Saturday, March 14, 2009

Paralysis Over

Yesterday was a really good day in the studio. That doesn't mean I didn't have some hiccups but overall, it was really good :-)
Although I can't get into the studio until 1-2 on Fridays, the MAC is so quiet then that it seems like it's the best day to really get work done. So I spent about 4 hours in the studio this week, which doesn't seem like much, but it's not the amount of time, it's what you feel you've accomplished that's important, and I felt like I accomplished a lot! For one, I finally got the jumprings soldered to the setting for that enamel I was talking about last week. I also took so many photos of my solder set up that I'm going to break the technical info on that up into a couple/ few posts. I also finished soldering all the findings onto the Primal Scream pins and I finished all the depletion gilding so I've got 3 pieces ready for the tumbler. Once they are tumbled, I'll set the stones, send them for photographs and move on!

I'll talk about that enamel setting first. It is always tricky to solder very tiny objects to a much larger piece. The issue lies in heat transference and the fact that solder flows to the hottest object. The large piece has to be heated to solder temperature in order for the solder to flow equally between the larger piece and the smaller piece, otherwise, the solder will just flow to the smaller piece and there will be no bond between the two. As I mentioned in my last post, I sweat solder as much as is humanly possible in order to avoid solder spills/ cleanup.

I made very small jumprings out of 20g sterling. BTW, always saw your jumprings- never never snip them. I will save the reasoning for a separate post b/c I can already tell this one is going to be a bit long. Then I took my filing jig (one of the most useful tools I own- I don't have a pic but you can see one- click here) and I filed a flat spot on each jumpring. Then I flowed easy solder (rolled thin and cut small) on the flat spot. I don't worry too much about the solder rolling up the sides of such a small jumpring. It's practically unavoidable in my opinion and by the time the rings are heated a few times, much of the fine silver will mask the solder and remember, these jumprings will be mostly obscured by beads.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of the size of the rings compared to the piece as well as what that little flat spot looks like where the solder has been applied. I would never recommend trying to solder a round object to a flat surface because there is simply not enough contact area for the solder to make a good bond. Always try to create as much area contact as possible when soldering two items together.

I do not have "under the torch" shots of how I soldered the jumprings on like I do for the Primal Scream pins because this operation required all my concentration plus both hands. I hold the torch in my left hand and tweezers or my solder pick in my right 99% of the time. Even though the jumprings had a perfect flat spot on them, the flowed solder made that area rounded and they had to be coaxed over and over to maintain an upright position in order to get them to solder where and how I wanted them. I also soldered them one at a time in one operation. I did not pickle in between but laid them out around the rim onto the brick so that I had a decent idea of how they needed to be spaced out (I wasn't trying to put them in super-specific spots or I'd have made marks to let me know where they needed to go- I eyeballed it for this piece) and then put one on at a time, soldered it down, then put the next one on, etc. To get the solder to flow from the tiny jumpring to the big setting, I rarely put the torch directly onto the jumpring. I kept it on the large piece and only when I was sure that the large piece was close to soldering temp did I just brush the flame over the jumpring until I saw that liquid silver seam appear.

In preparation to solder, I quickly pickled everything (30 seconds or so- just to make sure there was no oxidation on them since they'd been sitting in storage for a week), rinsed it well then I applied yellow ochre to all the previous solder seams. I love yellow ochre. Yellow ochre is a solder flow inhibitor. It is a very traditional material and is just an earth mineral pigment so it's really safe. Please please do not use White Out for your solder flow inhibitor. It fumes toxic gas when heated! When I was first introduced to yellow ochre in school (it comes usually in a dry powder), everyone had been taught to mix it with water but the problem with that is the water spits and sizzles and sends the darn stuff all over your piece, contaminating your fluxed areas, if you don't wait for it to dry- and who has time for that? I'd abandoned using it thinking it was useless until I took a workshop with the great Susan Wood (RIP) and she mixed it with oil! What a revelation! It works beautifully, stays where you put it (don't use too much oil) and the oil helps dirty the seams you don't want to reflow! Any light oil is fine- kitchen or sewing machine style. Some yellow ochre pre-mixes use alcohol and while that would evaporate very quickly, I still find that it's too liquidy during application and you absolutely have to let it dry still- I'm too impatient.

So here is what the piece looked like prepped for soldering. Yellow ochre on all previous seams, including the interior of the bezel and a very thin layer of flux on the flat perimeter of the front where the jumprings were to go.

The yellow ochre flames (that's the oil) and turns black. The jumprings are black on top b/c I didn't put any flux there and remember, the copper in sterling oxidizes instantly when exposed to heat and air. The area of the perimeter (and the undersides of the jumprings) is still white silver where the flux was applied. Although getting all of the jumprings on took quite a while and I kept the piece hot the whole time and I had a very very thin layer of flux on the piece, my flux didn't burn off because I was using a much softer flame than I used to. I had a big tip on (about a 2 maybe?) and very little hiss. I've been using a softer flame since taking workshops with Michael David Sturlin who says a softer flame produces less firescale and it does certainly extend my working time under the torch.

I had a couple of jumprings that did not seat completely so I had to go back after the first pickling and re-yellow ochre/ flux and heat, but they sealed on the second go and once the final pickling was done, so was I! I will have pics post tumbling and pre-setting next time. I will also go over my general solder set up, etc. Stay tuned!

PS- I'm playing around with the layout of my site so if you have any likes/ dislikes with what changes appear, please let me know. Thanks!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Studio Friday

It was so nice to get back into the studio after such a long hiatus. On top of the trip we took a few weeks ago and my wonderful parents coming in to town to visit, teaching has kept me very busy and my stepson has been sick with the flu. Fortunately I didn't catch it but something is in the air here as I've been feeling very much low in the tank for the last week or so- everything is starting to bloom- maybe that's it. Regardless, after classes on Friday, I popped a couple of ibuprofen and headed for the studio! Unless I'm running fever or have a gastrointestinal complaint that requires my attention in a fixed location...I don't see any reason to let my regular fatigue and aches and pains dictate my plans for the day. Life is too short!

I am still balking at finishing the setting for a lovely enamel I've made but I made a little progress on it yesterday. Sometimes you've spent so much time on something already, the thought of screwing it up on the last operation is just paralyzing. Basically, I need to solder these incredibly tiny little jumprings to the ledge of the front of the setting in order to run a band of beads (18th C style) around to embellish the front. I managed to get the solder onto the jumprings yesterday so really all that's left is soldering them on and raising the fine silver prior to tumbling. Since each annealing for the raising process removes a little solder, I think I'll raise the fine silver halfway at least before I attempt to solder the jumprings down. When I can take a good shot of the setup I'm talking about, I'll talk more about the potential problems and the tricks to making this kind of solder job more likely to work.

I spent the rest of my time working on the faces for some new Primal Scream pins. I have everything done except the soldering. I spent way too much time on the curls for one face and it's obvious I need to practice my sawing skills some more! 22 years at this and I'm still practicing. It never ends, which is okay. If I weren't still being challenged in the studio I'd be bored and I'd probably lose interest in doing it anymore. As you can see in the photos below, the curly headed figure has pink eyes. These are lab grown cz's that I'm setting upside down in the serrated bezel cups. I think it will be a fun departure from the norm.

I sweat solder as much as I possibly can when fabricating. So the pin backs, my name plate and the bezel cups (not shown in the pic) always have solder flown on their backs first, then they are placed on the piece to be connected to and the solder is re-flown. This eliminates clean up of solder spills. I also thin my solder in the rolling mill (I use wire solder) before cutting (you can also hammer it). This allows me to have less solder in any one place to again minimize cleanup puddles. Sometimes I sweat the backs of the pieces (always flow the solder to the smaller piece- not the larger one) first, pickle, then set up for the connection and sometimes I flow the solder and while the piece is still hot, I flip it onto the larger piece to be connected. I find the flux holds fine if I'm using a soft flame and there is plenty of time to get things to re-flow without the
connecting area going black. It just depends on my mood and time constraints. I will try to take pics of my setup next time I'm in the studio. Stay tuned! :-)