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Newbie intro and 2 questions

Greetings all! First, thank you everyone for your posts and help.
I’ve been lurking for a little while and have gotten a great deal of
help from your past comments.

My name is Jon Lowe and I’m a computer programmer located just NE of
Atlanta. I’ve been interested in jewelry for about 2 years, mostly as
a creative outlet (this programming gig just isn’t that creative).
I’m still “testing the waters”, trying to find what aspect I find the
most enjoyable (there are so many different areas that I think I might

Right now, I’ve been working with silver, doing some basic casting
with the Delft method (the 2 rings packed with clay). Eventually, I
would like to try some vaccuum or centrifugal casting, but finances
are still a little limited…

I finally finished my first piece this weekend, a raindrop pendant
about an inch long, in sterling with a small turquoise cab set in
middle. It was a (late) Xmas present for my mom (the turquoise was
from her dad’s collection…maybe I inherited this “bug” from him?).
It provided me with a pretty broad taste, from making the model in
Sculpey, to casting it in the Delft ring/clay, making a bezel for
the stone, soldering the bezel and pendant bail, finishing the piece
with a deep mirror shine, and setting the stone.

After working through this first piece (and thinking of future
pieces), I do have 2 questions I would like to pose…I do a great
deal of reading (both online and off), and haven’t seen this
just yet.

  1. When I was putting the polishing touches on the raindrop (using
    White Diamond and then Tripoli…I did finish with rouge and got a
    great, deep shine), how often should the buffs be “loaded”? I
    started with a brand new buff, put some lighter fluid on it
    (observing all appropriate safety stuff…except for the cig hanging
    out of my mouth…maybe that’s why I have no more eyebrows? :slight_smile: ) and
    then under rotation, touched it to the polish. And, then I did reload
    with polish whenever I thought I needed to. How often should I use
    the lighter fluid and how often should I put polish on? Would a
    variable speed tool (a Foredom) work better (I’m using a Dremel
    moto-tool right now and I think that it might just be too fast)?

  2. Does anyone have any experience with using some of the harder
    modeling waxes with the Delft clay? I’ve been using Sculpey for my
    models, but with some of my newer ideas, the Sculpey needs to be
    worked after baking and I’m finding that it chips and breaks a little
    too easily. And, the Sculpey is just a little too pliable before
    the baking. I think I might have better luck with a hard modeling
    wax, but would like your opinions before I make the invest- ment into
    a new set of tools…

Thank you all again for your past help!

    How often should I use the lighter fluid and how often should I
put polish on?  Would a variable speed tool (a Foredom) work better
(I'm using a Dremel moto-tool right now and I think that it might
just be too fast)? 

Personally, I’ve never found any need or advantage to using lighter
fluid with the polish. I imagine it will help to suspend the grease
in heavy compounds, but the grease is usually there as a binder to
keep the compound together. I think I might be more concerned with
volatile fumes from the lighter fluid. If you can afford to invest in
a flex shaft, you trade torque for speed, but less vibration than
with a rotary, more flexibility later when you get to setting. Both
are useful mainly for small pieces, and a bench polisher is more
appropriate for things like bracelets and buckles.

As far as loading goes, it comes with experience. Greasy compounds
load up very easily, and you run more chance of overloading and
subsequently having to remove it by ‘ragging’ the buff. Dry compounds
need to be loaded more frequently, and are used up more quickly but
they’re not as messy. Try this: When you’re polishing, and you notice
the compound is smearing or doesn’t seem to be bringing up the polish
quickly, first add a little compound. If it takes care of the
problem, then you need more compound. If it doesn’t, and in fact
seems to be getting worse, ‘rag’ the buff to remove most of the
compound. A fine grater, such as used in the kitchen for grating
parmesan, orange peels and chocolate, works great and will not tear
up your buffs, especially the small ones.

    2.  Does anyone have any experience with using some of the
harder modeling waxes with the Delft clay? And, the Sculpey is just
a little too pliable before the baking. 

I’ve had success using the really hard carving waxes. The softer
waxes tend to ‘pull’ the clay, causing a rough surface. When using
Fimo or Sculpey for your models, don’t bake them really hard. In
fact, underbake them so they are still somewhat pliable. They will
get harder as they cool. Fine tulle (found in fabric stores or as
decorative ribbon) can be used to put a high polish on both the wax
and clay models for a nice surface. Also, the Delft clay can also be
used in the sandcasting mold frames for larger models like belt
buckles and bracelets, with the option of either a vertical or
horizontal gate.

Hope it helps, and welcome to the exciting world of metalsmithing.

Hey Jon, I’m kind of in the same boat. I’m a photographer that’s
been looking for a 3d outlet for a while. Photography is nice, but
there’s only so much interaction that takes place, physically,
between the photo and viewers.I’ve been doing jewelry for about 2
years also, taking the last year more seriously than the first by
leaps and bounds. You’ll probably get better answers, but I’d like to
pass on some advice from one student to another =).

  1. Polishing. I use a dremel, with a flex shaft and fordom foot
    pedal. It’s not bad, but a $350 fordom starter kit is going to
    outperform, and outlast the Dremel. As for loading your buffs, it
    sorta depends on what kind of material your buff is made of, and how
    you use it. I can start to notice when my buffing wheel is getting a
    little worn, it just stops cutting as well. Basically it just takes
    practice, you may reload your buff every few seconds if you’re using
    leather or hard felt, and you may only load it once or twice during
    the course of polishing if you use a light muslin or soft felt buff.
    It just kind varies. One thing that’s very important, and I learned
    the hard way: Only use a buff with ONE compound and never use it with
    anything else. If you get white diamond on a buff you use with zam,
    you may as well throw away the buff. Polishing remains my nemesis,
    but I’m getting better. Lots of sanding before polishing helps
    tremendously. So good luck there.

  2. Waxes: I just recently started to do spin casting, and have made
    a small mountain of wax models before hand. Personally, it’s why I
    got into jewelry (casting), and it’s just a lot of fun. Wax can be a
    frustrating material, or a very rewarding one. I can get lost doing
    buildup and smoothing and stuff for hours, many times running lamp
    dry a few times. Basically what you’ll need will cost around $20 or
    so, maybe $30 if you buy lots of wax and some extra tools. You’ll
    need an alcohol lamp, a wax tool, and some wax is about it. I’d also
    suggest the Tim McCreight book on practical casting, as he offers a
    lot of very nifty small scale one shot casting methods you might
    enjoy. Your other option is carving wax, which I’ve only worked with
    a bit. It’s not as forgiving as modeling wax, but it’s much harder
    and can take the pressure from making a clay mold pressed around it.
    These waxes don’t behave in as a predictable way when heated to their
    melting point, and are basically only for subtractive modeling. You
    can use Sticky Wax to build up on carving wax, but… in my
    experience “it sucks” and is easier to make your model out of regular
    wax. Also, carving wax costs more, as do the tools to work it. My
    files alone cost more than my modeling wax set up. Finally, the last
    option I know of is Micro-Crystalline wax, which is a brown wax sold
    by Rio and others, it’s got very similar working properties as those
    of Sculpy or Fimo, but is a wax base so it burns out clean. Unlike
    polymer clays, if you heat it, it just melts. Otherwise it’s a nice,
    highly pliable wax for hand sculpting.

Anyways, that’s my little summary on the subject, I look forward to
hearing the other responses also, but I hope this helped. Good luck on
your projects, glad to hear your pendant worked out =)

-Doug Harroun Albuquerque, NM

Jon, some of the other poly clays are harder than Sculpy after
baking. What are you trying to do to them after you have baked them?
Perhaps you should refine the shape more while it is still unbaked. I
have never used lighter fluid on my buffs and indeed, have never
heard of this practice. You can watch the surface of the buff and
when there is a sheen that is the same color as the metal being
buffed, that is the cue for applying a wipe of compound. Marilyn Smith

Jon, If you want the freedom of making art work without worring about
draft etc lost wax casting is the only to go. You can cast any
shape including hollow pieces.

I have see artists take a plastic box, add a carved piece of wax to
it, then add a little build up and a small branch from a tree then
burn it out and cast it. Lost wax casting allows you to cast
anything, within reason, that will vaporize at around 1300 degrees.

There was a display at the Tucson Gem show one year that consisted
of cast cockroaches in various poses.

I find the wax build up technique some what slow and more difficult
to obtain detail. Carving wax can be drilled, ground with a burr in
your dremel, carved with a knife, filed and sanded and engraved. It
allows greater detail. The technique of wax construction can uses
the buildup and carving techniques plus construction techniques
using flexiable waxes.

The most important thing to remember, about creating cast artwork,
is to create shapes and textures that can not be created any other
way. Beginners will some times construct a project out of wax that
could have easily been fabricated out of metal.

You are beginning a very exciting venture. You are fortunate to be
a member of orchid. Members are most generous with sharing their

Good luck and great success, Lee

Hi Doug,

  I use a dremel, with a flex shaft and fordom foot pedal. It's not
bad, but a $350 fordom starter kit is going to outperform, and
outlast the Dremel. 

Don’t know where you got the $350 Foredom price, but there are lots
of dealers that sell a Foredom complete with foot pedal & #30
handpiece in the $180 - $200 range.



Thanks for the response, I appreciate it.

I’m trying to get a little more detail into my models. My first
piece, the raindrop, was really pretty basic (vertically tapered and
just rounded). But, one piece I’m working on now is a ball-mark for my
golf buddy. It’s about the size of a nickel with a raised lip and
his best score in the middle (for the golfers out there, he won’t
really use it, it’ll be too high). Un-baked, the Sculpey is just a
little too pliable, but baked, I kept chipping the numbers trying to
carve around them. It took me 3 tries to finally get one I could
work with.

As for the lighter fluid, I don’t recall which book I read that it
in, but I’ll certainly try it without next time.

Thanks again!

I was looking at a complete kit with foot pedal, the motor, and lots
tools, a good stand, and a book on working with a flexshaft. It’s one
of the Rio Grande “kits” but yes, a foredom, foot pedal, and
handtool alone is around $200. Also, I know, Rio doesn’t always have
the BEST prices, but since they’re here in town for me, I go there a
lot, and look up stuff in the catalogs often. Anyways, I apologize
for the confusion =) -Doug

Jon, I wonder if your carving is the problem. Whatever cutting
instrument you are using needs to be sharp! You might also have
success using tiny burrs in you flexshaft or Dremel. Sometimes your
friendly dentist will donate old ones that would be excellent for
what you’re are trying to do.