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Picking my starting project

When I undertake any project, I prefer to: 
1) Gather written intelligence, that is, online research or books 

OK, but try, instead, grabbing a hammer or saw or other tool, and
just trying it out. See what it does and what you can do with it. You
may not right away learn the right use, but you’ll learn more in the
end, and in less time. After you’ve worked with it a bit, THEN ask
about the problems. But if you spend all your time researching,
you’ll never get anything made. Remember that jewelry making
specifically is NOT engineering, though a bit of engineering is
involved. Much of this is art, intuition, and brainstorm. If you
expect to always know, before you make a thing, what you’re going to
make, and don’t allow the possibility of serendipity, You’re never
going to get very far in the creativity department.

2) Gather human intelligence, that is, opinions from other people 

Again, OK. But consider. If you grab a tool and try it, within an
hour you’ll have amassed a pretty good idea of what works and what
doesn’t. Even with the wonder of Orchid, you have to wait until the
next day, then spend a couple hours wading through the mass of info.
Instead, I’d suggest a single info source aimed at beginners to
intermediates. You don’t need higher level info that this at this
point. I’d suggest Tim McCreights “complete metalsmith” as one such
good starting book. With this, you can get the basic info on the use
of a tool or technique in the five minutes it takes to read that few
pages in the book. Then get your nose out of the book and get your
hands on a tool. Your hands need to learn this every bit as much as
your head does, and your hands won’t learn from a book.

3) Formulate a plan of attack to develop certain skills 

OK. I hope you don’t spend more than a couple seconds or minutes on
this. You’ve figured out what you’re going to try to make or do. What
happens now is you choose the most likely method that you already
know about. It doesn’t matter yet, at your stage, if there are other
methods, since you still need to master the basic ones. As you get
better with the basic skills and more comfortable making things with
those skills, the next ones to add to the toolbox in your head and in
your hands will become relatively apparent.

4) Check the plan against my network of mentors 

Oh Geez. You don’t need our permission either to try something, or
to make mistakes. You learn just as much or often much more, by
having to try several methods before something works, that you do by
getting precise instructions and following them to the letter without
any variance. Get the confidence in yourself to just try your plan.
If it works, you’ll feel great. If it doesn’t you’ll have learned not
only one thing that doesn’t work, but also why. This is important
knowledge. And if your mentors are here on Orchid, you can often go
through several of these trial methods in the time it takes to await
an answer from the internet.

there are exceptions, of course. If you plan to try to use a tool or
method about which you know nothing, other than the fact that it’s
known to be actually dangerous (to you, not to the metal, which is
allowed), then perhaps making sure you know the safety info is

Again, if you choose the wrong method to make something, this is not
effort lost. Often it’s more instructive than doing something the
right way the first time. Doing it wrong often suggests the right
way, and you’ll then understand much more about why it’s the right

One simple example of this is your plan to cnc mill a thin cavity in
Tufa to cast a thin ingot in silver. Way overworked. Try carving a
simple channel with a knife or nail head or whatever. You’ll be done
before you’ve even got the cnc code written. Melt a bit of metal just
with a torch in a small crucible, and try to pour it. Probably, it
won’t work the first time. OK, that took ten or 15 minutes, max. Try
to see what didn’t work right, and modify the method. In an hour or
two you’ll have taught yourself to make small ingots. THEN, if you
find they’re not so great, then you ask Orchid for ideas, once you’ve
run out of them. The time you spend on this will be no more than what
it takes to wait till the next day for an orchid answer.

Spend a whole lot less time planning and thinking and analyzing, and
a whole lot more time just trying. Playing. Experimenting. With a lot
of this, there may be no wrong answers, and no always-right ones
either. I know you are trained as an engineer, and that’s good. But
you’ll be a better jeweler and artist if you learn specifically to
give a whole lot less of the task to that left brain of yours, and
much more to the right brain, and to the little kid in you that
remains in all of us, even into old age.

5) Execute the plan in my laboratory, what you call studio. 

yeah, I know. The freezing shed. For now, move into the kitchen. You
don’t have to bring the torch. Instead, bring a clamp-on bench pin
(c-clamp and piece of wood), some sheet metal and your saw and some
files. You can make a helluva lot of jewelry with just these for now.
If you have a smallish reasonably portable torch, you can even do
small soldering work here. No, not your big oxy/acetylene welding
rig, but a small propane plumbers torch, or one of the small butane
torches. That’s enough to solder a bezel on a small pierced pin
design, or close up the shank on a band ring, etc. Use the range
hood for ventillation if you like. You can even set a soldering board
directly on a range burner with the hood overhead on. I know this
isn’t what a kitchen THINKS it was designed for, but you’re doing
exactly the same things that the device (stove and hood) normally do,
except on different materials. Metal instead of a steak…

6) Compare the intended plan against the results 

But don’t obsess. Often, plans can be changed in mid stream if
something seems a struggle. learning to adapt your plan as you learn
what’s working and what’s not, is very useful.

7) Record the lessons learned 

Don’t make too big a deal of this, unless specific data like
temperatures, etc, that might be forgotten, are involved. Most of
what you learn in jewelry making, is what your hands and head learn
together. Once you’ve learned these by doing them, you won’t much
need written notes.

Hope that helps.
Peter Rowe

1 Like

i’d suggest looking at the works of some amazing designers who do not
focus on highly technical skills in order to achieve their beautiful
designs. check out some of robert lee morris’s work from the 70s,
80s, 90s. check out jill platner. check out alexander calder’s
gorgeous jewelry book. art smith (can only hope that wasn’t his real
name, if so his parents were psychic). you don’t need to prong set a
faceted stone or channel set 100 diamonds in order to make something
that is striking and simple and well designed. one of the reasons
that people (and children) can often produce really beautiful things
within the context of an art class is that limitations are imposed on
the scope of the project. if you know how to saw but aren’t
comfortable yet with soldering, give yourself the challenge of
creating a necklace formed of shapes sawed out and connected by jump
rings. or a cuff where the beauty comes from the texture. or a
pendant made of several parts connected by rivets. if you take on
something ambitious that is above your skill level, you’ll end up
with something that in a years time you will want to throw into the
furthest recesses of your sock drawer. if you make do with the basic
skills you have and concentrate on design and craftsmanship, it will
stand as a beautiful testimony to how you got started.

with the current weather being about 10 to 15F, I have no choice
but to spent more time on intelligence gathering than on

I’m quoting Andrew, but this is really to everybody who’s reading
this, more or less in the same boat. The weather is something we all
need to deal with. (Sorry, but it’ll be 70 today, here…)

There was a time when I was interesting in 3D animation - still am,
but I had some aspirations of actually doing some things. By various
means I accumulated a great deal of things related to that. Some of
it was at least 100 hours of tutorial video, which I watched
religiously and learned a whole lot. After a time, I realized that I
was a “professional student” - a video tutorial watcher. I wasn’t
actually ~doing~ anything, or not much. The whole thing is so
complicated and difficult that after a while I just put it down.
Just lately I gave the whole load to an enthusiastic young animator
I met…

In my early days I made 100 rings or 50 bracelets a week - table
stuff, sheet metal. I’d put my stones on tape, make bezels for them
all and cut squares of sheet to put them on (and numbered them).
Then I’d sit there with 25 at a time on my pad, and design them, all
different, one after another. Bang, bang, bang, bang. Don’t agonize
over it, it’s a $30 ring, at the time. Just do it, and then do it

Somebody mentioned making a band ring - that’s a good start. I can
do the same with that as the above paragraph. I can think of 100
things to do with a band of metal just sitting here, without breaking
into a sweat. Theme and variation… Just get started. Don’t
make it complicated. Your work is within your reach, or hopefully
some stretching.

My work is the same, it’s just that my skills are different. But the
operative word is ~work~.


I have melted sterling silver onto copper. Yes, just to see what
would happen. What happened was something serependitius. Nice,
freeform silver overlay on copper discs and other shapes. I like
them. Have made bracelets and a necklace from the discs -
connecting them with jump rings. 

Thanks for telling me! I suspected that under the right
circumstances the two metals might bond if a metal with a lower
melting point were poured over a metal with a higher melting point. I
appreciate that you were able to confirm my guess.

Anyway, as to the lady who said I was faking being poor
(“poor-mouthing”): to solicit sympathy and attention, and that I
should sell my electric melter to obtain tuition.

I don’t believe that I should need to defend my honor to anyone,
either on this news group or anywhere else.

For that lady’s I was able to obtain a USED condition
30 ounce Kerr Electro melt with manual control, for about $300
dollars, in an Ebay auction.

It has actually been very heavy used: the unit needs a new heater
sleeve, and some of the mechanical parts are worn. It’s real value is
only $150. That’s hardly enough for tuition.

I really wish I people would let me work as a software engineer
again. Then I wouldn’t be on this news group in the first place, and
thereby risk pissing people like her off by having the gall to
broadcast my pleas for instruction and assistance.

But for the past five years, I’ve had potential employers tell “We
believe your [software] skills to be outstanding, but we have the
’gut feel’ you won’t fit in with our team.”. I’m pretty much aware
that I am being illegally discriminated against, but in such a vague
and genteel manner as prevents me from seeking legal action.

Outside of the software or the engineering fields, my skills are not
marketable. However, I realize that many of them are transferrable.
And I’ve chosen jewelry making as something to keep my mind focused
upon while waiting for a better day.

I know that Peter Rowe would have me start with the very basics of
metal crafting, and deep down in side I think I would agree with him.
But just like I can’t jog to nowhere in particular for exercise but
need a destination, I need to have a realistic target objective to
practice the filing and sawing for.

I think even he might concede that my outlook and attitude are more
along the lines of a transfer student or a cross-trainer rather than
a true beginner.

I have to start from somewhere, but my starting point is different
than the usual. My curriculum isn’t “Beginning Precious
Metalsmithing”, it is “Precious Metalsmithing for Engineers.”

I might not ever make it as a jeweler, whether that is artistic or
commercial. But perhaps I might learn enough things to maybe be able
to build some piece of apparatus or software useful to the jewelry
trade, or some one in that trade might ask of me to make, and so I
consider the time understanding, asking questions, and performing
controlled experiments in my outdoor shed, to be time well spent.

Andrew Jonathan Fine

Uh, dude, just go make something. Make lots and lots of stuff. Don’t
think quite so hard.



I think you are making it too complex. Engineer thing I think

My general procedure…

  1. A clear mental image of what I want
  2. figure out the work flow, if I see missing skills I’ll research
  3. make the thing, twice if needed
  4. remember anything I have learned

Top down rather than bottom up.

Experimantal/playing I just do it and maybe learn something Disasters
are often a better learning experience than stuff you can sell.

Thought is required but it is mainly in the fingers and eyes.

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

Hi Andrew,

I’m currently teaching in the Silicon Valley area, in a couple of
different situations. I spend most of my time teaching engineers.
Jewelry (and art) isn’t like engineering. You never really know
what’s going to happen when you step into the lab. You can’t
simulate it, predict it, or out think it. All you can do is do it.
Do as much research as you like, but in the end, you have to step up
and do it. The more experience you get, the better you can predict
what’s going to happen next, but that experience has to be purchased
by field research.

Both my parents were chemistry professors, and I was running the
lab’s NMR before I could drive. Believe me, I know the scientific
mindset. You want to be a metalsmith? You have to learn to let it go
of what you have done, and concentrate on what you want to do. This
is different, and much of what you know is actively counterproductive
in the early stages. This isn’t to say that it isn’t logical, or
intellectual. It is. Intensely. But on its own terms, and you have to
learn how this new world works before you can integrate what you
bring from your old life.

If you look at all the advice you’ve gotten in this thread in the
past few days, what are the common elements? What does pretty much
everyone tell you to do?

(A) Relax
(B) Play

You’re not really a transfer student yet. You haven’t got enough of
the basic skills (and more importantly: the mindset) yet to skip the
basic stages. You really do need to spend some time learning to
handle a jeweler’s saw, and learning to solder.

You’ve achieved much…in a different field. It really doesn’t
transfer. Let it go, and let yourself start off with the basics. If
the skills really do transfer, you’ll master them quickly. If not,
those early sawing and soldering exercises are exactly what you need
to be doing. If you don’t have a solid foundation in sawing,
soldering and filing, nothing else will ever come easily.

Don’t fight it. This isn’t engineering. Failure really is good. It
teaches you what to watch out for next time. The only way you fail
for good and all is to be so afraid of failure that you never try.

Often it's more instructive than doing something the right way the
first time. Doing it wrong often suggests the right way, and you'll
then understand much more about why it's the right way. 

Well, Andrew (and all the other readers…) seems to me that
all of your Orchid mentors are telling you the same thing: Sit Down
And Do It!

Andrew has as much as said that he doesn’t know where to start,
though. This beautiful Sunday morning I’ll offer a couple of ideas
out of the trillions available. Basic design is about breaking up
space. More advanced design is about the forms themselves, but basic
design is about breaking up space. Especially since Andrew is an
engineer, we’ll stick with symmetry, here. Start with what I call
"The Persian Rug". Those who are familiar with mandalas will know
this, too. Draw a square, then bisect each side and draw two lines
across the center, which will give you four squares inside a square.
The draw a circle inside each square and draw four teardrops from
each corner into the center of each. Maybe difficult to grasp the
words, but what that will give you is four “flowers” inside a
square. Or divide it again and again until you reach the limits of
your tools…Like fractals but symmetrical, it can go on to
infinity, in theory. Next time start with a circle…

Nex, take a piece of silver stock (make it yourself…) 3mm wide
by 2mm thick, and bend it into a ring and solder it, whatever ring
size. File it up so it’s clean and crisp That’s called a "pipe-cut"
ring because it looks like that. Mark it off with dividers to any
size you like, around the perimeter - maybe 3mm. Hint: keep an even
number of divisions, usually. Now get your saw and make a cut, about
1mm deep on each mark. Instant wedding ring design… Blacken it
with winox or whatever, polish it up and you have a stylish ring.

Then the good part: drill a blind hole between your lines next time.
Angle your saw cuts the time after that. File down the outer edges
of your cuts (hard to describe here), which will give you a rope
pattern, the next time. Use a graver and make that line an arc
instread of a straight line, which a saw won’t do. Next time…
Then put a few cuts with the graver to make some virtual dimension
and you’ll have flower petals or feathers, stylistically. Widen your
cuts with a ball bur or file, scallop your lines making two “arrow
points” on the edge with a line between.

On and on and on and on. Theme and variation. You make a ring, which
gives you ideas for the next ring, which leads you to another place
and on and on.

That’s now it works, but you need to get started, first.

Egads. Just start. Make something, anything, just… make it.

hello andrew fine -

sorry you were subjected to a rigid minded sniper’s comment:

... you do not prefer to actually experiment in your studio, but
rather to ask people's opinion on this forum, instead. 

the sniper totally missed realizing that a few of the many purposes
and goals of the orchid forum is to educate those learning; exchange
ideas; share new techniques, materials, sources; and expand the
paradigm of those seeking ways to express what they feel.

i also have a precision-based background in aerospace - defense -
telecommunications, and, with a few adjustments, it has helped me
with the design, fabrication, metalsmithing, and lapidary work.

andrew, check the designs and sketches of the so-called 'top’
designers of now and yesteryear and you will see where a bit of
dimensioning, scaling, and precision rendering would have been in
order. it’s obvious that most of them have/had others actually
manufacture their work because they had rather ‘blue-sky’ designs -
blue-sky ideas are those incorporating a lot of fudge factors (ignore
the insufficiencies and hope for the best).

good luck -
people, asking questions is a sign of intelligence.

I’ve been watching this thread for some time now with mixed emotions
and thoughts. (Andrew Jonathan Fine’s requests and questions)

From the beginning Andrew was asking for everything he could get -
materials, tools, and mentoring. On one hand I thought
that this was more or less along the lines of “It never hurts to
ask” which is a relatively benign approach - as long as the asker
doesn’t feel entitled to anything. You never know when somebody is
cleaning house, or just feeling in the mood to discourse on some bit
of his / her knowledge. It can be fun to share. I even sent in a
reply to one of his queries because I had a spare minute or two…

I’ve seen a lot of knowledge passed along to Andrew, involving a
fair amount of folks’ time and effort. Well and good - if they have
the time. It is a generous gift. But when, i wonder, will Jonathan
just stop asking and speculating and just get to work? I started to
wonder, hmmm, what if I wanted to write a book about how to do
something , anything? Instead of doing the work, amassing the
experience, learning the physics and chemistry involved, why not
just get a whole bunch of good-hearted experts to write in with all
the bits of their knowledge and then I could just sort out the
input, edit it, and publish my treatise. Andrew’s almost got that
much handed to him. But it won’t make him a craftsman.

And why does Andrew keep insisting on doing things the hard way, or
even the impossible way - like that bit about casting a wire ingot -
I won’t get into the details. It feels like while he is asking for
he is also choosing to reject it, to re-invent the wheel
rather than accept the contributions of all the people who have
already done the work. Next thing he’ll want to smelt his own silver
because he can’t afford to buy it ready made. But can he afford the
time and money it takes to dig a silver mine in his back yard? Not
trying to be absurd here, nor to make folks feel they’ve been taken
advantage of, but there is something odd about this thread. I can see
some other folks are becoming impatient. I don’t want to see it go
much further because someone else, some newby with a legitimate
question might be discouraged by the cranky tone which is starting to
show. I’ve seen some awfully good advice thrown in Andrew’s direction

  • mainly to just get at it (the work) with whatever he has available,
    including some of his own energy, and let his experience be his
    teacher. Other peoples’ words can only take you so far. No matter how
    much sophisticated theory they have given to you it is your own
    interaction with real materials which will teach you the most. You
    can’t just fill your brain with “knowledge” about an art like you
    fill your car with gas and then start producing art based on that.
    You have to drive the durned thing for a while before you’re safe to
    go on the road, or to make a living as a driver.
I appreciate what people offer here - 

I have taught crafts and other things to lots of people, old and
young. Some of them learn what they can do and some of them learn
what they can’t do. Both results are equally valuable. If they can
do, then they will do. If they cannot do, then they learn in time to
save themselves a lot of wasted time and energy. They are free to
move on to the next thing until they find what they can do. The
operative word is “do.”

'nuff said

Marty H,

Interesting that you would type a full page to criticize and
belittle someone who is struggling to learn and who has shared his
personal situation in honesty and humility.



It’s all right. And I very appreciate your support. You’re one of the
best there is.

Peter Rowe,

I appreciate your advice about taking my metalsmithing into the
kitchen, while its been too cold outside, but I have been denied
permission by my wife to do so.

I’ll only need to wait for just a couple more weeks.


Did I force anyone to send me tools and supplies? No. Did I force
anyone to answer me and make suggestions? No. I take nothing which
other people are unwilling to give.

I am waiting to ‘do’, until the local outside temperature exceeds 30F
on a regular basis, because my shed is unusable otherwise.

Andrew Jonathan Fine