nothing nicer than a brand new, clean, smooth soldering board to use. Well there is, lots of things are nicer, but you know what I mean!

My collection of soldering boards

Before I tried the honeycomb boards which I tend to use a lot now I would use the asbestos-substitute boards most of the time. After a while you inevitably gets areas of the board covered with excess flux which forms a glass-like layer on the board once it's cooled and if heated a lot will start to eat into the board. Your metal will also stick to any flux you accidently put it on top of during soldering sometimes leaving blobs of flux to clean off in tricky areas. So you avoid that area and carry on until one side is covered in rock hard flux then turn the block over and start on the other side. Then when that side is covered and horrible you go to Cookson's website and order another one.....

I noticed my flux covered soldering board problem got a whole lot worse when I changed from using liquid flux {Auflux} and tried Easi-Flo and Tenacity paste fluxes. I was making a lot of hollow forms and was having trouble getting the liquid flux to go where I wanted it to so I tried the paste fluxes as they stay where you put them. The result was quite a lot of excess flux on my boards leaving them looking like this...

To avoid a soldering board build-up it occurred to me last week that it might be a good idea to try and clean them up. I'd seen a tip from Lexi Erickson about cleaning your soldering board by rubbing it against the pavement, a bit of concrete or any rough surface. The roads where I live have either slab or tarmac pavements and being honest I'd feel a bit of a weirdo going out into the road and rubbing things on the pavement ......

So I decided to have a go with sandpaper.

I used 80 grit sandpaper and took my shameful board outside and started rubbing vigorously.

I'd advise wearing a dust mask as it is a very dusty process but with a bit of elbow grease you'll soon start to see nice clean white areas being revealed.

 Any really stubborn areas of flux can be ground off with a metal file. You'll be left with a board that has a few pitted areas where the flux has eaten into it but it will be lovely and clean again!
You can do this a lot quicker and easier if you have one of those handheld electric sanders of course :D 


I've gone back to using liquid flux as it's less messy and doesn't expand when heated. I can also "read" it better for gauging the temperature of the metal which I found harder to do with the paste fluxes for some reason.

And for my other soldering I just need to find a way to put my honeycomb boards back together. I tapped one of them on my bench to get a piece of solder out of a hole and it broke into three pieces. The second one just broke into two pieces out of sympathy for the other one I think. And I'm considering cutting the top off my fibre board to reveal a nice clean, hole and pit free surface. And anyone who has one of the fibre boards will know that would be a messy, very dusty process indeed!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Using My Scrap Sterling Silver and Bronze To Make Pod Earrings

It's very satisfying to use your scrap metal and make something you really like with it. I normally save my sterling silver scrap in a pot that I then send off when it's full for recycling in return for a nice amount of cash. But sometimes I like to get out my torch and just melt stuff and I've never done pods before......

Sterling silver and bronze will melt easily and form pebbles, sometimes lovely and round in shape and sometimes a bit more organic and freeform. Regardless of their shape you then have a piece of metal you can do things with. I watched a video by Janice Berkebile recently where she made some pod earrings which is what inspired me to play around with some of my scrap silver and bronze.

Here are some bronze pebbles that I've hammered to flatten them slightly before putting them through the rolling mill {that soldering block looks disgusting doesn't it?!}

A bronze pebble about to be squished. Bronze is a harder metal than silver and copper so needs to be annealed a couple of times times as you're flattening it with the rolling mill.

The flattened bronze pebbles. They are all slightly different, not perfectly round but lovely natural looking shapes. The next step was to anneal them again then dome them gently before pickling them to remove the oxides.

After normal pickling they then had to go into a super pickle mix to remove the copper plating that occurs when you heat bronze. I had been using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar for the super pickle but I found adding some normal pickle to it gingers things up a bit and speeds up the cleaning process. It also produces more bubbles as you can see in this photo. They look like little underwater volcanoes! I set the plastic container of super pickle on top of my pickle pot so the heat helps to speed things up too.

The "pods" after a quick clean up. The edges are quite rough but can be filed and sanded to a smoother finish or left a bit more rustic if you're that way inclined. The silver triple stack and the bronze doubles towards the back of the photo are ready for soldering together once I've sorted out a silver ball for them all. I had quite a few fine silver balls ready made but have discovered I'm very skilled at dropping them on the floor when I'm trying to decide which size ball goes best with which size pod stack so I need to make some more! Then I'll use them to make earrings of some description - haven't got that far yet.
I have made a couple of pairs so far.....

Sterling silver pod studs

Copper stick earrings with sterling silver pods and lots of little balls :D I've also made myself a pod ring that I'm wearing as I type.....

I'm not sure "pod" is the right word to describe what these shapes are but as I'm not inspired to think of anything else at the moment it will have to do for now .....

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hoop-La! My Love Of Hoop Earrings

Last week I have been mostly making.... hoop earrings with post fitting. Strangely I've never made this type of hoop before but it is a style I like to wear myself so I thought it was about time I made some!

I've made the hoops in sterling silver, copper and bronze using wire from 2.6mm {10g} up to 3.5mm {7g} and sterling silver earring posts with the pad. I use the posts with the pad attached as I find it easier to solder them to other things that way. The posts sit nicely in a hole in my honeycomb soldering board then I can position the end of the hoop using a third hand on top of the pad part for soldering. I then trim, file and sand the ends to remove any of the pad part that overhangs the end of the hoop. I do have some of the sterling posts without the pad which I have used before but being a bit shaky of hand at times I'm going to need to practice a bit more before using them on the hoops.

Bronze wire hoops with swirly texture pattern.

Apart from the thing I have about circles {I really like them in other words} the main reason I like making these hoops is the simplicity of them and their sturdiness plus how easy it is to make variations.

I've done various things to the wire such as flattening it and adding a pattern with the rolling mill, using leaf vein textures, adding silver balls and wrapping with sterling wire...

Copper hoops with leaf vein texture and fine silver balls. The round wire was flattened, the texture added then they were formed and the silver balls and posts added.

I used a stripe texture hammer on these copper and silver wire hoops. I think it's the first time I've ever used the texture hammer since I bought it several years ago! I hammered at a 90° angle to the wire which gave it a rectangle-ish almost faceted pattern that I really liked. I always thought the texture hammer was a bit of a waste of space but now I'll no doubt be using it again very soon :D

I also got a bit OCD with some masking tape to make these copper and silver disc hoops.

I flattened the wire then spent a fair amount of time cutting very thin strips of masking tape with a scalpel and ruler which I then very carefully stuck to the flattened wire. I then put it through the rolling mill again and ended up with this block pattern. The very thin strips of masking tape end up wider as they are compressed in the rolling mill and gave the copper a contrasting textured and smooth design.

I like the end result but next time to speed up the process I think I'll try flattening some 20g or 18g copper wire and wrapping that round the hoop wire before putting it through the rolling mill to create a similar pattern.

And I mustn't forget good old sterling silver..... leaf vein texture and ball pein hammer texture versions.

You've probably noticed I like making these hoops...
One problem I encountered as I made them was what to use to shape them if they are too small for my bracelet mandrel and too big for my ring mandrel. I managed with a wooden block and cylinder with a curve the right size for the pair that didn't fit but there is an answer in the form of a hoop mandrel.
Which of course I've just bought....

Friday, 30 January 2015

New Earrings And Having Fun With Bronze Sheet

Continuing my experiments with and learning more about working with bronze, I had a go at etching some bronze sheet last week. It came out really well and behaved very similarly to copper. The only difference was it took slightly longer to etch than copper - about an hour and 45 minutes compared to 30 to 40 minutes with copper.

The design stamped on the bronze sheet.

The results of the etching after the first rinse. 

The etched sheet after removing the ink with nail varnish remover and giving it a scrub with steel wool.

So the next step was to make something with the etched bronze sheet! 
Heating and pickling bronze results in it being covered with layer of copper. I'm not sure if this occurs due to heat from the torch during annealing/soldering or if it's the result of the bronze going into the pickle {maybe someone will tell me} but the bronze has a definite copper hue after it's taken out of the pickle as you can see in this photo.

Luckily someone commented on one of my previous posts about bronze findings with the answer to this problem. Thank you Nana Louise!
Soaking the bronze in a mix of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar - I used a 3:1 mix - for about 20 to 30 minutes then rinsing in white vinegar gets rid of the copper plating and restores the natural bronze colour.

Bubbles form on the bronze while it soaks in the hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar mix. Small brown patches appear on the metal as it cleans which can be removed by then soaking the bronze in white vinegar.

Restored to a nice bronze colour although the heart studs and curved earrings probably could have done with a bit longer in the "super" pickle.

After rinsing in water I cleaned the bronze earrings with steel wool which is my medium of choice when it comes to cleaning metal that's just been pickled. I find I can see the state of the metal better that way. I washed the earrings with washing up liquid and water to make sure they were grease free then I oxidized them in LOS. 

The finished earrings.

Etched bronze heart studs

Curved scalloped edge bronze earrings

 Malachite and etched bronze earrings

I'm in a quandry about this pair as you can see they don't hang totally vertically. They must be bottom-heavy {I know that feeling!} which I didn't consider when I came up with the design. I think they look ok and when worn aren't going to look too strange but part of me wants to cut them down to a wedge shape and add an earwire to the middle pierced hole so they hang with the malachite cab at the bottom....which would be a shame in a way but would satisfy the neat-freak perfectionist part of my brain.

So will I chop them down or won't I?
To be decided......