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The Kit

I believe the folks at 3M are pretty darn ingenious.  From their sticky pads that came about because of a glue ‘mistake’,  to their invisible tape for wrapping presents,  to their line of Micron sandpapers, to these little radial bristle discs, and TONS more.  I’m definitely a fan of 3M products!

For this segment of Talkin’ Tools, I thought I would discuss my affection for using these discs in my metalwork.  Lexi introduced them to me and she likes to refer to them as ‘spiders‘ because of their appearance.

Initially I had a small subset of 3 different grits.  Yes, just like sandpaper, these gems come in different types (grits) for the work to be done.  3M has color coded them according to their grit, which is very convenient.  I like to keep a cheat sheet on my peg board to reference which size grit I need, but after a while, you get used to the color coding and I don’t refer to the cheat sheet as much.  I find I just use some more than I do others; I gravitate toward the ones that achieve the affect I want in my metalwork.

Sometimes I find buying a kit makes a lot of sense. It gives me a chance to see what is in a given product line and helps me to find which ones I tend to use the most.  Otto Frei offers this particular kit (pictured above).  Of course, once I have narrowed it down to the ones I frequently use, I routinely order those to have a stock pile on hand.

I consider these the speed version of sanding by hand.  Let’s face it, there are times I need to economize my time and these beauties will cut to the chase for any given metalworking task.  They can do things in seconds that will take several minutes or longer if I hand sand the metal.

They attach to a mandrel and are used with my Foredom flex shaft.  Generally I use a minimum of 3 of the same grit on the mandrel (see the picture below), but you can go up to 6.  The white ones (not included in this kit) are my favorite.

In this picture I’m showing the size difference between the two types I use.  The white one pictured is 1″ in diameter, while the yellow one is 3/4″ in diameter.  They are great for getting into small places that can be hard to reach with sandpaper.  I don’t try to achieve a high polish with these, I just take them up in size to the smallest  micron level depending on the finish I want.  The white one gives a nice texture, tooth to the metal finish that will take oxidation well.  There are times when I just like the texture the white one leaves on the metal surface and consider that as the finish for a piece.  I find them to be very versatile in helping to achieve different finishes.  It’s fun to experiment with them.

As with any work involving power tools, wear your safety glasses when you use these.  The little ‘fingers’ or ‘spider legs‘ do come flying off and I have had them hit me in the face, thus the importance of wearing your safety glasses.

They are a great thing to have in your tool box and I use them frequently as I’m finishing my pieces.  Oh I still do a lot of hand finishing, but when I need to make quick work of taking off a bit of a solder blob ….well, they are just plain handy.  Definitely a plus for my time management in the studio.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

One of the vendors that joined us for the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference was NC Black Hammers.  I have had my eye on their  hammers for a while and at the conference I was able to watch demos, hold the different ones they had, and try to decide which one I wanted.

As you can tell from the photo, I chose this beauty.  It’s called an Engraver’s Hammer.  However, I’ve been using if for a few other metalworking functions in my studio.  As silly as it may seem, I was particularly drawn to the way the head is shaped.

Not only do these hammers have beauty, but more importantly, they have function.  The one I purchased has wonderful weight and balance.  I am happy I chose it.  It also looks great with the rest of the hammers on the peg board above my bench.  Again I need to thank my dad for instilling a deep appreciation for tools….good, quality tools.

Annie Grimes Williams, of NC Black Hammers, did the bulk of the demos I saw.  Not only was I impressed with Annie’s skill with the hammers, but her patience and friendliness were a real plus because there was no pressure to buy.  I like that.  The products spoke for themselves.  Thanks Annie!  During one of my many stops at their table, she was showing how to use their Micro Closing Hammer with their forming stakes as she was creating a nice copper bracelet.  Fun to watch and of course, that Micro Closing Hammer with the Purple Heart Micro Forming Block have gone on my tool wish list.

I imagine many of my metalsmithing friends are familiar with NC Black’s products.  If you aren’t, I would definitely recommend trying one of their hammers.  Great quality and value.

Please take a moment to check out their Fan Page on Facebook too…you will see some pictures they took at the conference along with more info about their hammers and workshops.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Fretz Medium Domed Mushroom Top Anvil

This little guy is the latest addition to my workshop.  I purchased mine this past weekend while I was attending the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference.  We had a vendor room and Naja Tools had a few of these in the different sizes, so I couldn’t resist buying this one.  I had been looking at it for several months.

One of the things I love about any Fretz tool is that they have both function and beauty.  These latest workbench anvils come in several shapes, depending on your needs.  I chose this one because of the softer dome shape and I was told that out of the ones Fretz has, this will probably be the one I would use the most.

It is made out of highly polished 420 cast stainless steel set atop Padauk hardwood.  Designed to provide a lifetime of  use for metal shaping.  My plan is to use this for some of my new designs where I want a slight curve in my metal piece.

I’ve always been completely satisfied with any of my Fretz tools and I would encourage anyone to try Fretz products.  They truly are a great value.

See if your local jewelry supplier has these in stock.  They are readily available online too.  I bought mine for $65, which may have been a special price for people attending the Conference.  Online, Otto Frei has them for $67.50, plus shipping…..generally you can find their latest coupon codes through their Facebook page.  If you are interested in the set of 4, here’s a link to Otto Frie’s product page on them.  I always encourage shopping around for the best price.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

My well used burnisher

What in the world is a flat fid burnisher and why do I use this in my metalwork?

It’s is a tool that is used in the fabrication of stained glass windows.  Prior to becoming a metalsmith,  my artistic journey took me down the path of being a stained glass artist. I still love the medium and currently, I do a very limited number of stained glass projects….mainly for our home. Every medium has its tool set and this burnisher has migrated its way to my metalsmithing tool box.

Use of fid for stained glass work

Photo courtesy of Delphi Stained Glass

Its original purpose was to smooth (burnish) copper foil onto the individual glass pieces that make up the stained glass window’s design. When doing stained glass windows in copper foil, each piece of glass is wrapped in sticky backed copper foil. The foil must adhere to the glass and to ensure that it does so, a burnisher is used.  The tool is used to rub the top of the copper foil onto the glass, eliminating little bubbles and making sure the contact seal is good.  When done properly, the foil is secured to the glass in preparation for soldering the pieces together to form the window.  There actually are several different types of burnishers for that type of glass work and I have a mixture of them.  However, I found this one to be particularly useful in my metalwork.

I use it to help form bezel strip around stones that I set.  Because it is plastic, it doesn’t mar the metal.  It works better than my fingers because it is stronger.  At the starting point of the bezel strip, I will work the bezel around the stone, hold the wire strip in place with my fingers of my left hand (I’m a righty) and use the tool to gently ease the bezel around curves and corners.  When I’m done, I have the stone shape outline in the bezel…just what I wanted.

Sometimes after I’ve soldered my bezel strip together, it’s out of shape from the original shape of the stone it will hold.  Another opportunity to use the tool here…. I position the misshapen bezel around the stone and use the fid burnisher to straighten and reshape the bezel strip to the stone shape again.  This also helps me to ensure that my bezel outline is right before its final soldering into place on the back plate of the setting.  You can’t really fix a misshapen bezel once it’s been soldered down on the back plate.

One thing I have found, and hopefully you have too, is that some tools can safely be used for another purpose beside the original one.  Lexi is a great advocate of this principle.  She has found lots of things that she will use in her studio, that are outside of their intended purpose.  Take one of her classes for those tips and tricks!  Experimentation, within reason, is a good thing.

You can find the flat fid burnisher at your local stained glass supplier, if there is one in your area.  Call ahead and make sure they carry them. Of course, there are many online sources for them too.  They are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $1 – $3.  I found one similar to mine at All Stained Glass for $1 and another at a mid-range price ($1.80) at Harmony Stained Glass.  However, All Stained Glass has a $35 minimum order requirement, while I don’t think Harmony requires a minimum order amount.  Delphi Stained Glass is another resource too.  If you are considering adding one to your toolbox, in this case I would encourage you to shop locally and avoid shipping costs and/or minimum order requirements.  Just my thoughts.

This is a tool I use every time I prepare my bezel strip for the stone setting process.  I’ve tried using the handles from tooth brushes, but their handle shapes don’t work as well for me as the nice edges and curves of the fid.

I hope you found this segment fun and insightful.  What tools do you have in your metalsmithing shop that were not originally intended for metalwork?

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

The Pickle Pot

Ok, it says Crock-Pot, but this one really is strictly devoted as my current pickle pot in my studio.  It’s one of the small ones made by Rival.  Remember, any time you bring something into the studio that is normally used in the kitchen, it NEVER, NEVER EVER returns to the kitchen.  Its life is now that of a studio assistant.

If you want to know what pickle is, I’ll refer you to Lexi’s blog where she discusses that in depth.  Since Lexi covers the details about the pickle solution in great detail, I’ll just give you a high level overview of it.

For my solution, I use ph down which is one of the chemicals used in maintaining the ph levels in your spa.  Yep, the same stuff.    Basically, pickle is a cleaning solution.  It serves a number of purposes and I just mention a few.  It  prepares the metal, getting it nice & clean before you start to solder it and on the flip side, it removes the residues/nasties from soldering.  It also removes the oils your hands leave on the metal when you touch it and it can even help with the dreaded fire scale, if it isn’t too bad.  However, there are times when removing fire scale requires a bit more elbow grease in terms of sanding it away.

The pickle solution in my pot

This picture shows the inside of my pickle pot.  It has some particles in there that actually came from my fire brick because they had adhered to my metal when I was soldering.  That happens when I get flux on my fire brick and I do my best to avoid that, but it happens.  Generally, those pieces of fire brick fall off in the pot and when it gets too bad, I safely discard the solution and start a fresh batch.

You can see from the photo that mine has turned a light blue.  This is a normal event because as you continue to put your metal pieces in the solution for cleaning, some of the copper from the metal’s surface will leach into the liquid and eventually your clear pickle solution starts to turn blue.  That’s ok.

Generally the pickle works best when it is warm so that is why we put it in these little crock pots.  Turn the control to low and your solution is kept at the perfect temperature to do its best work.  I will leave my pieces in the pickle for anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 or 5 minutes, depending on what I hope the solution will accomplish.  And yes, sadly I have forgotten to turn my Crock pot off so the liquid evaporates (even with the lid in place) and leaves an interesting sludge.  Fortunately, soaking the inside of the pot with Dawn treated water will loosen up that material and you can start afresh!

These little crock pots by Rival are pretty durable.  Mine is a little over 2 years old, but I know it will eventually wear out so I now have one in reserve!

The colorful backup

A couple of weeks ago, I saw some colorful ones at our local Wal-Mart.  I debated between yellow and red.  As the picture shows, I chose the red one because my Jenny Chen Shears have red handles and they remain on my solder station.  Why not have a few matching tools in my soldering area?

The one I purchased was $10, same price I paid 2 years ago for my current model.  If you’d like to add a splash of color to your work space, why not get one of the colorful ones for your soldering station?  Just my take on it.

One last point of interest on this subject.  Someone had recommended to a fellow metalsmithing friend to hang a glass pickle next to your light switch to help remind you to turn off your pickle pot before leaving the studio.  I guess I should have followed that advice, yet I have not.  I do think it’s a cute idea and if I find a glass pickle to my liking, I will probably follow that suggestion.  For now, I tend to double check a few things 2 or 3 times before I leave my studio; make sure my acetylene tank and pickle pot are turned off, blow out the candle (I like the aroma & ambiance!), close the window and turn off all the lights & the fan.  So far, it’s all been working!

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

For this week’s Talkin’ Tools segment, I thought I would talk about one of the handiest tools I have in my studio…tweezers!  I have 2 pairs of these. I keep one at my work bench and the other at my soldering station. These are my favorites because of the extra sharp, pointed tips.

Yes I do have other tweezers that I use, but none of them work as well as this particular one.

Frequently I need to pick up tiny pieces of metal or wire as I am fabricating my work.  Because they have such great pointy tips, I can easily pick up the smallest of things.  At the solder station, I use them for placing tiny pieces of solder or little silver balls that I will solder into place like the ones you have seen in Mountainesque.  Here’s an example:

Red Mountain
Photo Credit ~ Daniel Krucoff

When I try to pick up super small things, I find it pretty difficult to do so with my fingers.  There are times when a tool makes your work easier and these tweezers certainly are a great asset for small, tiny pieces.  I can position things exactly where I want them and not fumble for a few minutes trying to get things into their proper place.  If you look at how small some of the decorative silver balls are on Red Mountain, I think that helps put the use of these tweezers into perspective.  They are a great assistant in the studio.

I purchased mine from Indian Jewelry Supply.  If you look closely, you can see the part number is still taped to them.  If you can’t read it, the item number is 249-T401MM for Indian Jewelry Supply part list.

What are some of your favorite tools that you use daily in your studios?

That concludes this week’s segment of Talkin’ Tools.  Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

My Pepe Disk Cutter

What a time saver this tool is! Plus, for accuracy when cutting circles, it cannot be beat.

Once again, I’m turning the spotlight on one of my favorite tool manufacturers, Pepe.  Their quality is excellent.

When I took my first metalsmithing workshop from Lexi, one of the many things she taught us how to make was a simple pair of earrings that started out as circles.  There are times when her teaching style is pure genius, because from that initial task, we learned how to draw out a pattern (the circle from a template), follow the line with the saw blade, replace many a broken saw blade and oh yes, actually learn how to saw metal.  The one thing she didn’t tell us, was there was this handy little device that would cut circles in seconds with the use of a steady hammer!  First you learn how to do the basics, then you can move into using tools that will make your life easier.  Gotta love it, and I do because it gives you a greater appreciation for what you are doing as a metalsmith!  Brilliant Lexi, simply brilliant!!!

Many online jewelry supply sites carry these.  Otto Frei is sold out of this particular set, but they have others.  Again, Google can be your best friend when searching for something like this or if you have a local jewelry supply store, check with them too.  From my research, it appears the demand for this particular set is high and most places are sold out, but they will let you know when more come in.  I chose this particular set because I felt it provided a good variety of sizes for the work that I do.  There certainly are others out the by Pepe and they may work for you if you don’t want to wait for this particular set.

So how does this puppy work?  I think it’s pretty slick.

The arrow labeled “A” points to the slot where you insert your metal sheet.  The metal is then sandwiched between the two layers of the block.  There are perfectly aligned matched circles on the top and bottom of the plates.  Arrow “B” points to the knob that you turn to raise and lower the plates.  When you have the metal positioned in the desired hole size, you turn the knob to securely hold the metal in place.  Arrow “C” points to the punch that is very sharp on the end that will cut the metal circle.  Using a brass hammer, pound on the end of the punch until it cuts through the metal forming the circle.  The metal circle falls through and in a few seconds you have a perfect circle.

The punch

This is the punch I used in this example.  Each punch corresponds to the correct hole.  They are very accurately machined and as with any equipment, take good care of it as you can get the holes out of alignment if you drop the cutter or misuse it.  I’ve heard stories…that’s all I’ll say.

Sample copper discs

These are a couple of the discs I’ve cut with mine.  Sure you can buy pre-cut discs in the metal of your choice.  You pay extra for that cutting and the metal waste.  Personally, I like cutting what I need from my metal and I have found some interesting patterns from the ‘waste’ that I can incorporate into my work too.  I find it a win win.

It’s another great tool that I use frequently and love.

I have been busy working in the studio on two new series, so look forward to upcoming posts about my new work.  I’m very excited about them.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Lucas “Low-Boy”

This little beauty is a foot controller manufactured by Lucas Dental Equipment.  It is attached to my Foredom Flex Shaft and works like a dream.  It was a Christmas gift from my dear sister Lexi this past year.  I was delighted; thanks again Lex!  I had this on my tool wish list for well over a year.

The first time I saw one of these was in Lexi’s studio.  She told me about the benefits of having a variable speed control pedal that would allow you to start out slower than any other foot controller.  It definitely gives you great control as you work with your flex shaft or dremel.

The foot controllers that come with Flex Shafts don’t let you start at the very slow revolutions per minute (rpm) like this one does. There are times when you really need a delicate touch to start working on something you are fabricating.  This pedal fits the bill!

If you Google this, you find lots of positive feedback about the quality of the device.  And I am one who will chime in that this is a great addition to your metalsmithing studio.

This is the ad that Lucas runs and I thought I would share for those of you may be interested in adding this gem to your studio.  I think you’ll be very happy you did.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Wubbers Bail Making Pliers

Pictured are my medium and large Wubbers Bail Making Pliers.  I purchased these when I was wire wrapping my glass cabochons.  They also have a smaller sized one, but I felt it was too small for the bails I would want for my work.

I liked a number of things about them and still do.  They provide a way to consistently shape a bail.  The handles are slightly cushioned so they are very comfortable.  I discovered them when I was reading a wire wrapping magazine and caught Wubbers ad.  They looked perfect for the job of making bails and I can confirm that they are.

I purchased these from FDJ Tools on Time.  Of course, my favorite resource for finding things on the web is Google, so feel free to do a search and you will find that there are a number of distributors for this line of pliers.

Now that I don’t work with wire as much, I find that I still use these for shaping some of my metal bails.  As long as your metal is properly annealed, I find they are a great asset for bending and shaping the metal into bails.  The different diameters work great to create a bail that is just the right size for the chain I like to use for my necklaces.

Since I have used these for a number of years, I find they are durable and a good value.  Of course, they have a very specific purpose, they are not a tool I use everyday so they don’t get regular wear and tear…more like gentle wear and tear.

Wubbers has a nice product line and I have found their website easy to navigate.  Although these are my only set from Wubbers, given my experience with these, I would definitely consider purchasing some of their other products when the need arises.

If you are in the market for a nice set of pliers to create bails for your pieces, give these a try…I think you will like them.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

My Pepe 90 MM Rolling Mill with Newton looking on in the background…..

For today’s segment of Talkin’ Tools, I thought I would discuss some of the heavy artillery in my studio.  In this picture is my Pepe Rolling Mill.  As you can tell by this photo, basset supervision exists in my studio pretty much all of the time!  😀

I purchased my rolling mill from Indian Jewelry Supply (IJS) a couple of years ago.  They had the best price I could find on the web and they were offering free shipping at the time too!   I do purchase a number of my supplies from IJS because of their prices, customer service, quality and fast delivery times.

Why on earth do I need this piece of equipment in my studio?  Well, there are a number of reasons, besides it’s just a really cool tool! A rolling mill is a machine designed to produce thinner gauges of sheet metal and wire.  But there is more to it than that.  Here are a few of my main reasons to use this equipment:

  1. I purchase my easy solder in wire form.  One of the things Lexi taught me was to use the rolling mill to flatten that solder wire.  This helps prevent using too much solder in your application. Since I only have easy solder in wire form, rolling it through the mill tells me it’s easy solder.  Added bonus, it’s in a consistent flat piece.  It helps me to identify my easy solder so I don’t mixed it up with something like silver wire.  Yes, sadly, I’ve mixed things up…chalk that up to experience and lessons learned.  😦
  2. Conveying patterns to metal.  This is just plain fun!  You can transfer textures to your metal from papers, wire shapes, netting, fabric textures, brass sheets to mention a few things.  Use your imagination, the sky is the limit, although somethings don’t work well.  Just experiment and have fun.  The process kind of reminds me of the old wringer washer my Mom had when I was a kid…those were the days before automatic washers with the spin cycles.  Can you imagine?  Her machine had these wringers to run clothes through to remove the excess water… I’m really dating myself!  The process is virtually the same with the rolling mill.  Place the texture you want to transfer against your annealed metal, sandwich the two materials together in a manila folder (cut to size) to hold them in place as you roll them through the mill.  The pressure exerted by the mill rolls will transfer the texture to your metal.  Pretty cool, yes?
  3. Sometimes you have a thicker gauge of metal, say 18 gauge, and you want to reduce it to 20 gauge if you don’t have any around.  The compression will cause the metal to ‘spread’ and thin out to a smaller gauge.

There are lots of uses for this machine, but I’m just covering a few of the things I use mine for.

They come in a number of different widths 90 – 130 mm, completely flat or combo.  Mine is completely flat.   With the combo, half the roller is flat and the other half has graduated grooves used for working with wire.  They even have automatic ones, but those seem a bit frightening to me, not to mention VERY pricey!  I shudder to think of getting a finger or something caught in an automatic rolling mill.  Clearly for a one person studio like mine, the size I have works very well.

It’s important to keep your roller surfaces clean and free from debris.  Particles can be accidentally transferred to your metal forming imprints you may not want.  When not in use, I keep mine covered and I wipe the roller surfaces with a light 3 in 1 oil to maintain them.

I am a huge fan of Pepe Tools.  Their quality is outstanding and with proper care, this is one piece of equipment that I think will last a life time.  Something nice to pass on to a future metalsmith.

For those of you shopping around for a rolling mill, I would encourage you to check out the line Pepe offers.  If you have a rolling mill, I’d love to know what kind and your uses for it too!

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Kathleen Krucoff

Artist and Metalsmith

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