Friday, November 22, 2013

Mishaps of the Torch Forged Rings

Mishaps of the Torch Forged Rings

 My latest posts were on the process I use to make sterling silver forged rings. Those posts covered the process and work involved in making the rings. What those posts did not include was the mishaps and damage done while making them. Jewelry making is no exception to the possibility of things going wrong and some things did go wrong while I was forging those rings.

Singed carpeting from dropped hot sterling silver
The first was during the first of the last hammering session. Yes there was a second set of hammering sessions but I will get to that in a bit. This was a simple mistake that thankfully did not have disastrous results. While I was moving the bar of red hot sterling silver from the charcoal blocks to my steel pounding block I didn't have a good enough grip on the silver with the pliers and the silver fell to the floor. I am really glad that I don't like the carpeting in my studio because it got singed the moment the hot sterling landed on the floor. I was able to pick the silver up quick enough that the carpet didn't catch fire but the carpet is now branded for life. Had the carpet caught it would have been a simple matter to put it out. Not more than 5 inches from where the silver fell is my quenching container. I keep water in there constantly so the container would have been quickly dumped before any major damage could be done.

Finished rings
 The second mishap was in the soldering process of the Ogham ring that wasn't caught until it was an issue. While I was working on sizing the ring the solder joint partially broke. I decided to cut the solder joint and re-solder the ring. This was a mistake that I have learned from. While I tried to cut the joint itself I actually cut slightly to the side of the joint. When I was soldering the ring for a second time the first solder joint melted and I ended up with a narrow piece of the silver ring shifting out of place. I have realized since then I should have forced the joint to finish breaking instead of trying to cut exactly on the joint. The result of choosing to cut the joint was having to remake the ring from scratch. I melted the ring with some extra sterling silver and proceeded to hammer that ingot into the stock for the band. I was quite frustrated and working against a deadline so I don't have any photos of this mishap.

The final mishap occurred while I was remaking the Ogham ring. The pliers that I was using are one of my favorite pair of needle nose pliers. They were a nice set of well made old pliers that my mom gave me after she had used them for years. They helped me fix my husbands bike after I accidently broke one of the aluminum screws while we were working on the bikes carbs. Had these pliers not been such a nice pair I would not have been able to get the broken screw out of the carb bowl. The
My poor broken pliers
teeth bite into the metal just enough to hold the silver securely while I am hammering but not so deep a bite that it is impossible to remove the marks without too much difficulty if the ends aren't cut off.  The jaws of the plier have a beautiful long taper to small pints which is perfect for holding the metal without getting in the way. As I said they were a nice set of pliers. After I melted the ring and was starting to hammer the silver into shape for the band I brought the hammer down hard on the tip of my pliers breaking one of the tips off. I quit working on the ring for the night after breaking my pliers. The next day I finished off the hammering with a different pair of pliers that have no sentimental value what so ever. Since I took the photo of the pliers I did find the tip that broke off. It has been sitting on my computer desk since. I am thinking of making something else out of the pliers. That won't happen until we get a proper forge going. Until then the pliers will be kept and perhaps turned into a snub nose pair.

Issues like these arise out of the blue while working and I often learn from them. When I can't find a lesson in it I add it to the list of "Well that was dumb." Thankfully the list of success is far longer than the that was dumb list.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Handmade Torch Forged Rings p5

It has been a lot of work but we have finally reached the last steps in making these rings. The following is a continued description of how I make my hand forged rings. It is a long involved process so I am splitting this description into several posts. This is the fourth of these posts. The previous parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Torch Forged Rings
Part 4 - Rounding, Filing/Sanding, & Finishing
made by Ash
Unicorn's Garden

When the rings come out of the pickle pot they are white. I'm told the white is pure silver on the surface but I don't know if that is true or not. It is just the way sterling silver is when it comes out of the acid solution.

Rings fresh out of the pickle pot

The rings are now formed but there is still work to be done. First is to round the rings on a ring mandrel as the process of aligning the joint earlier never allows for a truly round ring. Also the rings are hammered with a rawhide mallet on the pounding block to take out any warping in the band. Once the ring is round and no longer warped, it is time to sand and file again. The outside and inside of the band get filed to remove excess solder then sanded for smoothness. Next comes the edges of the rings that I did nothing with while the ring band was still flat. First both edges get filed and checked with a caliper for consistent band width. Adjustments are made according to the caliper readout. Again this is not a machine precise process but I try to stay well below a 0.1 mm variance.

The flats of the edges are then sanded with the previously mentioned regiment of grits and the inside of the edge is filed to round it out a bit. Next comes final sizing. For this it is a repetitive process of putting the ring on the ring mandrel and hitting it with a rawhide mallet. Through using the mallet and flipping the ring over throughout this process the ring is stretched to the proper size. This process can involve using a steel hammer if the there is too big of a difference between the size the ring is and the size it needs to be. If a steel hammer is used the outside of the ring is again filed and sanded to take out any hammer marks.

Once the ring is the proper size the outside of the edge gets filed and both the outside and inside edges get sanded to remove file marks. This makes for a more comfortable fit as there isn't a square edge to press against fingers when worn. This part of the process is the same for forged and fabricated rings.

After all file marks and scratches have been removed from the outside, inside, and edges of the rings they are polished. For this I use a muslin wheel with polishing compound on a flex shaft. I don't have a spot to set up my polishing station with the big muslin wheel yet but that will come in time. After polishing the rings are put into an ultrasonic with a bath of cleaning solution followed by a water rinse. This removes the excess polishing compound from the rings. For plain bands the rinse and a final wipe down with a polishing cloth is the last step but not for the two forged rings pictured here.

Finished Torch Forged and Stamped Rings
The forged rings pictured here have one more bath to go through. After they have been cleaned by the ultrasonic they are heated under running water and put into a warm liver of sulfur solution to antique them. This oxidizes the sterling silver causing it to turn black. Yea I know I already went through two processes to remove the oxidation of fire scale and now I am oxidizing them on purpose. Seems a little silly but this is how the lettering gets black. The liver of sulfur solution turns the whole ring black (and sometimes interesting shades of blue) not just the lettering. So to remove the excess black from the high points of the ring and leave it only in the low points of the lettering the rings are sanded one final time with a used piece of 2000 grit sand paper. Being a used piece of sand paper it isn't as harsh as the fresh sheets of sand paper and it removes the oxidation without putting scratches into the ring. The sandpaper at this point only dulls the rings down a little. After the rings are sanded I shine them back up with a polishing cloth and the forged rings are finally finished ready to go to their new homes.

This concludes how the forged rings are made. Next week the mishaps that occurred ;)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Handmade Torch Forged Rings p4

The following is a continued description of how I make my hand forged rings. It is a long involved process so I am splitting this description into several posts. This is the fourth of these posts. The previous parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Torch Forged Rings
Part 4 - Stamping, Forming, & Soldering
made by Ash
Unicorn's Garden

Part 4 begins with stamping lettering into the cut, filed, and sanded ring band stock from part 3.

The next step for these particular forged rings is to stamp the letters into them. This process begins with marking where the letters will go. For the size 9 ring I hand draw the Ogham lettering onto one of the faces of the flat band with a Sharpie marker. Along the width of the ring I use a caliper to measure and mark out the center line. For the length I center the lettering with the aid of the design printed out on paper beneath the flat band. I also use the printed paper as a guide to draw out the Ogham lettering. After the lettering is carefully marked out on the silver I use a stamping tool in conjunction with the steel hammer and pounding block to hand stamp the lettering into the ring band.

Lettering Stamped into ring bands
For the size 10 ring I mark the center of the ring length again with a Sharpie marker using the caliper as my guide. With the center point marked I use individual metal letter stamps working from the center point out. Each letter stamp is carefully lined up according to its appropriate placement. The letters nearest the center of the word are positioned according to the center line and each successive letter is positioned according to the previously stamped letter and what letter it is being stamped. Kerning (the spacing between letters in typography) is all controlled by where each letter stamp is placed and struck. Because different letters take up different amounts of space from left to right this part of the process would be too complicated to work out mathematically before hand and the spacing drawn onto the metal so this process is all done visually. The purpose of kerning is for visual appeal after all, so there is no need for mathematical precision.

Formed and aligned for soldering.
When the ring design does not call for stamping I skip the steps used in stamping and go right onto forming the ring. This step begins with hammering the flat bands around a metal ring mandrel to form a circle. It continues with fine adjustments using pliers and often time gentle filing to make a flush meeting between the ends of the circular band. The goal of this step is to leave no gaps between the two ends wen looking at the inside and outside faces of the band or when checking the width of the band. The test to see if the band is meeting up properly is very low tech. The joining part of the ring is held up to a light source. If light can be seen coming through the joint from either the edge of the ring or the faces of the ring adjustments have to be made to correct that. This may sound easy but it can be a very frustrating point as a small adjustment to one small section, either with the pliers or a file, can easily misalign another part of the joint. This step is crucial in any fabricated ring forming process as an improperly prepared joint will "pop" and break during the final sizing process.

Prepped for soldering.
After fiddling with the joint to get it properly aligned it is time to prepare the ring for soldering and then the soldering itself. I use a few things to make the solder, shall we say behave the way I want it to. Solder likes to spread and run wild some times. Not staying where it is supposed to be and going where it aught not. To prevent this I prepare the ring with a bit of correction fluid or commonly called white out. I coat both sides of the joint with the correction fluid leaving only the joint itself and a small aria to either side uncoated. The correction fluid keeps the solder from spreading beyond the joint itself. It can also be very useful in projects that require soldering in several places. By coating one soldered joint with correction fluid while soldering another part it prevents the solder of the first joint from flowing anywhere. I will admit there are times I wonder what will happen to the availability of correction fluid if we do completely move to a "paperless" society. Just one of the many odd things I think about while I'm working but that is for another time.

Freshly soldered joints before any cleaning.
While the correction fluid is drying I cut the pieces of solder that I am going to use on the ring from a piece of sheet solder. The solder "chips" I cut are only about 0.056" square. This is also the time I prepare the flux using a mixture of boric acid and water. The flux is the second thing I use to make the solder behave the way I want it to. Flux of one form or another is used in any soldering process to make the flow of melted solder smoother. Solder is more likely to flow in a fluxed aria than a non fluxed aria. It also slightly cleans the metal being soldered so the solder adheres better. I then apply the flux directly to the joint and put the ring in an alligator clamp. I carefully place the solder chips into place and start heating the ring with a torch. The torch flame itself is the final thing I use to control how the solder behaves. Melted solder tends to move toward heat so I use torch specific techniques I have developed over time to make the solder flow into the joint. I won't go into the techniques because they really wouldn't make much sense in written out form. The techniques used are also very ring specific, I don't use every technique on every ring or even every soldering project. I use what each project calls for at the time.

As I mentioned before I do not quench forged rings at any point during the process. If you have read through the steps up till now you can see I would be wasting a lot of time and effort by quenching and thus annealing (making them more malleable) the rings at this point. So the rings are soldered one at a time and then removed from the alligator clips and left on the charcoal pieces or soldering pad to cool slowly.

Once the rings are cooled it is time to clean off the correction fluid and pickle the rings. Pickling refers to placing the rings in a heated acid bath to remove the fire scale and flux after soldering. This is a very easy step which consists of letting the pickling pot warm up and then letting the rings sit in the acid while I wander off to do something else for a short time.

Part 5 will be posted on Friday 11/15/13

Friday, November 1, 2013

Handmade Torch Forged Rings p3

The following is a continued description of how I make my hand forged rings. It is a long involved process so I am splitting this description into several posts. This is the third of these posts. The previous parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.

Torch Forged Rings
Part 3 - Cutting and Preparing the Ring Shanks
made by Ash
Unicorn's Garden

Part 3 begins with cutting the prepared ring band stock from part 2 into the right size/s for the ring/s.

Forged Bands Cut to Size for the rings
 In this run the silver ingot was sufficient to produce two rings, one in size 9 and one in size 10. Both ends of the silver bar were cut off and become scrap to be recycled. This is because that is where I hold the silver while hammering and the ends have marks from the teeth of the pliers that are too deep to file out. The ends also tend to be rounded and have too much variance in width and thickness.

I use a chart that I created years ago in conjunction with my ring mandrel to determine what length to cut the ring bands. The chart has full and half ring sizes from size 1 to size 17.5 with their corresponding circumference in inches. The circumference length in my chart is
a little smaller than the actual finished size but the reason for that comes in later.
First File and Sanding for the cut ring bands

With the ring bands cut to their proper length I then start the filing and sanding process. I use a hand file to smooth both sides of the silver leaving the edges alone at this stage. This stage is to even out the high and low parts created by the hammer from what will be the inside and outside of the ring. I use the fire scale on the silver to determine when this process is finished. Fire scale is the dark coloring left on a piece of silver (or other metal) from either a casting or torch heating process. It is essentially a coating of oxidized silver. Once the flat silver bands are smoothed out with the file the sanding process begins. I start with a piece of 800 grit sandpaper on a sanding stick to remove the file marks

Sanded - 800 grit on sanding stick w/ small untouched piece
from the faces of the flat band. This is followed by a piece of 1000 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches left by the 800 grit sandpaper and finally a pice of 2000 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches from the 1000 grit sand paper.

This is a point where the rings either get formed into a circle or they receive more work depending upon the design for the finished piece. If these rings were to be plain hammered bands they would be ready for forming then soldering. These two rings, however are to be stamped, one with Ogham one with English.

Part 4 will be posted on Friday 11/8/13

Friday, October 25, 2013

Handmade Torch Forged Rings p2

The following is a continued description of how I make my hand forged rings. It is a long involved process so I am splitting this description into several posts. This is the second of these posts. Part 1 can be read here.

Torch Forged Rings
Part 2 - Forming the Ring Stock
made by Ash
Unicorn's Garden
Part 2 begins with forming the prepared ingot from part 1 into the ring band stock.

Ingot After First Hammering Session
Forming the silver for the band is a slow process. Each time the hot silver contacts the steel pounding block and the hammer contacts the silver it is cooled by the steel. After several strikes the silver is placed back on the charcoal to be heated again. Once heated the silver is again placed on the pounding block and hammered closer to its finished shape. This process continues until the silver is the right width and thickness for a ring band.

Second Hammering Increases Length - still too thick
I have never counted the number of times the silver goes from heated to hammered and back again but it is quite a few. Each photo of the silver being shaped is after about an hours worth of heating and hammering. After each session of hammering I let the silver air cool on the charcoal blocks or the heat-reflective soldering pad beneath the charcoal blocks.
With most torch work I quench the piece in water for a quick cool down but never with forged rings. With forged rings the slow cool down of the silver is very important. It has to do with keeping the molecular structure that is created through the heating and hammering process. As I said I have never been formally trained in forging so I don't really know all of the specifics but I do know if the silver is quenched at any point it ends up being annealed. Annealing is a process of heating and quenching metal to make it softer. That would make all of the hammering done to the silver a complete waste of time in about 30 seconds.
Third Hammering Continues to Increase Length & Thin Band

After the silver ingot has been hammered into the right width and thickness for a band it is time to cut the silver to the proper length for a ring. I will state here that the "right" width and thickness for the bands is not a precise measurement. All of this work is being done by hand and not a machine so the thickness and width does vary slightly from ring to ring. I try to keep these variances below 1 mm though by comparing the hammered metal to 18 gauge sheet sterling and comparing it to other rings I have made that are 3/16" wide.

Fourth & Final Hammering - The band is ready to be cut

Part 3 will be posted on Friday 11/1/13

Friday, October 11, 2013

Handmade Torch Forged Rings p1

The following is a description of how I begin making my hand forged rings. It is a long involved process so I am splitting this description into several posts. This is the first of these posts.

Torch Forged Rings
Part 1 - Melting to Hammering
made by Ash
Unicorn's Garden

Although I have not been formally trained in the ways of forging I have developed a process of torch forging sterling silver rings. This process began with our wedding bands. I wanted to create rings that weren't part of my standard ring lines at the time. Something that would be meaningful to both of us. The result was beautiful sterling silver rings that are stronger than sterling silver usually is.

I have made other forged rings since making our wedding bands. With the most recent forged rings I made I decided to photographically document the steps of the process I use.

Sterling Silver Pieces in curable
with cuttle bone trough

 I begin with pieces of sterling silver that would otherwise be sent back to my silver supplier. These pieces are placed in a clay/silica crucible with some boric acid and melted with a torch. Once the silver is liquified and impurities are pulled out with a carbon rod I pour the silver into the trough of a cuttle bone that I prepared before melting the silver. I let the silver solidify into a rough ingot (usually more lump shaped than anything else) I quench it in water.

As I don't often have enough time in one day to make a ring from beginning to end I usually schedule the different steps with my other work over a course of several days. Thus why I quench the ingot instead of getting straight to forming it.

Sterling Silver ingot, after cooling, in crucible

When it is time to start forging the ingot into a ring I set it on a piece of charcoal with another piece forming a wall behind it and start heating it with a torch. The charcoal not only provides a heat shield for my working surface but also reflects the heat back into the silver I am working with. Once the ingot is glowing orange I pick it up with a pair of pliers, place it on my steel pounding block, and start hitting it with a steel hammer. I find this to be a particularly fun part of the process as it can be very therapeutic repeatedly hitting something with a hammer for creative rather than destructive means.

Part 2 will be posted on Friday 10/18/13

Saturday, September 7, 2013

So it has been far to long since I have posted anything to my blog. After ending up with far more to do than time in a day I had to put some things on hold. This blog was one of them. Now situations have changed again and I will be getting back to posting. I don't know how regularly, however, a new post is in the works.... well other than this one. During the time I have not been posting I have been continuing to create new jewelry designs and honing my craft through working on pieces for both stock and as custom orders.
One of the latest things I have worked on is forged rings. That will be the topic of my next post. In preparation for that I have taken photos throughout the different steps of torch forging sterling silver rings. The forging process I use makes the rings stronger than sterling silver usually is.
With the photos I will describe how I turned this mess of different sterling pieces into a ring.