Monday, December 28, 2009


2009 is almost over so I thought I would write a short review of my year.

Judging by my portfolio and resume it was a pretty unproductive year. I spent quite a bit of time on my scale necklace, and I spent some time on some things I have not yet finished, but most of my time this year was spent making things that didn't go in my portfolio.

I was only in two exhibitions this year. One of them was Cheongju, which is kind of a big one, so that makes me feel a little better. I only entered a few others, and got rejected from them. There were several exhibitions or competitions I didn't enter, Niche, Materials Hard and Soft, CraftForms, Mesa Contemporary Crafts.

I should be getting some good news about two of my brooches soon (I hope). I really want to say something about it now, but I feel it is bad luck to say anything before it is finalized.

2009 was a good year for travel for me, I went to Iceland and Sweden, then Korea and Japan less than a month later.

I never mentioned it on this blog, but I spoke with my former employer at Houman Jewelry Design in San Diego a few times throughout the year about going back to work for him. We spoke three or four times, but our timing was always off. It was either me calling him about a job, but he didn't need anyone, or him calling me about a job, but I couldn't go.

I love San Diego and want to go back there, but I may be moving somewhere else to take a new job early next year. Most people who know me know about it, but I don't want to announce it here till it is certain.

So between considering going back to my old job and applying for this other job, 2009 has felt like my final year in my current life. I hope it is because I am ready to move on.

Monday, December 21, 2009

more work on the ebony and aluminum brooch

My goal is to finish all my unfinished pieces this winter, but I ended up starting something new last night. It's a lock pick. I make so many lock picks, but they are all the same couple designs. I'm sick of doing these same designs cause I could do so much more with custom lock picks, but most of my customers don't want to try anything new. So I started on one that's totally different from the other designs I have done. Lock picks don't normally take too long to make, but this one's going to be much more time consuming.

I also worked on the ebony and aluminum brooch. I haven't worked on it much since I wrote about it last cause I had other things to do. Last time I worked on it I finished shaping the aluminum part and put a texture on it with files.

Last night I made the sterling back plate for the ebony.

I also drilled the holes for the pins (or screws, I haven't decided yet) that will help hold the aluminum part. I will also use epoxy to hold the aluminum part. The pins will make it stronger and also hold it in place so I don't need to worry as much about the aluminum piece shifting before the epoxy dries.

The plate on the back will be attached with either pins or screws. Which ever I use I will also use some epoxy on them.

Since you cannot solder to aluminum, I have to use screws to attach the top part of the pin back. It was kind of difficult getting the little sterling plate to conform to the shape of the aluminum. The larger diamond shape drawn on the aluminum is a tracing of the sterling plate. After taking the photo below I burred away the area inside the smaller diamond. Burring away that lump made it easier to fit the silver to the curve of the aluminum.

After getting the sterling to fit a little better I drilled holes in it and the aluminum, then tapped the holes in the aluminum. Then I screwed the sterling piece to the aluminum and hammered the sterling directly on the aluminum until there were no gaps between the silver and the aluminum.

Next time I work on this piece I will finish making the pin back, make the screws to hold everything together and maybe anodize the aluminum. I still don't know what color to make it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My favorite tools

I love tools and I'm not joking when I say that tools are one of the main reasons I went in to the metal working field, so I thought I would make a list of my favorite tools. Not necessarily the ones I use every day, but the ones that I really like.

I'm also working on a list of my least favorite tools.

After the first two items on the list the rest of the list is in no particular order.

10x loupe - I am starting the list with the 10x loupe, because it is one of two tools I own that is always out on my bench. My tools are usually scattered all over my bench, but when I clean everything gets put away, except for my loupe and caliper, they stay out because there's no reason to ever put them away. Everything has its place and the place for my loupe is on my bench top right in front of me.

I am always inspecting everything with a 10x loupe while I am working and when I am finished. There is so much more to see when you are looking at things under magnification.

Mitutoyo digital caliper - This is the other tool I own that is always out on my bench. I am constantly using calipers. I used a cheap vernier caliper for about 4 1/2 years, then I got a cheap digital caliper. It was ok, but I always had to close it and make sure it was zeroed before using it. In 2006 I got my current 6" Mitutoyo digital caliper. It's much better. It never needs to be zeroed, when you close it it always returns to 0.00. It's also sealed against dust and moisture to a certain degree. I'm sure other quality brands make good calipers too, like Starrett, but I haven't used them.

Ultrasonic - There was a period when I didn't have one, and that period sucked. After polishing all the little 3mm pieces of tubing on my teapot I had to clean all 109 of them by hand with a toothbrush because I didn't have an ultrasonic. The ultrasonic is also the best way to clean a piece of aluminum before anodizing.

For some reason they aren't really into the ultrasonic at universities I have been at, and the art center I taught at. I have no idea why. When I worked as a bench jeweler the first thing I would do in the morning was turn on the heat on the ultrasonic, and turn on the steam cleaner. At these schools and the art center the heat is never turned on, usually it needs water added, and I rarely saw anyone using it.

I am ashamed to show this photo of my Chinese made ultrasonic, I needed one but I couldn't afford an American or German one.

NSK E-max micromotor with belt sander - This sander is the reason I bought the E-max micromotor. It saves me so much time making my aluminum pieces and shaping the wood handles of my lock picks. When I say it saves time, I mean it saves so much time that if I no longer had this tool I would probably quit working in aluminum.

This isn't something I use to put a final finish on a piece, but it is perfect to use after filing or grinding with a bur, which is how I shape all my aluminum pieces. Hand finishing can come after that. Belts come in 4, 6 or 8mm widths, mostly I am using 4 or 8 mm in 120, 240, or occasionally 400 grit. Belts are available between 80 and 800 grit, they also have diamond belts up to 1000 grit, and felt belts. They are kind of hard to find though, the only place I have found them is here.

The E-max is adjustable from 1000 RPMs to 35,000 RPMs (someone else can figure out what that is in SFPM, I really don't care), so you can turn it up when you want to remove material quickly, or turn it way down for sanding around details.

The problem with this stuff is the price. I have bad news for anyone who may be now thinking they want to buy one of these belt sanders... they are around $400 just for the sander, and you still need the $800 E-max. To my knowledge Rio Grande never had these sanders in their printed catalog, but in 2007 they had them on their website in the close out section for $150, thats when I bought mine. A year later Rio still had them in the close out section, now for $50. By that time this tool was so essential to me I bought a second one as a back up. They no longer have them anymore.

Super glue - Not just any super glue, it has to be the one in this awesome "Frustration Free Applicator" made by Loctite. There's just a little tube or something inside the plastic and you squeeze the sides to use it. I won't buy any other super glue. Seriously.

I only use super glue while I am making things, it doesn't get used on any finished pieces. I use it for things like making sure I am happy with the position of a part before soldering it on. Like in the photo below, that square thing on the right end of my teapot is glued on. If I am happy with it where it is I will mark it with a scribe.

I also use it when making lock picks to to glue my handle templates to the steel to trace. I have used it to hold parts I am milling and to hold parts I am cutting on the lathe.

Holding tools/hand vises - I love tools to hold the things I am working on. Beginners or people who have never used some kind of holding device to hold the piece they are trying to file or saw often do not seem to understand how important they are. Within the category of holding tools, these are my favorites:

Bergeon locking parallel pliers - The pliers in the photo below are Swiss, there's also a German version which are black, and a much cheaper version that are probably made in China or Pakistan. Otto Frei sells the German version, Progress Tool apparently sells all three versions, but they show the same picture of the Bergeon pliers for both the Swiss and German versions. I wonder if they have them all in stock? Rio no longer sells any of these pliers.

They work best for holding things with parallel sides, like this piece of aluminum that went on the lid of my teapot.

They also work for some things that have somewhat parallel sides like this piece I have been working on recently in the photo below.

The pliers in the photo below - I don't know what exactly they are called.  Otto Frei calls them "sliding hand vise pliers," Progress tool calls them "chipping tong pliers," what ever that means. What ever they are called I like them. Mine are Italian made, from Progress tool. Otto Frei used to sell German ones, now they only sell Pakistani ones.

I use these for holding small pieces of sheet metal to file or saw. They are especially useful for making my lock picks. With these pliers and the parallel pliers you need to put the piece you will be filing as far into the pliers as possible so it can't bend or vibrate as you file. When I am filing my lock picks I usually have the metal sticking up past the top of the pliers only about 1mm. In the photo below I am using a separating disk to cut some of the notches in the left end of the pick.

Miter vise - Tool catalogs often say this tool is good for holding things for sawing. I never found it very useful for that.  For me its only purpose is to old something to file something completely flat, like the ends of a piece of tubing or rod.

Sil-Air compressor - This one is kind of a luxury piece of equipment.  A compressor is essential, a silent compressor not so much.  At my old job we had a compressor in a cabinet maybe 10 feet behind where I worked.  It sounded like a lawn mower when it ran.  I couldn't stand it.  So when it was time for me to get my own compressor I decided to get a quiet one.  This one is about as loud as a refrigerator when it runs.  I said this one is kind of a luxury item cause it costs around 10x as much as a normal compressor of the same size.  Of course it depends on the brand, but that's approximately how much more it costs.  I hate noisy compressors and I totally feel it was worth the extra cost

Foredom #18 quick change hand piece - For me, this quick change handpiece is better than any others I have used because you are able to push the lever to release the bur with the hand you are using to hold the handpiece without changing your grip.  Changing a bur takes about 1-2 seconds.

There are a lot more tools I love, but this list is good enough for now.  Maybe I will write another post someday and continue this list.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I just added a search box to the right side of the page so I can search my blog. I added it more for myself than for my readers.


Yesterday I mostly worked on fixing the problem with one of my pieces that I mentioned at the end of my previous post. It's an issue that comes up with the aluminum occasionally. I don't really understand it and I don't want to talk about it.

After that I worked on the aluminum and ebony brooch. I continued shaping the aluminum part, drilled a hole in the ebony for the aluminum part, and shaped the ebony part some more.

I should have done something different early on in the process that would have made things much easier. Before I started carving the aluminum part I should have put it in the lathe and made the bottom of the thing cylindrical so it would be easy to just drill a hole in the ebony and put it in.

Since I just free handed it with my micromotor it's not round. Which means after I drilled the hole in the ebony, I had to use a wood carving bur (pictured below) to try to make the hole match the shape of the aluminum piece. Doing that sort of thing is never easy. And of course what I ended up with was there being a gap between the aluminum and ebony in some places. Now I am trying to figure out the best way to make it look good. I wonder if my explanation makes any sense?

Speaking of wood carving burs, I think these spiky ones are so cool. I also like that they come in different colors. But they can totally tear up your fingers worse than any thing else I have experienced.

Keeping with my decision to finish all my unfinished pieces this winter, I decided to give up on finish this spoon in the photo below. It's not finished to my standards at all, the casting is so bad I think it would be faster for me to just remake the piece rather than try to fix all the pits. But this piece isn't important enough to remake.

I am not sure if I wrote about this spoon at all before, I carved the wax around 2000 or 2001 during my 4 year wax carving spree, and cast it in three parts in 2007. I don't know what happened with the casting, but two of the parts are just terrible. I worked on it for a while and finally put it aside cause I didn't want to deal with it. So now I just want to call it done and not worry about it anymore. I have no plans to photograph it any better than the photo below.

Friday, December 11, 2009

something I am working on

Here are some photos of a piece I was working on recently. It will be anodized aluminum and ebony. The design in my sketch book is dated January 2009. I am not sure when I started making it, but I didn't get very far before I stopped. I started working on it again last week. I'm trying to finish all my unfinished pieces this winter.

I like this design, so I'm not sure why I stopped working on it almost as soon as I started. The ebony part was mostly done, but all I had done on the aluminum part was roughly cut it out with my band saw. So last week I started shaping the piece. I like carving these kinds of things, but I am tired of the mess it makes.

After getting it mostly shaped with burs, I used files to get between the points and smooth out the areas I had burred. The pliers I am holding the piece with in the photo below are locking parallel pliers. I am a big fan of tools for holding the things I am working on.

The shape is mostly done. I still have to refine it.

The bottom part is ebony. I did most of the work on that piece when ever it was that I started this piece.

I'd like to just get this piece done, but I had a set back with a commission and have to spend some time redoing something on that. I hate having to redo things.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cleaning silver

I got my scale necklace back from Cheongju a few weeks ago. It had some tarnish on it, so I wanted to clean it before putting it away. It would take forever to try to clean it with silver polish, so I cleaned it with this very fast and easy method. I don't know what this method is called. I heard of it years ago, but never tried it. About a year ago I tried it for the first time cause I had a lot of my old silver jewelry to clean and it worked very well.

You need:
a pot
aluminum foil
baking soda
boiling water

This is how it goes:
Put aluminum foil in the bottom of the pot.
Put in the silver jewelry.
Put some baking soda in the pan with the jewelry. I don't know how much is recommended, but I covered the bottom of the pan.
Pour the boiling water into the pan with the jewelry and baking soda.
The tarnish disappears.

I looked around on the internet for this method and found another person saying to add the baking soda to water and bring it to a boil and dunk the silver in to clean it.

I have no idea how this works.

Only thing to be careful about is if your jewelry has stones. I would not recommend trying this with fragile stones like opal or turquoise. Diamonds, sapphires, and rubies should be ok.

I am not sure what this will do to a patina, for example silver that is black in the deeper parts of the design. I wouldn't recommend trying, unless you have a way to reapply the patina if you ruin it.

This only removes tarnish. If your jewelry is gunked up with dirt and hand lotion this won't necessarily clean that off.

There are silver dips that remove tarnish. They work well, but they stink. I think this probably works just as well as long as there aren't any fragile stones on the piece.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

more dye

Lately I have had some problems with my black anodizing dye. I hadn't been getting a real black, I was getting dark gray. With the last thing I tried to anodize black I made two attempts but couldn't get anything darker than a medium gray even after a 45 minute soak. So I ordered more black. The stupid black dye is like $30, while every other color is $10. Since I was already ordering I also decided to try a new color, brown. I just got the dyes in the mail today, so I haven't tried brown yet.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

500 felt objects?

I've been busy lately and I didn't have time to finish my green enameled bracelet for 500 Silver Jewelry Designs. Two of the pieces I entered were from 2004. Before I really looked at my portfolio for silver pieces I had been thinking I have done a lot of work in silver. Not really. I've done a lot of work that used some silver, but I have made very few things primarily out of silver since 2004.

Last night when I went to Lark Books' website to download the entry form for 500 Silver I saw they are doing a book 500 Felt Objects. I have some half finished pieces involving felt and anodized aluminum. I suppose I should finish them and enter, though I don't have much confidence they are going to be the kind of things they want for the book. But since there's no entry fee I'll enter anyway. Entries are due Feb. 13, 2010.