Monday, March 30, 2015

Kiln Repair

Well, it finally happened. I finally had to replace the muffle in my SC-2 kiln. The muffle is the white ceramic fiber box that lines the inside of the blue metal casing. The muffle doesn't always need replacement, I know artists who have had their kiln for years and never had to fix anything but the occasional thermocouple. But, this kiln was showing the evidence of wear and tear for a long while. The time had come.

Fiber muffle kiln with crack
The kiln had endured a long car trip from the west coast to the east with a forgotten ceramic post rattling around inside. That's what caused the original ding in the wall. Numerous carbon firings later, the fiber really began to degrade, cracks got larger, and eventually my metal clay pieces were coming out either under-fired or over-fired. The photo to the left shows how it looked in 2012. I contacted the manufacturer and they thought that as long as the elements weren't exposed, it didn't need to be repaired and that the kiln should operate well. It did for another couple of years (although, I finally had to lower the top temperature that I fired to 1640ºF instead of 1650ºF for my fine silver work). Then, it didn't work as well at all.

Crack after being ignored for two years
I decided to order another muffle and googled 'kiln repair' in my city to find a repairman. There is a material called Pyrolite that I might have chosen to use to patch the crack, but I decided to go for the more expensive option. Hmmf! I don't remember ever seeing exposed elements, but this is what the crack looked like by the time the repairman had removed the muffle from the kiln (the black stuff is just carbon dust).

It took about 1.5 hours for the professional to complete the transformation. Even though there is a fabulous video tutorial available, I don't think I would have had either the tools or the nerve to manage it on my own. The muffle itself was about $300.00 plus shipping, and the labor added to that total. Pricey, but less than the cost of a new kiln. Maybe I should have looked into the Pyrolite patching compound first.

Naked muffle
The muffle was relatively light and small, easy to handle even in the shipping carton. The repairman had a tall toolbox of screwdrivers, a vacuum, and other tools of the trade. The repair was completed on my studio's table top. He even came to me! No muss, no fuss. Now I have a pristine kiln that I can't wait to mess up!

Here are my tips if you ever have to fool with your own kiln.
1. Make sure to note exactly what's going on. If there are error messages on the digital readout, write them down.
2. Visit the company's website or call them to see if they can offer some tips.
3. If necessary, ask for an employee's email address so you can keep a record of your 'conversation'.
4. Take pictures to help the employee understand the nature of the problem.
5. Proceed in the way that makes you most comfortable. It's not 'better' to do it yourself if you'd rather not.
6. Replacing the thermocouple is super easy! Don't be afraid of that. I've done it myself.
7. Loosening or tightening the door closure/knob is also easy. As is loosening the door hinges for easier/smoother access for enameling.

Beautiful new muffle installed in my smoke 'tattooed' kiln!

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Monday, March 23, 2015

Working with Metal Clay with Failed Binder!

As an instructor I demonstrate how to create different jewelry with metal clay. Sometimes I choose not to sinter the clay because it’s not something I want to keep. I place my dry clay into a container keeping it from dirt and dust until I want to hydrate the clay.

I have found that this helps me keep my costs down while teaching, but I have also found that rehydrating clay over and over causes the binder to stop working. The clay becomes crumbly and won’t hold its shape. If there are any bends in the clay, it cracks and falls apart. It eventually won't even hold to itself and is nothing but a crumbled mess.

Many new metal clay artists have had this problem due to rehydrating clay over and over. They are learning how to use the clay and it dries out during the learning process.

I have discovered mixing ½ rehydrated clay to ½ new clay fixes this problem. If the binder is really failing, you will need change the mixture, using less old clay and more new clay. Adding too much old clay to new clay will cause the whole mixture to fail.

Sometimes when I see the binder start failing, I use the clay up on small flat pieces with lots of texture. I have also dried the clay and then cut it into small bits for use as texture on a creation. Of course, you can also make it into paste.

In my next blog, I'll experiment with different processes that I have been told work for rejuvenating failed binder in metal clay.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
                                                                                                                                                                                              Technical Advise

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Technique of the Month - Balling Sterling Wire

I'm sure you know how to make a ball on the end of a piece of wire. You may have noticed that when 'drawing' a bead/ball on fine silver wire, it melts into an almost perfect sphere, but when you try it with sterling, you end up with a pitted, unattractive mess. That's because the copper content in the sterling is melting, but the fine silver isn't - so an uneven surface referred to as 'reticulation' is forming. Some jewelry makers do this very intentionally on sheet metal in order to form a wonderfully organic texture. But those of us trying to make a head pin just get frustrated. Well, here's a trick to avoid the wrinkles.

See the purplish inner cone, then the lighter blue one with a pointed tip?
That's the hottest part of the flame. There's a paler, bushy bit
to the left of the cone - but the photo isn't showing it.

1. Straighten the wire as well as you can before you start. A curved wire may produce an off center ball.
2. The hottest part of a flame is the tip of the inner blue cone - not the bushy end. This is where you want to position the wire.
3. Use tweezers to hold the end of the wire in the flame until the ball begins to form (pliers are too heavy and too much of a heat sink).  When the wire is in the right spot, you should see a very bright orange heat trail appear. (Prepare for the trick)
4. Once you have the ball the size you want, s-l-o-w-l-y raise it to just above the inner cone, then s-l-o-w-l-y into the bushy part of the flame and then s-l-o-w-l-y out of the flame altogether. This should take only a few seconds.
5. Quench, sand off the oxidation (no need for pickle unless you're making a quantity at once), and use.

The trick is to let the sterling wire cool as slowly as possible. When you make the ball and quickly remove the wire from the flame, the rapid temperature change offers opportunity for reticulation.

NOTE: If you leave the wire in the flame too long, hoping for a larger ball/bead, you run the risk of the wire melting away and the ball dropping into your lap. OUCH!

TIP: If you get a slight burn on your fingers, apply some pure vanilla extract (I keep a bottle in my tool box and in my studio). It won't hurt in a half hour, and it won't blister tomorrow. Anything more serious than that - put it under cold running water (never use ice or butter) and go to the ER immediately.

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tips to Know About Jeweler's Sawblades

Saw blades are measured in size by numbers that are like the numbers on a number line. There is no zero size saw blade. Just like the number line, as the number goes up the size of the blade goes up. As the number goes down the size of the blade becomes smaller.

Two saw teeth to the side of metal
The smaller the blade the thinner it is and the more teeth per inch. The larger the blade the thicker it is and it has less teeth per inch. The correct saw blade size should be measured by the amount of teeth to the side (thickness) of the metal. There should be between
2 -3 teeth to the side of the metal.

The jeweler's saw blade attaches to the saw frame with the teeth pointing down and out away from the handle. The thicker the metal, the larger the blade needed. The thinner the metal the smaller the blade needed.

An annealed saw blade
More expensive blades pay for themselves because they don’t break as easily as less expensive blades. The more expensive blades are annealed so that they bend more without breaking and they have a rounded back allowing the blade to turn more easily.

If the blade is too big, you will have a harder time pulling the saw blade down through the metal. The metal may even bend from the force. If the blade is too small, it won’t steer where you want it to go. It tends to go where ever it wants! Size 05 - 03 are the saw blade sizes used the most.

Saw frames come in several widths (throat depths). The depth allows for sawing deeper into a sheet of metal. For the most part, 3”- 4” is plenty deep for most sawing needs.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

Monday, March 2, 2015

Post Show Update

The ACC show in Baltimore last weekend was quite an experience for me. Cindy Silas and I got to Baltimore just as the Wholesale show was closing. I took a few minutes to walk around and take a look at the booths, then met Cindy, Lorena, and Lore's sister Xochit (pronounced Sochi) to help Vickie pack up. Donna Penoyer showed up just in time to take down the Abstracta Display unit, and we all helped box it up. With all 6 of us, it took 2 hours to break down, pack up, and put it all on the shipping pallet. What a job! Can you imagine how long it would have taken if Vickie had to do it alone?

Vickie Hallmark's booth at ACC baltimore.

The weather this past week has been frightful on the east coast, and Baltimore was particularly cold and windy - to say nothing of snowy. I'm pretty sure that's why this year's show was under attended. Some vendors wrote a decent number of orders, others didn't even make their expenses back. This was Vickie's 2nd time at the show. It is said that it takes at least 3 times displaying your work in any kind of venue for customers to really take notice of you. This is true for big shows and for small neighborhood craft fairs.

Although the retail show looked busy on Friday (the opening day), I'm not sure how well the artists did. Saturday was a horrendous day for anyone to be on the road and I hear the floor was as quiet as a library. Perhaps Sunday was a little better. Having a bad show is the cost of doing business, though. Something to take into account.

Deciding to do a show takes a lot of commitment. Not only are you going to lay out money for your craft/jewelry supplies, but there are a number of other things that will drain your wallet. Do you need a tent? Will you rent pipe and drape? How will you put together your booth? What about lighting? Do you need to travel? Stay in a hotel? Are there application fees? Booth fees? Do you need to pay teamsters to transport your goods from the receiving dock to the show floor? Once you've totaled up all the various expenses, take your labor into consideration. Are you able to set up and break down by yourself? Can you drive to the location? Do you need to have an assistant? Can you stand on your feet for the duration of the show? (Buyers don't really like to see vendors sitting - it gives a bad impression - although you can grab some time off your feet occasionally). The first year, if you make your expenses back, you'll have done well! If you've made some profit, celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. I've heard that you're supposed to make 5 times your booth fee to consider an event successful. Of course, it depends on the venue, the location, and many other factors. When I first did the Contemporary Craft Market in Santa Monica, California, I was thrilled to make 3x my booth fee. But the show was literally down the street, I loaded in and out myself, and had no expenses other than the low booth fee (I had the smallest booth at the show).

Shrink wrapping the pallet. Ready for transport.

The final, and arguably most important, thing to take into consideration is - does your work fit in with the other work being shown? Not that it should look like other artist's work, but if you have low price points in a high end show (or vice-versa), or if you create romantic/steampunk/fantasy type designs and the show is being set up at a county fair or by the beach  - are you marketing to your customer or taking a shot at breaking into new territory? As long as you keep your expectations in line with the reality of the situation - there's no wrong choice. It may be a hard sell, but you'll learn a lot!

My days of doing shows in outlying cities is at an end. I have no interest in all the pre and post labor expending activities. ACC debuted a new exhibit this year during the retail show called Hip Pop. They set up 3 or 4 small areas that housed 6-7 micro booths for emerging artists. I was seriously considering applying next year - but then I thought about the standing - for three days - and am now seriously reconsidering.

                                                                                                                        Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor