Annealing and some modified ‘special’ tools

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Wato wato one and all.

I trust all is tickety boo with you and yours, back to the making part of the journey, my favourite. Who thinks the business and marketing side is favourite for them? I need to party with you if you are that person 🙂 For the rest of us, lets talk tools.

I had a question regarding the set up I use for annealing. The first picture shows my trusty Sievert set up. This is a very old set I purchased second hand on Ebay. Beware if you do similarly, this one leaked like a basket. On closer inspection the handle cracked and I had to modify/make new parts to make it gas tight. As far as I’m aware, Sievert no longer make this kit. However if you wish to have a set up like it for a fraction of the price, Machine Mart in the U/K have a comparable system, not Seivert, that looks very interesting and equally, if not more versatile than mine.

The first picture highlights the three nozzles I use most. The smallest one (part number 3937) is great for small work, think jump rings and the like. For general soldering and annealing of larger jewellery pieces, cuffs, large wire bangles ect, the one in the middle laying on the handle is great (part number 3941). For annealing vessels, quite large ones at that, in a shielded (firebrick) enclosure I have annealed a ten inch sheet with the nozzle shown attached to the handle in the first picture (part number 2943). The third and fourth picture show the smallest, with the needed small neck, and the largest in the kit. The largest nozzle I have (part number 3944) is shown lit on a very low setting. I show it here for you to see a soft flame is possible with this massive nozzle. I like that the flame given off is huge, it sounds just like a jet engine in the workshop, roaring away and bathing a very large surface area in a moderate to high heat. I find this creates an enveloping environment that is less likely to produce hot spots that more fierce and directed flames used by some twin pack set ups, like Oxy Acetylene for example. MAPP gas is hugely expensive. For large sheets I shudder to think of the cost. To my mind its overkill as the temperatures these systems are capable of are never needed if you stick to silver, copper and the like. The twin pack gasses are really best suited to precious metals where very much higher temperatures are required to anneal and solder. I appreciate this is my opinion derived through my experience. Please do comment if you have anything to add.

I use common garden Propane. The second picture shows my additional step down regulator. If you choose to have a, do everything set up, like mine, best you invest in one of these. Great for toning down when using the smaller nozzles with a simple tap, as you can see. I can’t speak for countries other than the U/K. The Propane I use comes in a red bottle of various sizes. Its very reasonably priced, if you do a lot of annealing then you have the option of a 47KG bottle that will last along time. I have the smallest bottle in the workshop, and a couple of larger ones for annealing larger work under my carport, I have another handle and hose, just needing to swap the nozzles, you can see the spanner in the 3rd picture.

I understand that Butane is calorifically higher, hotter, more bang for your buck. I have not felt the need to try it, besides I would need to purchase a new regulator if I did. If you must mix. Sievert, and other handles are available that will allow you to add air if you wish. This will make a very much hotter flame, I guess you could hook it up to a compressor if you wished to keep cost to a minimum. If anyone uses such a set up, I, we indeed, would be very interested to learn of your experiences with it. Butane is sold in blue containers with similar sizes, though I don’t think you can get the giant 47KG ones as you can with Propane. Again I am ready to stand corrected should anyone enlighten.

I have been asked to make a necklace with forged to undulating round/ovalish shapes. The rub is, the chap wants it to be really weighty and asked for 5mm wire to start!!! I managed to talk him out of 6mm which was what he contemplated. These links are to be forged once turned into rings, soldered and shaped. Have you tried to make small rings with 5mm sterling silver wire! Man alive, it is tough to work into bends that small, getting the ends to meet for soldering is also a nightmare as it is soooo hard. The other conspiring difficulty is, the 83mm lengths to start with are a bugger to hold whilst you try to form them around a mandrel. The vibration is enough to rattle a chaps fillings, also keeping it still, trying not to hammer fingers, preventing it taking an aerial journey across the workshop was also challenging.

After fighting with the first one, bruised fingers and all, I decided to try something else, I share it with you here in the hope you may find the following tips helpful as they can be used on all sizes of wire if you wish.

I bent each end approximately 45 degrees and then put them in the contraption you see in picture 4. I only thought to photograph it afterwards, so the link you see is complete.

These ‘pliers’ were purchased on Ebay a while ago after I came across them in one of my second hand tool hunts. They are old pig ringing pliers. Used to attach nose rings into pigs. As you see, you have the option of two sizes. I was not strong enough to form them with my hands, resting one handle on a rubber block and tapping the other closed with a leather mallet. Fantastic and painless result, as shown. Ring forming pliers are nothing new, look on any jewellery supply site. However these are quite a bit larger than the ‘proper’ jobs. Also, who wants pig pliers, cost conscious farmers thats who. Not ‘oh its for working precious metal therefore its and arm and a leg please’ of the tool suppliers. Look up a set for yourself. These are aluminium, thats a bonus as they will be far less likely to mark your material, a danger with steel ones. Also, should you so wish, you could mirror polish them and use them for making production runs of perfect, unmarked larger jump rings ready for soldering.

Soldering is where the next challenge presented. The spring in heavy gauge wire is considerable. After getting the ends as close as possible it was still a gnats doo dah too large for soldering. Anneal the link to give some softness after getting it almost to meet then onto the next beauty I managed to think of. I tried to use binding wire. No way could I get enough tension, after trying I was also worried that if I could, this would bite into the link, scarring the silver.

When people know you make things, the best of intentions come out, though sometimes misguided. My mum found these e.p.n.s. sugar tongs at a boot sale. ‘thought of you Stuie, any good to you’?  You don’t like to say no when the thought was so nice and well intended do you. Off they popped into my dead, damaged and what the hell is this for, tool graveyard.

As you see in the final two pictures; brilliant for this job, the spoon end ‘cups’ of the tongs cradle the link and stop it skidding about. Wrapping binding wire around the handles, exploiting the natural spring in the tongs gave just the right amount of pressure required to close the gap, whilst giving the smallest of footprint to prevent too much heat loss through the heat sinking effect of having another metal object in contact. Also as the tongs are very much thinner than the link, this really helped to get the heat where it was needed.

I hope you come away from this post refreshed from the horrid last couple of navel gazing business oriented ones. If you get something from this post, please do let me know. I will share other tools I have made or modified in future posts. Until then, as always thank you very much for sharing the journey.

Very best wishes.


An approach to make curves or shallow bowls in metal

Wato wato

I have to get a silver vessel ready for a show in Truro the week after next and have neglected my commitments here.  As promised, I will illustrate a way to create curves or bowls without stakes or depressions to form into.

The piece of copper was from a scrap corner of a disc I cut to make a raised copper bowl, more on that in a future post. I deliberately made it square to help you to think about curves in a different way. If I cut a circle then, perhaps, you may think why not just use a doming block or punch? If you try this with a square you may find the points don’t behave as you think they would, tending to crumple and become marked by the doming block, no such challenges with this way.

Please be aware that this is ‘a’ way; not ‘the’ way to approach making effects photographed here. I am minded to think of when I started and looking at all the stakes and hammers on offer, which one? How many? I feel certain you will have experienced just such confusion. I offer this way to you as I feel sure you already have, of can inexpensively come by the tools shown here to experiment,  creating your own sculptural shapes, adding to your deeper understanding of how to problem solve when you hit a creative wall as it were.

A steel bench block and a ball peen hammer are all you need, good oh eh 😉 if you are just ‘sketching’ as I do, then you will not even have to worry unduly about the surface finishes of the block or hammer. In fact you may be able to produce some beautiful effects with less than perfect surfaces, unique to you. It just gets better don’t you think.

I deliberately did not freshly anneal the piece to start. If you look further along the sequence you will see I have highlighted the help that a freshly annealed and pickled surface give to you as a guide to facilitate more accurate placements of your hammer blows. You may wish to start with a freshly pickled surface, your choice.

The idea behind this, and I will descend into metaphor to help explain to you how I see it; Again, before I do I am bound to say that this is how I see it, if anyone knows a better way please please do let me know and I will alter to be clearer and less confusing. Metal works like slow motion clay, also it flows a little like water under the hammer blow making a small ‘wave’ of material. If you hammer quite hard with the ball end of your hammer on a freshly annealed piece of material, copper silver or other types, on a steel block you will notice the contact point sunk with a ring of material surrounding the mark. Try it with a cross peen and again the ‘moat’ or wall of material will surround where the hammer has struck. This is the softer, un work hardened material being squished away from the compressed area.  The outside edge that I hammered to start creates a ‘moat’ or barrier of work hardened material. When you then go from the middle, overlapping blows you are trapping the soft state, not yet hammered and work hardened material towards it, eventually meeting a barrier it cannot cross. As the distance is covered the ‘wave’ is larger and will cause the material to curl as it gets closer to the edge.

Where the analogy with clay breaks down a little here is the one shot deal you get with metal. Metal will not stand repeated blows and will eventually crack if continually hammered on the same spot without annealing. For safety sake it is best to do one round, re anneal, pickle and start again. This way you will not be likely to cause the material to fail by overworking. Another bonus is that you will become far more accurate as you become aware of sticking to this one hit rule and using the colour change as a guide as the struck area becomes shiny.

I have only done three rounds to show what is possible, nothing to stop you taking it further if you wish. You will come up with limits eventually as you continually thin the material, as a result this is perhaps best left to create shallower forms. By holding the sheet at increasing angles as you strike it you can alter the depth, even making different depths on a single piece.

The other photographs illustrate this as they clearly show the way I have held the brooches at shallower and steeper angles to the block to obtain the transitional curves seen here. The ‘shrinking marks’ shown are made with a cross peen. I will explain how this works with examples an another post. To get you thinking about shrinking, (a poet and didn’t know it 🙂 think fold forming. I hope to show you why I think of metal as a kind of slow motion clay, try to think ‘barriers’ stretching and compressing waves.

Thank you again for reading and the kind messages. Until next time.

All my very best wishes

Stu Art

Preparing to sink a copper bowl also applies to silver.

Wato wato.

Time for a break from chasing and repousse, good oh do I hear you say?

I very much wanted to create three dimensional, sculptural type work in metal. This type of working was what attracted me to silversmithing in the first place. So we don’t go off at a tangent, as I am likely to do, no really! I will not give examples of the work that inspires me yet. O/K perhaps just one to give an example of the extreme plasticity and mailability of metal over repeated courses.

This piece was made from gold sheet and raised to become the masterpiece you see here. I was astonished when I saw this and was truly amazed to discover how it was made. As I understand it, it is still somewhat of a mystery as to he exactly did it. I feel the need to show a modern master of this extreme form of metal raising, my biggest influence today as well as a thoroughly decent chap who responded to my ham fisted request for help; David Huang.

Breathtaking aren’t they. Please do take the time to look at his sight, the man is a truly beautiful individual who has an inspirational take on life that is well worth reading. When I make enough to support myself and have cash to spare (I put when so that defeat is not an option) I will purchase one of his masterpieces, you can quote me on it.

I was afraid I would get carried away, oh well I hope you find some history and examples of masters challenge you to have a go.

The pictures show the early stages of the journey that leads to hand raised vessels, hollowware or sculptural art as shown by Cellini and Huang. Many practitioners start by raising and not sinking first, here is why I prefer to sink first.

The metal, when you start with a flat sheet, even after annealing is quite reluctant to raising and demands a degree of understanding as to the direction the metal will tend to take. As a beginner it was easy for me to get lost and create what looked like a pringle crisp that had been processed more than once. Experienced practitioners do not have a problem compensating for and altering their approach as the material demands, sinking before lessons this ‘wild’ behaviour of the metal, in my experience anyway. Sinking lets the metal ‘relax’ into the process and aids me in making each round more consistent.

The two ancient looking machines shown in the photographs were purchased by me from a chap who retired as a tinsmith. I managed to rescue the whole of his workshop machines and stakes. You can just see one of the two fly presses that came from him. He showed me one of the press stamps and said this was his first job as a tinsmith when he was sixteen. I feel proud to have been able to become the next custodian of these fine machines that were at the centre of the golden era, now sadly gone, of British manufacturing, don’t get me started!

The metal guillotine is handy, fast and efficient in cutting straight edges. You don’t need it, its just lovely to have as is the next machine that you may not have seen before. This is a circle cutting machine. A kind of tin opener like machine with two cutting wheels that cut as the handle is cranked. Again not a necessity, just a beautiful machine to own and one that will be overhauled, like the guillotine in the future.

The metal sheers or tinsnips are perfectly good for this and are mostly used as many people will not have a circle cutting machine. When you cut with these sheers, go just outside the line and finish off by filling to the line. The sheers will leave a little raised edge or burr that will need to be filled smooth. The jewellers saw is a posh one made by KEW designs. It gets mixed reviews, I am not the best person to advise as I started with the nastiest cheapest saw to begin with, as a result I feel sure anything else would feel fantastic. This saw is great for me and I noticed the difference straight away, best, if you can, to try a really nicely made traditional saw, then compare, I haven’t so am not subjective on this.

Shown are the hammers I use, sinking or blocking hammers as they are known. I put the common ball peen hammer in to show the difference in profiles. As you see this hammer has a very tight radius compaired to the blocking hammers. Imagine the surface finish you see on planished jewellery or vessels. The ball peen is great for texture, not so good for sinking as it compressed a too small area. The larger hammer on the right is looking almost flat by comparison. Imagine this moving large areas at a time and distributing the stresses from each blow more evenly as well as making overlapping blows far easier. Some people would use a bossing mallet shown here to do all the sinking. I find it more efficient to use a hammer on wood then finish off with the mallet, either in the same wood depression or on a sandbag to even out the surface before annealing.

I show the two examples of wooden depressions made to accommodate different sizes and depths. The second one shows the hole I drilled to remove material before using a sinking hammer and repeatedly hammering hard and accurately to create a depression that matched the profile of the hammer. The other one was made deliberately irregular with chisels and sanding to experiment with differing depths and profiles. Willow is said to be the best material as it has a natural spring, as it was explained to me, think of cricket bats. I do not have any and used wood I found after a tree was cut down where I walk my two dogs. Pretty much any end grain wood should work I would think.

When you started to mark out your circle you need to centre punch the middle where the compass spike sits. This is important as you will need this as a reference point later. Careful not to go too deep, making sure you can see the mark from the reverse, this is not as important if you plan to just sink, however if you go on to raise you will need both.

I have, again, written more than I intended and find myself running out of time. I will continue this topic next time, trying not to be as distracted. The next post we will start to strike the metal and create a small bowl. For those of you who are not sure about sinking with the wood, or do not have a blocking hammer but do have a ball peen. I will show you how you can use work hardening with such a hammer and a flat steel bench block to make a small bowl from scrap if you like.

Until next week, all my very best wishes.

Stu Art 🙂