Sunday, January 20, 2013

Project Complete: Nagas and Ragas

All done!  It needs some music, so click here.

I decided on a chain of spliced elements, including four beautiful primitive wire beads, about 75 years old, from Madhya Pradesh, found at Audrey Forcier's The Curious Bead on Etsy, where you can find authentic ethnic treasures that are no longer easily found anywhere else.  Audrey is a supportive seller, too: my beads came quickly with a note telling me about them.  I mean, well, Madhya Pradesh!  That's gravitas, and I love it.

So, this does celebrate Year of the Snake, but it also celebrates the deep metaphorical value of Snake in human culture. Look up the nagas, who are snake beings, one of whom protected Lord Buddha from a great storm as he meditated, spreading its seven hoods as an umbrella against torrential rain and winds. In First Nations mythology, Rattlesnake obtained his rattles when a truce was stricken with Man, so that Man may be warned before a poisonous encounter and avoid stepping on his brother who slithers on the ground. And any herpetologist would tell you that snakes should not be reviled but valued, even loved for the environmental tasks they perform.  I was lucky enough to handle a python once and found its feel to be silky, not cold and slimy. You just have to have an open mind.

So I have used repurposed chain segments, with deep patina, and the Madhya Pradesh links, to evoke the sense of an old tribal amulet, with a ragged wisp of red silk to remind us that snakes are not slimy, that they are in fact sacred.

I added a copper eyelet from which are suspended a wonderfully rusted strongbox key and a red beach pebble, on steel links.

And because I remember admiring my grandmother's silver ware that had a pattern on the back of the handle, enjoying something that was just a little hidden, I've finished the back with another snake, in negative space.

The fastener is hand wrought steel, and just above the pendant, because things at the back of the neck can be scratchy, but I also like to see the curve of the hook echoing the snake and functioning as an element of the assembly.

"This 2013 year of Snake is meant for steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline will be necessary for you to achieve what you set out to create. The Snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 Animal Signs. It is the enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, refined and collected of the Animals Signs. Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve."


Saturday, January 19, 2013

WIP III Pendant Assembly

Okay.  Here it is. I got ahead of myself with the making and didn't photograph the rivet process.
Here's the back.

The great patina on the back:  I did the oxidation process described in my previous post, then dunked it in water and flame colored it wet.  The instant before it became the color I wanted, I quenched it. Then waxed it in Renaissance Wax to hold the finish. If I had it to do over, I would have used at least 22 ga. for the back, 24 bends too easily. Oh well, work and learn.

So, how do you get the rivet holes to line up? I taped the front and back pieces together after drilling the 3 holes in the front piece. Then I drilled one hole using the front piece hole as a pilot hole. Then I pinned through that hole with an ordinary dress pin, nailing the assembly down to my bench. Then the next hole, and pinned, etc. This helped to prevent drift so that the holes aligned properly.

For rivets, I used tiny brass nails from Micro-Mark. You can make your own, too, from wire, but it takes a bit of fiddling to get one end flared before assembly.

Next, what sort of necklace? I have a sort of style-feeling in mind but nothing specific.  Should it be the African pottery beads, the Indonesian striped glass barrels, the antique African iridescent Ougougou?  The rough leather is a strong element. I don't want to diminish that with an overly decorative approach, and there's scale to consider, too.

I may settle for a handful of mismatched black beads wired into a fine chain, rosary-style. And then there's another beach rock, a fine subdued red that really seems to belong.

Today's the day to finish the piece! I'll post the results when done.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Work In Progress II

Here's the chased snake cut out, oxidized and highlighted. (Chased snake?  Chaste snake?)

Hint:  When using oxidation solutions (here I used liver of sulfur), use a steel or brass brush or even a tooth brush with some Windex and scrub up some bubbles. Add some Windex, detergent or ammonia to a bowl of hot water and stir in some liver of sulfur, then add the workpiece. Remove after it colors up, brush and soap up some more and return to the solution.  Repeat, each time rinsing under warm running water, until you have the color you want. I recommend you use some nitrile gloves to avoid getting your hands into the solution; it's hard on your skin, and you probably don't want the liver of sulfur on you, either. I do this in the bathroom with the fan running.  It's stinky.  Even better if your workspace is equipped with an exhaust fan (my next big purchase and installation project).

Next, what to do with the thing; it's part of something, but what?

I am thinking pendant, and remembering the wonderful old army boot part I found on the beach below a bluff at Discovery Park, once the site of Fort Lawton. Did someone march in that boot until it was ready for the trash, and was it pitched off the bluff, as once all garbage was in Seattle? It sparkles with salt crystals and has a few grommets left, with rust marking the ones that became part of the salty waters of Puget Sound.

The workpiece is a bit off truly flat, and I have decided to rivet it to another piece of metal, so the leather between the two layers will help keep it from rattling and absorb some of the unevenness.

I decided to use one of those boot lace holes as the place to connect the pendant to the necklace.  I am also thinking the beach rock I found expresses the sort of look I hope to get, so it's on my work bench for inspiration.

I'll cut a backing plate from 24 ga. copper sheet and pierce out another swervy snake for interest, and to save weight.

Hint:  Thinner metals require thinner saw blades; for this I used a 6/0, which is really thin.  You can find charts online that suggest the correct size blade (meaning number of teeth per section of length), as well as the right drill size for the blade, if you are piercing, which I am doing here.

I have cut the pattern out.  It makes all the difference in the world using the right size blade, even though it is hair thin, and can break.  Look for a brand, like Herkules, that has a rounded back edge so it will turn easily as you cut, moving through the metal more smoothly, being less likely to torque and break.

Hint:  I use a little beeswax to lubricate the blade and help it cut more easily.  You could also use a little dried soap, mineral oil, or one of the products made for this purpose.

Sawing like this is an acquired skill; you will break a few blades getting there until you develop the feel for it.  It helps to project love and enjoyment toward the saw blade as you go.  Impatience will not reward you.  It also helps to keep the blade aligned straight up and down and don't push, let the teeth do the work.  Saw in place to turn corners, and slow down for the sharp curves.

Next, I have prepared the piece for drilling the rivet holes.  I center punched a pilot hole to start the drill bit, and have taped the piece to my bench pin, to hold it down while I drill.  Because rivets fail if you drill the hole too big for the stock, I will use a very fine drill bit and then ream the holes to fit.

Hint:  I almost never use a powered drill, even on steel, because the high speed will work harden the very stuff you are trying to drill.  And, Newton was right -- drills have a tendency to drift, so where accuracy is needed you get good results with a little Archimedes hand drill and a fine bit.  Also, lubrication helps, and is kind to the bit, as well, helping it to stay sharp.  I like wintergreen oil for this purpose.  It is light and evaporates away, so it is less dirty.  Old time engravers and watchmakers used this trick, keeping the oil in little cups in the work area.

Next, how do I make sure the back plate and the work piece match up when drilled, so that the rivets are straight? How do I set the rivets and what do I use?  How is my vision for the necklace progressing? Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Work In Progress/Chasing & Repousse

My wonderful new chasing tools have arrived from Valentin Yotkov! So I thought I'd do a small project to give them a shakedown cruise. Of course, they move like silk over the metal.  So, for Year of the Snake (the Black Water Snake), here's a step-by-step of the work so far.

I've traced my design onto a piece of 20 ga. copper, mounted in my pitch pot.

Hint:  I prepare the pitch in a 200 degree oven, thus avoiding the risk of setting fire to the pitch with too much torch. I can also run the exhaust fan to avoid any bad fumes.

Another Hint:  The pitch has to be cool and hardened before working the metal. Set it out in the snow or under cool running water for that.

See the pretty tools?  They arrived all sorted and labeled, and now I have a full range of types: liners, punches, planishers and matte tools. Warning --  Valentin says that you actually need to be able to make your own tools, since each new project may demand something different.

I followed my traced design with the small curved and straight liners.

After returning the pitch pot to the oven to heat the pitch just a little, I remove the workpiece and prepare it to mount, reversed, back on the pitch, to work the back side (repousse).  Don't anneal yet; you will want to work the metal against the lined areas, where it has become work hardened.

Hint:  To prevent the pitch from sticking too much, I prepared the back surface before placing it on the pitch with a thin coat of beeswax. Some people use Chapstick for this. Just be sure it's a thin coat, not too much.

Next Hint:  When you are ready to flip the work piece, and have removed it from the pitch, Goo Gone works to remove any pitch that sticks, so you don't have to burn off great globs. Lacquer thinner works, too, but the GG is less toxic. I do this step on the stove top, with the exhaust fan running; the fumes of pitch, copper and solvents are unsafe, and the burning pitch is very smoky. Think Siege of Troy. Note also that the solvents are combustible and you must be sure they have evaporated completely before exposing to open flame.

Here's the result of the repousse work, before flipping. I find this step to be harder than the liner work on the front ("chasing"). Good results demand you have the right size tool for the bump, since tool marks will show on the front, and if they don't contribute to the design, you will have to planish them away. Here, I am hoping the tool marks will contribute to the look of the snake, hinting of the ribs beneath the skin.

Now I will heat the pitch in the oven and remove the workpiece. This time I didn't use beeswax on the mounted side because I wanted plenty of support and no movement or hollow places in the pitch. I removed as much pitch as I could by scraping it away while still warm, and then annealed the piece, again under the exhaust fan.

Now the workpiece has been cleaned, flipped front side out, and mounted on the pitch once more.  I've used the liners again to refine the shape, added the eye pits, and used the matting tools on the background.  This makes the snake really stand out from the surface.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, which will involve an old army boot, liver of sulfur, hair-thin saw blade, hand drill, rivets, and a beach rock.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's A Complicated Matter


It started out as a butterscotch Bakelite belt buckle, a broken tortoiseshell souvenir of Rome locket, the label from a cigar box with beautiful gold embellished typeface, a mysterious gilt rococco shell from a bit of broken jewelry, a Chinese Year of Dog postage stamp, steel rebar tye wire, some costume pearls, and another bit of Bakelite, a button.  The original gold colored box chain was vintage (see it in the entry below), but just didn't seem quite right, sorta flimsy, I thought.  So, this iteration I added a nice curb link brass chain and antique watch key, which I think has rescued it.  While working on it, trying to rationalize the components, I guess, I began thinking about loyalty (the dog, you see), and did a little poking around on the Net.  Loyalty is actually a deep and complicated subject that philosophers have pondered since Aristotle.  For instance, is it more than duty; does it involve choice?  The argument continues to this day.  And guess what?  Well, on the back of the piece, I found I had collaged, "A Complicated Matter," when I did the first iteration, four years ago.  So, that's its title.

Funny how things work out, eventually.

Bench Top, Plan View

Works in progress.  Which means things I have been putting off for awhile.  The odd assemblage on a Bakelite buckle got reworked (and improved, I think, pix to follow), the enameled evil eye charm is still simmering on a back burner and the beginnings of a making at the bottom are starting to speak up.  Perhaps I'll work on them today.  Motivation is at an ebb.  Do you know it's seven effing thirty and still dark?  Will someone tell the sky we had solstice?  Didn't we?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Inspiration Deficiency Anemia

or could it just be the overwhelming mess?