I’ve moved

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Welcome to the new workshop!

After an eventful journey to Cornwall (which we completed on the back of an RAC rescue lorry …) I’m now unpacked and making my new workshop feel like home. I couldn’t have made this move without the help of dear friends, the support of family, cooperation from my new landlords and the unparalleled care/support/cheerleading/dinner-making of my partner, Craig.

I’m now looking forward to quiet, sunny days sitting and making, with the radio on and a cup of tea at hand. Roll along summer …

Press Forming Silver (for Jewellery)

I’ve had a lot of fun carving wax to make 3D forms lately but it’s been a while since I did any press forming to make a piece. This week I started a pebble shaped pendant that will be set with a constellation of topaz and diamonds. I made a note to document the process, to show my press forming method:

Press Tools in MDF and Acrylic
Press Tools:

I make press tools from MDF, which is easy to saw, or acrylic sheet, which is not so easy. The heat from sawing continually sticks the saw blade into acrylic (which can be incredibly frustrating) so for short runs/one off moulds I use MDF instead. I re-enforce both materials with nickel sheet, it’s tougher than silver and gives a nice, crisp edge to your forms.

 

Silver for  Press Forming:

Press formed work can be made in silver, copper, brass and a lot of other metals. The harder the metal the tougher a press tool you’ll need to work with it. I find that sterling silver doesn’t stretch that well under the pressure which I can apply with a hand operated fly press so I use Britannia silver instead. Britannia has extra stretch/flexibility and is legally hallmark-able in the UK.

Pressing:

I tend to go softly, softly with press work, building up the depth of the piece over several pressings instead of trying to stretch the whole thing in one go. I start with annealed silver sheet (this particular piece is also pre-textured) and sandwich it between the press tool and a sheet of firm rubber. Above this I add some cut down rubber, around the size of the mould, to give an extra push into the press tool.

Once I’ve got things started I’ll change around the positions of the rubber pressing pieces. I move the smaller, shaped pieces of rubber into the dips in the silver and then cover them with the larger sheet. I then press this, which forces the depression in the silver deeper:

As I go along I measure the depth of the pressed silver using a vernier gauge, ensuring that I’m pressing each half symmetrically for an even shape. I like the two halves to be symmetrical but I judge by eye when I feel that the shape has gone deep enough.

Cutting out the pieces:

Next step is to cut the pressed forms from the silver sheet, allowing the silhouette that I’ve been working on to appear. This part is always a little magical, until you get to the filing! I file the excess metal off the back of the cut-outs, removing the blocky edge from them and allowing them to join together smoothly.

Soldering Pressed Forms:

Soldering together and then reheating a hollow form isn’t advisable, you run the risk of exploding the solder joint as the trapped air expands on the second re-heat. This usually means that I put a couple of discreet drill holes on the back of a piece, to allow air to escape, but this particular pendant will be stone set so I can drill the setting holes in advance and solve the problem that way.

I stick solder the two halves together, keeping as much excess solder off the front and back faces as possible.

Cleaning Up:

After that I clean up the solder joint, fit a loop for the pendant chain and finish off adding drill holes/texture to the front of the piece. It’s now ready to hallmark (by laser, to avoid crushing anything) and set. Look out for the finished article appearing on the commissions page soon.

Looking back: workbenches

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Sorting through a pile of her old, film photographs my little sister just dug out this black and white image. It’s my first workbench, in a cold lean-to attached to my parents house, that we built when I finished university.

I had barely any machinery, just my university hand tools really, but it’s where my Flotsam range began and where I first made the choice to stick at being a jeweller. I’ve had two other works-paces since then, a small square one that I sublet from some other makers and my current home, all on Hylton Street in the Jewellery Quarter.

Sometimes it dazzles me, just how far I’ve come in seven years:

First and current workshop sm
The workshop then [2008/9] vs the workshop now [2014/15]

Workshop: Extraction for Jewellery Polishers

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For many years I have got by in my workshop without a proper, large scale polisher. Oh, sure, I have a little barrel one (which is just brilliant) but not the full on, rotary kind. If things have needed a good, glossy polish I have either made do with a tiny polishing mop, mounted onto my pendant motor, or borrowed a friends larger polishing machine.

Well, no more! Back in the spring I found a local, third-hand polishing motor on eBay for a song and have finally had it re-wired, got it installed and ready to go. Of course, you don’t have to do much polishing to realise the value of extraction, while opening the windows is a fine start it is by no means enough when you’re using something that kicks out as much dust as a large polishing motor. Getting covered in polishing rouge is annoying but the real danger is combustible dust hanging around the workshop and getting stuck in your lungs.

Now, I’ll admit that I know very little about woodwork/carpentry and while I’ve seen some fine home-made extraction systems constructed entirely from cardboard boxes and gaffer tape, I really did want to get something a little more official – that I didn’t have to build. Most jewellery supply companies only stock ridiculously expensive, all in one extraction solutions which I’m sure are brilliant – but which would be like a sledgehammer to a walnut in my little workshop.

Moleroda Jewellery Polishing

Thankfully, there’s eBay. I found a nice, friendly little outfit in Salisbury, called Moleroda who have an eBay store here and a comprehensive website here. They specialise in polishing stuff and do a nifty little fold-up plastic polishing hood that can be cut to fit your machine, and a vacuum to use as an extractor, all in one listing. Having looked about a fair bit it’s easily the most cost-effective solution that I’ve come across and it solved all of my problems in one go.

So I bought one of these.

The dust hood does a surprisingly credible Transformer impression:

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood

in it’s flat pack state but it folds up very quickly (and simply) and is held together by yellow electrical tape, which is included in the parcel:

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood, folding

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood, fitting

I did have to cut the triangular, side ‘wing’ sections off (mainly to avoid them extending over the edge of my very skinny polishing table) but the sturdy, corrugated plastic didn’t seem to mind this and holds together very well without them. I’ve secured the whole thing down with a few tiny panel pins and it is, so far, very stable.

The dust hood has a pre-cut hole in the centre of the back, for inserting the hose of a vacuum but, as you can see, I don’t really have an abundance of space to work with behind my polisher – so I’ve opted to fit the extractor on the side – cutting a new hole in the plastic (again, not too tricky a maneuver):

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood - side fitting

and have used the angled head (that comes with the vacuum) to get the whole thing positioned correctly. That seems to have worked a treat and, now that the hoses are all connected up, I have a fully functional dust catching and extracting system to keep my lungs safe and my workshop tidy.

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood with extractor fitted

Plastic Jewellery Polishing Hood and extractor, fitted

Workshop Renovations, pt 2

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Workshop renovations are coming on apace, with the last coat of paint due to go on the walls tomorrow I’ve roped in some wonderful helpers to build benches, put up an awful lot of scavenged worktop and generally aid in making the place ship shape. And all I had to do was feed them.

Seriously though, I couldn’t have done this without the generous help that I’ve received along the way so far – and can’t wait to move in to the finished space.

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Workshop Renovations – pt1

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It’s been clear for a while now that I’ve needed a bigger workshop, I’ve got to a point where I need to invest in larger machinery, where I’d like to be able to stretch out, make bigger work and be able to have more space to plan designs as well as ‘just’ making things. I’ve got ideas of teach a little too and for that I will definitely require more space.

So, after a few dreary January afternoons combing the ‘to let’ adverts in and around the Jewellery Quarter I finally found somewhere that just felt right the instant that I walked through the door.

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Typically, it was last on a long list of properties to see, it was cold, dreary and may even have been raining outside. But, inside, there was light, and space and okay, it’s in the attic of a rickety old building but hey, I’ve always thought that it’s the haphazard structures that give the Jewellery Quarter a lot of its charm. 

And now, after quite a lot of official procedures (and filling in reams of forms) I have the keys and am starting to strip things back, ready to paint and to build: