Monday, February 28, 2011

Tame that wire!

OK, so obviously you're addicted to some form of beads or beading or you wouldn't be here.  That's good!  Allow me to continue to enable you.  The colors, the textures and oh my, the sparkly! 

First a quick disclaimer (you knew there had to be one):

The methods in this blog are not the only ways or the best ways, they are my ways.  So many people have shared so much of their knowledge over the internet with me and I'm just trying to give back in some small way.

My tool reviews are my opinion.  Your mileage may vary.

WEAR SAFETY GLASSES!  Always protect your eyes.

I wear my normal glasses and also an optivisor because I do tiny work frequently.

However there comes a time when you are up to your earlobes in sparklies and you realize that you really should be doing something with them.  You're tired of just stringing or having your beads in a box or on a shelf and you long to do something more substantial.  I understand, I've been there.  Then, one day you're in the store or on the 'net and you run across something called..........

Wire Wrapping

Oh my.  So you find some cheap pliers (because you don't want to invest money until you are sure you will like this new thing you've found) and you buy some craft wire and do a little reading online or in a magazine and try your hand at it.  Now, I don't know about you but my first attempts at wire wrapping were abysmal.  They looked like sterling silver hairballs and here is the first piece of advice:

  DON'T start with sterling. 

Copper is good.  Copper is inexpensive (relatively) and you can find refiners who will pay you for your used copper.  Until you have some time with the right tools under your belt leave the expensive materials alone.
I, of course, was ever the idiot who immediately bought sterling wire from the bead shop.  Yeah.  I'm sending over a pound of scrap wire to the refiners tomorrow which is what remains of my first year of pendant making.  Silver costs have gone up though so maybe for me it will turn out to be all good.  At today's silver prices though, really, start with copper or any of the fun colored wire out there.  Parawire has some fun colors at good prices in my opinion (a quick click showed me $6.60 for 50 feet of wire, that's a lot of practicing for under 10 bucks).

So, you've decided on wire, what's next?  Ah, tools.......... let me wipe the drool from my chin and we'll talk.

I am, as you can see, a tool junkie:

What did I start with?  Alright, I'll fess up, I can be really cheap sometimes:

It's OK to laugh, really it is.  If you think the tool is funny you should see what the wire looked like.  These puppies actually turned out to be really useful in their second life as mandrel holders when I'm pulling beads off as you can see by the the ooky (yes, it's a word - shut up) bead release all over the teeth and base.

I learned pretty fast - cheap Home Depot pliers with teeth + sterling wire = aaaaaaaaaaaargh

So I upgraded to an actual set!  The only set my bead store had at the time and I was told they were for "general wireworking use".  They're those three itsy red ones:

Can you say hand fatigue?  I knew that you could.  The nicely sized zebra striped bent nose pliers are actually the newest tool in my arsenal and I have to say that I'm impressed.  They are #JT1006 from CGBeads and when I saw that Donna's site was offering tools I knew I had to try them.  Kara is actually responsible for these and I am so grateful that she decided to make us these wonderful tools.  Donna makes beadrollers and from product to customer service I have found doing business with this company to be a joy.  With their products it's never "should I risk it?" for me, but rather "what can I hock so I can get some more of those?".  I don't work for the company nor am I affiliated with it but I believe in supporting small business, especially when it's someone who goes the extra mile for their customers.

But I digress.  What makes this pair of bent nose pliers better than others I've tried?  Well actually, I can show you.

The finish on this tool is a thing of beauty.  Slick, smooth, and not a mar, bump, blemish, or scratch in sight.  The grips are just as comfortable as they look and the tool has good balance.  It feels great in my hand and I don't have to work hard to use it.  That's important to me, I'm not a fan of hand pain.

Now, let's look closely at another detail that someone new to wireworking might think is inconsequential but I feel makes a huge difference over time.

You want this:

Not this:

Why?  Because that little nest on the CG pliers will keep the pliers in true.  It may look like a small thing but it makes a big difference.  I've reached a point where nothing irritates me more than floppy, misaligned tools.  I find it especially vexing when I'm working in miniature (doll jewelry, a blog on that in the future) and the entire piece is smaller than a quarter.  Small deviations make for huge mistakes at that scale.

So now we've had a tool review.  What are the essential tools for wireworking?

Good side cutters:  I have Lindstroms and they're awesome but they also cost $54.50.  They were a requirement for a metalsmithing class.  I've never regretted the purchase but if you're on a budget or just starting out that can be a bit pricey.  Kara's cutters (#JT1001 side and #JT1002 end) at CGBeads are $19.95 and having tried the pliers I have no doubt they're wonderful, I plan to get a pair or two.  A girl can never have enough cutters.

I can show you what I do not recommend in a wire cutter:

I know these, again, came from a local bead store.  The name on the handle is 'precision tools'.  Not to be catty, but I beg to differ (OK, so, a little catty).  I have two pair of these.  Why I bought them twice I'll never know, I'm calling brain freeze.  I've never cut any wire larger than 18 gauge and these have divots all along the cutting edge like I was trying to cut mandrel steel with them.  The other day I misplaced my Lindstroms and in desperation grabbed a pair of these to cut open a closed jump ring. They left about a one mm gap in the ring, it's like they eat metal.  You know that place where all the disappearing socks go?  These send my silver there.  Just don't do it, you deserve better.  I think the outlay for these at the bead store was around 15 bucks.
A pair each of round nose, bent nose, chain nose and flat nose pliers.  If you plan on doing chain maille I would recommend two pair of flat nose pliers just because that's what works best for me.  I've done chain maille with a pair of chain nose and a pair of flat nose but I'm just too OCD to be happy that way.  When it comes to tools I'm a very matchy matchy kind of gal.

One last word on tools:  Now that you have the tools with the wonderful finish you want to keep them that way.  I blogged about this in my last post but it bears mentioning again:

Tool Magic .  Seriously.  Get this stuff and dip your tools in it.  Protect your wire AND your tools.

If you are curious the red handled tools in my pictures are a brand called Mazbot (made in Pakistan on the handle) that one of my local bead stores carry.  They cost around $20.00 and the padding on the handles is not great.  They haven't been the worst but I'm certainly ready to upgrade.  On the upside I've used Tool Magic since most of these were purchased and they still have the finishes they had when I picked them up in the store.

You also want a good file:

Why?  Because unfiled wire is sharp and scratchy.  It can scratch your customer or catch on her $600 cashmere sweater ripping the collar as she flails around your booth screaming about lawsuits and..........

OK, too much?  How about if you are are going to work hard to make a quality piece then finish it in a quality way.  File the ends of your wire and tuck them down.  No debate.  It's like annealing beads in a kiln.  You know you should do it so just do it.

I think that covers tools.  I want to make a pendant today so I'm also needing my other supplies:

Sterling silver wire (for ME, not for you, not yet), a pair of those whatever they are, bead scoop/tweezer combo thingy - I can't do anything delicate without them, some sterling silver jumprings, miyuki delicas (11.0 glass beads - and I'll do a blog on seed bead sizes later too), and, of course, a lovely lampwork bead.  I purchased this particular bead from NaOs Glass and Jewelry Supply awhile back and I just love it.  I've been meaning to make a pendant from it for awhile and this gave me the chance, finally.

Next we're going to talk about the Swanstrom small wire-looping pliers :

 When I bought mine I also bought the kit .  Both together will run you about 100 bucks.  Yes, I know it's pricey.  I don't care, I love these, they are awesome in they're awesomeness but not for the reason you think.  I don't use them for loops.  They make oval loops and call me weird but I'm a freak for round loops in my wire wrapping.  However, when it comes to making a bail I think these are the best thing since sliced bread.  To use them for bail making you need the kit.  A bonus to that is you can also make gorgeous spirals with the kit.

To make the bail the instructions that come with the wire-looping pliers say you need 12" of wire.  This is sterling.  I cut 9".

When you cut wire, especially when it's been on a spool or coiled it's not straight.  You really want to work with straight wire.  So, after I cut mine I straighten it by holding the wire end in one hand and pulling the wire throught a rouge or polishing cloth a few times.  This not only straightens the wire but cleans it as well.

Yes, mine is grubby.  You use these until they wear out, you never wash them, just throw them away.  They last a loooong time and at 6 bucks or so each it's worth having one.

Next you want to wrap your wire around a 5/16 mandrel twice.  Hmmmm. I don't know about you but just about everything in my shop is metric.  So I took the metric mandrels off my Pepe Jump Ringer and compared and 5/16 is just about 5mm, give or take.  I'm sure someone out there is better with math than I am.  I used a 5mm mandrel and it worked and I'm happy, end of story.

Now you put that double loop (you're making a double looped bail) onto the wire-looping pliers, like so:

and then you pinch that sucker shut:

After you pinch the pliers shut on the wire you hold it in place and make your wraps.  Do you see that the end of my wire hanging down looks all bendy?  That's because I used chain nose pliers to hold the wire.  The wire-looping plier instructions say to hold onto the wire and spin the wire-looping pliers to make the wraps but I am NOT that coordinated and I kept dropping the things and saying unkind words in the privacy of my studio so I just hold the wire-looping pliers still, pick up chain nose pliers with the other hand, grab the end of the wire I want to wrap with and wrap away.

Or you can take the wire off the wire-looping pliers entirely and just hold the bail in flat nose pliers, both ways are equally efficient in my opinion.  While I will always read instructions I am not married to them and often find my own way because I'm left-handed.  You learn at an early age that approaching tasks from a different angle is essential to your survival in a right-handed world.

I can't stress this enough:  practice making your wraps tight.  They should lay right next to each other in a nice uniform pattern.  If you make your wraps and there are gaps take your chain nose pliers and carefully use them to squeeze the wraps together.  Certain jewerly designs call for deconstructed arbitrary loose wraps which can be beautiful but before you go out of the box you should learn to make everything in the box neat first.

Like anything else this bail maneuver takes practice.  It doesn't take long to get the hang of it though and it's well worth the effort because once you master it you can crank bails out at a good pace.  It's a wonderful tool for production work.

So the closed bail is wire wrapped, how to do open it without using your fingernails and teeth?  Most bead stores have thin metal rulers like the one pictured.  This has a prized position on my table and has retired from it's former measuring occupation and is now solely my bail opening tool.  Just slide it between the two wires and bend.

and there you go!  An added bonus is if the bead has a hole larger than 1/16 the wire-wrapped portion slides right down into the bead and helps to stabilize it.

What if your pendant is still wobbly on the wire at this point?  That's what I use delicas for although I've also used other sizes of seed or sterling beads.  Find some small beads that fit around the wire but will still slide into the bead hole.  This will fill the gap and your lampwork bead won't wobble.

I used a little swarovski crystal at the end for a bit of sparkle and to fill the last of the lampwork bead hole:

We still need to make the bottom loop to complete wire-wrapping the pendant.  You will see that I mark my tools.  Since I use Tool Magic I'm actually marking on that.  Time and practice will teach you how wide on the chain nose pliers is about 3 wraps (or whatever you get comfortable with) long.  Grab the wire just below the crystal pushing the crystal snugly into the lampwork bead.  Now you want to bend the wire in a 90 degree angle.  Then pick up your round nose pliers:

I mark my round nose pliers too.  I move my plier placement during this process and the lines help me stay exactly where in need to be to achieve a round wrap.  Wrap halfway around one side of the plier and stop.

Slide your pliers around halfway until the half loop you just made is between the two points of the pliers, grab the end of the wire with your fingers or your chain nose pliers and wrap it snugly to form the rest of the loop.  I like to use chain nose pliers and give the end of the wire a good smooth tug when I complete the loop to take out any slack that could make the loop uneven.

And there it is:

Wrap the wires just as you did with the bail making sure they are snugged up nicely together.


Because the wire-wrapped part of the bail is tucked into the lampwork it snugged into the bead well and the bead does not turn.  It's static which I love.  This is a two-sided bead so depending on what kind of energy I need that day and I can wear it like this:

Or like this!

Questions?  Leave me a comment!  Thanks for reading and happy wrapping!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I love a challenge

Recently I took part in a challenge on Lampworketc, a forum where I like to hang out.  Several lampworkers each chose a picture and the challenge is to create one bead for each of the other lampworker's pictures.  It is a way to stretch artistic boundaries, exploring glass techniques or colorways a person would not normally choose.  It is also a great way to combat a creative block.  You know, when you sit down at the torch and look at your glass and are at a complete loss as to what to do.  Everyone who creates in any medium has experienced this and exploring another person's creative interests or preferences is a wonderful way to find your way back to your own muse.

This was the picture I chose:

This is the necklace that resulted from the exchange, I am really happy with it.

and again......

I still have a few beads left over that I plan to work into a matching bracelet later when time allows.

I received some wonderful beads and was truly amazed at the different interpretations of my picture.  I think as people sometimes we get caught up in the idea that everyone else sees the world in the same way that we do.  It's a great reality check to do an exercise like this that celebrates our differences.

After I received my beads I had a new challenge.  How could I take them and create something that would express me and do justice to the all the little pieces of art I had received?  I knew I wanted a dark stringing material.  What I had on hand was lots of copper wire.  I also had liver of sulfer.  Hmmm.

I thought it would be fun to take you through a bit of my process and how I arrived at my final product and also talk about a couple of tools I use along the way.  It wasn't a big leap for me to go from copper wire to chain maille as I had just purchased one of these:

This amazing little tool is the Pepe Jump Ring Maker.  I love chain maille and have for quite some time but the cost of buying rings to create all the things I wanted to create was becoming prohibitive so when Otto Frei had a sale on this I jumped (lol) on it.

The tool is pretty intuitive and not hard to figure out with the exception of figuring out which way to cut with the foredom.  I'm probably the only person who struggled with this in the known universe but I'm lefthanded.  Yes, that's the reason, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.  The little instruction page that came with the Pepe was about as clear on cutting with the foredom as those instructions written in chinese for assembling your child's first swingset.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I went on a hunt for better instructions and found this lovely little video which is solely responsible for the fact that I now can cut rings like a pro and love my Pepe as opposed to having scattered mandrels and a slag heap of wood and metal where I threw it at the wall (which, after fighting with it for two hours and breaking one blade I was just about ready to do).

I know that Rio Grande has a more expensive jump ring maker but honestly I'm extremely happy with the Pepe.  I already want more mandrels. The Pepe comes with mandrels in metric system measurements but I find patterns frequently refer to US measurements so I can see that in order to do any pattern you wish you need a comprehensive amount of mandrels in both US and metric systems.

So, now what pattern to do?  That's an easy fix because I have a book that I've had for awhile now and that I just love.  It's Becky Goga's chain maille book.

If you plan to do quite a bit of maille I would encourage you to invest in some quality smooth flat nose pliers and then dip those in Tool Magic which will not only protect your wire from marks and marring, it will protect the face of your pliers as well.  Store your Tool Magic upside down (turn it over and set in on it's lid) to keep air out and one jar will last you a long time.

I cut my rings and made my chain maille in sections.  Chain maille is not something you can hurry.  It's not a hard craft but it does take patience and attention to detail to have it turn out well.  Your rings should meet so that it is difficult to find the join.  It really helps if you can see what you are doing so I always wear an Optivisor which I first learned about when I took metalsmithing.  I couldn't do without them now, I wear them for everything from beadweaving to micro-macrame but especially when doing chain maille to get the joins as perfect as possible.  I've never worn them for lampworking though, I think that would be too awkward. 

After I made enough chain maille I wire-wrapped my beads.  I plan to blog on wire wrapping as well but we'll save that for another time, shall we?  Then after much tinkering and adjusting I managed to get the balance of the piece the way I wanted it.  Now it was time for the tumbler.  If you do chain maille I think a tumbler is essential.  It's the best way to fix any slight mars you may have made on the metal and it also cleans away burrs and the wax you use when cutting rings.  My tumbler is a Lortone.

Tumblers are really easy to use, all you need is the tumbler, a pound of stainless steel shot, water, and some slivers of ivory soap.

I put the entire necklace in the tumbler with the exception of the resin centerpiece and ran it for two hours.

When it came out clean and smooth it was time to apply the liver of sulfer. 

I like to use the chunk LOS.  You can buy it in liquid but this is easiest for me.  I just grab a rock of it (while not breathing, the stuff stinks horribly so it's best to work with it outside) and throw it in some hot tap water.  Stir it around until it melts and the water turns a dark golden color.  Then I submerged my necklace for 5 minutes.  The length of time you leave your metal in LOS determines the degree of darkness.  In this case I wanted a black gunmetal look so I left it in longer.  Experiment with LOS and you can get a range of blue purple tints, it really is amazing stuff.

When I took the necklace out I gave it a good rinse, scrubbed it well with Dawn dishwashing liquid and a brass brush, and put it back in the tumbler for two more hours.

When I took it out the second time I let it air dry and then the final step was to use a toothbrush to apply Renaissance Wax. 

You can pick it up at Woodcraft stores and it's well worth the price, one jar lasts forever, especially when using it on jewelry. 

So now my challenge is over.  Well, this one anyway, I'm already part of another.  When you end up with such wonderful little artworks how could anyone resist?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

*&%^ Raku!

OK, there are times when I adore raku, like this:

It did pretty much exactly what I wanted (I started with the Tierracast kitty charm and built on that) and when it's  good it's really good but when it's bad it's..........brown.

So I've begun to experiment lately with ways to get my raku cold.  That's not easy for me because I'm a fan of heat.  I've cooked and bubbled and boiled more glass than I care to think about so having to explore my cold side is not what I want to do.  So what have I done?

I've brought a small dish filled with water with ice cubes floating in it and tried to wet my brass marver with the  ice water while simultaneously keeping my bead balanced and not getting it too close to the head of the torch but still spinning and ........yeah.

I'm not a very coordinated person, a bit of a klutz actually, and even with three hands I doubt I'd be successful with that method, so strike one.

I've appropriated the canned air from the computer (it's always covered with cat hair anyway, why try?  Why do cats claim anything remotely warm as their personal Days Inn?) and made off with it out to my bench.  With this method I get the raku hot hot hot and then spray cold canned air on it AWAY from the flame.  The resultant stink made me think this probably wasn't the best idea as to my mind stink=invisible gases that are speeding towards my lungs with the intention of total occlusion.  Since I already have a vent system that tries to pull posters off the wall and I wear a respirator one can deduce that I'm lung protective.  Canned air is out.  Strike two.

I'm still looking and still having intermediate successes here and there.  I play with my raku awhile, then put it down in disgust, then get drawn back to it.  Glass that's as changeable as my moods, I mean really, what's not to love?