As a teacher, I know that there's nothing that will stretch my imagination and inspire new directions in both my personal work and in my teaching practice like learning a new technique. So recently I a took a class at the Visual Arts Center here in Richmond, where I hold Intro classes. 'Steel Fabrication for Jewelers' was taught by the very talented Sarah Loertscher. Sarah demonstrated a plethora of techniques, of which I attempted two designs. And true to my modus operandi - didn't complete.
My lovely chain. Somtimes I used just the right amount of solder
and sometimes I got lazy and cut too big a piece.
We used plain ol' mild steel binding wire from the hardware store to form jump rings to be made into chain or bracelets or whatever we could dream up. I really loved this project for a variety of reasons. First and foremost - I'm not at all ambidextrous and have always babied myself by holding the torch in my dominant hand, switching at the last minute when I needed to use a soldering pick. This is a big no-no in the metal working process. So this time I 'forced' myself to put the torch in my left hand and hold the pick with my right. And by the end of the day, I almost had the technique down pat. Almost. Sarah showed us a great trick to help steady a shaky non dominant hand. By using the pick to guide the torch tip just at the bend of the nozzle I had almost as much control as if I were using my right hand to control the flame. I'll be practicing this technique more, until I perfect it.
These modified rings would be great chain 'stations' or post earring elements.
The half ring is held in place with a third hand while soldering.
Sarah uses black welder's flux called 'Stay Silv' most often when soldering steel, but admits that traditional, white, 'Handi Flux' works, too. It just doesn't offer as much working time as black flux does. There's no specific solder for steel, so we used medium silver solder (you can, of course, also use the beautiful but spendy 18K gold solder if you wish). We bridged our work over two firing bricks, so that we could get the flame under the seams and draw the solder down. A metal tripod would have been too much of a heat sink.
Rachel Rader's line of jump rings turned bangle bracelet.
On Saturday we learned to saw mild or stainless steel sheet to make other elements. Never use good tools on steel! Sheet metal cutters and sheers will dull and get chewed up by steel. Also keep steel away from a rolling mill for the same reasons. We used a #3 blade to cut our small squares of metal. Sarah had to take the big sheets she had brought to the university's giant, heavy duty guillotine cutter to make sample size squares for us (The VisArts Center has a guillotine - but it wasn't sturdy enough for this job). You could ask your vendor to cut the sheet, but there would most likely be a charge for this service. Mild steel is easier to saw and to solder, but stainless is... well... stainless. So it doesn't tarnish or rust as easily. The emphasis in on stain LESS, not stain free. Sarah suggested we use a sealant like Renaissance Wax or a similar product to protect the surface of mild steel for about a year or so.
My slotted earrings. Well, they're almost earrings. Any day now...
We learned how to use slots to build dimension into our work, score a line with a triangle or square file to make a sharp bend, do solder inlay, place oxidized work in muriatic acid (get it at the hardware store) for a super fast pickle clean up, use both heat and gun bluing for patina, and to use Super Sunsheen Polishing liquid in the tumbler to condition not only the shot, but the finished jewelry. Sarah has some mild steel pieces that haven't rusted in over a year after a tumble in Super Sunsheen.
Class samples. Notice the little blue rectangle on the 2nd sheet of paper?
That's silver solder inlay in mild steel with gun bluing patina.
This class was a wonderful three-day treat, and I highly recommend that you think about taking a workshop in a technique that isn't quite your cup of tea. I guarantee it'll spark your creative imagination.