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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 


Clean!

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 boards.....now 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...... 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Experimenting With Liquid Enamel


 Something that's been on my to-do list for a while now is trying liquid enamel. I had a few weeks "break" over Christmas {not really a break as I was making new stuff!} so at long last I got round to ordering some of the liquid enamel powders. I got a few basic colours and a white so I could mix different shades. I also bought a white crackle base powder to experiment with.


I mixed up the colours with distilled water in totally unsuitable containers - too tall and thin and I've since bought some wider pots - and started painting. I applied the liquid enamels to a base of cream opaque and on two of the pieces I fired a layer of white crackle base before applying the liquid enamel.


Lumps in the enamel means I didn't mix properly!


Once I'd finished painting I set the copper pieces onto a warmed soldering block to speed up drying. When they were dry I started scratching designs {I use that word in the loosest possible context} into the dried enamel using a wooden skewer.


I then fired them using a torch. In my excitement I forgot which two had the crackle base. The effect you should get when you apply a liquid enamel on top of a crackle base and then fire it is the crackle base pushing through the top layer and creating a cracked effect but as you can see it didn't work very well on the two pieces I tried it with.


I did get the start of a crackled effect on the bottom corners of this piece but I did read it needs a larger area, in other words a bigger piece of copper, to work properly.


I liked the effect mixing the white liquid enamel powder with the other colours gave - a kind of speckled effect which reminds me of ceramic glazes. The "straight" colours with no white added came out a bit patchy in comparison but that may be because I got the mix too runny.

I then etched them all for a matt finish.


I still have work to do but it's a fun thing to try. I think it works better when you go with the flow rather than try to be too exact and it seems you can get different results with the colours depending on how long you fire them for - the oranges I mixed came out a bit on the pink side the first time I tried them then more orange the second time....

I did make a few pairs for sale but I feel the need for more practicing {and some more colours!} 

liquid enamel earrings