Friday, 2 February 2018

Dairy of a Rookie Silversmith: Part 2

This really ought to be titled 'Part 2, almost' because I haven't got as far as I'd have liked to by week 4 of my course, thanks to an inability to solder. 

You might remember I'm on a silversmithing course, and in Part 1, I described my first project: a pinky ring. 

I'd collected images of things I'd like to try for my second project, so I talked a few over with Lex (the tutor) to see which she thought would be best to tackle as a rookie. Have to say, Lex is willing to give anything a go, so I settled on making a pendant, and went home at the end of week 2 to produce a life sized template of my design. 

I'd already begun to play with the original abstract design I'd found, turning it into a recognisable 'tree', I was able in the back end of week 2 to assemble and prep my materials. I chose a 'pebble' textured rolled silver sheet for the base disc, and cut lengths of different thickness wires to use for the 'branches' and 'trunk'. 

The raw materials of a tree pendant

I needed to cut the base disc, so I had a practise on a little bit of copper first, because a curve is rather hard to achieve smoothly. I was very pleased with the end result of my practise though, and got the knack of turning sharp corners - even though there shouldn't be any on my disc!

Practising on copper

Then it was onto the silver - and boy, was it hard work. You just have to keep on sawing, because it's hard to take the saw blade away from your work. I think it took me about 15 minutes to end up with this;

My base disc
And these!!

Fingers covered in silver dust after my epic sawing session!

At home, I played around with my designs for the 'tree' and settled on one. I added colour to indicate stones, but as that's one of the last things to attach, it didn't have to be (no pun intended) set in stone at this point. 

Week 3 saw me preparing everything I'd need to make my tree. The trunk was a 2mm wire, flattened along it's length to a variety of widths. I learnt that depending on how you place your wire, you'll either get an increase in width or in length. I got a bit of both! And it gets to a point where the metal starts to 'ting' when you hit it instead of making a 'thud' - which is an indicator that you need to anneal the metal to soften it up again. It's also easier to put any curve into wires before you flatten them, as it's too hard to do it afterwards. The branches, cut to length from 1.8mm wire were also slightly flattened at one end, which I filed flat so they'd sit snugly in line with the trunk...

Playing with designs and bits of 'branch'

The end result - looks a pretty good match

Even better when placed on the base disc

The base disc was annealed, flattened, and then it was on to soldering.

I am terrible at soldering! Three times, I tried to solder just the trunk to the disc, and three times it didn't work properly. Lex had to help me in the end, and there were still gaps. It might be because the base is quite thick, so heating up the silver to soldering point is difficult to get right, and it might also be because I've not really soldered anything other than one joint in my pinky ring, and I simply need to improve.

Whatever the reason, I began week 4 by revisiting the soldering of the trunk and adding the branches. After the first attempt, two branches fell off. 

All set up on the blocks, ready to heat from underneath

The frustrating thing is that whenever you solder, you have to pickle your piece again before resoldering, which takes time. Anyway...between me and Lex (mainly Lex!) and with extra pallions, we finally got the branches on securely and the whole thing pickled.

The finally-soldered, pickled piece
(which is why it looks white)
Now I could really crack on. Next step - doming. I had to use a small wooden peg (not metal, as it would've flattened my blood-sweat-and-tears soldered bits!) to bash my pendant until it took on the shape of the dome mould. You can see in the second pic that it has a lovely shallow curve to it.

Ready to hit...

The finished dome

There wasn't much time to do any more metalwork (you might have spotted that my trunk's a bit long, and needs to be sawn or filed down, for eg) but there was time to choose stones.

Now my original design had three, dotted around the branches. But in light of my poor soldering skill, I decided to cut it down to one. Lex allowed me to look through her stone box, and I made the mistake first of picking cabochons, not faceted stones. But eventually I found these two beauties; I just couldn't decide which to go for.


...or clear?

In the end, I went for the clear stone, because I wear a lot of colour and would not want to limit myself to what I can wear with my finished pendant! 

So that's where I am at the moment. Next week, I'll be making a setting for the stone, soldering it into the base (eeek!) and also soldering a bale on the back before polishing it up. I hope so, anyway...

And meanwhile, I'm beginning to think about my third project. I want to make myself a silver ring with a clear stone in it, to wear on my wedding finger permanently to mark my silver wedding anniversary. Not too much soldering in that one, thank goodness!

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