Full disclosure, guys – I did not expect this week’s experiment to work. I figured in the worst case, it would satisfy a curiosity, and I’d get to eat hand cut homemade crackers with dip. Ryan, on the other hand, didn’t know why I was questioning it, and thought cutting cracker dough with a laser would be a low power, simple task. The answer was somewhere in between.
I’ve never made crackers before, but I had everything on hand in my bare cupboard for this recipe from The Kitchn. As suggested, I mixed up the dough, then split it in half before rolling it out. I took advantage of the two batches to come up with two different designs (which Ryan graciously vectorized for me. I admittedly started this project a bit late in the evening and need help.)
My goal for rolling out the rough was to keep it under 3mm, 1.5 ideally. The thinner the dough, the crispier the cracker. I rolled it out on parchment paper – food safe, and bad things wouldn’t happen to it in the laser, just a little singeing. I then put it on some plywood for stability, and to prevent the laser from reflecting back after it hits the honeycomb bed, which might not be the cleanest.
Pro tip: I learned when rolling out the second batch of dough that it was actually easier to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper when it got thin. It was easier to flip, it seemed to spring back less, and it stayed moister while I worked with it. I did remove the top later of parchment when I put the dough in the laser.
So, I didn’t think the laser would cut the dough at all, Ryan was thinking it would be a breeze – maybe akin to paper. It took a few tries to get though the dough, and the right answer was some there in between – we cut at 100% power, and a slow 8% speed. I didn’t roll it perfectly evenly, so the dough was thicker in some parts, but it still all cut. And my test measurements were all under 3mm thick!
The first design was this funky hexagon shape, with little 1mm hearts cut in for venting, so the crackers wouldn’t puff. Officially, the design is too complicated. The outer shape is fine, but the hearts took too long to cut, and didn’t come out easily. I actually baked the hearts in place, and then Ryan popped them out after. And the length of time tried out the dough quite a bit since we had to have the exhaust on. with set up, test and cutting, it was in our windy laser for about 45 minutes. The edges of the crackers were trying to curl up!
Second batch we went a little more simple – a nice rounded triangle with asterisks cut for venting. They ended up delightfully mod looking, and in were in and out of the laser in under 15.
Baking is pretty straight forward, but the crackers are easy to burn as you can see. The first batch were a little extra crisp, but edible. The second back felt under done while they were still hot, but after they cooled they were perfectly crispy. So, watch them closely, and make sure you let them cool, unless you are going to a crispy-chewy combo.
Verdict – The recipe was tasty but be forewarned, the crackers themselves were not airy or flaky. They were dense, and reminded me of pita chips actually. I may have over kneaded them. This is a fun example of too much tool for the job – a knife easily cuts the dough. But this would be a fun recipe to perfect for fancy dinner parties, potlucks you want to impress at, or those times you want a crunchy snack and don’t want to leave the house.
I’ve always been curious about enameling, but I wasn’t ready to buy lots of equipment for something I wasn’t sure I’d do regularly. I understood the basics of enameling – powdered glass is fired to its melting point, and it adheres to the metal beneath. Designs can be drawn on (well, the powder can be moved around at least), or most easily, stenciled. This was my in; my justification for taking the class. I could use the laser to make my own stencils! Satisfy my curiosity AND get a blog post!
I’m a fan of Water Street Studios on Facebook, so I am continually tempted by their class offerings. I signed up for their last “Introduction to torch fired enameling” class of the year, taught by Lisa Dienst-Thomas of Lisa’s Pieces. Water Street Studios was a real treat – it’s only about 20 minutes away from me, but I’d never checked it out They offer classes, have artists studios (both 2D and 3D), host lectures and have gallery space. Creativity is steeped into the place.
Lisa was a great instructor and I had the pleasure of being the only student in class (which means I got to ask a lot of questions!) She provided all the materials and had everything neatly laid out.
Spatula – you use this transport your piece flat from the table to firing stand. This is important because the enamel is a dry powder sitting on top. Tip it and it the powder will fall off. And you can’t touch the top with your fingers, lest you deposit oils on the surface and cause the enamel not to stick.
Little container – that’s just to hold the spatula level – the bent handle causes it to tip.
Tweezers – so you can move your fired piece without touching the top, saving it from the dreaded finger oils
Brush – moves and sweeps away grains of enamel that aren’t exactly where you want them
Awl – a nice sharp point is great for drawing in the powdered enamel
Small sifter – sifts powder over a smaller area, great if you only want to hit part of your piece
Large sifter – covers a larger area
Toothbrush – for cleaning the surface of your piece. We used pumice-type cleanser, Bon Ami
Sanding block – to clean off the back for the discoloration from firing
Magazine pages – a slick disposable surface so you can save as much of the enamel power as possible, without mixing the colors. If the colors mix in the jar, there is no separating that.
For my first stencil, I created a basic repeating stencil with Japanese fans in mind. I wasn’t sure how much fine detail would translate with dry sifting, so I was taking a little risk with the small points at the narrow end of the fan. But that’s what experimentation is about, right?
I made the stencils out of the same material we used for the Pyramid Holograms for Week 100 – 1/32″ think acrylic. Lisa pointed out some potential difficulties in using thicker stencils – you can inadvertently put too much enamel powder because the spaces are so much deeper. Also, it might be more difficult to grasp when you are trying to lift it up smoothly. Lisa likes using manila folders – lightweight, easily obtainable, and you can fold up the edge if you need a spot to grab and lift.
After cleaning the piece thoroughly with Bon Ami, I sifted a layer of cream colored enamel on the copper base, which made the first of two base coats. One coat might be a little uneven, a second evens things out. Tip from Lisa: start be sifting around the edges, then work your way to the center. Of course, the pieces I was working on were pretty darned small, so it was easy to get full coverage. Between each layer, we melted the enamel powder with a MAP torch. You heat the piece from below, which is why you can see my piece is on a 9″ tall firing ring. It was neat watching it go though sugar stage, orange peel stage to fully fused glass, and it didn’t take as long as I thought it would
After the piece was cooled and cleaned, it was time for the third layer. I lined up my stencil and sifted a very light layer of enamel on it. There were some errant grains that I used the fine brush to get rid of. One more firing, some clean up to the back and sides with sandpaper and add a bail, we’ve got a finished piece! Easy, right? 🙂
My second piece pointed out my hubris. I followed the same process – two base coats, a layer for the blue bunting and this one included a fourth layer of Orchid pink. There was very minimal overlap with the blue bunting strand, so I didn’t think the 4th level would be a problem. I was wrong. Things this piece taught me:
Light colors should go on first, dark after. I intended the pink to be the top layer, but where it over lapped, the blue still comes through.
Really, there should be only 3 layers on powder on the piece. There is a little wiggle room based on the thickness of the powder you lay on, but as a beginner, I was a little heavy handed. The more layers, the harder it is to heat and fully fuse.
Enameling is really just glass on metal. If it is improperly cooled, not fully fused or even dropped on a hard surface, the colors can crack and flake off. I didn’t apply enough heat where the colors overlapped, and there was a huge crack.
You can reheat pieces, in the hopes to fully fuse them. We did that….and then had did it again because the second final torch firing didn’t take care of the crack fully. It took three tries to fully fuse this piece! Between chatting and refiring, I kept Lisa 2 hours late! Thankfully, she was as committed to getting it right as I was.
Reds and pinks are temperamental souls. The orchid pink enamel DID NOT enjoy being reheated, twice. It separated interestingly, and allowed the base coat to come through. So instead of two solid bunting lines, I have a love blue on and a lovely pink crackly / shabby chic one.
In total: Enameling was a lot of fun. The tools are actually relatively minimal – I actually have nearly everything from my jewelry making forays except the actual enamels and the firing stand. I know I’ve only scratched the surface on techniques, but I love that I can use the laser to make a more unique look that using store bought punches for templates. Maybe Lisa will teach Enameling II in the future 🙂
The inspiration for this week’s post is Carry A. Nation, the famous barroom smasher. Carry believed that alcohol was the root of all society’s evils, and she took hatchet to things she didn’t like (namely bars, whisky bottles and paintings of scantily clad ladies). Though some called her mad, her barroom appearances had the strange effect of *increasing* business for tavern owners, so much so they often invited her to smash up the joint. Carry didn’t mind, as her message was still being heard. She was also a shrewd marketer, and sold merchandise to support her cause. She lived comfortably and even ran a home for women and children whose lives had been effected by alcohol.
Given that I’m actually enjoying a Not Your Father’s Root Beer while writing this post, you can assume I will not be taking up the cause of temperance. The museum I work for is doing a fabulous fundraiser set in a 1910s saloon, which will feature none other than Carry Nation, as portrayed by my mentor Ellie Carlson of Ellie Presents. (Happily, our event is sold out, otherwise I’d be selling you tickets too.) Ellie owns an original Carry Nation hatchet pin, and was commenting that she couldn’t get anything like it to sell in character. Cue the laser.
Ellie’s pin is a brass hatchet that features a mother of pearl head, which cleverly stops just short of the edge of the brass to make it look like it has a wicked sharp blade. Brushed gold make a nice substitute for the brass, and I finally got to experiment with mother of pearl veneer.
We first played around with mother of pearl in the laser when we tested engraving on different bead materials back in Week 32. The beads turned out beautifully (if a little sooty. But that just made the engraving stand out better.)
Because our event was coming up in short order, I ordered a “pressure sensitive” (aka peel and stick) sheet of mother of pearl veneer off Amazon. at $25 for a 9×6 inch sheet, it’s not cheap, and I should ave read the reviews better. The reviews were poor for this seller, and upon opening the package, I found my sheet had the same issues. Oops. The iridescence, created by the nacre on the inside of the shell, was inconsistent. The package was flimsy, just a soft box and a sheet of styrofoam, so the surface was a spider web of cracks. Lesson learned – find a reputable seller. Timing and budget didn’t allow for a second sheet to be purchased.
The hatchets were small enough, I figured I could find a good spot on the sheet to cut them out. I went with a full hatchet head design rather than the one with the short back, like Ellie’s pin, mostly for ease in aligning the mother of pearl to the base. Carry Nation herself had a lot of different styles of pins, so I figured I could take the liberties. For laser settings, we gave it a little more power than card stock. It sliced through quickly and easily, though the edges were a little sooty, like the beads. Not unexpected for organic materials. (I later learned that when cutting mother of pearl with a knife you should cut from back to front. It’s a very brittle material – I’m not sure if it would have made a difference on the laser, though.)
After I peeled the backing off the cut veneer, I had another disappointment. I didn’t expect the mother of pearl to be so sheer! I could read through it. I expected more body, so it would standout from the brushed gold acrylic. Honestly, it was difficult to even see it was there at a glace. As a test, I cut out a silver version of the ax. The veneer stood out slightly better on it, but not enough to make a difference.
In the end, Ellie and I decided it was better to do the pins without the mother of pearl. This of course, isn’t a radical departure from Carry Nation herself – she sold a cheaper version of the pin without the mother of pearl as well. I want to try using the mother of pearl again, perhaps on earrings or accents, where the perfection of the sheet doesn’t matter as much. But I’m not sure it’s something I would order again.
I’ve been wanting to experiment with resin for years! I just never got around to it – in all honestly, I read so many horror stories, I was a little timid. So let me tell you – just do it. It’s not hard, the mess can be contained, and the results are worth it!
My love of paper almost rivals my love of lasers. I’ve shied away from combining the two for my jewelry line at Isette because paper is fragile and prone to wear and dirt. Resin is perfect to protect the paper, and even adds another dimension to it thanks to the doming property.
Here’s my step but step guide to resin topped laser cut stud earrings – I’m a complete resin newbie, but I love the results!
Step 1: Glue the paper to the wood. I laser cut some thin bamboo blanks and rough cut some fun paper I had in my stash – a page from an old dictionary, regular gray scrapbook paper, and some beautiful handmade Japanese paper. I used professional quality PVA glue, which is acid free and long lasting. One of the tricks I learned from years of bookbinding – put a coating of glue on both sides of the piece you are gluing together. Let them get a little tacky, and then adhere them together. The bond is stronger, and paper is much less wrinkly and easier to work with when glued this way. I let them dry together overnight.
Step 2: Laser cut your shapes from the papered wood. I love making stud earrings, so this is what I designed first. Simple shapes – drops, dots and hearts. I sized them a bit larger than my usual stud earrings, so they would be easier to work with if I had to handle them a lot when applying resin. It also allowed more real estate for the patterns to shine through.
I also whipped up some simple bar shaped pendants, and pre-cut some holes to put jump rings through.
Step 3: Set up your work area. Resin can be a little messy and drippy – it’s best to be prepared. Cover your surfaces. The internet suggested using silicone mats, which are nice an flexible and the resin pops off of when dry. I used my earring gluing board – not flexible at all, and I kind of regretted it. There is a piece that is likely permanently stuck on now.
I went out an purchased some Perler Bead boards to use as doming board. Doming boards are useful for thin items you with to top with resin. Like water, resin has a surface tension which makes a nice dome on the end project. If you get a little heavy handed with the resin, it’s very easy to spill over the edge. If it’s on a flat surface, the spill over pulls a lot of the resin over the edge with it and stays attached to the piece. If your piece is on a doming board, the resin drops away, preserving the surface tension on the top of the laser cut piece.
Step 4: Mix up your resin. Resin is generally sold as a two part system, so you are sold a bottle of resin and a bottle of hardener. I used Doming Resin from Rio Grande which called for equal amounts of each. I didn’t know how far resin would go, so I mixed up a 6 dram batch (3 drams of resin, 3 drams of hardener). Of this, I probably used 2, and the rest hardened before I could finish all my pieces anyway. So, smaller batches are key!
Resin experts recommend stirring the two together slowly, as to not create excess air bubbles which might affect the quality of the resin later. As I mixed, the resin became cloudy, then cleared up.
Step 5: Pour! Or in my case, drip and dab is more appropriate, but it doesn’t sound as action-y. I used toothpicks to get a large drop to put on the stud earrings. This dome resin was more viscous than I expected, kind of like “soft ball stage” consistency, if you make candy. So it stayed balled and so I started messing with it right away trying to spread the resin to the edges to with my toothpick. It was messy, and not at all the right technique.
A better way is to hurry up and wait. Weird but true. I had a much better time with the resin when I dropped resin on a series of studs, then waited a bit to let the resin spread out on it’s own, maybe a minute or so. By the time I was done dolloping resin on the last piece, the first one was ready to spread. The resin settled naturally out – not enough to cover the whole piece, but pretty close. I could easily “walk” the resin to the edge and the dome evened out accordingly. (By “walk”, I mean I dragged the toothpick, upright, to the edge, creating a path. Don’t use the toothpick like a spatula – it just sticks in the resin and disrupts the dome.) The circles had better natural coverage than the other shapes. For hearts, I learned it was better to put two smaller drips in the loves of the heart, and then walk the resin down to the point. With a single big drip it was more likely to just flow off the “v” of the heart.
Lesson learned: The scrapbook paper and the dictionary pages changed color pretty significantly – I should have sealed them first to create a barrier and keep them from getting soaked. The high quality Japanese paper fared brilliantly.
Step 6: Wait. When your pieces are covered as you desire, stop messing with them. It’s time for them to cure overnight. Get a lid that you can put over the wet resin to keep dust of them and marring your hard work. Make sure it isn’t touching your resin, of course! Go to bed and dream about how delightfully shiny your jewels will be.
Step 7: Admire and Finish.
Admiring your handiwork is a very important step in the process – the resin will look really cool! Clean up any resin than may have dripped over and stuck to the back and sides – I had quite a bit. I got better about dripping on the right amount by the end, so I’ll chalk that up to learning curve. I basically peeled it off with a pair of curved nosed pliers and my thumbnail. Quick and dirty, but it got the clean up job done. Attach any stud backs you desire!
In the case of the pendants, drill out the resin filled holes. I need to try the pendants again without the pre-cut holes – It might just be easier to drill since I have to drill out the resin anyway. And it would save me a resin spill underneath.
I love how they turned out, and I’m looking forward to combining lasers and resin in other ways! If you give resin coating a try, let me know how it turns out for you!
PS – what do you think of the new jewelry cards? This post is the debut of the new design 🙂