Oct 272010

I once heard someone say:

“Don’t want scratches on your metal? Then don’t put them there!”

I love that saying. And its really the number one tip, and the first place to start in a discussion of removing scratches from metal, or polishing/ finishing.

Don’t scratch it in the first place.

Store it carefully. And handle it carefully.

There are many different ways to store your metals, obviously some work better than others and not all suggestions will fit for all studios.

Do what works for you. Here are some popular ideas for storage.

Storing Metal Sheet

  • A small plastic filing box with hanging files
  • plastic ziploc bags (inexpensive and come in varying sizes)
  • wrap sheets in paper towels (or shop towels which are a bit sturdier)
  • use manila envelopes which can be clearly marked and can be folded over for sizing
  • cover it with layers of tin foil
  • or……………………. whatever else you can dream up that works for you to keep metal from rubbing on other metal or anything else for that matter.

Despite the best planning and your hard efforts though, chances are you will end up with some scratches. Whether during storage or during handling/crafting, you are going to need to figure out how to remove scratches. Even if you don’t want a mirror shine on your work, you don’t want scratches interfering with your design. You can either add scratches INTO your design, making them a part of a texture, or learn to remove them.

Handling the metal

Take care in how you handle your metal. Both while you are working on it and in between operations.

While working – Use nylon pliers, a ring clamp, or your hands when possible to hold metal. Place your piece on a cushioned surface such as an old fabric placemat, beaders mat,  folded dish towel, paper towel, or other soft surface. This protects the back from scratches as you work and they are easily moved around the studio and tucked away for storage. Just remember to shake them out well before each use.

In between operations – Keep small containers handy to place your piece in between studio sessions to prevent other items being placed on the piece or having it knocked on the floor. Some popular suggestions are altoids containers (place a paper towel or tissue inside), chinese take out containers, or stacked styrofoam trays from the grocery store (the ones meat, veggies, or fruit come in – just wash then well first!). Be creative and think of items you could recycle for this use.

BASICS on removing scratches

  1. Select an abrasive – This can be files, sandpapers, a flexshaft attachment.


  1. Select a grit – Most of the abrasives will come coarse to fine and are noted by ‘grit’, micron, or grade (coarse, medium, etc). Choose a grit that is only the coarsest needed to blend in with the scratch. You’re not technically removing the scratch, you’re removing the metal around the scratch. It may take practice determining what grit or tool to begin with, but don’t worry, if you go too coarse, its not the end of the world, it just means a little extra work getting THOSE scratches out.


  1. Move up in stages, going through finer grits, always ‘blending’ until your previous scratches are covered. It helps if you turn your work a half a turn each time you make a step to a finer grit/medium. This way you can look for the directional change in marks on your metal.


  1. Brace your work. It is tempting to hold your work in one hand ‘in the air’ and go at it with your other hand, but it is much more effective if you brace your work on a benchpin or other surface. This provides resistance which increases the impact of your efforts.

for removing scratches


Can be purchased from a hardware store, automotive store, or jewelry supply house. There is the typical sandpaper and then there is wet/dry sandpaper. Both serve a purpose and you may want to add both to your studio.

Rio Grande also sells ‘finishing paper’ which is a sanding paper charged on both sides and backed with a synthetic fiber – finishing papers are meant to last longer than traditional sandpapers. (IN GENERAL – the coarsest sandpapers I use is a 220 grit sandpaper and the finest is 4000 wet/dry. Before or after that another tool is probably a better choice)

Sandpapers can be used in the hand or on a stick. You don’t have to purchase sanding sticks (although that is convenient), you can make a sanding stick by wrapping sandpaper around a paint stir or for small jobs a popsicle stick and adhering with either glue or tape.


large, small, flat, half round, bastard, rifler, nail (YES, a nail file!). . . . the list of files can be overwhelming! When called for, with basic removal of scratches, I normally use a needle file or rifler file. and normally that is for small hard to reach places. For flat open areas of metal, I use sandpaper.

Flexshaft attachments

3m radial disks, abrasive wheels ( such as cratex or advantagedge), sanding bands, etc. There is an ever growing number of attachments for the flexshaft. Don’t run out and buy them all at once. If you can test them at a local studio, workshop, or with a friend, do that first! Find which ones match your equipment and style of work.

Finally –

Final polishing can also ‘blend’ surface scratches by burnishing. Polishing can be done with felt, cotton, muslin buffs . . . and every metalsmith seems to have their own preference for how polishing is done. These attachments can be used on a flexshaft or a polishing lathe. The buff is ‘charged’ with a polishing compound and the various polishing compounds all have different ‘grits’ and applications.

In Practice

Here is a small test piece that shows one progression.

This piece was fairly clean, soldered and pickled.

It then went straight to the 3m radial disks. It was worked through the 3m radial disks to pink and then put on a polishing lathe with either red rouge or ZAM. (sorry I can’t recall which!)

The final photo is straight from the lathe, in all of it’s polishing gunk glory.

All photos were taken directly on the bench during the process, between each disk and they are hopefully in order.

This is strictly as one example of what can be done, it is not suggestive of ‘the’ correct method or the ‘right’ way to do this.


Hand positions in photos may not be accurate as angles are often changed due to camera position.

* * *DISCLAIMER  * * * *

This was not originally intended to be anything more than some photos with an explanation of the specific process used for the photos. However, it grew and grew and could have grown more………..it is not as in depth as it could be, there are many area that could have been explored further…..but we’re capping it for now and will revisit it in the near future – maybe focusing on polishing buffs and compounds. If you have any pressing questions or curiosities, please feel free to leave a comment! In addition, any well meant and well stated critiques or corrections are also welcomed! * * * * *

Sep 222010

Color on Metal – Out of the grey and into the blue.

MANY artists use liver of sulphur (LOS) to create a black or grey patina on sterling. But that is not the ONLY color range that LOS offers!

With a little tweaking of the solution, you can achieve variations from reddish brown to blues and purples.

By varying the concentration of the LOS mixture and also the temperature of the mixture, one can get reddish colors – brown, and also blue to purple and adding other components to the mix achieves even brighter blues and purples.

LOS comes in chunk, liquid, and even gel form now. The following observations have been made using chunk form mixed with warm water to dissolve.

Dark grey or black – a strong mixture of LOS in relation to water is used. If the mixture is hot, the patina process will go MUCH faster, creating a deep black very quickly. (be careful, sometimes this can apply such a thick layer that it will flake off) When desired color is achieved, rinse metal in cold water to interrupt the patination process.

Reds and browns – a weaker mixture of LOS/water is used. AND a more ambient temperature solution. Dip metal quickly and don’t rinse. Wait and watch colors develop. Keep dipping and watching the process.When desired color is achieved, rinse metal in cold water to interrupt the patination process.

Blues and purples – a weak mixture of LOS and water. . . or day old mixture may be used. Add industrial strength ammonia to the mixture. (this is ‘professional’ grade cleaning ammonia, ensure proper ventilation when using) Heat metal. (can be done by running under VERY hot water). Dip quickly or paint patina onto metal. Watch CLOSELY as color develops. The metal will go through stages of color. Repeat the heating and painting process until the desired colors are achieved, rinse metal in cold water to interrupt the patination process.

Here is a picture of a sterling piece done in this manner:

Red, blue, green, maybe purple can be seen, and it has an irridescent quality to it.

Here is the reverse side with no flash on camera:

Patinas are not always stable. They can change over time. For this reason, a sealant is often used. Either wax of some sort – Renaissance Wax is a favorite among many; or a fixative spray (Nikolas lacquer has been highly recommended) to preserve color but note that anything placed over a patina will change the effect to some degree as it changes the way light plays over the surface of the metal.

Below you can see the same piece after about 7 mos in a drawer, in no protective wrapping and NO sealant having been applied. Unfortunately the photo itself is pretty poor, there is a lot of glare, however the blues/greens/reds are still visible in various places

and the back ‘after’ picture:

This pendant was colored using day old LOS soultion that had faded to a weak yellow/straw color.

Straight ammonia was added to the LOS solution. There is no need to be specific with ratios, one of the joys of patinas is in experimentation.

The room temperature mixture was ‘painted’ on with a papertowel very lightly, wiping dry, then applying more,then wiping dry until the desired colors were achieved.

The nice thing is if you go too far you can take it off and start again.

One tip – KEEP a notebook for patinas handy on your bench. Record your process including:

  • patina ingredients and amounts
  • meta used
  • temperature of solution
  • temperature of metal
  • method of applying (dunked, painted, misted, etc)
  • time left on
  • rinsing in between applications (if any)
  • repetition of process (if any)

General instructions for LOS in chunk form:

Use a heat tolerated container. Add a quarter cup of hot water. Add one small chunk (a little less than the size of a pea). Wait for it to dissolve. Swirl container to mix.

The LOS is ready to use. Mixed LOS solutions are not very stable. They will degrade over time and usually are not saved. however, for some of the color variations noted above, retaining your mixed LOS can serve a purpose!  LOS will weaken overnight, losing its color (turning more clear) and eventually have a skim or flakes on the surface. When the LOS solution gets to that point – it’s dead. ..inactive, and can be poured down the drain (from what we’ve read). If your solution is still yellow, it is ‘active’ and should be disposed of according to your local requirements.

More on patinas coming soon!

See more Tips & Tricks
Free Jewelry Making Tutorial – Dual Balled Ring

Sep 142010

jewelry tutorial, metalsmithing tutorial, free tutorial

I have to start out with a disclaimer.

This is not a traditional jewelry making tutorial. This is more like an outline of the technique that I use. It was originally written for a friend who has quite a lot of metalsmithing experience, so it was more of an outline or framework for her to see how I go about this process. I kept imagining I would redo the photos so each step is clearly captured and rewrite the text to make more sense for those who don’t have a lot of metalsmithing experience, however that hasn’t happened (and its been a couple of years I think!) so I’m just going to put this out here now the way that it is…well, with a few minor edits.


  • Wire – 12 gauge
  • Wire – 20 gauge
  • Rondelle Bead
  • Manilla folder, water, dish
  • Hammers (forming, rawhide), bench block or anvil
  • Nail
  • Sharpie
  • Ring mandrel
  • Files, sandpaper
  • Soldering supplies – flux, solder, torch, third arm, pickle

Begin by soaking small pieces of the manilla folder in water. ( I leave mine soaking for days, but you can soak them for as little as half an hour)

Wrap the 12 ga wire around the ring mandrel about a half a size larger than you want the ring to be. (some of the size will be taken up by the bead)

Cut into rings.

Next, file ends smooth so you have a flush join to solder. (no pic)

Flux and solder joins on each ring individually.

Return rings to mandrel and use mallet to true up the ring(s) into a circle.

Forge one end of each ring on the bench block with a planishing or forging hammer just enough to create a flat profile.

Then forge the other end of the rings into a sloping area which will eventually be drilled for insertion of wire to hold bead. (sorry no picture of the second side being done)

Next prop rings open on the wider forged end so you can solder the more lightly planished ends together to form the base of the ring shank. (this photo was taken as a ‘set up’ – in reality the open ends would be planished flat as well)

Flux, solder, pickle.

Gently close the shank and file all edges to create a uniform appearance (no photo)

Mark center of top of ring, create a divet with hammer and nail.

Lube your drillbit and drill hole(s)

Cut a piece of 20 ga wire – you want it long enough to go through the ring, the bead, and form a ball on each end.

You are going to use this wire as your double balled ‘pin’. You will want to measure this wire before you melt your first ball so that you can calculate how much wire you’ll need for the second ball.

So, measure, then go ahead and melt a ball on one end of the wire. (make the ball as large as aesthetically fits your design).

Now, measure how much wire you have left. This will tell you how much wire you used to make your ball ( [original length – (current length-ball) = amount of wire ‘in’ your ball] you’re going to need to know that later).

Next you need to wrap the bead in wet manila folder paper, insert the packet into the opening of the ring, thread wire through your drilled holes.

Cut the end of the wire so that the proper amount for your ball is extending from the other side.

Thread another piece of the folder onto the wire (on the outside of the ring)

(Optional: Take another piece of the folder and wrap it around the top of the bead.)

You now have something that should resemble this:

(but the amount of wire protruding should be trimmed way back! this is left long so you can see )

Suspend the entire packet into a third arm with the exposed wire hanging straight down towards your bench top. Heat to melt the second ball. (this photo is after I torched the second ball)

The ‘trick’ is to use a HOT tiny flame. I turn the gas on very high and then crank up the oxygen to obtain a very hot very tight flame.

*NOTE* The first two times I did this, I did NOT wrap the bead first and it worked fine. Wrapping the bead DOES take up some room so when you are done you may have a slightly looser join. When you remove the folder you will have a tiny bit of space. Very tiny. If you do it that way and don’t like it, try just threading the wet paper on the outside and then wrap the outside of the bead. The end result will be tighter.

FYI: I have NOT had the paper catch on fire. At the very end it will smolder and singe a bit, but thats it. Here is a pick of the singed paper:

Here is another finished ring. This one turquoise.

If it can work on turquoise, then its probably fairly safe on a variety of stones, HOWEVER, I highly recommend you practice with stones that you wouldn’t be heartbroken to lose as with any new technique it can take some time to perfect.

This process was first mentioned to me by Karen Christians (of Cleverwerx) as she was experimenting with it after watching glass makers work with hot glass using wet newspapers. It took me a long time to give it a try but I have found it works well.

I hope you find this useful information!

Other areas you might find interesting

Tips and Tricks Main PAGE

Other helpful posts:
Patina on Sterling

Jewelry Making Tutorials – Metalsmithing and WireWorking

Melting Temperatures
Scrap Metals Refiners and Returns

Aug 272010

The last post was really just a teaser with brief definitions and photos. Now let’s look a little further and try to get a handle on some of the tools and terms associated with raising.

Basic definitions

(we will expand on these as we go along)

Raising: forming metal over (or on) a stake (of some sort) using a hammer to compress and stretch the metal.

Stake: a solid object (can be various material) with varying curvatures.

Course: one complete pass of hammering while raising.

Synclastic: forging metal along two curves at right angles to one another and moving in the same direction. (bowl)

Anticlastic: forging metal along two curves which are moving in opposite directions. (pringle)

Annealing: heating metal to increase its flexibility (annealing article here)


I thought a little sketch might help clarify the curvatures for us. These sketches are reproductions of ones found in the book Form Emphasis. (I considered taking a photo of the page and then decided that went too far into copyright issues…so my crude sketches will have to do.)

anticlasitc and synclastic forms

anticlastic and synclastic sketch

Alternate imagery is sometimes helpful.

jewelry making anticlastic example


A saddle is anticlast as it curves in two opposing directions.

One curve goes ‘down’

One curve goes ‘up’

think of the long line as a curvature that follows the horses body, it would wrap around the horses ‘trunk’. The other, shorter, line creates a space for the riders bottom.

As an abstract – it can hold something from the top and from the bottom


Alternately, a synclast shape, in its basic form, only holds from one direction.

synclastic diagram for jewelry making


all of the curves move in the same direction.

either ‘up’

or if the bowl were flipped, all curves would move ‘down’

Don’t be fooled by imposters!

The following image is neither synclast or anticlast.

only one curve!

Why? Because there is only one curve.

To become anticlast, the two points on the straight line/plane would need to move down.

To become synclast, the two points on the straight line/plane would need to move up.

The Tools I Use


Stakes for Jewelry Tutorial Metalsmithing Raising


These are fairly simple stakes. The metal ones having only one curvature on each end. Typical sinusoidal stakes have a series of curves on one stake.

Surprisingly, there is a lot of variation in forming that can be done on these.

Stakes 1 and 2 are metal and would be used with a nylon or delrin hammer.

Stakes 3 and 4 are delrin and would be used with a metal hammer.

Never use a metal hammer on a metal stake as it would mar and pinch the metal too much.

A delrin hammer is not used on a delrin stake as both materials are going to ‘give’ a little and therefore the force of the hammer blow is going to be diffused too much. You will waste a lot of energy hammering for very little movement of metal.


jewelry raising hammers


Here I have two metal ‘raising’ hammers and one hammer that is made of delrin.

Technically, the metal hammers are sold as ‘bordering’ hammers. I have two because they have different sized heads.

Hammers used for raising typically have profiles longer than they are wide.

The other tool is a vise. I use a regular vise bolted to my workbench although alternatives could be a GRS system that has a holding mechanism or some stake sets may come with their own holder.

One problem that can occur  with a regular vise is slippage of the stake in the vise while hammering.

I combat that problem by making a hammock for my stakes. Basically it is a hanger made of brass sheet that overlaps the top of the vise jaws.

Here is how I make mine:

Estimate how much you need to hang over the top of the vise jaw. Place that much of the sheet of brass down into the vise. Bend and mallet down.

Remove sheet from vise and place stake at the bend. Mark the depth of your stake.

Bend that second line, bringing the first fold UP. Now you have a little ledge for your stake to sit on.

Bend again at the end of the stake, bringing the bottom ledge up the other side of the stake.

Next, mark a line at the top of the stake, while it is on the ledge.

You will fold DOWN, away from the stake at this line.

Now you have a little hammock for your stake. This will help give the stake something to rest on and keep it from moving down while you hammer!

I normally place this entire packet back into the vise, tighten the vise up, and mallet down the top edges. This confirms all the folds so they stay put.

You can also conform the top of the flaps to the top of your vise jaws.

When you take the ‘hammock’ out of the vise, trim and sand so you don’t inadvertently cut yourself!

Next time we’ll move on to the actual forming process!

Jul 152010

One of the most frequent techniques I receive questions for is raising. People are very curious about raised forms, perhaps because they have such dimension and movement.

Customers are fascinated by the shapes and the lightweight but solid feel of the shapes. Fellow jewelry artists light up for another reason – they want to know “HOW?” !

I explain a little to customers, just enough until I begin to see the deer in the headlights look, but my fellow artists like to know it ALL.

So, I thought I’d run through a series of posts outlining how I do it.  I always like to remember (and remind)  that there is more than one way to do things. When I share, it is what works for me, others may do things a little bit differently, or a LOTTA bit differently. That is A-OK. In fact, I think its great and I enjoy hearing how other people go about things.

Here are some raised forms, pieces, and samples.

The two types of raising I’ll talk about over the next few post are synclastic and anticlastic.

Synclastic raising forms the metal in one direction – think bowl.

Anticlastic raising forms the metal in two opposite directions – think saddle or pringle potato chip.

The next post I’ll show the tools I use, stakes, hammers, etc.  and then we’ll look at the actual forming process.

Mar 242010
john cogswell stone settingWhen I saw that Creative Metalworks was offering a workshop with John Cogswell, I JUMPED at the chance to sign up!

John is the author of Creative Stonesetting and currently teaches at SUNY NY. In addition he has taught at numerous other metals programs, has  served as a technical consultant and contributing author for several contemporary jewelry texts including Metals Technic, Contemporary Silver and The Penland Book of Jewelry, and was the 2006 inductee into the National Metalsmiths’ Hall of Fame. He was also selected as Touchstone Center for Crafts’ 2007 Artist of the Year.

WOW! Right?

In addition, it turns out he is a thoughtful and fun teacher who has the ability to empower his students to own their work and the design process. He may suggest but with a quiet ease he places the decision making in the student’s hand and encourages individuality.

I have to be honest and say up front that I had reservations about taking the workshop.  When I signed up, the information about the workshop was minimal. When I went back later and looked for the materials list, I discovered that the description of the class had been updated.

Workshop Description: ‘Cut-Card Prong Settings’

First there was “Uh-oh.”

Then an “Oh-nooo…”

Not that there is ANYthing wrong with the cut-card setting.

Not at all.

The problem lies solely with me.  I despise fiddly precise work.

Its just so…...precise.

Measurements that have to be made which means things have to be, well, measured.


And marked.


However, I forged ahead.

And I am so glad that I did.

I approached the class somewhat hesitantly. . . picturing two days of tedium.

I can assure you that it was NOT.

It was actually ‘freeing’ in some way. I think I experienced a shift somewhere inside – rather than becoming ‘boxed in’ or feeling confined – I found to freeing.

Cogswell is a really interesting guy and he likes to talk.  I do believe he could talk all day if there was someone nearby to listen. And this, much to the benefit of his students, for there is much to digest and use in what he says.

One thing John said, that really stuck with me, is the idea of finishing all surfaces. And not just finishing them from the perspective of  – it should look good front, back and sides.  But more as in – designing all surfaces. To paraphrase him:

“don’t just slap a pinback on it – duct tape will hold it to the body just the same”

meaning, think about the design. In all things – DESIGN.

When a piece of work is viewed – as it is turned – as every side, angle, aspect is observed – does it make you think (know)  that the maker intended (designed) every part to look like that. Was there thought put into it?

John, is all about the making, design, originality.  Considering all angles and creating from within. Not using a prefab setting, or a ubiquitous tube setting, a plain bezel….not blending in.  Using head, heart, hands and creating that which doesn’t yet exist.

I ended up creating two settings (almost) and I actually enjoyed the process. I came away newly inspired and with a fresh outlook on creating.  I also found some great phrases such as ‘a reasonable expectation of wear’.

In all things, John is a teacher.  Whatever he is doing at the time, he is talking and if he’s talking, he’s teaching.

If you ever have opportunity, don’t walk – RUN (or JUMP) to take a class with him.

Some photos from the workshop

John Cogswell stone setting - ring

John Cogswell impressive stone setting blackboard notes

John Cogswell stone setting samples

More of John’s samples. You can see many of these in the cover of his book but as lovely as that is, they look SO much better in person !

 Posted by at 4:10 pm