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Learning how to make mokume gane


#1

I friend of mine wants me to do their wedding bands in mokume gane.
Neither likes gold nor has the funds for platinum, so they were
asking for a silver, shokudo and copper with a silver liner in a
traditional random wood pattern. My first question is whether or not
the copper alloys will react significantly with their skin and wear
away or discolor? Is the liner and possibly some wax enough to make a
lasting band? I would like to learn how to make my own billets and I
don’t see a source of these three combinations anywhere therefore I
am going to attempt to make my own. I have everything I need except a
large anvil or a hydraulic press to do the forging. My second
question is how does one go about forging the laminates after they
come out of the kiln. Do you take them out of the pressure plates,
heat them back up and then pound away, or do you press them in a
hydraulic press while they are still in the torque plates? Or is the
pressure of the torque plates sufficient if they are tightened while
in a hydraulic press initially before placing in a kiln? What size
hydraulic press should I purchase? Lastly, barring poor cleaning and
atmospheric contamination, is this a reliable process or am I looking
at making a lot of scrap?


#2
My first question is whether or not the copper alloys will react
significantly with their skin and wear away or discolor? 

Yes the speed that this will happen is going to depend on the
wearers skin chemistry and daily environment but it will happen.

Is the liner and possibly some wax enough to make a lasting band? 

No

What size hydraulic press should I purchase? Lastly, barring poor
cleaning and atmospheric contamination, is this a reliable process
or am I looking at making a lot of scrap? 

Mokume is not a easy technique to learn, plan on making a lot of
scrap in the process of learning these things.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#3

Hi Scott,

Monsieur Binnon??? I’m sure James will give a better answer, and
correct me if I’m wrong.

The copper wont be touching the skin (the silver liner should reduce
direct contact), but the copper will react, it’s one of the reasons
for using it in Mokume, it patinates. A wax coating over the copper
will slow the effects, but it wont stop it totally.

Combining Copper, Shakudo, and Fine Silver.

Let me check this book I have at hand…

Using those alloys and elements should work fine, as shown below the
temperature ranges are close if not the same.

Shakudo + Fine Silver 600-700
Shakudo + Copper 600-700
Fine Silver + Copper 600-700

Sterling Silver would give you a different temperature range, so to
be safe you should stick with fine silver (or so the literature
eludes to).

Anvils.

Do you have a block of steel? A block of steel is a poor mans anvil,
and if you have a chunk of steel rod, embed that chunk into a bucket
of concrete, works well enough, for light forging jobs. My first
anvil one of these, and I recently gave it away to a beginner
blacksmith.

See if you can borrow “Mokume Gane” by Ian Ferguson, it’s affordable
and would be an excellent addition to your library. I’ve heard Steve
Midgets book is excellent, but I can’t afford that book yet.

Ferguson’s book will explain all you need to know.

Is this a reliable process (?), well it can be, but it requires
practice, it might be worth practicing on lesser value alloys first,
so you can get an idea of what’s involved. There is a learning curve
involved.

Which brings me to my question… do you have the time? You
mentioned that your friends want “wedding” rings, this implies a
date.

If you don’t have the time you could see if you could source some
pre-made mokume, and attempt to make billets later.

My first Mokume was fine silver and 90/10 bronze, it probably
shouldn’t have worked as I used a technique learned from pattern
welding steel. I have alloyed up a sheet of 5% Shakudo, and some 25%
Shibuichi, and am getting the guts to attempt the welding process.

As stated earlier I think James could offer some valuable insight.

Regards Charles A.


#4

Hello Scott,

with all respect and don’t feel offended by all means. Do some
prestudy BEFORE you start with this mokume gane project please. It
looks all that simple but it’s not. Anybody can do this but it takes
more then just an article in this forum to learn how to make this. A
few books are written and some video’s i.e. CD’s are made by well
respected people with a lot of craftmenship and knowledge.

Shakudo is an alloy made from copper and gold, pretty expensive to
monkey around with it for a beginner. It’s only 3 procent gold and 97
procent copper but you have to make it by yourself, roll it out, cut
it into a usable form etc. The cut-out pieces need to be cleaned into
perfection, stacked in several layers and then the process begins.
The cleaning is already a lot of work if you do it manual, one by
one, sanding (top and bottom), degreasing and drying. Making the
pattern is another level of work. Getting the colors out of the metal
is another aspect talking about recipe’s and acid’s. The most
important issue is having peoples interest willing to buy "ordinary"
metals for a high price which is the result of all the labor you used
making it.

I’m trying to tell you that you need good sources of information
before starting with this matter. People (craftmen) come to me to ask
about this "mokume stuff"and to show them how it’s done. The majority
of them stopped due to all the work involved making their alloy’s,
errors, mistakes and time consuming process. However (!!!) if
you’re able to control this process, it is truely very pleasing when
you finish a project.

Understand this post as good so you know what is coming
towards you. Do not understand this mail as a discouraging message! Do
understand that nobody can tell you in an article how woodgrained
metal is made. Checkout internet and go for it, learn first and then
get into action before you get dissapointed.

Some sources to go for it:

http://www.mokume.com/mokume_gane_book_video.html


http://www.silversmithing.com/1mokume.htm

Have fun and enjoy
Pedro


#5

Scott- My sweetie Tim has a pair of glasses that he made out of 18
kt gold and mokume gane. The mokume is on the temples and bridge. He
had to cover over his temples with plastic shrink wrap because his
temples have been etched away by his body acids. They got very rough
and sharp on the edges even though they are lined with silver.

As for making your own billets…James Binnion is the Mokume Dude
of Dudes.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer
www.timothywgreen.com


#6

Scott,

I have made a couple of rings using Mokume Gane from copper and
silver and find that the acid from my body and my dad body tend to
etch the copper and you can see visible wear and it has only been
about 2 years. It is not recommended you use cooper alloys for rings.
However, it does make a beautiful ring as long as the customer knows
about the etching.

Lynn Galloway


#7
The copper wont be touching the skin (the silver liner should
reduce direct contact), but the copper will react, it's one of the
reasons for using it in Mokume, it patinates. A wax coating over
the copper will slow the effects, but it wont stop it totally. 

The problem is not whether the copper is touching the skin directly.
The issue is that by bonding (mokume, plain old solder, riveting etc)
different metals together you create a galvanic cell awaiting an
electrolyte to form a battery. The less noble metal will dissolve
when this happens. This is the basis for most metallic corrosion
(including rusting but it gets more complicated to describe when you
talk of rusting). In the case of rings you provide the electrolyte
from your body salts and sweat, moisture from things you handle, hand
washing, bathing etc… Rings are in a hostile environment they just
experience too much wear to allow for any kind of barrier coating to
have a lasting effect and your hands are routinely wet so the
galvanic corrosion will occur. Copper is going to corrode away first
followed by the shakudo. Will it take a month or a year to become
apparent? Who knows it has way too many variables to try to guess. I
have seen problems with galvanic reaction with time spans of weeks to
years. The bottom line is that unless you are using noble metals for
multi-metal rings you are going to see corrosion as an issue.

See if you can borrow "Mokume Gane" by Ian Ferguson, it's
affordable and would be an excellent addition to your library.
I've heard Steve Midgets book is excellent, but I can't afford that
book yet. Ferguson's book will explain all you need to know. 

I like Ferguson’s book but it contains some rather slanted
that would lead one to believe that his fancy hot press
is the only way to create quality mokume which is to be not too
polite BS. But he has some very good and beautiful
examples of his work which is awesome, along with many plates of
different metal combinations. With his book and all the other
that is out there in print (including my writings) one
must understand that times and temperatures are valid only for the
particular studio practice that the author is describing and that it
may well be different in your studio.

Is this a reliable process (?), well it can be, but it requires
practice, it might be worth practicing on lesser value alloys
first, so you can get an idea of what's involved. There is a
learning curve involved. 

A steep learning curve :slight_smile: but with practice you can produce
reliable bonds repeatably.

My first Mokume was fine silver and 90/10 bronze, it probably
shouldn't have worked as I used a technique learned from pattern
welding steel 

There is no difference between pattern welding of steel and mokume
on many levels, I can weld steel using my mokume techniques and make
mokume with techniques that are typically used to pattern weld
steel. It may be easier and less risky to follow one path or the
other but they both are a form of diffusion bonding that may or may
not be entirely solid state in nature. If you lear this then you can
do things like bond gold or platinum to iron or other more exotic
laminations.

Regards,
Jim

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


#8

Hi James,

Mokume is not a easy technique to learn, plan on making a lot of
scrap in the process of learning these things. 

I found that it helped to know how to make pattern welded steel, the
transition into Mokume wasn’t as painful as it could have been. Also
the cost was not as prohibitive, if I screwed the billet big deal it
was only steel, however if it was gold I think I’d still be crying.

What was the first piece of Mokume you made James? Was it a horror
piece? I had a few of those when I first started pattern welding
steel (I like to call them “art” pieces these days :smiley: ).

Regards Charles A.


#9
It is not recommended you use cooper alloys for rings. However, it
does make a beautiful ring as long as the customer knows about the
etching. 

All the useful stuff has already been said. I went back to the OP
and read it - judging from the number and the tone of the questions,
I’d guess that the happy couple will be working on their second
child by the time he gets mokume all worked out - especially
properly done wedding bands, which are a real feat in themselves.

I will say that I fooled with mokume a bit, years back. I made
soldered mokume, not fused. That’s not “proper” mokume, I
know… Having the fundamental skills, though, it really wasn’t
that hard to do, and the results were just fine for what I wanted -
pieces of metal that could be mounted, much like enamel is used.
Probably 25% of the learning, tooling and experimentation of "real"
mokume. Something to think about, anyway…


#10

I too have had my share of frustrations trying to make mokume gane.
Even tried soldering not fusing. Finally got a wad a little over 1/4"
thick. Annealing was a real challenge, as well as having to put it
through the rolling mill time and time again—as recommended in my
instructions. Got to the point where it merely oozed solder during
the annealing process, and refused to anneal. When the torch did not
work, I tried the kiln, but without much success. I had made a
sandwich of it between two hefty pieces of steel, fastened by bolts.
The bolts became fused in the kiln, had to be sawed off, and the
piece was a hard as when I put it in the kiln. However, a lot of the
solder did ooze out.

Had to give up trying to roll it out. In its hardened state, my poor
rolling mill almost died from sheer exhaustion. This was a number of
years ago, and it sits on my workbench as a reminder that some things
are best left to the experts, so now I purchase my sheets ready made.

It was a nice experiment, and at least I can say I tried. I was
stubborn and did not give up easily, but finally was defeated. My
hats off to those who have mastered that difficult technique.

Alma


#11

Pretty and a versatile as it might be NO high copper alloys for
rings EVER.

Rings corroding away quickly and customers with green fingers are
not a happy mix. I tried such experiments decades ago and learned to
quit quickly.

jeffD
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#12

Why not purchase premade mokume stock. I think Rio Grande, Hoover
and Strong, and Reactive Metals sell premade billets or sheet.
Reactive had the exact combo you described.

In my opinion, I do not see investing in a hydraulic press unless you
have experience in working with one; they can be dangerous to the
novice and are an expensive investment to get a good one. Nonferrous
metals should not be hammered hot. Maybe take a class or work on
learning the process before offering it out as a skill service.


#13

Thank you all for your feedback, even though some of you spent more
effort downplaying my perceived success rate based upon my final
question. Sadly the only question that I wanted answered remains
unanswered.

I have read all of the available literature online, and actually met
James Binnion in person at the Revere Academy’s Master Symposium,
although I’m afraid I wasn’t able to take his class as it filled up
well before I learned of it.

I feel that my question as to wether a copper alloy such as shakado
would be unsuitable for a wedding band containing a liner was quite
appropriate, and in no way pointed to naivet=e. I would not have
asked it if I did not understand that there was a potential for
galvanic action, but I have seen mokume gane rings made with iron
which has a much higher anodic index than copper. Is this considered
"ok" because it is novel? While I have a degree in Physics with an
emphasis in Solid State, this isn’t something you can just calculate,
and I don’t have two years to test out a hypothesis, I would prefer
to ask those who have more personal experience. My hope was that
someone could point me to an alloy or coating that would prove
durable. Stirling and red gold both have copper and yet they are
still deemed appropriate for wedding bands in certain instances.
Regardless, I’m glad to have my fears backed up and I can point the
two to something more traditional.

As for the process and my unanswered questions: After cleaning and
drying the plates (much in the same way that I prepare metal when
enameling only with the added vacuum chamber drying), I plan on
placing them between two thick torque plates and compressing them in
a hydraulic press allowing me to bolt them together. Then I will
place them in a stainless steel container (haven’t decided between
tool wrap, an empty paint can, or perhaps a heating tray used in the
cooking industry) filled with charcoal which has already been
brought up to temperature to drive off moisture. I then place it in
my programmable electric kiln and bring it up to temperature and hold
it there for a specified time (dependent upon the alloys used and
their thicknesses).

Here is where everything I’ve read seems to get unclear. Some
suggest letting the metal cool and then anneal and forge, others
suggest forging while hot. I assume the difference is whether or not
you have metals which can withstand hot forging. Silver needs to cool
to a point where it no longer radiates visible light. But it also
hardens if you don’t quench it properly. Also, I would assume that
the pressure exerted by the torque plates would make some difference.
If you had a strong enough press one might not even need to
immediately forge to get sufficient bonding. Sure you need to forge
to reduce the thickness…but it’s already become a sufficient
laminate. Each time you anneal and forge you increase this bond, but
there isn’t much worry of it delaminating from say thermal stress. So
my question…is a 20 lb hydraulic press sufficient or am I looking
to do something more like die pressing here to get good results?

Thanks again for all your help,
Scott
Oakland, CA (where it’s raining one day, and beautiful the next)


#14

I have a question about…

Nonferrous metals should not be hammered hot 

I was actually taught differently when learning how to forge,
although it was mostly copper, (thicker pieces like 1/4 inch and
bigger, not sheets), Mokume billets, and was also shown some
techniques for what was termed “hot forming” of silver.

Is there a metallurgical reason you should hot forge a non ferrous
metal? I have never heard this before, and am truly interested.


#15

Hi Scott,

Sorry I thought you question would have been answered in the
discussion.

Okay.

Whether it needs to be forged hot, forged cold or cold worked,
depends on the alloy/element combination, and what pattern you are
after.

If you are going to twist a laminated billet (for a star pattern),
it is wise to heat your billet a little, otherwise you can delaminate
your billet.

If you want to make a ladder pattern, then it’s filing the billet
then running it through a rolling mill. Pool and eye is the same.

You mentioned a wood grain pattern? That can be formed by twisting
the billet tightly, no filing, then rolling to stock gauge in a
rolling mill. The twisting operation would require a little heat
(imo), but the rolling would just require a little annealing.

Does that help, or do you have more questions?

Regards Charles A.


#16

For what it’s worth, I had a (highly amateur) attempt at
copper-silver mokume-gane with reasonable success.

I cleaned & stacked my layers between steel pressure plates,
compressed the assembly in a big bench vice, and did up my
(stainless) bolts nice & tight.

I baked the thing in an electric kiln with no wrap or container, and
I let it cool before forging it. I got a bit of delamination at the
corners, but it was generally solid.

So, if you were of a mind to just have a go, I’d say that you did
not need to worry about a press or about hot-forging.

Good luck!
Richard


#17
I have a question about... Nonferrous metals should not be hammered
hot 

I was actually taught differently when learning how to forge,
although it was mostly copper, (thicker pieces like 1/4 inch and
bigger, not sheets), Mokume billets, and was also shown some
techniques for what was termed “hot forming” of silver.

Is there a metallurgical reason you should hot forge a non ferrous
metal? I have never heard this before, and am truly interested.

Nonferrous can be worked hot but the temp range on a small piece is
so short that you run the very real risk of shattering the piece of
metal if too hot or difficult to work if too cool but not annealed.
Which also leads to splitting and horrid messes. Blacksmiths forge
large non ferrous bronze and copper hot all the time, they just work
it very differently than steel.


#18

An old silversmith in London who spent his life forging large spoons
and ladles in one piece of of silver rod did all his forging from red
heat, the silver was heated and then carried across the room to his
anvil, about 10 paces before he worked with it on the anvil. I was
taught a similar routine in Denmark for forging silver.

David Cruickshank Australia.
jewellerydavidcruickshank.com.au