Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Up my sleeve...

I have been a jeweler for a long time now.  I started off as a beader, and then moved 
on to wire wrapping, and eventually bought a torch and started metalsmithing.
Through the course of this year adventure, I have been completely self-taught
in ever aspect.  I would occasionally sit in a Book Store and thumb through the pictures
of how-to guides, and buy the plethora of magazines that are out there.  These helped
me form my basic skills, but after that it really is up to the individual artist to
develop their own design style and technique.  It takes a while to find your voice in 
any art form, but most of us do it because it's in us. 
Because we have to.

Now, through my jewelry adventures, if you were to throw out a name to me
of some famous jeweler that everybody loves, I would probably look back you 
with a blank stare.  It usually goes something like this:

You: "Oh my, did you see So and So's new work? The blah blah that they made
is just amazing and the pictures on their blog are fantastic!"

Me: "Wait, who?"

You: "So and So, duh!"

Me: "Wait, they have a blog?  What was their name again?"

And then we both would be shaking our heads for two very different reasons.

So recently, I was perusing the Etsy Metal Blog.  Now, when it comes to blogs
I read a good amount of them.  But not really very many jewelers.  I'm not sure why,
and I could speculate, but it's neither here nor there.  I just don't.  
So while on the Etsy Metal Blog, I saw something interesting and clicked, and then
clicked somewhere else, and again, and eventually found myself reading a comment
thread somewhere between several jewelers.  And I actually recognized a few of
the names... and we now know how crazy that is!

And what I was reading was unbelievable!  
They were discussing a certain product and technique and were posing a completely 
opposite view as myself.  And I believe that most of these folks are schooled in 
Metals, as in took classes, or got a degree, or go to workshops. 
And I've never done any of that.  I read. And then try it.
So, at first, I was like, "woah, am I not supposed to be using that stuff?"
And then I was like, "Wait! That is the best stuff ever and I can't believe they 
don't realize it!!"

And it got me thinking about how education is really so subjective when it comes
to teaching a skill.  Because you really can't teach technique or creativity.
You can coax it, and lure it, and talk about, and write about it, but you either
have it or you don't.  Practice helps, but it's not enriching your design sense or creativity.
If you're still on the fence about this think about the worst dancer you know. 
Maybe your Brother, or your ex-boyfriend?
You can send them to dance classes forever and they can learn the steps, and practice 
everyday, but you can't teach them how to have the finess of Fred Astair. 
You either have it or you don't.

So I realized that maybe teaching is subjective in art because you are learning
from a Professor who has developed their own way of doing things.  And in the
course of talking to fellow artists and students, the things that people say shape our
views on what we are learning.  Someone might, for example, talk down about a 
certain product they tried.  This mere suggestion of unhappiness could prevent us
from ever trying it.  But what we don't take into immediate consideration is that
they might not have used the product right. 

Now I am not saying that self-taught is better, because there have been time
where I have spent hours on a piece only to realize some time later that there was
 a tool, or skill, or trick that could have saved me hours of work.  And maybe 
if I was in a class, I would have been show this already.
However, I am, fortunately, a fast learner and have a knack for figuring things out.
If I wasn't, by all means, I would probably have taken several workshops and
classes by now.

This whole comment thread got me thinking about what I might be missing
out on, or what I might do that others could benefit from.
I thought I would start off small and do a simple studio tour, and then maybe film myself
making a piece and going through the steps.
Maybe by walking you around my studio and commenting on the things that I use, 
a fellow jeweler might pick up something useful.  And I believe in paying it forward.  
Or someone who knows nothing about what goes into making jewelery, 
can get a glimpse into someone's workshop!
I know I love to see others studio spaces, so here is a look into mine, 
up close and personal.  

This is the right side of the room where most of the cold work happens.

 This is the door to my studio and the first thing on that wall is my Beading Table.
I made these tables 8' long by 3' deep so that I have plenty of room to stretch out
and I can keep all sorts of storage along the back edge and still have plenty of 
table space left over.  I also measured my waist height and made the tables according
to my measurements.  This way I can work comfortably standing up or sitting down
without it straining my back.

I hate plastic and try not to use it when I don't have to, so instead of the usual stores, 
I go to Flea Markets and Antique stores to find wooden boxes and drawers and little
tins and ceramics for all of my storage needs.

Things that I don't use often get tucked into drawers and the things that I do use
all the time get stored out in the open.

 I love those little stacking containers. It is the plastic product I succumb to.  
They just screw right into each other and make it so easy to see all of my 
findings and little 1mm and 2mm beads.
I am such a  visual person, and if all these little tiny beads and findings were not 
constantly visable, I would never find or use them.  
I also love this old Pepsi case that i stood on it's end to house all my spools
of chain and wire.  I love to be able to separate them and see them easily.

This old tool box makes for a great bead hanger.  Just drape the Hank over the 
handle at the top.

An old bar jar makes a great tool holder.   I filled the bottom with glass stones that
I'll never use to give the bottom some weight so that it doesn't tip over as I am
yanking pliers in and out of it so frequently.

 Because I used support beams between the legs, it allowed me to add a shelf under each
table by just laying a board across them.  I keep my magazines, books, catalogs, etc
under the table so they are out of the way and yet easy to access.  And all of my receipts
and instruction manuals are in the two oak drawers.  They are big and easy to get to
and handy to have right there!

 Next to the beading table is another 8'x3' table made the same way.  
This is where I spend most of my time.  
It is where I design and do most of my fabrication.  This is where the fun happens
and the coolest tools are.

 This simple vice is attached to the table with a C-clamp.  I use it strictly for stone setting.
I keep a piece of soft leather in it to hold onto the piece so it doesn't get marred and
it grips the piece beautifully while i set the bezels.  If I skip this tool I usually end up
dragging a pusher across the stone. And that sucks.  Don't skip this tool.
It's just so easy to use.

 Ah, hammers.  These guys are being stored in an old wooden tool box. 
From left to right:
The tiniest ball peen you ever saw. Got it at Michael's of all places. 
I would never recommend Michael's for anything other than light craft tools,
but this baby is irreplaceable!  I have 2.  I've had them for 5 years and they are
by far my favorite and most used hammers.  They make life so much easier and
weigh a lot less which makes for a happier me.  Go get one!
The next one and its buddy, two over, are big ball peens that I got for a few dollars
at a flea market in Rhode Island.  I am going to use a grinder and files and make 
them patterned hammers. Cheap way to do it!
In between those two is a brass mallet.  It makes stamping easier.  The brass has
enough give and enough push to keep the stamp from jumping.  Love it.
Then there is my trusty rawhide mallet.  You can beat on the metal for day and it 
will shape it without distorting it.  The white and silver hammer next to it is for 
the same purpose.  Just has a bit more weight to it for bigger jobs.

 Next to the hammers are the tools I use often in all sorts of great storage.
On the left are 3 hand blown shot glasses from Pier One that were on sale 
for a dollar each.  They are nice and tall and make great file holders.  I added
a bit of paper taped to each one with the shape of the file for faster access.
Then there are two little tins from the antique store, a big heavy planter i use as a 
holder for my pliers.  And a tin mug that houses all my pushers and burnishers,
and a red glass that I made when I was a glass blower that houses some brushes
and wooden mandrels for shaping wire.

 This box has compartments built in which makes keeping tools organized 
super easy.  It also makes them easy to reach and see which keeps me efficient.

 Cigar boxes also make great storage.  I keep silver findings that I made in one
and emery and polishing papers in another, along with my green scrubbies and 
steel wool.  I also have my dish for scraps and for delicate stones that are waiting
be turned into beautiful pieces!

I also found a set of gravers at a flea market!  I have been wanting to try engraving
so maybe this will give me something to practice with and see if I like it.

I also have a flat based vice that I can move around where ever I need it,
and that big brown thing is a leather sandbag.  I put my metal marver on it when i'm 
stamping and it keeps the vibration down.  I have a couple friends on the hunt for a nice
stump that I can put in the middle of the room and use it for all of my hammering.
 The dense wood absorbs the blow and keeps things from shaking all around.

This little mini drill press is one of my favorite and most necessary tools.
It's easy to access the chuck which makes changing drill bits super fast and 
easy, and it's easy to adjust the height and speed.  My favorite part is that 
the pull down bar on the right moves the bit down and feels like you're pulling 
the lever on a slot machine!  Small pleasures, you know.
I have a little tin box that I keep my drill bits in little baggies by size, and 
a spindle of burs that I use for tube setting.  By soldering on the tubes first 
and then using the drill press to make the seat, I ensure that it's not only even, 
but the perfect height every time.  It was under $69 at Rio Grande and 
worth every penny.

 I love my wooden doming block. It doesn't stretch the metal like a metal block does.
It really comes in handy for delicate shaping and doming.

 And my circle cutter saves oodles of time as well.  The two pieces pull
apart and the metal slips inside.  Then you place the matching cylinder in
the hole and hammer it through.  It cuts a perfect circle everytime.  You can
also make your own tubing or ring shanks this way too.  Cut a small circle first
and then slide the metal to a larger circle according to how tall you want your wall.
Cut the larger circle and you're left with a disk.  Slide the disk onto a mandrel
and hammer in down into a tube.  Viola! A perfect tube or ring shank every time.

Moving to the left is one of my favorite pieces.  It came from the post ofice
but I found it at the Antique Store.  The drawers go really far back and get
deeper as they go down.  I use it to store all of my silver and keep it nice and 
organized.  The bottom drawers house all other metals, polishing papers, emery 
papers, steel wool, green scrubbies, and other bulk supplies.  I just got a big roll of
anti-tarnish paper that I will line the bottom of the drawers with.  Right now I just have
anti-tarnish strips scattered all over the drawers.

 When I buy my tubing I immediately label it on one side with what gauge stone 
it will hold, and label the other side with the Outer Diameter for easy re-ordering.
It saves a lot of time during the fabrication process!

On top of those drawers is a little mini-me set of drawers that are very shallow
which makes it perfect for cabochons.


 Moving to the left again is my beloved jewelers bench.  I don't use it for everything
but it's invaluable for what I do use it for.  I do all of my sawing here and most of 
my filing.  It has a drawer that pulls out to catch all of my scraps and catches any little
pieces that fall before they hit the floor. 

 Because of the tall height of the bench and the handle on my chair that allows me to
raise and lower it, the height is always perfect.  It also has strips of wood that extend 
on either side for my elbows to rest on which saves on arm fatigue when you work
long hours!  In the middle is a set of two shelves that pull back and forward to hold all 
sorts of projects and tools out of the way. 

 I love shelving but because I live in a log house, I can't screw large things into the 
walls.   This poses a problem when you want to hang things or secure shelving.
So I found a solution in the plumbing isle of my hardware store.  Those metal pipes
come in all widths and lengths and have fun T connectors that allow you to 
come up with hundreds of different ways to build them.  The base plates have 
4 screw holes so when you are done building just add the plate and screw it to your 
table and  then the shelf.

 I also added these magnetic tool holders to the edge of the shelf.  They are a great
way to keep little bits and files up off your bench.  They can be found in the garage
organizing isle at any major home and garden store and they install with two included
screws.  I have them on most of my shelves and they come in very handy.

If you are a jeweler and you recognize these little 3m bristle disks, you can skip
ahead.  If not, you MUST check these guys out.  They are not that expensive and 
they end up being priceless for certain pieces.  They fit right into your flexshaft and are about
an inch wide.  You use 3 to 6 stacked on top of each other and they last for a good while.
They come in 7 or 8 grits and the  roughest, the white and yellow, 
will clean up a piece nicely out of the pickle or 
after filing.  The blue and red will start to smooth into a polish.  The pink is a 
prepolish pumice which is great.  But the light green one is my favorite.  
It is like having an chemical free little scrubbing polisher that doesn't hurt
your stones!!  It gets into all the little crevices and you don't have to worry about 
compounds or hitting your set stones.  It's fantastic.  I use the yellow for clean up 
and the the green for touch up polishing all the time.  You can buy a mixed sample
box or each color separately.  They also have larger ones for polishing machines and 
I love those too!

 And now here is the product that was discussed in the comment thread I
referred to earlier.  It's called Bur Life which is basically a lubricating wax. 
Before you saw or use a drill bit you run it across the top of the wax and it acts
as a lubrication between your blade/bit and the metal.  These particular jewelers
were saying that find it unnecessary and one even said when she first got it, it was
crumbly and weird and she never used it.  I find this amazing because I think
it is so necessary to get a good clean, easy cut.  I know when I am sawing and the
blade starts to 'chatter' or tug, that I need more wax.  When I do my Cut Out
Necklaces, in order to get clean lines, I find it a must to use plenty of wax.  Some
of my lines are single pass cuts and have to be right the first time.  I would never
be able to do that without a little Bur Life.  And it only costs a few bucks and it lasts
forever.  You can even use a beeswax candle.  And that smells even better!

I have a lot of different files and I like to keep them separated by the 
size and batch, not by the shape of the cut.  I buy sets a lot and I like to keep
those together.  I have bought the wooden machine made ones, but i prefer
to find fun little re-purposed ones at flea markets.  They have more charm.

 The drawers on the side of the bench are handing for holding mandrels
and extra flexshaft tools.

 You can never have enough hammers.  I found this gorgeous ball peen
at a flea market for $2.  A steal!!

I have wooden floors which is great, but they have large open seams that 
like to hide little gems and silver scraps never to be found again.
So I found a wooden rug at Pier One for around $20 that keeps the crevices 
covered and makes it easier to find dropped parts.

Next to my bench is my soldering table.  I found this at an Antique Store and knew
away that it was made for me to solder on. It has a metal top similar to old
metal clunky desks but it's pretty and white and looks like porcelain.  It also has
a drawer to keep all of my backup solder clean and easily reachable.

 I keep three different types of flux on hand.  They all have different things I like
about them and different purposes.  Paste flux, liquid flux, and gel flux.

I keep a small tupperware of Handy Flux Paste Flux mixed with water to a glue 
like consistency.  This allows me to just dip a piece in a be good to go.  I only 
use this for small solder jobs.  I find that if you have too much water in your
mix, it will burn off quicker and not protect your piece.  No good.  
That is what the liquid flux is for.  I keep mine in a spray bottle which allows me
to reapply flux while the piece is hot and the torch is on.  This is key sometimes
during large solder jobs.  It is also helpful for pick soldering which is what I do.
As soon as I get my solder I cut it all up into little pieces and store it in a little
jar.  When I need some, I pour a small amount onto the edge of my fire brick
and spray it with flux.  Then it's fluxed and easily available while i'm soldering.
I just heat up my solder pick and pick up a few pieces at a time and ball them up.
Then apply to the join while I'm heating my piece.  It makes for a nice flow as 
I like to solder several joins at the same time.  
More on this method at another time.. I would like to make a video tutorial at 
some point on how to make a piece, my way.

 I also have 2 pickle pots.  The white one in the back was the first one I ever used.
It is a basic crock pot from Target.  It had a metal band around the glass lid that I
removed so it wouldn't contaminate my pickle.  It works well but I found that I was
getting a white film on my pieces.  So I bought a $14 pickle pot from Rio that is 
smaller but for some reason, pickles better.  So I only the white one if I am soldering
a really large piece that doesn't fit in the black one.

 To the left of my soldering table is my polishing table.  Another Antique Store
find although i'm sure it's not old.  Just made to look it.  But it works perfectly 
for a polishing table.  It's a perfect height for standing as I can't imagine getting
good leverage while sitting down.  And the two shelves underneath hold all of 
my wheels and compounds while they're not being used.  My first polishing 
machine was big huge Sears one that is easily found at any hardware store.
But it was too big and too powerful.  I was afraid to use it.  When it ripped a 
piece out of your hand, it really ripped it.  I hated using it. And that's no good.
Then I found this one.. somewhere?  Rio or maybe Otto Frei.  It's made for 
jewelers and it has a speed adjuster knob.  I find that it's just powerful enough
to do good job but not scary powerful.  It comes with two little hoods that sit
behind the wheels and I have a vacuum attached to the back to keep everything 

 One of my biggest time saving tips in buffing (and maybe everyone does this?)
but I love the red 3m buffing wheels.  They are like green kitchen scrubbies
but the come in coarse, fine, super fine, etc.  I add some White Diamond
polishing compound to a Fine wheel and when I buff a piece after the pickle
it cleans it up really well.  I also use it after filling and sanding to buff away
the little lines.  The White Diamond is a cutting compound so it helps to smooth 
away lines that the sandpaper can't catch.

 This is my cheap alternative to a shop vac.  It's a shop vac lid that you attach to 
a $2 bucket.  I lined mine with a plastic garbage bag to make emptying the 
bucket that much easier.  The hose end is attached to the two hoods behind
my polishing and buffing wheels and it catches all the flying bits. 

 And my last favorite tip.  
I hate wearing those nasty dust masks that cover your mouth and nose
but you have to do something while you have bits of metal and chemical 
compounds flying around.  And then you have to protect your eyes too.
So instead of wearing glasses and a nasty mask, I bought I big, clear plastic
face mask.  This covers my eyes, nose and mouth all in one shot and comes
down past my chin.  It has a padded band that goes across my head ans around 
my forehead.  It is the perfect alternative for me and works great!  I just keep
the visor part nice and clean and leave it hanging next to my soldering table and 
polishing area. 

 I look like a big dork when I wear it, but it's way better than the alternative.
And safety does come first!

I hope something in here helped or inspired a fellow jeweler.  
I hope that those who always wanted to try metal smithing found
a little more info on what's what in a studio. 
And for those of you who are simply wonderful lovers of jewelry, I hope
you found some insight on to the amount of tools and time that go into
the beautiful treasures you wear so proudly.

If anyone has any tips or tricks that they'd like to share, I would love
to hear them.  Or maybe a link to your own studio tour?

Now time to make some more pieces!

Happy creating.



  1. Hi Samantha,

    That was one impressive tour...I like your studio. I think everyone has a studio that fits them, it is their place to be and yours is yours, all made by you. I would agree with you about the wax item that you use and some people don't. I had to build parts for my instrument in a machine shop and metal on metal...not good. I find that people, in all fields, start skipping steps because they feel some steps are for beginners. Skilled people are always thorough.

    I wish I were a jeweler, then I could really learn from you. I hope you have a great week! xox

  2. Thanks for a tour of your studio. I am impressed by how organized you are. There seems to be a lot of equipment in your studio but it doesn't look cluttered or messy. You have built a wonderful space to be creative in!

  3. WOW what a beautiful organized studio SJ, I'm very impressed. I hope to have more space some day but for the time being I keep it simple and adore my little place in the garden.

    I use burr life for everything it's much better than beeswax.

    Thank you for sharing, xo Ro

  4. SJ....blown away by the whole tour...YOU ARE SO ORGANIZED! You have an amazing work space. BTW love your whole face mask gear....i totally get it too! Would love to come play in your cab sand box sometime. I have 3 work spaces....garage...basement...and a my bench on the second floor...3 levels of chaos! *lol*

  5. @Mona- see there, you have first hand experience with metal on metal and even you know better! maybe that's what it is... comfort and step skipping?

    @Shannon Ann- the art of spreading out in an organized way is something i've perfected over the years! it's hard to be a visual person and need everything out in the open, but it works for me! thanks for stopping by and staying a while!

    @ro- thank you thank you. you know, you are one of the few jewelers whose blog i read. i would love to see inside of yours one day too! and i knew you would use bur life for sure!

    @Sue- i guess i am organized! i never really thought of it that way. 3 spaces!? wow... now that's spread out!! hey, whatever works right?


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