Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A matter of Fineness, Part 2. The practical application.

Though I have/had quite a few mentors and skilled folks to borrow from idea wise, I am largely self taught. I think this is more an admission of a stubborn streak and fear of public failure than any bravado success story. But its easier for me to struggle and hack it out alone, than face a class where my weaknesses can shine like a neon sign blinking SHY, INTROVERT, overhead.
I created a lot of scrap over the years. And  maybe it wasn't all so bad as the lessons learned sank in deeply once the experience was gained.
So what did I really garner from my exposure to the masters I admired, and even got to speak with, learn some tricks from and watch?
Well, beyond the philosophical I wrote about yesterday a lot of good hard method.
Such as:
For Jewelry.
Take care of burs and bits of flashing BEFORE you solder. or if it benefits, after, but take care of them. Such as sometimes a jumpring used as a flat circle embellishment will show the seam.
If you solder it closed first with hard solder and clean up the seam THEN apply it, it will show as a smooth circle. And this goes for the little bits at the ends of wires as well. Take the time to finish those ends FIRST. use a cup bur, or twirl it against a abrasive disc  to round or taper as desired, but dont just leave it cut off. The difference in the results are quite astonishing. For spirals, its a very slick trick to taper the wire down to a near point for a flat spiral prior to bending it makes the eye follow it and and linger there thoughtfully, rather than abruptly ending at the center.
When bending wire, note the corners and their treatment. Its a nice idea to have an extra pair of pliers where the side edges have a radius ground into them. Just slightly. It enables a sharp edged corner to be bent without the telltale little divot from the pliers edge to be worked out and the resultant wavy dip at the corner. And jet set can be used for this fashioning as well to save the 80 buck Swanstroms from over zealous grinding errors that may occur.
As a matter of fact, jet set can be made to perform a lot of smooth edged tasks in the shop. Probably enough to dedicate a whole blog entry sometime. (note to self)
All pliers work should show a deft hand, a lighter touch is sufficient most always and renders less cleanup. A good use for older worn silicone abrasive wheels is to take a small piece of steel wire or an old small round file and groove the wheel to the appropriate gauge wire you are cleaning up. Having that inside radius makes wire cleanup smooth and easy.
All in all we use a lot of wire in our work, pay attention to its structure and integrity. Take a little extra time and thought to preserve its structure and form. It WILL show.
And that goes for flat wire, square wire or any embellishment, including bezels. Clean them up BEFORE assembly. Make sure the bezel is EVEN, and FLAT across its join before you attach it to a backplate or install a seat. And figure its height and make it the top edge tapered nice and even all around. Yes you will probably have to rework it once hammered down, but it will be a lot less work to start from a flat surface correctly tapered.
For sheet, same things apply to a degree. Keep the sheet and flat and free of scratches, and finish them to tripoli prior to assembly. Round the edges evenly on the circumference, it keeps a nice consistency.
For pierced work clean those saw marks. Its difficult but it really can make your pierced work pop.
A very nice technique is to take some of the new plastic backed sanding sheets by 3-M and cut them into thin strips of only a couple/three mm wide, or whats needed. Clamp the workpiece in a vise, thread the strip in there and do the shoeshine rag shuffle. Careful to not stay in anyone spot long. Instead blend and feather those edges and marks away.
One idea that was passed on by one of my favorite Metalsmiths was try and dome just about everything. Using a flat back plate is boring and it just doesnt fit many of the designs its forced into.  For example, regardless of use, which is more pleasant to look at, a soup spoon, or a flat version of one?
The eye likes curves, and depth. And its not too hard to plan for. Get some pieces of hardwood and sculpt some low dishlike dapping depressions. Dig the old dremel up and slap a wood bur in there and go to town. And yes jet set can come to this rescue as well. (Sheesh, who invented that stuff??!!)
Its really not hard to put a stone on a curved surface either, just make sure you use a wire seat a larger gauge than the radius of the dome inside the bezel.
On soldering use less than you think you need, and you will find its just enough. Its a sign of an advanced student of metal to get this one down. And we all slip back to kindergarten once in awhile. But its really a truth. If you fit well and take your time a small amount of solder will suffice. And the tighter corners will really make it shine. Granted there are some places where you will want a fillet, but these are the exception rather than the norm.
 While this list of ideas and tricks is by no means comprehensive, its just to get you to think in terms of finish.  Going that extra distance.
Regardless of whether you like the matt finish or the high gloss polish, the underlying structure you start creating with before the final finish, is going to determine how it really looks.
And it is up to you, of course. You may be kicking out pieces that sell so quick it doesnt seem to matter.
 And for that type of work, perhaps it doesnt.
But those pieces can still benefit from your attention and time. These really are rudiments of your craft.
I understand cost effectiveness, and many of these things seem to fly in the face of that.
But thats till you have them down as routine. And then they are a matter of course.

Next up:
Lapidary Degrees of Fineness.


  1. Thank you for posting this! I know I'll be back to read and reread!

  2. Wonderful post! Thanks for justifying all the things I do to prep and wonder if I "really" need to. Yes, I do!

  3. Wonderful advice! Need to remember to do these often so I can graduate kindergarten. I like the backplate idea as well.

  4. This is excellent! What wonderful tips...seems that the finishing aspect is what always takes the most time, and it definitely makes sense to go the extra mile during the construction phase.

    Can't wait to read the lapidary tips :)

  5. Always full of great tips and advice Barney :-) Oh and being able to self teach ? I think it is only possible if you have that strong stubborn streak. I know I sure do!

  6. Wow, Barney. As usual, you are a wonderful teacher (but I will try to avoid labels!) Thank you for the reminders and tips. I have much to learn from you.
    I hope you'll consider adding photos to your blog posts to help illustrate your ideas. I SO want to look over your shoulder while you work!

  7. great post barney! and your blog looks so nice!