Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Path is Never Straight

I keep saying that I want to challenge myself. And boy...I am challenged. I've been working on fabricating the most complex piece of jewelry I've ever done, and for quite a while, it hated me as much as I hated it. We were not in love at all.

It started a bit like this piece:

But that's part of the problem: it started like the piece in the photo above. Part of the way through, the design turned into something very different, which can sometimes cause difficulties. In this case, I'd already gotten to a point where I was using easy solder. And then I made some changes and found myself a little stuck.

Next it looked like this:

See, when you're soldering silver, you have essentially three choices: hard, medium, and easy solder. (there's an extra-easy, but most people I know never use it).

Essentially all solder flows (becomes liquid) at a lower temperature than sterling silver. Each solder has a bit more alloy in it, and thus flows at a lower temperature rate:

Easy solder: flows at 1325 degrees Fahrenheit
Medium solder: flows at 1360 degrees Fahrenheit

Hard solder: flows at 1450 degrees Fahrenheit
Sterling Silver: flows at 1640 degrees Fahrenheit

Since each solder will melt / flow at a lower temperature than the silver itself, ideally this means you should always be able to flow your solder before you melt your silver! AND it also means that you have three options for complex projects. You start with hard solder, then as you keep adding embellishements or additional joins, you switch to medium, and finally easy. Thus the next step has solder flowing at a lower temperature so you (supposedly) don't unjoin what you already soldered.

Sounds...sound, right?  :)  And it is. The difficulty lies in changing your design, and having already gone up the chain to easy solder for some joins...then when you have to join something else to your piece, you run a very high risk of re-flowing your prior join. And that happened to me several times on this piece. Very, very frustrating!

But it's part of the learning process. And I learned, learned, learned. I did several new things on this piece:

- Soldered big, flat pieces to a the big, wide bar (lots and lots of heat!).

- Soldered tubing to the edges of square wire for the chain (can't let them get crooked; tubing likes to roll around). Tubing and I really don't get along (yet). It tends to have a mind of its own.

- Cut out a matching top from sheet metal for the bottom of my piece (had I planned this initally, it would have been a lot easier to match). But I really, really like the effect:

- Hand set an apatite...when I got to the stone-setting step, I realized that for this design, I'd chosen an apatite. Pretty blue stone, yes, but a 5 on the Mohs scale, and also prone to fracture. So I held my breath all the way through the stone setting proces...but it didn't crack or chip. Hurrah! 

...and this bad boy is ALL hand fabricated. The pendant, the bar chain, the extender, the clasp.  While there are some parts I would do much differently, I am now starting to fall in love with it again...

 Plus, I think I'm starting to get a handle on the finishing / polishing, so I can get the look(s) I want for the metal. You'd have to be a metalsmith to understand how important that is to us geeks...just trust me on this one. It's a happy, happy day in the studio. :)