Fabrication class: creating hollow shapes with die forms

I’m taking an Intermediate Fabrication class at Jewel Envy. In the last class we learned how to make a die form to create hollow-form shapes. After 3 hours of intense, focused work, I brought my work home to show my husband.

“Want to see what it took me all goddam class to make?” I asked as I walked through the door. THIS:

coppertrianglepuff

coppertrianglepuff2

“That’s…it?” said Dave. (Now don’t get me wrong, Dave is amazingly supportive and encouraging husband, but both of us are pretty pragmatic and cynical, so we were both on the same page on this.)

Yep, that’s it. It’s a lame little triangle of copper, with one side slightly puffed out or domed and the other flat, and it’s hollow inside. Dave said, “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t pay 10 cents for this.” Which is Dave’s slightly nicer way of paraphrasing Justin Halpern’s father (of Shit My Dad Says fame) when he said “Listen, I don’t want to stifle your creativity, but that thing you built there, it looks a pile of shit.”

Fair enough! Agreed. I don’t think I can even tart this thing up into a reasonable pendant for a necklace or something — which was the original intent…here’s my sketch; the drawing at the bottom right is what I had in mind:

sketch

Nonetheless, here’s what this ‘pile of shit’ copper puffy triangle actually represents…

I learned how to make a die form. This involved sawing a rounded triangular shape out of a sheet of brass then gluing the brass to a wooden block and, using a drill press, then a saw and files, creating a hole in the block the same shape as the triangle.

dieform

dieform2

Having made the die form, I can now make as many puffy little triangles as I want! So if I wanted a whole necklace, say, with a matching pair of earrings, of little puffy triangles, I could do that. I could also create the triangles in other materials such as silver.

To use the die form, I placed a sheet of copper on top and put it into a hydraulic press. The extreme pressure in the press causes the copper to get pressed down into the hollow triangle of the dye form. The higher the pressure, the puffier the triangle, but you have to be careful not to put too much pressure or it can blow a hole through the copper. Then I cut the puffy triangle out of the copper sheet with a saw and filed the edges smooth. Next I soldered the triangle to another flat piece of copper, sealing all the edges, then cut the piece out and filed the edges smooth again.

Even though this first attempt is what Sam Halpern might call a pile of shit, it does mean I’ve learned a new technique for metalsmithing and jewelry making. And in the hands of an experienced artist like Barbara Bayne, this technique results in some gorgeous jewelry. Look at Bayne’s amazing pieces created using die forms:

Die form necklaces by Barbara Bayne

Or this piece by Judith Neugebauer:

jewelry by Judith Neugebauer

Or this cute Copper Puffed Heart Necklace from Michele Grady Designs on Etsy:

Copper Puffed Heart Necklace by Michele Grady Designs

As for me, die forming definitely isn’t my favourite technique I’ve learned so far in my jewelry-making classes, but, as always when I learn a new handcrafting technique, it certainly makes me appreciate how much work goes into creating the tiniest pieces that most take for granted.

 

 

Jewelry Fabrication Class: the hammered band ring

No, that doesn’t mean I was hammered while making it. Drunk knitting? No problem. Drunk metalsmithing with blowtorches and sharp tools? Definitely not. 🙂

You may have seen my posts about the wax casting classes I took at Jewel Envy. I enjoyed them so much I signed up for a jewelry fabrication workshop. Here’s the difference: in casting, we learned how to carve things like rings or charms from wax or cuttlefish bone, which were then cast in metal. In fabrication, we’re learning how to cut/shape/connect jewelry from sheets of metal or metal wire.  So we started off practicing drilling, piercing, and sawing metal, along with the processes used to shape and polish. We also learned how to solder two pieces of metal together, or to connect a ring cut from a flat sheet of silver.

Practicing piercing, sawing and soldering on copper sheet metal

Practicing piercing, sawing and soldering on copper sheet metal

Our first project in this class was a band ring which we worked on over the course of a couple of classes. You start by determining what ring size you need to end up with and how wide you want the band to be and based on that and some math you figure out what size rectangle of silver sheet to cut. Then it’s a million years of filing to get each end of the rectangle to be an exact right angle to the long edge, so that when you bend the rectangle into a ring shape the two ends will align perfectly, which will allow you to make a seamless solder connection. Before you can bend the metal into a ring shape, you have to anneal (soften) the metal by heating it in a blowtorch flame. After it cools you can use pliers to bend it into a D-shape to make soldering the seam easier.

Sawing the silver sheet metal to size

Sawing the silver sheet metal to size

pixiedust

It feels kind of glamourous to be covered in silver dust!

The D-shaped ring, ready to be soldered.

The D-shaped ring, ready to be soldered.

After soldering the seam, reshaping it into a perfect circle by hammering it into shape on a mandrel (a solid metal cylinder used for sizing rings), and cleaning & polishing, I needed to stretch the band a bit bigger to fit. They say it’s better to make a ring a little too small rather than too big, as it’s much easier to stretch it after the fact than to reduce it in size. Funny, my previously-uninformed instinct would have told me that it’d be the other way around. Anyway, there’s a neat little machine that you can put the ring on to stretch it, only after stretching mine a bit a crack appeared at the solder seam. So I resoldered it, and cleaned and polished again. Here’s what I wound up with:

The silver band ring

The silver band ring, before adding a textured finish.

I’m pleased that you can’t tell at all where the solder seam was.

On a side note, while we were all working away on our rings, the woman who runs the place told us she’d had a group of women in for a workshop as a kind of hen party or stagette or maybe as a thank you event for a bridal party. She said that a large number of the women were initially afraid to try sawing the metal. AFRAID. To touch a saw. And when I say saw, I don’t mean a 7,000 horsepower chain saw like a lumberjack in BC might use — we’re talking a little jeweler’s saw with a blade on it the width of a piece of string (see pics above). I have a bit of a hard time understanding how a person — forget about gender — can grow to adulthood without ever having used a tool. I’m trying not to be too judgmental but — aw, fuck it, I’ll be judgmental. That’s disgraceful. It’s evidence of how far off the charts modern society has brought us that adult humans not only don’t know how to use a simple tool but could even be afraid of using a simple saw. I mean, what will these people do when the Zombie Apocalypse comes? Granted, metal smithing is messy work and maybe these women had just had manicures and didn’t want to mess up their nails. (Which is actually further evidence of the decline of modern society.) These are the kind of people I want to smear dirt on. Um, in the nicest possible way, of course. A-hem.

Back to the ring. Next I put the ring on a mandrel and used a ball-peen hammer to gently create texture on the surface of the band. If you hammer too hard, it will stretch out the metal and mess up the sizing of the ring. Hammering was one option for creating texture but there was also sandblasting, crosshatching or even imprinting a texture onto the metal by rolling it through a metal press (although this last one would have to be done at the start of the process, not at the end. Unless you want to flatten your piece into roadkill.)

Adding a hammered texture to the ring.

Adding a hammered texture to the ring.

The last step was to use Grey Star and then Rouge on the buffing wheel for a shiny polished finish. Et voila! The finished ring.

The finished band ring

The finished band ring

The finished band ring.

The finished band ring. There’s a tiny elf in the foliage just outside the frame admiring it!

The finished band ring

I’ll be making two more projects in this class. One will be a silver pendant and the other maybe a silver cuff bracelet…not sure yet. Will keep you posted with pics as I finish the projects.