Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Adventures in Metalsmithing!

I've been flirting with the idea of learning more metalsmithing skills for quite some time... even taking a class or two to dip my toe in a tiny bit.  What I have really been wanting to do was to take a more in depth class to really add some new techniques to my jewelry making toolbox.  In particular, I was hoping to take the Metalsmithing 1 class at Quench Jewelry Arts in Northeast Minneapolis but timing (and class availability) just never worked out... that is until now!  I managed to snag a seat in this four week class that ran Monday nights in April.  Perfect timing for me to take advantage!

While the class certainly teaches a number of techniques and helpful tips, the primary focus is on teaching studio safety, using the jewelers saw, and sweat soldering.  The goal of the class is that each student leave with at least one finished project using these techniques.  I ended up with two pendants and a simple pair of post earrings... but I'm jumping ahead of myself!

On the first night of class we all assembled at Quench and met our instructor Aisha Formanski.  (Her company is Everthine Jewelry and she has also written a book, New Directions in Stamped Metal Jewelry.)  After introducing ourselves to each other and Aisha, we got down to the business of learning the basics of the jewelers saw.  Most of the evening was spent going through a series of practice exercises with the saw on a piece of copper.  Going into this class I was pretty nervous about trying the saw (several people with far more training than I have told me how frustrating they find it).  I actually enjoyed sawing for the most part... that was a pleasant surprise!  For whatever reason, piercing the metal (where you saw out a shape from the inside) was especially fun for me.  We also got some lessons in filing and using the flex shaft to sand rough edges with a sanding disc and smooth edges further with a silicone barrel.This was the only week we finished a little bit early!  Aisha gave us homework though... we were to decide on a design for our final project and bring it with us to the next class.

My partially completed sawing exercise.

Week two we all came to class and immediately got to work starting our projects.  I decided to use a combination of sterling silver and copper (go big or go home!).  After playing with several different templates, I picked an oval shape to go around my ginkgo leaf and set about sawing it all out.  I was determined to salvage the positive image of the leaf for a second pendant.  Aisha gave us some instruction on using the disc cutter, dapping, and stamping designs into metal.  She also did a demonstration on sweat soldering and basic acetylene torch use and safety.  I didn't get around to doing our soldering exercise this week... I just kept going on filing all my edges!  

Progress being made on week two.  There was still a lot of filing to do at this point!

Weeks three and four we were allowed to come an hour early for extra open studio time to work on our projects.  Thank goodness for that extra time... there's no way I would have finished everything without it!  After doing a little more filing (seriously, I felt like I was filing FOREVER!), I finally tried my hand at doing the soldering exercise and then finally my primary piece!  Week three, Aisha also spent some time showing us various ways of finishing our pieces... soldering different types of bails onto pendants, making holes with hole punch pliers and more, and how to solder earring posts on.  She also showed us some cold connection options.    

My piece after soldering and before it went into the pickle pot!

The final week felt like a race to the finish line!  I came in right at 5 pm with a clear plan of what I needed to do and ready to go!  My first piece wasn't totally clean from the previous week's dunk in the pickle pot, so I started by throwing it back in.  Meanwhile, I got to work soldering my secondary, positive image piece to the copper backing.  I switched off between the two pieces throughout the night... sawing the final shapes, filing lots more, soldering a tube bail onto my first piece, and punching holes in my second.  Our lessons from Aisha on this final night were about finishing our pieces.  We talked about various ways to add patina (we were using liver of sulphur) and using the tumbler.  She also showed me how to use the bench grinder to do some extra polishing.  Our big race against the clock was needing to have our pieces in the tumbler no later than ten after 8, and preferably before!  Gulp.  There's nothing like a firm deadline to light a fire under me!

My two finished pendants!  The one on the right has a tube bail on the back.

While my pendants were spending time getting all pretty in the tumbler, I decided to whip up a simple pair of stud earrings.  Originally, I'd planned to do them with some sterling scrap from cutting the oval.  I gave the metal a nice hammered texture, used the disc cutter to get perfect circles, sanded the edges smooth... and then dapped them with a metal dapping punch totally ruining the texture.  Oops!  I tried to salvage them by adding a metal stamp to the middle, but that didn't work either.  Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained.  Into the scrap pile they went!  Not to be deterred, I tried again using some of the copper scrap that already had a hammered texture.  This time I remembered to use the WOOD dapping punch and got a much better result!  I was literally soldering the ear posts on with less than 10 minutes left in our final class.  Whew!

My earrings... larger than real life.

I would totally recommend the Metalsmithing 1 class at Quench Jewelry Arts to anyone in the Twin Cities area looking to expand their knowledge and skills in making metal jewelry!  Aisha was a fabulous (and patient) instructor and the class group was really fun.  It was very cool seeing the different directions everyone went in for their projects... they were all really different.  After taking this class, I'm ready to up my game quite a bit.  I have the feeling that there will be some Open Studio sessions at Quench in my future... as well as some new toy tool purchases!

Our class photo.

As a little P.S. to this post, I had to laugh remembering that Eric had actually bought me a jewelers saw for Christmas back in 2011.  I was just starting to get interested in doing more with metal at that point... but in now way ready for that saw!  He bought me my BigKick machine, a bench block, my first set of letter stamps, a wooden dapping block, and more.  I've made good use of everything he bought me that year... except the saw.  The saw is still sitting in its box but now I have the skills to break it out and give it a try!

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