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That’s right, “Don’t Jump!” Great advice, and if you want to find out why, you will have to read to the end of this post.
Last month, I got a new torch. It’s the Meco Midget for oxygen and acetylene. My incentive for buying this type of torch came directly from the Chris Nelson workshop where I learned to fuse gold to iron. So much growth and learning has come from my recent classes.
As a result of getting the new torch, I am now learning to weld! Why? Well, I am more than a bit surprised myself.
Here’s why I am learning to weld. My work has always been described as organic. I tend to love leaves, branches, trees and incorporate them in my works. With welding, I can create branches and do some pretty cool finished edges on metal too!
The new torch has brought challenges. Many people do not like acetylene and think of it as a dirty gas. If you don’t have the gas mixture right when you light the torch, it produces a sooty flame. That soot is fuel, acetylene, that has not burnt. I have cleaned up my share of soot as I’m learning about this new torch and fuel system. However, if you have the right person to show you a few of the ins and outs of this process, well, let me tell you, with practice you can master it and will love it.
In my case, my friend Jerry McClure, offered his advice and expertise. As a matter of fact, Jerry even went out of his way to come to my studio this past weekend and show me how to use this torch, along with giving me my first welding lesson. Thank you Jerry! I think it’s all part of his grand plan to keep me in his debt, but I’m ok with that….it’s good to owe Jerry favors, if you catch my drift.
Let me add, as an aside, that Jerry is an expert knife maker, among other things. He knows a lot and is more than happy to share. He has a wealth of experience working with iron, steel, damascus and other metals.
Now back to the story. I will admit that this new torch and gas mix gave me some fits. Soot particles floating through the air, the loud popping when the fuel blows itself out because I’ve adjusted it incorrectly, and more than I care to say. However, I’m determined. I have been working on things on my own; having my share of failures and a few successes. After Jerry demonstrated what the Meco can do, I know this torch is going to be a very valuable asset.
When Jerry first said he was going to show me how to weld, I thought “Why?”. How in the world was I going to incorporate that into any of jewelry I make? Well, I have enough sense and previous experience with Jerry to know when he wants to show me something, just watch and learn because it will make sense.
First thing he started with was making a branch with the welding rod. Wow. Impressive. I can see the possibilities. This is exciting.
Next the Mud Dauber effect. What? That’s right, the mud dauber effect.
Jerry’s example of the mud dauber effect.
Now I am not a fan of anything in the bee/wasp/hornet family, but I’ve watched these guys work (from a distance of course) and this technique with a welding rod produced a very interesting look. I’m going to do a lot of playing/practice in this space.
Getting the right mix of oxygen and acetylene with the torch is key, as I have had it too hot. Jerry helped a lot in this area, along with explaining things in terms that are easy for me to understand. With practice, the flame I get, will be the flame I want.
Another cool thing I learned was how I can create edges that are delicate or robust. The possibilities are intriguing and I will be working on those techniques a lot!
My first practice edging and branches
Just as I suspected, I got why Jerry wanted me to learn how to weld. Nodding of head and a special smile here.
Last, but certainly not least is why I titled this post “Don’t Jump”. With sparks flying and torch popping, my natural inclination is to jump. I’m startled. This is a new world for me and I certainly have not mastered anything that Jerry has been doing for the past 40+ years. His greatest advice, “Don’t jump”, coupled with keep a fire extinguisher handy….which I always do.
As long as you respect the flame and have a keen awareness of what you are doing, this is safe. The onus is on you as the wielder of the torch, to respect it and stay focused on what you are doing. It is your responsibility and if you cannot be in charge, don’t try any of this.
As Jerry likes to say, what he does is like rocket science but without the rockets!
Thank you Jerry for making the time and going out of your way to stop on Sunday to open a new world of possibilities for me and my work. I’m in your debt and I know you like that my friend.
As soon as I have new works with these techniques, I will post pictures either here or on my Facebook page. Thanks for your continued interest in what I do as a metalsmith.
A special thanks to Dan who took the majority of these photos….I especially like the last one where you can literally see a star shaped flying spark!
Until next time, I am, as always, aspiring to be more as an artist and a person.
A Facebook friend made the comment that she liked how I was “branching out” with my work. She had seen my status updates last week as I posted progression photos of this bracelet. I know she is right, my work is branching out and I love the feeling.
Last Wednesday, I started a 5 day workshop with Il Maestro Fabrizio Acquafresca. It was amazing. I don’t think my work will ever be the same. He teaches a metalsmithing technique called Chasing and Repousse. It is challenging, but the rewards are so worth the effort.
I thought you might enjoy seeing how this bracelet evolved.
The first day of the workshop we did a very simple dragon fly to get acquainted with the tools and get a feel for the process. I can’t tell you how many times Fabrizio had to lift my left elbow off the bench while I was working. He wants everyone to understand and develop the feel for the right way of doing things. Why? Because it is essential for the correct execution of hammer and tool, but also for your long term physical well being. It’s all part of the learning curve and boy howdy am I learning.
On the second day, we had the freedom to choose a pattern and decide what we wanted to make. I knew I wanted a bracelet. True to form, I wanted something different and went asymmetrical.
I am fond of Gingko leaves and thought that would be a good place to start. After a few sketches, I set my sites on this one.
I thought it would give me enough variety to practice the different depth levels and it didn’t let me down.
The copper in the upper left corner was an example Fabrizio created for me to follow. I had difficulty with moving the tool in a flow along the metal. Given that this was my second day attempting the technique and Fabrizio had been doing this since he was 13, well, I know there is a ton of practice in front of me. I persisted and was rewarded.
The material the metal rests in is Fabrizio’s formula of virgin tar and a calcium mix. Initially I thought it would be sticky, but it is not. It’s quite conducive to the process and others who had done this technique using other forms of ‘pitch’ found this material to be the best and easiest they had ever worked with.
Over the next couple of days, I went through the process and saw plenty of progress. Plus I was learning so much. This next photo shows that the metal is flipped and I am at the start of adding more detail to what would eventually become the outside of the bracelet.
Detailing completed, the piece was ready for the wire to be soldered to the back for stability and comfort.
I wanted an irregular shape for the bracelet. This worked out quite well because the narrowest section would be on top of my wrist and the wider areas hold the bracelet on the underside of my forearm. Comfortable and lightweight, plus that design created stability so the bracelet doesn’t move around on my arm. It was now ready to be formed and shaped to fit my wrist.
For the finished piece that you see at the top of this post, I used a liver of sulphur solution to give it more of an aged look. I actually prefer that look over a high polish, but either works well. I do think the liver of sulphur helps to bring out the detail in the piece.
Left to right – Shannon, Me, Andrea, Fabrizio, Elizabeth, Sandy, Ann, Amy, Nancy and Gloria.
We had a great group; a perfect blend of creatives. I considered this workshop to be one of those lifetime opportunities. If you ever have a chance to take this workshop from Fabrizio, DO IT! The investment in yourself to learn this kind of skill from a true master is invaluable.
Fabrizio is patient and one of the best teachers I have had. He has an exuberance and zest for life! There is never a dull moment. Enjoyable, entertaining and packed full of knowledge. Ok, it’s just plain fun. A win, win!
I know I am branching out and so excited about the possibilities.
Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.