What I learned at the Bead&Button Show 2016: Kathryn Keil

kathys workspace
This is what my workspace usually looks like. Notice all the brightly-colored components, none of them finished into a piece of wearable jewelry!

Jewelry has been a hobby for me for many years, and I have mastered many skills as I've experimented in different mediums. My true love is enameling: the application of color to metal using powdered glass and heat. I use both a torch and a kiln and I experiment quite a bit with different techniques and different metals.

However, my work suffers because of one giant flaw: I am a Lazy Metalsmith. I never saw if I can use a shears, I hate to file, and I have trouble finishing pieces, too. 

I made the decision that this year, I would concentrate on improving critical basic skills. As such, I registered for Tim McCreight's Master Class, Overnight Jeweler, at the 2016 Bead&Button Show  -- to step up my game on basic metalsmithing techniques. 

A Master Class is a specialized, three-day class that allows a student to really become immersed in a technique. Tim McCreight is a metalsmithing specialist who has been making beautiful jewelry since 1970 and has also authored some of the most important books ever published on all aspects of working with metal and metal clay. We were lucky enough to use the classroom at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), so we were working at real jeweler's benches (a first for me) and with tools that Tim recommended. The class was focused on fundamentals: sawing, filing, soldering, finishing and cold connections. Here, I'm going to share my successes/failures on two projects; stay tuned next week as I return to the projects that I didn't finish in class and continue my work on fundamentals. 

use a bench pin
Learning to use a jeweler's saw is something that always seemed daunting to me. I would break blades, my lines would go crooked and I'd give up in frustration and buy pre-cut shapes. This year, I came determined to learn. 

Tim had a paper pattern prepared for us, printed on a sticker paper that we stuck directly to the metal (we were working in Sterling silver). We sawed slowly and with precision, and used a center punch and flex shaft/drill to cut the holes where the saw blades feed through to cut out the interior spaces.
tim at bench
You can see from this photo of Tim McCreight that a good jeweler's workspace features a raised work surface and an adjustable-height stool. 

There were two significant things I learned during this exercise. First was the importance of using a bench pin to brace my work. With a bench pin, you can approach the metal from different angles, and not have to worry about your saw blade cutting into the edge of a tabletop. You can cut a custom notch to hold a piece steady, too. 

But the more important thing that I learned is to sit at the correct height -- jeweler's benches are high for a reason! It was so much easier on my arm and shoulder to align my bench pin practically level with my shoulder, and to be sawing from that perspective was a breeze. I still broke a few blades, but I really think the height made all the difference. If you're working at your kitchen table, try to get a stool so that you can sit nice and low, you'll be amazed at the difference. 

finished sawing project
This is Tim McCreight's final piece, after some SERIOUS filing, then some more filing and some sanding and buffing. Mine is not as perfect but I was pretty pleased with my own efforts. I will share my own finished piece next week, it just needs a bit more polish!
tims example
You can see the small cuts to the side of the metal forming the bezel, which are then bent inward to create the "tabs" that hold the coin in place. 

Jumping ahead to the third day of the Master Class, Tim had us try setting an object in a bezel using cold connections; i.e., no soldering involved. Because my pieces are enameled, this was something I was anxious to learn; enamel and solder melt at different temperatures and thus it is difficult to use both techniques in one piece.

Tim's example pieces were foreign coins that he had set using a basic sawing method; I used one of my own enameled pieces for my example.

The first step, before sawing, is to bend a narrow strip of metal around the item that you'll be setting, and work it with your fingers and a pliers until it fits snugly around your item. 

The top ends of the strip bend over one another to create your bail; a later step is to drill a hole and add a tube rivet, but I haven't gotten that far yet. 

my bezel project
I got frustrated and hammered this out several times before I was satisfied with it. 
shaping the bezel to fit
Still looks a little wonky, but I'm hoping that the tabs will help give the metal that last little push into place that it needs. 

As you can see, it took some major work to bend a simple piece of 18g copper around an glass-and-metal oval shape. I annealed several times if the copper was getting too stiff to work with, and finally felt good about the fit. Now I am ready to saw. The cuts will go down into the vertical sides of the copper in a T-shape, creating two tiny tabs that can push in. I plan for four sets of tabs around the perimeter of the piece. 

I did not have time in class to complete this project, but I'm absolutely going to try. I will report back next week on my progress, so stay tuned!

 ~Kathryn Keil, Content Editor, FACET

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