A Clean Bench and a Brass Flex-shaft Handpiece Cradle

A clean bench

I needed to clean my bench, so I got busy and don’t think it’s been this clean and organized since Kathy and I built it three years ago! I really needed to organize my catch tray, as little pieces and strips of sand paper, unfinished projects, scraps and small tools mingled together don’t help when you’re trying to look for something.

Kathy made me five heavy-duty boxes out of some chipboard material that she uses in her album-making craft. They work perfectly to segregate tools, tweezers, sandpaper and other items, which will actually help me a LOT when it comes to finding something I need in a hurry, which usually happens when the torch is lit!

Bench tray, right side

A couple of the smaller chipboard boxes Kathy made for my bench drawer…

Bench tray, left side

To celebrate the bench “makeover”, one of the things I did was to make a cradle for my flex shaft handpiece. I use a split mandrel on the flex shaft for sanding rings and jewelry all the time, changing out various grits of sandpaper strips on the mandrel as needed.

But, if you let the handpiece drop (it hangs vertically from its motor), the rolled strip falls off the mandrel easily and before you can use it again you have to pick it up off the floor, blow off the dirt and wrangle it back into the mandrel slot (a pain).

I used to open a drawer to set the handpiece on when I needed both hands for something, then later re-purposed a hook I had made from coat hanger wire for a portable torch set-up I have, but with just a hook it was always a balancing act (though better than having to open a drawer).

Brash flex-shaft handpiece cradle

I only had 14 ga. brass wire on hand, so that’s what I used for the clip, soldering on a cradle cut from 24 ga. brass sheet and formed over the handle of a dapping die. After cleaning it up, I tumbled it for a couple hours in steel shot to harden the wire and give the clip the spring needed for proper tension, and it works great!

I now have a cradle for the handpiece so when I need to set it down for second, it’s right there close by, and holds it easily. No more having to pick up sandpaper rolls off the floor that fell out of the mandrel!

Brass flex-shaft handpiece cradle in use

Pressure Cooker Kitchen Tool

I had forgot about posting this piece when I made it. It’s not jewelry, but a Kitchen Tool I guess, and is a handle for a release knob on a pressure cooker pot.

Brass steam-release lever for Kathy’s Insta-Pot

The manufacturer only provides a stub on the knob, and when turned to release pressure the hot steam can sometimes easily get your hand if you’re not careful. Kathy loves her Insta-Pot, but that always annoyed her so I made an “extension” handle out of brass for her to use (keeping her hand a little farther away from the steam and sputtering when the pressure is released).

Made out of 24 ga. sheet, I formed a cradle or pocket that would fit over the stub on the knob, then soldered that onto the tube I created, and capped on the end with a half dome (both also made out of 24 ga. brass sheet). The overall length of the handle is 3.75”, and according to Kathy it does its job very well. 🙂

Chasing & Repoussé – Cross Pendant

Here’s a collage of pictures showing my 3rd go at chasing and repoussé, a sterling silver Cross Pendant.

Chasing & Repoussé – Cross Pendant, work in progress.

I wanted to make a cross in sterling, but nothing too elaborate for me to be able to do with my limited C&R experience. Also, having used copper on my previous two C&R “projects”, and knowing that sterling, being harder than copper, would take more work to get it where I wanted it, I needed to make sure it was easy enough for me to “test the water”, so to speak.

When working metal with C&R techniques, there are still areas I need to work on (well, all of them really, but a few especially). I am still needing *lots* more practice with my initial lining, and I continue to catch myself every once in a while pinching the tools between my fingers way too hard (especially when lining it seems). But, I finished this project with only a slightly numb thumb this time, so I’m sure the nerves in the tip of my thumb thank me for that! 😉

I also determined that I need to make myself a few “extra small” punches and planishers, but didn’t want to stop to do that, so made do with what I already had. I’ll probably make them before the next project though, even if I don’t need them for that project, as I need to make myself a couple regular small punches, too.

I used 24 gauge sterling sheet for this, and after cutting out the cross used part of the leftover scrap to make a bale. I didn’t cut away the excess at the top of the cross so it could be used to provide a base for a hook that the bale would attach to. I soldered a bit of 18 gauge round wire that had been shaped and sanded to fit at the top, as well as soldered on a bezel to hold a 5 mm cabochon of Sleeping Beauty turquoise at the center of the cross.

After cutting out and around the bale hook and cleaning that area up, I shaped and fit the bale, soldered it closed, then cleaned up the whole piece and threw it in the tumbler for a little while to harden the silver back up a bit. I followed that with oxidizing the interior channel of the cross and set the stone.

Chasing & Repoussé – Cross Pendant, finished.

The above collage shows the finished piece on the bench, and the back and front of the piece in more of a “display” setting, though it’s still hard to clearly distinguish between the recessed and raised areas in the photo of the back.

It actually turned out a lot nicer than I thought it would, but there are still areas that definitely could be better, and will keep working on those skills as I continue with C&R. Kathy already had a chain that goes very nicely with it, so she used that when taking the “finished product” pictures.

Anyway, I’ve already got plans for my next C&R piece, and just love what can be done with the process, in whole or in part, to produce jewelry. I am very excited to have learned this, and plan to incorporate a lot more C&R into my future work!

Chasing & Repoussé – Second Try

Here is what I created on my second attempt at chasing/repoussé. As you can see, I’ve definitely got a LOT of practice ahead of me, but I didn’t want to post my first try until I had worked my second (just to make sure that the first try wasn’t a fluke, and that there still might be signs of something decent down the road).

Chasing and repoussé, second try. Copper flower finished.

I chose another copper flower partly because Kathy wanted another one for one of her scrapbook albums, but also because they can bring a lot of various skills together in one piece (straight and curved lines, circles, etc.), *AND* they’re organic in form so mistakes are a little more forgiving!

Chasing and repoussé, second try. Copper flower initial lining.

Since Kathy had an ink stamp of a flower that she likes a lot, and it is about the size I was wanting to work (not as small as the first, but still fitting within a 3″ square of copper sheet), I had her stamp the design on the copper and got to playing.

What I discovered (besides needing LOTS more practice as mentioned) is that I now have 9 more punches (and counting) to make. If I had them on-hand, I certainly would have used them, but I worked with what I had since I didn’t want to stop long enough to make them!

I’m currently up to 20 punches (liners, embossers and planishers) I’ve made so far, and can very easily see that a “basic” set of punches will barely get you by, at least from what I am finding out in my extremely limited experience. And, that’s not even counting texture punches (I still only have one of those, so have a score of them to make, too!).

So, if you don’t make your own punches and choose to buy them, you would without a doubt benefit from buying one of the larger “sets” that are offered (or combine a couple smaller differing sets), as if you find yourself becoming as enamored with this craft as I seem to be, one of those smaller sets certainly won’t get you very far!

Every time I revisit Saign Charlestein’s website (SC Studios LLC, metalsmithing-tools.com) to look at his punches (see my post Chasing/Repoussé: First Try to see why), I can’t help but drool over his selection of forged chasing hammers he has to offer while I’m there. There is no way I could give them credence here, so you’ll just have to drop by his web site and see for yourself!

Yes, I already have a couple nice chasing hammers, and with slightly domed faces they are excellent for much of the lighter forging and general forming work I use them for, but for the same reason I use a flat-faced hammer when stamping, a domed face striking a punch or stamp can be more “off point” than “on point” much of the time (at least for me), especially when my focus is on the working end of the punch or stamp (where it should be), and not the striking end.

I find this especially affects my own chasing/repoussé as the punches and/or the metal surface I’m working on is often at various angles that constantly change (adding to the complexity of the domed surface of the hammer meeting the punch’s striking-end squarely), but am diligently working on improving my accuracy. The hammer I use for stamping is way too heavy for chasing/repoussé, so I might pick up an inexpensive chasing hammer with a flat face perhaps if my diligence doesn’t pay off.

The hammers Saign makes though, with hand-forged heads and hand-formed Osage orange handles (with the flex a chasing hammer really should have when used for chasing/repoussé), truly appear to be the “masterpiece of a tool” he describes them to be (besides just being so awesomely beautiful pieces of art unto themselves). Perhaps one of these days, when I have increased my skill in chasing/repoussé a thousand-fold or two, and my silver craft becomes more than the hobby it currently is, maybe I’ll find one under the tree some day (in case Santa’s reading this). 😉

Even though there is some work on this flower that I like, and a lot that I need tons more practice on, I do indeed see some of my silver work in the future using chasing/repoussé! As a matter of fact, Kathy has a paper die of a small cross that has little fleur-de-lis symbols on each of the upper three ends and will surely give it a try sometime, but think I may need to make smaller versions of some of the punches I have before I do!

And here is a shot of the back side…

Chasing and repoussé, second try. Copper flower back side.

I learned a few more things this time around…

* Although I’m getting better at lightening my thumb pressure on the punches, I still have moments where I catch myself pinching it too hard. My left thumb still has a bit of numbness in the tip, but it’s slowly going away.

* I need to ALWAYS look at my punch tip before I start hammering! I have caught myself more than a few times either: a.) Picking up a punch I had set down and start using the wrong end, or b.) Using the wrong punch by mistake (my 1/8″ teardrop planisher instead of the 1/8″ round planisher for example). Either of these errors can easily leave behind blemishes or marks that were not wanted and have to be cleaned up.

* I will likely be kept quite busy between chasing/repoussé projects and making punches that I keep finding a need for (which is cool… I have tool steel on hand and enjoy making them!).

Chasing & Repoussé – First Try

Here is a shot of my very first attempt at chasing/repoussé. It’s definitely on the crude side, but I am a bit stoked at how at least some of it turned out!

Chasing & Repoussé, first attempt

Some work on it I left more or less “unfinished” as I was mainly just experimenting with the punches I had made, used in various ways, but some of the doodles I took further and surprised myself as they turned out to be not quite so “butt-ugly” as I fully expected them to be!

Heck, Kathy even requested a few of them be cut out so she could use them on some of the albums she makes. 😉

I took a 3″x3″ piece of 22 ga. copper sheet and basically just drew some freehand doodles loosely based on patterns in one of the videos the artist and toolmaker, Saign Charlestein of SC Studios, LLC (metalsmithing-tools.com), showed on a practice piece when talking about tool control.

I had absolutely no idea how the doodles would turn out and figured I would just let them “go where they will” as I worked through the small handful of punches.

I first ran across Saign’s chasing/repoussé videos on Vimeo (vimeo.com/scstudios) a few years ago and they really intrigued me (he has them on YouTube now, too).

I knew practically nothing about repoussé at that time… not much more than what it was generally, and an art form that dated back several thousands of years.

After watching Saign’s videos I knew it was something I would have to try though, especially since I love working with metal in shaping, forging and forming it into jewelry, etc.

Since I didn’t know if I would like it (the process, not the end result, which can be truly awesome and beautiful pieces of art, jewelry, utensils, etc.), or even be able to produce anything that would keep my interest in it going, I wasn’t going to spend a minor fortune to find out as the many punches needed for chasing and repoussé work can be quite expensive if you don’t make them yourself.

I already had a couple chasing hammers I use for my silver work, and had made many of my own stamps so I figured that I would try to make my own chasing/repoussé punches as even a basic “set” of inexpensive ones can easily cost over a hundred dollars or more, depending on the number of punches in the set and their quality in material and finish.

Aside from a hammer and the punches I would make, a bowl filled with pitch is about all I lacked in that area. So, for under $75 (S&H included) I picked up a cast iron bowl with rubber ring base and a few pounds of red pitch to fill it with.

I think if I had seen Saign’s video on pitch trays before then I probably would have made one of those instead of buying the bowl (yeah, I’m cheap in some ways, but I do enjoy making my own tools and equipment when I can).

I’m actually glad I got the bowl and its accompanying rubber ring it sits in though, as that setup allows you to turn and position the bowl holding the piece you’re working on at the many angles you need to best approach it (and the bowl is heavy enough to keep it there). From what I’ve seen, a sand bag or even a small rimless tire the size used on dolly’s, carts or wheel barrows would work well to keep a tray or bowl steady at various angles, too.

Chasing & repoussé first attempt, final round in the pitch

It took me a lot longer to get started with chasing/repoussé than I had originally thought, as I began making the punches back in 2015 but ran into one delay or brain lapse after another and only got around a couple weeks ago to completing a very basic set of 16 punches that I had listed out to make for myself.

That’s the thing about chasing/repoussé… I heard you use a LOT of punches, and I’m beginning to see that now!

I think part of the delay may also have been that all of the stamps and punches I’ve made so far have been shaped and filed by hand. I use various files to get the shapes formed, then various grits of sandpaper to bring them to the polishing stage. I may look into picking up an inexpensive light-duty belt sander to help speed up the process of getting the basic forming down, as even with annealed steel it still takes quite a bit of filing and shaping to get there sometimes!

You could use a regular ball-peen hammer if you don’t have a chasing hammer, make your own “bowl” or tray for the pitch from plywood and board (some have suggested a cast-iron cooking pan or pot, but we don’t have any cast-iron cookware that’s not used for cooking!), and even make your own pitch compound if so inclined (recipes are out there), but the range of liner, embossing, planishing and texturing punches you will need is what can easily break the bank if you don’t make your own it seems.

A good example is this very “doodle sample” project. Even though I used every one of the 16 punches I’ve made so far (not including a regular nail punch and a dapping die that were used on the flower’s center), I discovered in working those doodles that I really needed to make myself at least 6 more punches at minimum to accomplish some of the very basic tasks I wanted to do.

Although I started out with a mind to “try” every punch just to test it and see what it could do, I wound up needing every one of them at one stage or another, and if I had those 6 other punches I surely would have used them, too!

And, that’s not even counting texture punches in various sizes and shapes… I have only made one square texture punch in 1/8” square bar stock, but really needed at least a small teardrop-shaped texture punch as well to get into some of the tight places and shapes the square punch couldn’t reach.

I truly am very thankful to Saign, as if I had not viewed his “Tutorial Tuesday” videos I doubt if I would have even made the attempt at giving chasing/repoussé a try, but most of all that he cared enough to produce the videos going through the process basically from start to finish in detail.

After I had “discovered” his videos, searches on the Internet brought me more information on the art, but really nothing as complete in video format that details so much of what is done when working a piece all the way through the numerous steps and stages, starting with flat sheet and ending with a dimensional piece of work ready for display.

If you can’t or don’t want to make your own punches, you’re not out of luck. You can buy lower-priced punches, but from what I understand you will need to put in the time and effort necessary to get them to a work-ready state (assuming they were at least made out of good-quality tool steel to begin with), or pay the price to have them made that way from the start (so those lower-priced punches are not really the savings they appear to be).

You can usually tell quality punches apart from their “economy” counterparts just by looking at the tips of the tools if the vendor shows an image that can be zoomed in on those working areas, as they will likely have sharp edges that can too easily cut your metal, blemishes that will mark your metal where you don’t want it to, or have unpolished faces when they should be highly polished.

Even if you do go that route, keep in mind that you will eventually want to learn how to make your own punches, even if you only make a few. It’s really not all that hard, and I heard that most chasing/repoussé artists make their own punches much of the time for particular project needs anyway, and after my very first “doodle” I can certainly see how true that could be!

I had bought some W1 steel bar stock and drill rod in various sizes a few years ago to make my own stamps and punches (still WAY cheaper than even buying the “inexpensive” punches), but picking up used punches, chisels, Allen wrenches or other tools made out of carbon steel that can be annealed, re-shaped then hardened and tempered can provide you with a lot of material to get you going on the cheap if you would like to give chasing/repoussé a try for yourself.

Although I don’t own any of Saign’s tools or punches at this time, I can assure you that they are without a doubt some of the finest tools and punches I have seen manufactured and for sale for this craft. Although the punches I have made come nowhere close to the quality, finish or completeness in workmanship that his do, his selection of various punches has been the basis for what I *attempt* to model mine after in form and quality (and thank him greatly for that, too!!).

Another good vendor for punches, tools and supplies is Nechamkin (nechamkin.com), as what I’ve seen and heard about their tools for the craft has also been very positive.

Since I first ran across Saign’s videos I know I’ve probably watched them all half a dozen times or more at least, and feel it definitely paid off in knowing more on what to do and expect as I work through the processes. I thank Saign greatly for all he has taught me in those videos and on his web site, and I hope I haven’t done too much damage to his name by showing this piece!

What I Learned:

* Although I need to practice using *all* the tools, I need the most work on doing the initial lining. Fortunately as this is usually the first step on working the metal, my many mistakes have a better chance of being corrected or covered up (at least somewhat) by completion, but I think lining is definitely my weakest skill at this point.

* I continue to grip the punches too tightly (especially when doing the initial lining). I don’t think my thumb has ever been so totally numb before! I’m getting better (thumb, too), but I still catch myself seemingly trying to pinch the life out of the steel punch (like that’s going to happen!), so I still have some work to do there. 😉

* I need more liners, punches and texture stamps. Seriously. I had a blast working metal this way!

* A silicon kitchen spatula is great for working with melted pitch, as when it cools it peels right off the utensil! If you need to push some melted pitch around in your bowl or tray, this is the thing to do it with. By the way, melted pitch can be VERY hot, highly flammable and sticks to just about anything (including you), so if you’re working with it, it’s best to keep a bowl of cold water nearby. Think of pine tree sap with brick dust mixed in to give it some body. and you basically have pitch.

* Lighting is important! One of the things I currently lack in my shop (shed) is good “general” lighting. I have a couple LED and bulb lamps, but you really need good overall bright light coming from various angles, otherwise much of the time your hands/arms/head will cast shadows on the piece, making it difficult to see your work clearly.

* I really like working with metal this way (didn’t I say that already?), don’t think I’m too awfully bad with it (I rarely surprise myself, but this was one of those times), and plan to do a *lot* more of it (and therefore will be busy making punches, etc., too, for a while).

Since first writing this post, I have since picked up an inexpensive combo belt/disc sander at Harbor Freight for about $70 that has already saved me numerous hours of filing by hand to get stock roughed out for punches and stamps. I use a bench grinder I inherited from my dad for larger stock (1/2″ bolt-size or larger stamps), but as it was sometimes a little too easy to remove too much material from the smaller 1/8″-3/16″ stock with the wheels that are on it, I would usually opt to just file the smaller stock by hand instead. Since most of my perceived chasing/repoussé will be for jewelry utilizing the smaller punches most of the time, this piece of equipment will no doubt be seeing a lot more use down the road!

Here are a few shots of some of the “doodles” that were cut out and used for one thing or another…

Chasing & Repoussé first attempt, copper flower

Copper Flower. Kathy used it on one of her hand-crafted albums that it went with very nicely. Now she would like me to do a similar one in silver as a pendant for her. 🙂

And these guys… they truly were just the result of practice lines drawn on the copper sheet. I had no idea how they would turn out when I first drew them…

Chasing & Repoussé first attempt, doodles

An “S”. Since this scroll doodle turned out looking like the initial “S”, it was cut out and is slated for a key-chain fob. I may inset the piece with cold connections in a sterling setting to give it a little more weight (and that way if I ever get tired of it, it can be easily removed and the silver melted down and used for something else).

Chasing & Repoussé first attempt, “S”

A Question Mark. Although it was just another scroll doodle, it ended up looking an awful lot like a question mark so it, too, was snatched up to be used on one of Kathy’s future albums.

Chasing & Repoussé first attempt, Question Mark

Well, I’m not sure about this one… it’s just a dimensional “thing” that was fun to do, and looked a little cool I guess, but will likely just lay around collecting dust somewhere as a “copper-doodle“. 😉

Chasing & Repoussé first attempt, “copper doodle”

Dog Paw Charm

Sterling silver Dog Paw charm

I was commissioned to make a charm bracelet for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and after that was made we wanted to at least put a fun little charm on it for her, so since she used to raise show dogs I made an overlay charm of a dog paw to go with it. 😉

The charm is 18 ga. pierced overlay on a 22 ga. base, and the bracelet is made up with 14 ga. and 18 ga. links, a commercial figure-8 clasp, and measures 8.5” long.

Fold-Form Leaf Link Bracelet

Sterling silver fold-form leaf link bracelet

A sterling silver link bracelet I made a few weeks ago with 18 leaves created in fold-form fashion similar to the fold-form pendant and earrings I made a while back (though I changed the leaf pattern slightly so they would not have pointed tips to prick the wrist).

The leaves were made out of both 24 and 26 gauge sheet, with O-Ring bales made from 18 gauge round wire and wrapped with a few wraps of 26 gauge wire at the join to match with the fold-form leaf earrings and pendant.

After the leaves were oxidized and buffed, the patina stays in the indentions created by the forming with a cross-peen hammer, helping to give them a more realistic appearance.

The bracelet chain was made out of 16 gauge round wire with 1/8″ I.D. O-Rings, and overall the bracelet turned out well and is very light to wear.

Kathy mentioned that when the leaves jingle against each other, they actually sound a little like leaves in the wind. 😉

Stamped Bangles

Stamped sterling silver bangles

A pair of sterling silver bangles stamped with a couple of what I now call the “original” series of stamps my brother and I made from old bolts back in the early-mid ’70’s.

We used them for making southwest-style silver work. They sorely needed refurbishing to be usable again, as 40+ years of rattling around in a tin can at the bottom of a box of tools had taken it’s toll.

To get the stamps in working order again, I cut off the bolt heads (not sure why we didn’t do that when they were first made, other than perhaps having to deal with a dull hack-saw blade), re-annealed and cleaned them up with a bit of filing and sanding to bring them back into shape by taking out the nicks, deepening the grooves, etc.

I then followed that by hardening, tempering and final polish and buff of the working-end. Used together or with common punches, simple designs really are easy to work up.

One bangle was stamped with a southwest-style design, and the other used a portion of another stamp to create a pine needle design of sorts.

Both bangles had their designs stamped only four times around the circumference, and because they’re made with 8 ga. half-round wire, they make for a simple, light and non-intrusive bangle that can stacked and mixed with others to blend with numerous styles of dress. 🙂

Valentine’s Day Card Charm

Sterling silver Valentine’s Envelope charm

Since I had another little piece of 18K gold from that same scrap used for the gold heart on the Valentine’s Envelope charm I made Kathy last year, and was a good match for making another gold heart of the same size, I figured I would give her a Valentine’s Card charm this year to go along with her letter!

The card was made from 20 ga. sterling sheet, with the front and back pages connected by a 3-piece hinge I fashioned out of thin-walled tubing and wire. The gold heart is on the front, and inside the card I stamped “D+K”

The charm is designed to hang partway open so that both inside and outside are visible (though a little more closed than what is shown in the bottom two pictures).

As her other charm bracelet has mainly for Christmas/Winter charms, I think she’ll be needing a new charm bracelet to go with these. 😉

Sterling Silver Nativity Overlay Pendants

Sterling silver domed Nativity overlay pendant,with engraved Joseph staff

My wife Kathy just loves Nativity scenes (we’ve got several around the house) so when a free weekend came up, I decided to spend it in the shop and knock out a domed Nativity scene pendant for her.

I pierced the design in 24 ga. sheet with a jeweler’s saw using a 4/0 blade. I then used a hand graver to form Joseph’s staff to give it the appearance of wood, soldered the pierced overlay to the 26 ga. base, and followed that by giving it a domed shape on a dapping block. 16 ga. round wire was used to create the bale and O-ring before the piece went through the finishing, polishing, patina and final polishing stages. She loves it. 😀

Apologies for the reflections in the finished piece, as I am not a photographer and Kathy isn’t finished with her homemade light box setup for taking pictures of shiny surfaces. 😉

When I had TXT’d a picture of Kathy’s Nativity scene pendant to my brother and his wife saw it, she fell in love with it as well. Since I was waiting for some network build-out at work to be completed before I could move my DNS and SAN devices to the company’s new datacenter, I had the following weekend free as well and decided to knock out another pendant for her.

Sterling silver domed Nativity overlay pendant,with pierced Joseph staff

I used the same pattern and materials as with Kathy’s pendant, only I deviated slightly and pierced Joseph’s staff with a 4/0 saw blade instead of forming it with a graver. There are other slight differences as well (being hand-made), and I made the star slightly larger on this pendant.

And, if you read the text above for Kathy’s Nativity pendant, ditto on the apologies for the reflections in the finished piece. Oh, and my brother’s wife loves hers, too. 😉