Oct 152010


Have you looked at the spot price of silver or gold lately?  If so, you’ll know why I’m making that sound…spot (the price by which most retailers and wholesalers base the price they sell their goods to you) is at an all time high for both metals.  And it just keeps climbing every day.

While I’ll still use silver (and when requested, gold) in my work, I lean more toward affordable alternatives – copper, aluminum, bronze and brass – still putting high quality workmanship in my pieces, but less costly materials.

Today I really want to bring your attention to brass – a nice option when someone wants a gold colored piece.  Brass will oxidize quickly to a dark gold color, but can be brought back to shiny if desired using jewelry cleaner, or any of the natural cleaners I’ve blogged about before.

Brass is a base metal, so some people may experience allergic reactions to surface or piercing contact.  If you are making earrings using brass wire or jump rings, you may want to consider using sterling silver or niobium ear wires instead of brass.

Jul 252010

One of the things that really intrigues me is using items that aren’t really designed for jewelry in a jewelry design. (Boy, does that sound convoluted or WHAT.)

Like computer parts. Ruth Smith’s etsy shop, Periwinkle Dzns is a great example. Described as “handmade geek nerd jewelry/jewellery made from upcycled computer parts: resistors, capacitors, diodes, oscillators….”, she uses stuff that would otherwise end up in a dumpster, and turns it into functional and fun mini works of art!

And check out these steampunky pieces, made from old hardware and harness leather by Devin Johnson of Make Shift Accessories. Our booths were next to each other at the Stone Arch Festival of the Arts this summer, and not only is his work fresh and fun (bracelets made from old license plates and street signs are another of his creations), but he’s just a cool guy and fun to chat with.

I’ve got a few ideas for upcycling myself…some of you might remember that my parents “graced” me with a huge box of copper tiles from their kitchen remodel. The tiles used to be a backsplash, and I’ve used the sheet to make Christmas ornaments. Plus, hubby’s been cleaning up some of his work areas, and has gotten in the habit of asking me “Do you want this?” instead of tossing things like copper tubing, wire and other goodies.

So take a look around, get some inspiration from Ruth and Devin, and anyone else who’s using “green” components!

Mar 212010

Just a few notes I wrote up for my Continuing Education students at Iowa Western Community College.  Copper is one of my favorite materials to use, and it’s great for practicing wire wrapping, because it’s softer and less expensive than sterling silver or other materials!

Copper is used as an alloy…sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.75% other metals, usually copper. This adds strength, but also causes the silver to tarnish more quickly.

Bronze is a metal made from combining copper with tin; brass is copper and zinc.

Copper will tarnish when exposed to oxygen. Make your copper new penny shiny again by using one of the following methods:

  • Polishing cloth – my favorite is Sunshine brand.
  • Tarnex – dip or wipe the piece, but use care if the piece has stones (no opal, turquoise, or other “soft” or porous stones). Rinse very thoroughly with clear water and dry.
  • Natural jewelry cleaner: 1/4c white vinegar, 1t salt. Put in a plastic container and shake to dissolve the salt. Add jewelry and stir around or shake gently. Rinse very thoroughly with clear water and dry.
  • Rub Ketchup on the piece using a soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly. – Combine lemon juice and salt and dip/rub on the piece. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Tumble in a rock tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot, water and burnishing compound (blue Dawn works well).


If you wear copper and it turns your skin green or black, your body chemical makeup has a high acid content. “Treat” your copper using a thin layer of Future floor wax, Renaissance Wax, or clear Krylon spray. Any treatment will wear off over time and will need to be reapplied.

If you have a higher alkaline content in your chemical makeup, you’ll naturally “shine” the copper that touches it!

Copper can be artificially tarnished (or antiqued) using chemicals or the natural sulfur found in hard boiled eggs. Tarnishing metal and then polishing the high points brings out the detail in wire wrapped and stamped pieces.

Verdigris is the green/blue patina that you see on copper outdoors (think of capital domes or garden decorations). Verdigris can be removed from copper, but like rust, it may have damaged the underlying surface.

You can buy copper wire at the hardware store.

Copper is alleged to have healing properties, especially for joint aches and arthritis.

Copper is probably the oldest metal mined and used by humans…when you wear copper, you are wearing a bit of history!

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!