Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Great Outdoor Crafting Day

Today was a GREAT crafting day. Dale took care of the kids all afternoon, and I wheeled my work bench outside to the porch, where I was able to make things all day long without interruption. It's not very often I get to do this (hell, I never do) so I really enjoyed it.

My charcoal block, flux, and various types of solder arrived yesterday, so I got to try my hand at soldering and brazing by myself for the first time today. (This was the main reason I went outside with it all, to keep the fumes out of the house.) Well, I had about an hour of preparation first. My copper solder is in the typical wire form, but the sterling silver solder is sold in sheets, so I had to cut the sheets into tiny little squares with a pair of heavy duty kitchen scissors. I bought two different types, hard and medium, which melt at different temperatures. So they have to be kept separate. I have a ton of empty baby food jars that I have kept stored away for just this type of thing, so I used two of them for storing the solder.

I also made what is called a "pickle" out of vinegar and salt, and put it in a different baby food jar. Pickle is used to remove the yucky black charred stuff from metal that has been heated. They sell various pickle solutions online, but I am all about using homemade things whenever possible. Not only does it save quite a bit of money in the long run, but it is safer than using harsh chemicals and more environmentally friendly as well.

So once the preparation was done, I was ready to make something. (I ended up with four projects, so this blog entry is going to be pretty long!) Yesterday, I had cut a piece of nickel silver into a star shape, and also cut out a copper rectangle that I stamped with stars and hammered around the edge. My first soldering project was to solder the star onto the rectangle. I dipped both of the pieces into a jar of flux (it prepares the metal and allows the solder to flow better) then placed the copper piece onto the charcoal block. I set a square of hard solder in the center, and put the star on top. Safety goggles, on! Torch lit, check! It took a while for me to adjust the flame correctly but I managed to successfully solder the two pieces together. However, they looked like a charred mess as I dropped them into the pickle, and ten minutes later it still looked like a half-charred mess. I decided to keep going, though.

I didn't know what I wanted to make next, so I looked in my scrap drawer and pulled out two copper circles. I cut them into arches, bent them around, and tried to envision what they could become. Didn't have much luck, lol. Then I decided I would make a little bird. I placed the two arches together for the body and tail, then cut 1/4th off of a scrap sterling silver disc and soldered it on as a wing, and also used scraps to make a little beak. My bird needed an eye though. I remembered a video I watched recently that showed someone melting silver into a ball, so I tried it and after a few tries I learned how to make a perfectly round ball with a flat bottom. I made a few of these out of scraps, soldered one onto the bird as an eye, and put the others aside for later. All the while, fluxing, soldering, pickling. Each piece looked so bad, I was convinced I was doing something horribly wrong. The silver balls were black with char and ash, and the copper turned different shades from purple to yellow to black. Yuck. Not to mention, my bird design was pretty crappy. I will admit it. And since I'm still learning to solder, I accidentally let it run all over the beak and cover the copper (oops!). But it's cute in it's own little way, damn it! I guess I just have a soft spot in my heart from all my little creations, ugly or otherwise.

Next I decided to make a ring out of copper. Last week I had made my first ring ever, out of a copper washer, but I wanted to try making one out of a piece of wire today. Dale had some old air conditioning wire that I stripped to get a large piece of copper wiring (yay for recycling!). I don't have a ring mandrel yet (I realllly want one of these but they're like $30 and out of my budget for the moment) so I used a weird iron pole that was in Dale's tool box. No clue what it is for (a tire iron, maybe?), but it is round and just a little larger around than my pointer finger so it worked. First I hammered the tip of the wire flat to add interest and get rid of the sharp edge, then began shaping it around the tire iron. I kind of did a free-form shape, trying to find a style that I liked. I made it wrap around then curl back on itself. Once I figured out the basic shape I wanted, I had to uncurl the wire and cut it to the right size, then hammer that end also. The unbending and rebending was hard, because wire tends to bend at a sharp angle and I had to keep reworking it to keep it round on all sides. Next, I selected one of the ugly black silver balls and soldered it onto one of the hammered ends of the ring. It turned out to be a cool design, but like the other things I made today, it looked like a pile of black junk. I was getting a little discouraged by this point.

My last project was to take the solid copper ring I previously had made, and solder a silver ball onto it as a focal point. At about this time, it began to rain and the wind started blowing my stuff around like crazy. I couldn't keep my torch lit and the air was so cold that the metal kept cooling while I tried to solder the ball onto the ring. I managed to get the solder to hold the ball onto the ring on one single side, and at this point I decided it was useless, and time to clean up and go inside.

Because I didn't want to give up on my yucky looking creations, I went ahead and threw them in the tumbler to polish them and try to get some of the yucky charred stuff off. I'm glad I did, because an hour or so later I took them out and WOW! They were perfectly clean and shiny as new. I knew my tumbler was awesome but didn't know it would take off everything the pickle left behind. What a relief, to know I have this wonderful machine that works miracles. The copper wire ring that I made turned out to be very pretty, I love this piece. When I showed Dale, he said, "Wow, you made this? You could probably sell this one for a lot of money" which was so nice to hear, because it was the first time he's been impressed by anything I've made. (He doesn't see the beauty in my ugly little darlings.) He teased me and said, "It's almost like you can make real jewelry!" lol. But I don't think I want to sell this one. It is the first pretty ring I have ever made, and it fits my finger perfectly. I think I will be keeping it. The pictures I took do not show it justice; although it is hammered in places it does not look dark or shadowy like in the pictures. It's very shiny and the silver ball really pops out at you.

So here are some pictures of the finished results, except for the solid ring which needs to be re-soldered on one side because the weather was too finicky today.

My ugly little birdy which serves no actual purpose:

I decided this one would make an awesome key chain:

My pretty copper & sterling silver ring:

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