I'd love to spend three solid days at your studio, if I could,
learning the very fundamentals of silver-working the right way...
the professional way... all ship shape and Bristol fashion.
Never been to Bristol. Only one I know is Mrs. Palin’s daughter, and
her fashion ideas don’t look so good on me, I think… (grin)
Let me just start by repeating what I wrote yesterday.
But on the other hand, if you happen to be in the Seattle area on
a weekend or something, and want to drop by my studio for some
hands on instruction, give me a call. I'm always up for a visit
from interesting people, and with a bit of advance warning, I
usually can spare the time to give you help where you may need.
What I was referring to is that there are a few local area jewelers,
some of them my former students, others friends, who may not have
some of the equipment or skills I happen to have, whom I enjoy
letting come over for an evening or on a weekend for a few hours.
That sort of thing, I can find time for, and enjoy doing.
But you want to cram it all into three solid days? First off, where
do I find three solid days to do this? Understand that I have a
regular mostly full time job at a local jewelry manufacturer. If I
take time off, I need a decent reason to give up that already too
slim paycheck, especially in this economy. Weekends are only two
days long, and at least some of it, I need for my own work, not to
mention catching up on lost sleep during the week. I’m sorry if there
was a misunderstanding of my post, but I’m not trying to set up a
school here in my basement for full time teaching. A few hours at a
time now and then, sure. But this big intensive structured program
you’ve got in mind, um. I have my doubts…
But there’s more. For one thing, if you’re thinking one can just
cram three days into teaching everything all proper and complete,
you’re mistaken. For one thing, learning this craft is a sequential
thing. You start with one single skill, and you practice it and play
with it. Get comfortable with it and learn to control that tool and
skill. You don’t need to become a total master at it yet, but at
least, devote some time before you move on to the next. If you look
at the usual structure of a decent class situation, the instructor
will demonstrate something, then students have a bunch of time to try
it. And then the next, and so on. What you’re asking, if you want to
learn the whole thing, takes a good deal more than just three days if
it is to be useful. A three day time period is a fine way to cram an
intensive study of some specialized method or single narrow topic,
but that’s not what you’re asking for I think, and frankly, from what
I gather, you need more practice with the basics before you’re quite
ready for any intensive focused workshops. To put that into some
perspective, the average college level class might be six hours of
active instruction time per week, with that much again that students
then spend on their own working. And that’s over a whole semester.
What’s that, about 20 weeks or so if I recall? that’s a lot more than
three days, even working long hours. And a single class only covers
so much. Those college kids will take two semesters of sophomore
metals, another two as juniors and seniors. That ends up working out
to be roughly the same as a year and a half full time work (very
rough mental math there, I know, but the idea is that it’s not three
days). they end those programs not as finished and fully trained
silversmiths, artists, or jewelers, but with enough training and
exposure to the info that they’re well on their way. You’re not
asking that much, I know, but what you ARE asking might be roughly
half or more of what a single sophomore level class might cover over
a whole semester. The GIA or Revere acadamy classes that teach that
sort of thing usually take at least a week or better, two, and even
those tend to be focused narrow workshops, rather than generally all
But more to the point, I can help you with sticking points and bits
where you don’t understand some detail, without you needing to drive
across the west to get here. At three dollars a gallon, driving to
Seattle and back would cost you in gas a rather sizable chunk of what
you’re probably saving towards a rolling mill.
I'd want to learn skills I can bring back: how to alloy 925 from
scratch without a master alloy handy,
Sterling silver doesn’t need a master alloy. It’s just pure copper.
Scrap electrical wire is a great source. The rest is just weighing
the two metals. Put the copper on the bottom of the crucible to avoid
excess oxidation, or add it after the silver is already molten.
However, (and I’ve said this before), you really need to get this
idea of absolutely needing to make your own metal, including sheet
and wire, out of your head. There are many of us who spent years
making jewelry using purchased sheet and wire, not pouring ingots,
and not rolling sheet. Drawing wire down in size is so simple, and
you can use inexpensive drawplates, that this is within reason,
especially if you start with larger guage commercially made wire. But
short circuiting yourself by not having a rolling mill is just plain
tilting at windmills. These tools are nice, and most professionals,
especially working in gold, rely on them. But you don’t absolutely
need one. People made jewelry for thousands of years prior to the
invention of the rolling mill, or for that matter, even steel tools.
I have a former student who’s been selling nice jewelry to local
fashion shops for almost a decade now, and making a decent living
with it. She only bought her first rolling mill around two years ago,
and even now, she buys her sheet metal already made, in larger guages
so she can roll it down to what she needs. She doesn’t try to pour
her own ingots.
In the case of silver sheet metal, frankly, you’re far better off
buying commercially made sheet. Pouring your own ingots and rolling
sheet in silver is troublesome even for the experts. Silvers’
propensity for oxidation and pits/defects in a casting (like an
ingot) make it quite difficult to make a piece of sheet metal with no
blisters or defects. You can make more than you need, remove the
defects and work around them, but you’re generating more scrap to
remelt. What you save in processing to buy new metal, you loose in
time, energy and efficiency by a wide margin. I make my own sheet and
wire in gold and platinum. In silver, I make my own wire. But i buy
my silver sheet. I suggest you do the same. You said you’ve got a
bunch of fine silver. Send it in to any decent refiner such as David
Fell, United Precious Metals, or even Rio Grande, and take back the
return as clean sheet metal. Even with paying for manufacturing costs
and their profit margin, I feel you end up with a better deal than
struggling to make your own sheet metal.
But if you insist on using your metal, I’ve an intermediate offer
for you. If you pour decent ingots for sheet or wire, and send them
to me, I’ll run them through my rolling mill for you. You pay
postage. Registered mail is the best way for precious metals, and not
proper hammer technique,
Start by polishing the hammer faces of those hammers you’re doing
any sort of real shaping and finishing and refining surfaces with.
Then polish (or at least almost polished) whatever steel surface or
anvil you’re working with. Now grab some scrap copper or brass rod
(brazing rod for example), anneal it, And start playing with tapering
it flat, tapering it to a square taper, tapering it to a round taper,
flaring one side and flaring the other end at 90 degrees to the
first, and any other shapes you can come up with. Learn to control
where the hammer hits so overlapping blows are equal and leave a
uniform finish. Your basic hammers are a slightly domed face, a cross
pein (round tight curve in the vertical plane, straight in the
horizontal plane, like a piece of rod looked at from the side), and a
flat. All polished. Smaller shapes like ball piens or the like are
usually next in line. Many of these can be made yourself by reshaping
cheap hardware store ball pien hammers. light weight engineers cross
pein hammers may already be ready go needing just a good finishing
of the face. A well polished hammer can leave a bright polished
impression on the metal. Done with control, a well forged shape may
need only a little rouge to be complete, and that’s if you want a
bright high polish. If you wish less, it may need nothing else.
Learning to use a hammer is learning several things. Controlling
where the hammer hits and how hard, controlling how you hold the
workpiece (against what, at what angle, etc), and learning to let the
hammer do the work, not your arm. Done right, you can spend all day
forging metal and not find your body in pain at the end. (well,
unless you’re in really bad shape, in which case this is good
exercise) But it shouldn’t be a strain or difficult. It does, though,
require some practice.
manual wire and bezel forming sans rolling mill,
buy bezel wire, or cut it with snips (easier) or a saw from thin
sheet metal. For making wire, you can start with a thin ingot poured
into a mold made by drilling a hole down the centerline of two pieces
of steel clamped together (or you can buy molds like this). Initially
working such a poured ingot is easiest with a rolling mill, but you
can even it out with a hammer too. Initially pulling thick wire from
such an ingot (unless you’re pouring really thin ones, which is hard
to do) will need a draw bench, which you can build yourself from a
soldering with flux, pickling,
You don’t need a course in flux or pickling. Soldering, well, it’s
been very extensively discussed throughout the history of Orchid.
read the archives. Then practice. There is a bit of knowledge needed
for soldering, and a bit of skill, but mostly, it’s learning to
control the heat, and anticipate what’s heating up at which rate.
Then it’s remembering to have the metal clean and well fitted first.
And then practice, practice, practice, etc. Along the way, spend a
few sessions seeing how far you can heat metal before something goes
wrong. Then don’t repeat that when you need it to work. In many
classes, students might get a half hour of demo and discussion on
soldering. Then the rest they learn and get better at over the rest
of their career. Good soldering technique is more practice than it is
OK, there’s one where some instruction is pretty useful, if only so
you end the day with all body parts intact, and the jewelry too. But
good polishing is also an art and a skill in itself, which you don’t
master just overnight.
And a basic course in using my Miniflam torch, which I have as yet
used but can bring with me.
I’m not familier with that brand. Link please?
I also can bring my 30 ounce Kerr Electromelt with me in lieu of a
heavy torch for creating the alloy.
Not needed. You could bring it if you like, but they eat a lot of
electricity, and that’s not free any more either…
Would that be too much learning to ask for during three days?
Yeah. Take it a bit at a time is better. One way, cheaper for both
of us, would be if I lug my as-yet-unopened web cam down to the
workshop. It would be possible for me to do short demos for you on a
webcam via Skype if you want. Just remember, this sort of thing I’d
want to fit in as a “time available” sort of thing. Not an intensive
two hours every night thing. I’ve not the energy, nor the time for
I can afford the gas and a cockroach motel in the middle, but
staying in Seattle is spendy... would you consider letting me
sleep on your workshop floor?
No. But the couch upstairs is a hide-a-bed, so long as you’re not
allergic to friendly cats.
I can leave behind 10 pounds of Tufa rock as a parting gift.
Thanks, but I’d never use it. I’m sure someone on Orchid might,
And, I can cook.
Being a long time diabetic, and overwieght to boot, I try not to
keep company with people who cook too well. Hard on the waistline and
blood sugar too… (grin. I cook too, but preferences are a lot of
salads and veggies, and soups. Not much else too fancy if I can help
Would you consider letting me contact you off line to make an
We certainly can talk, (206) 763-5665, evenings after about 7 pm
pacific time, or weekends whenever. I’m happy to help you if I can.
But as I said, I have doubts this three day intensive would be worth
it, even if I could figure out where to get three continuous days for
you (and then I’d have to find the energy to actually stay at it for
that long. Don’t laugh. That’s a real problem for me at this point in
But as I said, I think there are cheaper ways to get you the info
and demos you wish. As I said, I think I can hook up a decent web cam
by the bench. Will take a little doing, but should be possible.