afmetalsmith: (Default)
Please look at this link:

Now, what I do is somewhat different from this.

However, I still get people expecting that they can get a ring with 3-5 times the amount of precious metal in it as a slim band from Wal-mart, hand-made to their preferences, for less than the metal would cost me to buy it.

I can't do that.

If you are happy with a commercially fabricated ring, PLEASE do go to Wal-mart etc.- they buy their rings wholesale, made by people who make a few dollars a week, and there is no possible way I can compete with them on price.

Because- I, too, have expenses- the materials for your jewelry, yes, but also a mortgage, food, clothing, gas, and all the expenses you have yourself.

What I have to trade for that is my time and skill. So, yes, if you want that time and skill- I will need to get paid for it... and not at the third-world rate of a few dollars a week; I don't live there, and I have to pay USA prices myself.

I sympathize with people on a tight budge- I'm on one, too. However, I cannot work for free or at a loss to make someone's dream. That's business.

Just as I expect you expect to be paid for your work- so do I.
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Last night i awoke in the middle of the night with a solution to one of my current soldering problems: the inlay. It is pretty much impossible to place solder chips along the length of metal, since the flux bubbles them off when heated; it is a PITA to bend them and insert them in the seam so they're positioned and kinda stuck when the heat hits.

So: this is a job for stick-soldering! meaning, heat the thing up to soldering temp then apply solder to the seam- it'll melt and flow into the spaces, just like one wants it to. It might be less likely to solder the damn binding wire into the mix, too.

For my second experimental piece, I'm going to bind everything together and then stick-solder it; the stick-soldering worked great for the gaps that were left on my previous attempt.
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This is a draft of text I'm planning to add to my "About Metals" info on my website. I think it's valuable information, and while I've included some self-promotional stuff, I've tried to low-key that.


Differences between Casting and Fabrication of Metals

Both fabrication (making jewelry out of mill goods like wire and sheet) and casting are wonderful techniques for jewelry... but there are differences in the end result.

Almost all jewelry you buy at a shop, especially mass-produced, is cast. The advantages are many: once one has created a good master, and a good mold from that master, one can cast an almost infinite number of that design!

Plus, there are things one can do in wax (or sometimes other materials) that would be difficult or impossible to do in metal itself; that's another great reason for casting.

However, casting has its drawbacks, too. Cast pieces are invariably more brittle than fabricated ones. Metal, like most things, expands as it heats up and contracts as it cools off. That means that the hot metal that fills the mold (which is usually a type of plaster in lost-wax casting, the most common way to cast) develops tiny holes in it as it cools into a solid from its molten state, rather like a sponge. This is unavoidable, although good casting techniques do minimize it. These tiny bubbles, though, do mean that the end result is a stiff foam rather than solid all the way through- and that makes it somewhat more likely to crack instead of bend when put under stress.

Again, good casting techniques minimize this and allow a fair amount of manipulation even of a cast piece, but it's a vulnerability of the process.

(For PMC/Art Clay fans- these are like casting but more so. The organic binder that allows them to act like clay burns off, leaving holes in the fired metals, making it more brittle than castings. This is why PMC rings, for example, are usually overbuilt when compared to cast or fabricated ones; that's necessary to correct for the increased brittleness.)

We metalsmiths usually use "fabrication" to cover making items individually from mill goods (purchased sheet, wire, tubing, and the like). Mill goods are denser than castings, because they have achieved their basic shape by mechanical means such as rolling in rolling mills, and the drawing out of wire. While mill goods start with ingots- which are essentially cast- the manipulation of them into the shapes needed compresses the metal and reduces the sponginess of castings.

Therefore, a piece of metal exactly the same size from a casting and a mill good will be heavier and denser in the mill good.

This can be an advantage in jewelry, because in general, the denser it is, the better it wears (given similar hardness), and the less likely it is to crack under stress.

Also, there are few shortcuts in fabrication; each piece must be made individually, and cannot be mass-produced like castings can be.

My Jewelry
Almost all my jewelry is individually fabricated from mill goods. For rings and bracelets in particular, I am just not convinced that cast work holds up as well. For these and other things... well, I'm a metals artisan because I like working with metals! It's important to me to be hands-on with every piece that I make, and my commission work is always made individually for the person who requests it.

I do have some cast pieces for sale, but when it's cast, I make that clear. And I am careful to only cast items for which the increased brittleness will not be a problem. I have myself made all the masters for my cast pieces, and do the finishing myself. (Since I am not an expert caster, I generally get an expert caster to do the casting itself, to insure the highest quality.)

For wedding and commitment rings in particular, I value being able to make each one individually, for that particular person, and keeping them informed of the process (including sending photos of their work in progress). So many things in modern life are mass-produced; I like being able to make people the exact wedding rings they want- by hand- and am always honored when I am asked to do so. I also really love that I can make these rings sturdy, suitable for hard wear for many years of committed life! I've made replacement bands for people whose wedding rings have worn out, and while I'm honored that they asked me to do that- it should not ever be necessary with my rings!
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The weather has cooled off, making life in the studio MUCH more pleasant.

I sent off another commission this morning, and so was able to spend the afternoon in R&D. I'vew been meaning to try making smaller individually-made St. Brigid's Crosses, and a query from a potential customer had me working on that. The next step down from the wire I've been using didn't make much difference, which surprised me- but the step after that made a HUGE difference, even though it's tiny enough that it was rather hard to work with for this. Still, at this point I think the results will be attractive, though I do not think I could go down another size (at least not if I wish to retain what sanity I have left!).

Also made progress on my new scent locket design. Looks good so far. :)
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Summer is a hard time for us metalsmiths. The combination of heat from the weather, and heat from the work, gets really, really HOT.

At this point I am doing very well in dealing with my commission queue, and I'm looking forward to having some time to play with my own projects and/or R&D.

No nifty pictures just yet, but I hope I'll have some in the next week or so.

New stuff!

Jul. 20th, 2010 08:39 pm
afmetalsmith: (Default)
I just posted a 3-armed but traditionally-made silver Brigid Cross on Etsy, here:

I'm pretty pleased with this. Everything in it is in multiples of 3 (OK, except for the bail, which is singular). It ended up bigger than the 4-armed version, but also lighter, and I think it's really pretty... not to mention conceptually nifty!
afmetalsmith: (Default)

I hate summer.

Today I was doing lots of solderingf, and my Sat. student was doing lots of enameling... and it got HOT in the studio. Yeah, I could have turned on a/c, but that tends to blow her enamels around so I'd rather not.

Still: hot.

I did get a bunch of stuff done, including something that will turn up in pictures in the next day or so.
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I hope to be having some things to show off here soon!

In addition to commission stuff, I've been busy:

* I'm doing a variation on my St. Brigid's Crosses that is looking nifty so far and which I think people will like; I've got a couple more wrinkles to iron out, but it's looking promising;

* I've had a new idea on how to do Scent Lockets that will substantially reduce the tricky soldering operations ( to zero! and from maybe 6 tricky solderings to 2 straightforward ones is definitely a win!);

* I'm getting the structure done for my own Fibonacci ring;

* And I put a coat of flux (clear enamel) over my first prototype simulated rose engine copper pieces. It shows promise. I do need to tweak the art, and once I get the art to my liking it'll look best on silver, but I plan to practice on copper. I'll probably finish these Cu ones and set them like cabs so someone can wear the things.
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Ah, wedding season- the time when I'm in a real crunch since I make a lot of wedding rings! All the summer ones are done and sent now, though, so I've got a bit of a breather.

I've just finished a commissioned version of my "Healing Heart" scent locket. This is a pendant, not a locket, and while that means I don'thave to worry about catches and hinges, it also means that once the backing is on the thing, I have no easy way to add delicate wire with which to make the sutures. So, I added the wire before soldering tha back on... and then keeping the delicate wire from melting down while I solder5ed a couple of pretty hefty pieces of metal to each other was the trick... especially since it took at least 3 soldering operations to do!

And then, of course, there's tying the sutures in that delicate wire, without hardening it so that it cracked in the process. Sigh. Not lots of fun.

Still it's all done now, except for the final finishing. I may make another 1 or 2 of them on spec; despite the difficulties, it's a nifty piece and the only thing I've ever made where firescale is NOT a problem! :D

Next up: a couple of swcent lockets with a specific suggested design- more about that later, probably. And maybe a pair of absinthe spoons; I've got a nice design done that uses wormwood leaves as the motif, and I'll accent them with a peridot (absinthe colored!). One's for us, and the other I'll put on Etsy and my site. Plus wedding rings, naturally. :)
afmetalsmith: (Default)
Fire Mountain ( is now selling mixed packages of watch-type gears. We can tell by this that steampunk has hit the mainstream. :) Still, it looks like a pretty decent source of such elements.
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I haven't posted lately because I've been mostlyworking on commissions. I've got a couple finished up, and the rest with serious progress.

Although in the next wqeek or so there will be a new Borromean Ring, this one (set?) of half-round yellow gold.
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I ordered some metal on Monday from Hoover and Strong, and I was really hoping/expecting that it'd be sent out today. It's standard mill goods; nothing fancy (except that I wanted it dead soft, which adds a day).

Thus far I don't have notification that it's been sent... and i was really hoping/planning to use it this weekend. Annoying! if in fact it does not show up Friday.

Perhaps the notification stuff wasn't working, though, and i'll get it tomorrow or Friday. I hope..!
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At last! A really good day in the studio again!

Progress on several commissions, obviously; there will be some photos going out soon.

Also some progress on some of my own stuff: my first yellow gold sample ring is close to finished (it's 10k); I've got the prep work done on my first Trinket Ring set, all but the final polishing and setting the 2 stones; and I did a fourth prototype for Borromean Rings that looks promising, and will give a different look than the ones I currently have done.

Hopefully tomorrow will be just as satisfying!
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There was an interesting article in the Boston Globe today about those places to which you can easily sell your gold jewelry for cash.

I wasn't surprised that the most heavily advertised one, Cash4Gold, also pays the least. The reporter bought several pairs of 14k earrings ($160 list, something like $64 on sale), and tried various places.

A coin dealer- used to appraising metal- said the gold in the things was worth just under $15. This is not surprising; fabrication adds cost to what the metal itself is worth as scrap- one of the reasons why selling jewelry as scrap is, even in the best circumstances, not going to be the best way to get money for it; far better to sell it AS jewelry.

Cash4Gold paid a bit under $3. To be fair, they did say they deducted the cost of the "free" mailing from the total.

Something like $6-7 was more typical. And honestly, that's somewhat fair, albeit a bit low compared to what I'd expect for scrap... but finished jewelry is quite possibly not CLEAN scrap, and that doesn't get nearly as good rates from refiners. Plus these outfits are not refiners themselves; they are middlemen, and thus need to pay less than they'll get; that's how capitalism works.

I was sort of shocked, though, at the way the reported was outraged about people citing prices in pennyweights- which she said was "an obscure unit of measurement used only by jewelers." OK, that part is fair enough... but even a quick Google search shows that you can get the price-per-ounce from the price-per-pennyweight by merely multiplying the dwt price by 20.

Frankly, I'd think even a reporter would be capable of that!

She also seemed fuzzy about the difference between the spot price for 14k and what that means in terms of 14k, which is only 58.3% gold, and thus obviously is a lot cheaper.
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No recent updates here because I haven't been in the studio much- I've been ill. Fortunately I'm pretty much over it, and looking forward to a solid weekend of catching up. Lots to do!

I also came up with a slightly different approach to the Borromean Rings, and I hope I have time to do a prototype in between the catching-up stuff.
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Also: I've been working on a design for Borromean Rings, and have updated my site to show the ones that work: .

These are a set of 3 rings that are interlocked- like the "puzzle" or "Russian" rings- but in which no ring actually passes through any other ring (unlike the "puzzle" rings). There's a link to the Wikipedia article on the concept on the page above.

The fun part of them is that they are GREAT to fidget with- they like being both in ring form, and in what i call "sphere" form, where they look like a wire-defined shpere, or maybe a graphic depiction of an atom. Fun stuff! and also really pretty.
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Yet more annealing today- that's been my main task for a couple of days this week. Now, though, everything is annealed, so I can work on the various pieces till they get to the point where they need more annealing!

I also replaced my pickle today. and man! was that pickle depleted! When I added baking soda to it to neutralize it, it hardly fizzed at all; no wonder stuff's been taking a while to pickle lately.

This time I made it a bit stronger (I tend to favor pretty mild pickle), and also put more liquid in the pot. That's good for dimensional pieces, but it does end up taking a lot longer to heat up, so it's a mixed bag.

I fear my crock-pot pickle pot is nearing the end of its useful life. The removeable crock does not remove at this point. Oh, well- it's lasted something like 7 years, and I can afford to replace it with a different crock-pot.

Apart from the above- the annealing is mostly commissions- I did a bit more on a couple of Trinket Ring "sets" yesterday and today. They are fun!

ETA: I was amazed at the short time it took to pickle things when the pickle was not *ahem* seriously depleted. I should probably set up a yearly nag to change it.


Feb. 16th, 2010 11:47 pm
afmetalsmith: (Default)
Here's an interesting article on the history of diamonds as THE precious stone:

Personally, I agree they can be pretty- VERY sparkly when cut well!- but I'm partial to sapphires. :)
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I've got a really well-mixed commission list again. :)

It'll keep me busy, and it's got a good mix of different sorts of pieces- from wedding rings to pendants... and I think there will be time in the gaps to work on some new stuff, too.

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It was great to have a few productive hours in the studio today! This week I've been splitting my time between actual metalwork and de4aling with inquiries about different pieces.

Besides commission stuff, I got going on a set of 3 of my Trinket Rings with a Sun, Moon, Star theme. See, J had the idea that people might like themed sets of TRs, rather than just having them be a la carte. I'm rather tickled with the idea of doing several sets, each with a holiday theme. :) Naturally, the individual pieces would also be available individually as well- but if people are having a hard time envisioning what a few would look like together, this might help. Plus, I can discount them a bit when they're bought in sets of 3-5. :)

Any ideas on more-obscure holidays that could use a (conceptual) ring set? Like, Arbor Day (2 rings with stones, and one with a leaf motif).

I am really thrilled and delighted with Fabio (my splendid new rolling mill). I was forging down som pretty heavy rod today, and ran it through Fabio to smooth it up- and it's just PERFECT- and so easy to do!

I've also had a couple of ideas about how to make inserting the tapered bezel of a ring into the ring easier. See, with a cylendrical setting, I can tension-fit it so it stays put until soldered; with a tapered one, though- it goes "Ptui!" if I try that. So I need to put in some kind of brake where the setting hits the inside of the ring. I've thought of a few approaches...
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