Sunday, May 22, 2016

Metalsmithing Challenges

Today I'd like to share a little project with you. It's not very good to be honest and there's lots of mistakes I made, but it's a bit of a milestone for me since it's my first time fabricating a bezel set ring from scratch at home with nobody holding my hand and showing me every step.

While it's not the prettiest, that entire piece is made by me. The cabochon, the bezel setting, the ring shank, everything. I took a metalsmithing class in the summer of 2014 and then another one in 2015 and I could never recreate my results at home. Not to fault my teachers at all, it was mostly me trying to get the tools and supplies together and just not putting in the time. All the time between classes and trying it myself didn't help me either.

I had quite a few challenges when I was first trying to just get my little smith torch running. I had propane and a spare oxygen concentrator, but getting everything set up with proper fittings took a little trial and error. When I finally had it working out, I couldn't get the torch to stay lit. It kept blowing out. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out that it was the oxygen concentrator.

When you start up an oxygen concentrator, you let it run for a few minutes to get the air flowing. I had the valves of the torch shut during this startup period and when I would light the flame, all that air that was building in the lines would come out at a higher pressure when I opened the valve, blowing out the flame. I had experience with this in my lampworking torch, I have no idea why it took me so long to figure out that a jeweler's torch would do the same thing.

Next I ran into the challenge of working with copper compared to silver. I love the look of both copper and silver, but silver is expensive! I get very anxious about the price of supplies and I have a hard time making those learning mistakes when they are expensive. For a comparison, a 6" x 12" sheet of copper is about $13 and the same size piece of silver is $250. Needless to say, I started with copper.

Copper is not as easy to work with though. Every time the copper is introduced to heat it gets a nice coating of soot and firescale that is a pain in the ass to clean up every time I needed to retry getting solder to flow.

So these are some of the things I've struggled with since my first metalsmithing class. Maybe you can see why this ring is such a huge accomplishment for me.

Going forward, I'm going to try to get through all of the copper that I have before attempting with silver. Hopefully that should give me a good foundation for the basics and get me a larger jewelry collection.

Wish me luck :)

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