Feb 212010

I’m intrigued by the Steampunk movement – described as “Victorian meets Jules Verne”, Steampunk combines romantic elements with mechanics for an instantly recognizable design style.

Jean Campbell’s Steampunk Style Jewelry is the first book I’ve found that focuses on Steampunk jewelry…and it does a great job of doing so!   From the 20 projects, to Sidebars, to a Gallery of Designs, this nicely written, beautifully photographed book is well worth purchasing.

Steampunk projects are full of “found objects” – items you pick up in a flea market or garage sale – but Campbell includes a nice listing of supplies for projects at the end of the book.  You’ll probably end up finding Steampunk Style Jewelry offers more inspiration than “follow to the letter” instructions, but the instructions for each project ARE clear and easy to follow.  You find the goods – Jean and the other artists credited with projects will walk you through how to create cool-looking jewelry!

In addition to the great projects, I found the Sidebars to be extremely interesting.  Campbell has written great mini-articles about other facets of Steampunk, from Modding (modifying modern items) to music, films, and costumes.  Yes, the Steampunk movement is not just about jewelry…there are entire conventions that focus around the lifestyle!

Bottom line, if you find Steampunk interesting, pick up the book and be prepared for entertaining reading as well as giving you some great ideas.  At $24.99 US ($31.99 CAN), it’s chock-full of inspriation and information and a great value!

Feb 162010

I’ll admit it.  I have a thing for tools.

I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve spent on tools in the last 10 years since getting serious about my beading and jewelry making habit, but sometimes I think I have more tools than my husband.  (Not really…the man has an entire shed of them!)

So, what are my favorite every day tools?  In no particular order:

1. Ball peen hammer.  A nice little ball peen hammer works wonders on texturing my metal clasps, hardening them right along a slinky curve.  An economy model from Contenti has worked just fine for me for years.  Remember, if your hammer head is hitting your metal work, you want to keep it as shiny and scratch free as possible.  All those nicks and dents will transfer right into your work!

2. 16oz hammer.  This one is just a simple claw-hammer from Sears, but it’s great for smacking anything that really needs a smack.  When I’m stamping or cutting discs, this baby can’t be beat.  And at under $10, it will last a lifetime (provided your spouse or children don’t use it and never put it back!)

3. Crimping pliers.  A stringers staple, crimping pliers crimp beautifully and make your stringing projects look as professional as they can.  Plus, crimpers are great for picking up and closing those pesky little crimp covers…AND they are great for tucking the end of a wire in a wrapped loop right up against the stem you wrapped.

4. Smooth jawed pliers.  I prefer Wubbers brand pliers, but any smooth jawed pliers are a must when you are working with any kind of wire or metal.  Any teeth on the inside jaw of your pliers will instantly mar your metal and chew up your wire.  My favorites are bent nosed, chain nose, flat nose and round nose.  Okay, I love all of them. ;=)

5. Cutters.  True flush cut pliers are impossible to find (and expensive!), but you can’t beat a nice sturdy “flush” cutter for nipping beading wire or metal wire.  Don’t use anything but cutters designed for memory wire on memory wire or you’ll ruin them!

6. Polishing cloth.  I do consider this a tool!  I love Sunshine cloths…they are inexpensive (buy them at FireMountainGems.com) and last forever!  I like to include one as a freebie when I sell a piece of jewelry, or include in the package when I give jewelry as a gift.  Polishing cloths are also excellent for work hardening wire – if you need your wire a little harder, just run it through the cloth a few times!

7. Beading mat.  Probably didn’t expect to see anything this basic in here, did you?!  But beading mats, made of plush velour material, are essential for beaders, maillers, and metal workers.  Putting a beading mat down on your work surface will save you hours of chasing loose beads or jump rings, and it’s actually easier to pick up rings with a pliers off a beading mat!

8. Ruler.  Another obvious, but essential tool…I have almost as many rulers as pliers!  A large metal 18″ ruler sits on my work area so I can quickly measure wire, necklace/bracelet length, beading wire, etc.,  I keep a smaller ruler in a drawer by my computer so I can measure the length of a pendant or clasp when I’m listing an item on Etsy, and I carry a tape measure in my purse to take down the wrist size of a co-worker who asks me to make them a custom item.

9. Sketch pad and writing utensil.  I have lots of these scattered around as well…I never know when I’m going to see or think of something inspiring, or hear about a cool web site on the radio.  My sketch pads are filled with doodles and notes…sometimes they make sense, sometimes I scratch my head days later and wonder what I was thinking!

10. Tumbler.  My essential tool, now that I work primarily with metal.  I use my tumbler to finish pieces, to work harden pieces, to clean up pieces I wear.  Fill the barrel with mixed stainless steel shot, water, and burnishing compound (a squirt of blue Dawn dishwashing liquid works well!) and tumble for anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.  Your work will come out scratch free, shiny, and gorgeous!

Feb 162010

Sterling silver, fine silver, argentium silver, copper, aluminum, bronze, brass.

I use all of these metals (and more!) when making my jewelry…and a recent conversation with one of my friends (a fellow Karate Mom) made me think that while the characteristics and properties of different types of metals may be second nature to me, my spouting off “.925 silver”, “.999 silver”, and “sterling versus fine” might closer to a foreign language to others!

I thought I’d start with a quick primer on silver, one of the materials I commonly use, along with answers to some of the most common questions I’m asked.

Silver is shiny, but it’s not all equal! Pure silver, like gold, is much too soft to use on it’s own for jewelry. Alloys are added to the silver to strengthen it, resulting in a “less than pure” state.

Sterling silver is comprised of 92.5 parts pure silver and 7.5 parts alloy, usually copper. Because of the relatively high copper content, sterling silver will naturally tarnish when exposed to oxygen and other elements, such as humidity. Sterling silver is usually stamped or marked with “.925” to identify it.

Fine silver contains less alloy than sterling (99.9 parts silver, .01 parts alloy), so it tarnishes much less quickly, but is a lot less durable than sterling.

I generally use fine silver only for components that don’t have much stress on them (headpins used to hang beads from earrings or dangles on necklaces or bracelets) or for links I know will be hardened by hammering. (Hammering is soooo therapeutic after a long week at the day job, it’s a wonder I don’t have ONLY hammered pieces!)

Argentium (pronounced AR--TEE-UM) silver is desirable because it combines the best of sterling and fine silver into one metal.

Approximately 1% of the copper alloy used in Argentium silver is germanium, which doesn’t oxidize as quickly as copper. Argentium silver still has 92.5 parts silver, so it’s strong like sterling, but tarnishes very slowly, like fine silver. Argentium is fairly new to the jewelry making world, and is more expensive than sterling silver, but does make very nice jewelry!

Some of your work is BLACK or really dark, but you’re telling me it’s real silver! What’s up with that? I use chemicals or natural oxidizing agents to artificially tarnish and antique some of my pieces. Complex wire wrapping especially looks great when it’s been oxidized – makes that wrapping pop! All my oxidized pieces are polished in my tumbler for at least 12 hours, then hand polished to finish them off to a perfect sheen.

ACK! My jewelry doesn’t look pretty and shiny any more! What do I do? Cleaning and care of your jewelry is something I’m frequently asked about. If (okay, WHEN) your silver jewelry starts looking a little dingy, or even (shudder) has a yellowish tinge, use jewelry cleaner, a polishing cloth (I like Sunshine cloths) or Lynn’s Super Secret Jewelry Cleaner* to get it sparkling again.

In extreme cases, you can even use Tarnex, but be VERY careful…it’s strong stuff, so use it sparingly! (Plus it smells horrible.)

You do need to be extra cautious about cleaning any jewelry that includes porous stones, such as dyed stones, turquoise, opals or pearls…liquids can potentially damage them! When in doubt, use a polishing cloth.

Okay, what’s the super secret recipe….
Shhhh…it’s a secret! But since you asked, here’s an easy and natural jewelry cleaner that you can make at home!

Combine 1c white vinegar and 1T salt. Stir (or shake, I’m not Bond, so it matters not to me) until the salt is dissolved, and drop in your jewelry. Swish it around for about 30 seconds, remove, and RINSE THOROUGHLY in clear, cool water. Dry (I use a ShamWOW!…they are great for drying jewelry!) and admire how shiny it is!

Hope this helps you to understand silver a little better.

 Posted by at 12:08 am