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Jewelry Metalworking

I enjoy and appreciate both extremes in metalworking. Constructing large structural sections via welding or drilling, tapping and screwing, shaping on linear shapers, lathes and mills, surface grinding, hand-scraping, some of which I have performed myself and others I have only watched but desire to work with, are at the larger end of the metalworking spectrum. Precise machinery may sometimes be necessary for these machining operations, but everything is large-scale. However, in high school I found myself invested in the finer end of metalworking, forming fine jewelry from sterling silver, copper and nickel. Watchmaking in my mind would also fit in this fine-work category which requires unbelievable precision similar to many machinist indicating instruments, which I have had many opportunities to repair.

In my metalworking classes, we were granted the use of kilns for soft metal casting, drills, saws and files for shaping, chemicals for etching, and pliers and mandrels for wrapping and bending. We had many more tools available to us as well, each used for a more specific shaping purpose. I had the opportunity in these classes to form separate bands from sterling silver using a saw and files, then combine them into a single ring using butane torches to melt flux and solder into the joints. Usually, rings would then be tumbled and polished, then either one or more gems would be added to a ring using crimping techniques, or the ring would be colored using an oxidizing agent like liver of sulfur, which forms a uniform black silver sulfide layer on its surface.

Jewelry metalworking was my first introduction to true metalworking of any kind. I find it relaxing to work with my hands to create something, and exciting to be able to exercise my creativity and design something from scratch. I plan to carry on the techniques that I learned in metalworking and continue to use them occasionally as a hobby in my own home shop in the coming years. I still have my old files, sandpaper and polishing paper that I used in my classes, and I now have acquired my own piercing saw and a few hundred fine hardened blades. I will be using similar casting techniques when completing my heart locket and hammer projects to those that we used in my metalworking classes as well.

Detailed Description

Our first project in my metalworking class involved stamping into a thin band of sterling silver which is a soft enough metal to accept the stamp, but it will hold its shape as a ring far better than fine silver would. Fine silver, being made of 99.9% silver, is very ductile and does not hold its shape well. Sterling silver, however, is made from 92.5% silver with its remaining composition mostly comprised of copper and sometimes platinum or zinc. Nearly half of the projects that I worked on in my Metalworking 1 and 2 classes were made from silver, despite the much higher price of the raw materials.

The band that we made first ended up being fairly cheap, as it was only formed from a few grams of silver. However, later on, I chose to cast a DNA-themed ring from sterling silver and a potato necklace pendant for my brother also from sterling, both of which required quite a bit of metal. The potato alone contained about 40 grams of silver. That was my final project in my metalworking class, which I polished and strung up on a cheap sterling silver necklace that I found online.

Earlier in my classes, I designed a flame-themed inlay pendant that combined metal sections with voids filled with epoxy and crushed colored glass, and a similar pendant that to me looked like a plume of some sort. In a project requiring the soldering together of plates of metal, I made a necklace pendant from nine alternating triangular sections of sterling silver and copper, which I soldered together painstakingly, one at a time. Doing so without ruining the previous solder-jobs was nearly impossible and required many attempts to pull off, but that was what made it so rewarding to finally get it right and polish it into a beautiful finished product.

In the end, I made rings, bracelets, pendants and a woven necklace from silver, nickel and copper, and thoroughly enjoyed the pacing involved in my metalworking classes. If I were allowed to, I definitely would have taken metalworking classes in college as a creative outlet. I very much desire now to move into the larger end of metal fabrication and operate machinery regularly to shape precise metal products. I have many project ideas that can only be brought to life using these precise manufacturing techniques and I would very much enjoy working on such projects in my free time in addition to the occasional fine metal peoject.

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