Apprentice Blog number three : Learning to be patient.

December 7, 2011
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Ella here.

For the past few weeks (since my last update) I have been working solidly on my first ring. I didn’t choose the simplest piece to start my ring making off with. The design itself is simple; the creating, not so. It involves two strips of 1mm sheet silver cut to 7.5mm wide, soldered next to each other so that ultimately, the ring is 1cm wide in total. Why not use one piece of 1cm thick silver I hear you ask? Many times I asked myself that question when battling with the soldering issues I had…however the idea behind this design was so that there is a clear definition (a sort of ‘valley’ shape) between the two pieces.

So I started off with a 1cm wide, 7cm long piece of silver. My first task was to saw exactly down the middle of this to create my two 5mm wide pieces. I managed this relatively well…with only a few wonky patches! Now came the tricky bit. In order to solder the two bits back together (plus the ‘valley’ design feature), they have to fit together perfectly with no gaps or the solder won’t bind the two bits together. I decided to fit together the two sides that hadn’t just cut down the middle of (which would technically have fit together perfectly, but hey I like to test myself…). One of these sides I was using had been machine cut, and the other cut by Janet. The machine side, sorry to say Janet, was far straighter making my life very difficult. Trying to file away at one side so it fits perfectly to the other side is easier said than done. You spend ten minutes labouring away at one section only to find you’ve filed too much away and that you have to focus on a different spot. All the while you can see the specks of silver filing away… I kid you not, I spent a fair hour or so, going mad, doing this. Eventually we called it a day, accepting that it was as good as it was going to get. It wasn’t perfect but I was on the verge of tearing my hair out.

Before we could get on to soldering it together, I had to create the design feature by filing one edge of each strip diagonally. I had to do this without filing the edges as that would’ve messed up the jigsaw puzzle I had been perfecting over the past few hours! With this done and a clear definition of my ‘valley’, it was time to solder…

To hold the two strips of silver together we used steel wire. Not only does the wire bind the silver, it also takes heat away from the silver, making it harder to heat the piece. Covering the silver and solder in borax came next, being 100% sure that the borax reached in the gap between the two strips to assure that the solder runs in the gap. I placed the solder on what was to be the inside of the ring as it doesn’t matter if it splodges everywhere (which was bound to happen seen as it was my first proper soldering attempt).  It was then time to start soldering! It took a while for me to heat the whole piece evenly so that the solder ran; and when it did run, it was difficult to direct it where it was needed. I must’ve repeated the cutting solder, boraxing and heating process 5 or 6 times until there was enough bond to start to make the strips actually into a ring shape! What I found was that the solder wasn’t always running down the boraxed crack. It would splodge all over the strips, with only some going where it was meant to =( As I mentioned earlier, I spent ages trying to get the two strips to sit perfectly together, filing and emerying away. Because they wouldn’t sit perfectly, there were a few gaps, potentially too big to fill with solder, hence the solder not running into them.  It was a seriously laborious and tedious process. I think Janet and Delia found my frustration quite amusing as every so often I’d have to have a ‘cool down’, to avoid my silver getting thrown across the room. I really struggled with this process. It was so frustrating when the solder would go everywhere but where it was needed. Eventually I put the blow torch down; I just wanted to move into the next stage! There were still little cracks in the join, but those could be filled (hopefully) when I soldered the ring closed.

To get a ring into a circle, you have to use a ring triblet (a circular spike, horizontal in a clamp that you batter, quite literally, the silver around) and a raw-hide hammer. If the silver is ‘work hard’, then one must anneal. This is heating the silver to when it turns dull red, taking the heat off and quenching it. This makes the silver softer and supple to work with, making life much easier. One problem we thought we might have was the potential for the strips to come apart due to the (slightly) holey soldering. Fortunately, luck was on my side and the strips stayed together and I successfully made the strips into a ring-esque shape…

I measured the ring around my finger as I was forming it. The excess silver which was overlapping now had to be sawn off. This is when I made another booboo…I cracked on sawing the over lapping silver off in the way I thought was correct. Turned out the way I chose to do this was incorrect and resulted in my silver ring having a somewhat messy and impromptu design feature in the  shape of a noticeable ‘v’ directly opposite the silver I was sawing off. It’s really difficult to explain what I did but basically, I was gutted for making such a stupid mistake. I was actually on the verge of crying! Janet, bless her, said we could make it a design feature. BUT I DIDN’T WANT IT TO BE A DESIGN FEATURE, I DIDN’T WANT IT THERE AT ALL! However, we had to move on…we would tackle that later.

Now we had to get the ring sitting together so we could solder it closed. This required the triblet and raw-hide hammer again. Compared to the problems we had getting the strips to sit together, this was easy! Both ends met and sat together with ease with no filing. Despite the nice mess I had made with the ‘nik’, my sawing was alright otherwise…

If you look directly opposite the join you can see the ‘v’ nik I made =( Sooooooooooooo annoying.

I think I spent around 5 hours that day slaving over the ring. I left feeling somewhat miffed with all the mistakes/misfortune I had…However, as Janet quite wisely said, if I had done it perfectly first time, where would the learning be? I’ve made the mistakes, and know now (I hope) how to avoid them in the future. I also left the Jewellery Maker completely exhausted –both physically and mentally.

Next week would be time to solder shut my ring, fill in the gaps and eradicate my ring of the not-so-lovely mistake.

Keep watching this space to see if I make it through another week without tearing my hair out!

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