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Build a bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press

Beginner techniques and advanced style team up for maximum impact in this mixed-metal pin.

The pin is back in style, and not in a small way. Big and beautiful is the fashion statement of the season. Three-dimensionality gives this piece depth, adding to its proportionate boldness. But even if you don’t follow the whims of fashion, this pin’s large scale allows more room for your design—always a benefit to an artist.

The featured pin is 2 inches (5.08cm) tall—at this size, textured metals have greater impact, so combine textures with care to create a complementary feel. Ready-to-use materials, such as the cantaloupe-rind–textured sterling silver used for the frame, can be purchased from various supply houses. Make the frame out of metal clay if you’d like to imprint your own texture, or try your hand at hammering, etching, or rolling sheet silver.

Part of this pin’s appeal is the volume of the vase, which is achieved by using a matrix die in a hydraulic press. An extremely versatile tool, the hydraulic press allows the user to create beautiful shapes quickly, without the hammer marks (and sore shoulders) that usually result from chasing and repoussé. The matrix die is a piece of cast acrylic with a hollow shape cut out of it. The die is placed over dead-soft metal and pressed to yield a three-dimensional form.

Sterling-silver rivets hold the frame and vase to the back piece for a solderless assembly. The rose blooms are likewise attached with cold-joining methods, allowing the free-moving flowers to swivel on their stems.

SUPPLIES 

  • Copper sheet: 26-gauge, dead-soft, 1 1⁄2 x 2 3⁄4 inches (3.81 x 6.99cm)
  • Scrap copper sheet: 26-gauge, dead-soft, at least 1 1⁄2 x 2 3⁄4 inches (3.81 x 6.99cm)
  • Sterling-silver sheet: 26-gauge, half-hard, 1 1⁄2 x 2 inches (3.81 x 5.08cm)
  • Copper wire: 18-gauge, round, half-hard, 6 inches (15.24cm)
  • Nickel bar-style pin back, 1 inch (2.54cm)
  • Textured or cast sterling-silver piece: 1 5/16 x 2 inches (3.33 x 5.08cm)
  • Sterling-silver thick-walled tubing: 3/32-inch-diameter (2.4mm), approximately 20mm long
  • 3 sterling-silver disks: 26-gauge, 5/8 inch (1.59mm)
  • Combination rolling mill
  • Soldering tripod and torch
  • Cast acrylic, 3 x 3 x 1⁄2 inch (7.62 x 7.62 x 1.27cm)
  • Center punch or sharpened nail
  • Drill, .04-inch (1mm) bit and 3/32-inch (2.4mm) bit
  • Safety goggles
  • Jeweler’s saw frame, 4-inch (10.16cm) or larger, and 2/0 blades
  • Half-round needle files, #2 and #6
  • Sandpaper or finishing papers, assorted grits, or abrasive pad
  • Fine-tip permanent marker or scribe
  • Hydraulic press
  • 2 red urethane pads, 1/8 inch (3.2mm) thick, 95 durometer
  • Yellow urethane pad, 1⁄2 inch (1.27cm) thick, 80 durometer
  • Acrylic spacer plate, 2 inches (5.08cm) thick
  • Masking or blue painter’s tape
  • Rotary tool
  • Double-crimped brass brush
  • Easy or extra-easy solder and flux
  • Fine tweezers
  • Pickle solution or all-purpose cleaner
  • Soft cloth
  • Yellow ochre or anti-flux (optional)
  • Soldering pick
  • Soft toothbrush
  • Drill gauge (optional)
  • Reamer or square needle file (optional)
  • Pin vise
  • Steel block
  • Riveting hammer
  • Steel window screen
  • Metal shears
  • Pliers: chainnose, roundnose

INSTRUCTIONS

Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 1
PHOTO 1
Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 2
PHOTO 2

Texture and anneal a piece of copper. Cut a 1 1/2 x 2 3/4-inch (3.81 x 6.99cm) piece of 26-gauge, dead-soft copper. To create a line texture on the piece, pass the copper sheet through the wire-forming part of a combination rolling mill once using light pressure (PHOTO 1). Pass it through again at a 45-degree angle, creating diagonal lines across the straight lines (PHOTO 2). This piece is now work-hardened and must be annealed. Anneal it by placing it on a tripod solder stand and heating it until it glows cherry red (best seen in a darkened room). Let it cool for just a moment, then quench it in water.

Design a vase shape.
When designing shapes for the hydraulic press, it is best to have gentle, broad curves without sharp angles. This design sports a raised vase approximately 7/8 inch (2.22cm) at its widest and 13/16 inch (3.02cm) tall, with a flat area of copper around the shape that is contained within the textured silver frame. Draw a design and transfer it using your favorite method to the center of a 3 x 3-inch (7.62 x 7.62cm) piece of 1/2-inch (1.27cm) cast acrylic. (The manufacturer of the press specifies using only cast acrylic, as other types may shatter.)

Prepare your acrylic mold. Using a center punch, mark a spot 1/16 inch (1.6mm) inside the design line. Drill a starter hole in the mold. Thread a saw blade through the hole and clamp it in a saw frame. Using smooth, even strokes, saw out the vase shape. When finished, remove the blade. 

Tip!

1. When drilling acrylic or other hard plastics, don’t stop the drill bit inside the hole. The heat will cause the material to melt and stick to the bit, making it difficult to remove. 

 

2. Position the bit lightly on the acrylic. Slowly give the drill power to let the point begin to grip, increase the power, and push. Remove the bit in one smooth, swift motion while it’s still moving. 

 

3. Wear eye protection; plastic flecks are more painful than wood dust.

Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 3
PHOTO 3
Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 4
PHOTO 4

Smooth the interior edges of the shape with a half-round file. Do not round the exterior edges of the mold. Smooth any rough patches on the mold with a small piece of sandpaper or an abrasive pad. Round the mold’s top and bottom edges just enough to eliminate sharp edges that may cut your metal, but not so much that you lose the design’s crisp edges.

Test the mold in the press with a scrap piece of 26-gauge, dead-soft copper. Smooth any edges that cut the metal. Mark the top and front of the mold with a marker, if desired, to keep your orientation.

Shape the copper vase. Place two 1/8-inch-thick (3.2mm) red urethane pads (95 durometer) on a 2-inch-thick (5.08cm) acrylic spacer plate. Place a textured, fully annealed piece of copper in the center of this stack. On top of that, place the vase mold, front side up (PHOTO 3). Insert this stack into the hydraulic press and press once to 5800 psi (2631kg). Release the press. Remove the copper and anneal it, making sure to quench it while it’s still hot.

Beginning with your acrylic spacer plate again, place a 1/2-inch (1.27cm) yellow urethane pad (80 durometer) on top. Fit your textured copper piece back into the vase mold, taking care to line up the edges of the copper with the mold (PHOTO 4).

Using masking or blue painter’s tape, secure the copper to the back of the mold. Place the piece—mold side up, copper side down—on top of the yellow urethane pad. Place this stack into the press and press to 3200 psi (1452kg). Remove the mold and copper from the press (PHOTO 5).

Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 5
PHOTO 5
Bold and beautiful brooch with a hydraulic press Photo 6
PHOTO 6

Make an opening for the flower stems. Using a fine-tip permanent marker or scribe, mark a 3/16-inch (4.8mm) half-oval opening just above the top of the vase. The bottom of this opening will be the top lip of the vase. Drill a starter hole inside the drawn line and cut out the half-oval. Cut slightly into the formed vase so that you have an opening for the stems to come through. File the sawed edges lightly with a needle file and smooth them with sandpaper or an abrasive pad (PHOTO 6).

Trim the copper piece to 1 5/16 x 2 inches (3.33 x 5.08cm), centered around the vase. Polish the front and back with a double-crimped brass brush in a rotary tool. Do not sand or file the edges yet.

Prepare the backing. Rough-cut a 26-gauge sterling-silver backing to 1 5/16 x 2 inches (3.33 x 5.08cm).

Scuff both sides of the backing lightly with sandpaper. Place the vase piece on top of the backing and outline the vase’s opening with a fine-tip permanent marker or scribe. Remove the vase piece. Texture the oval area on the backing with a hard steel brush in a rotary tool, allowing the brush to dig into the silver in places to create a pleasing texture.

Place a mark 3/8 inch (0.95cm) up from the bottom, along the vertical centerline of the front of the backing. This is where you will solder the flower stems.

For more instructions and photos on making jewelry with a hydraulic press, be sure to download the free PDF!

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