Tag Archives: 52 Lasers

114: Enamel Stencils

img_20161023_144721598I’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.

Starting tools, from left to right: Spatula, plastic container (just to keep spatula level), tweezers, fine tipped brush, awl, small sifter, large sifter, toothbrush, foam backed sanding block
Starting tools, from left to right: Spatula, plastic container (just to keep spatula level), tweezers, fine tipped brush, awl, small sifter, large sifter, toothbrush, foam backed sanding block, and old magazine pages in the upper right

The Tools:

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.

Not pictured: The enamels.  We were using Thompson brand enamels, Medium Temperature and Medium Expansion.  Also not pictured is the firing stand, mesh and torch.

Piece #1

Stencil 1 - I was kind of going for the Japanese fan motif, abstractly. I wasn't sure if the points would come though well becuase I wasn't sure the amount of detail I'd get with dry powder
Stencil 1 – I was kind of going for the Japanese fan motif, abstractly. I wasn’t sure if the points would come though well because I wasn’t sure the amount of detail I’d get with dry powder

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.

Base layer of enamel - we did two light layers of the same color, to make sure it was fully and evenly covered
Base layer of enamel – we did two light layers of the same color, to make sure it was fully and evenly covered.  You can see how important the magazine page is to not waste enamel!

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

Just a little glimpse of the Water Street Studio's jewelry maker space. Note on my shirt: I was a little surprised to look in my closet and only have ONE long sleeved cotton shirt. Since I knew I was working with fire, I didn't want and potential issues for man made materials.
Just a little glimpse of the Water Street Studio’s jewelry maker space and the torch set up. Note on my shirt: I was a little surprised to look in my closet and only have ONE long sleeved cotton shirt. Since I knew I was working with fire, I didn’t want any potential issues for man made materials.  Photo by Lisa Dienst-Thomas.
Tapping the cute little sifter allows for even application of the powder on the stencil.
Tapping the cute little sifter allows for even application of the powder on the stencil.
Powered stencil pattern, before firing
Powered stencil pattern, before firing

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? 🙂

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Piece #2

Lining up the stencil
Lining up the stencil
Powdered stencil
Powdered stencil
The stencil came off surprisingly cleanly - I didn't have any clean up work! I thought I was homefree!
The stencil came off surprisingly cleanly – I didn’t have any clean up work! I thought I was home free!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    If you look closely where the bunting crosses, there is a crack. THis means that the glass didn't fully fuse to the copper beneath - which meant it will pop off eventually.
    After the first final firing.  If you look closely where the bunting crosses, there is a crack. This means that the glass didn’t fully fuse to the copper beneath – which meant it will pop off eventually.  The pink looks pretty good at this stage!

    The final piece. The crackling is actually interesting to look at, but I think it would work better with a more abstract piece.
    The final piece. The crackling is actually interesting to look at, but I think it would work better with a more abstract piece.  Sadly, I didn’t use the cute arrow I designed.

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 🙂

Finished pieces. Do the crackles on the bunting make it shabby chic? :)

113: Mother of Pearl Veneer

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.

Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson
Original Carry A Nation pin, as worn by Ellie Carlson

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.)

Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right
Shell beads, vector on the left, raster on the right from Week 32

dsc01005Because 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.

Disappointing
Disappointing
Cutting was a breeze
Cutting was a breeze

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.)

The backing came off surprisingly easy
The backing came off surprisingly easy.  I was expecting it to be a little difficult, especially with the cracking on the veneer, the but the sheets held together surprisingly well.
Incredibly translucent
Incredibly translucent

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.

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This photo was taken at the perfect angle to catch the iridescence. It looks better in photos.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.
The flaws are still kind of noticeable on the finished piece.

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.

Because I couldn't resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser's half toning capabilities made transferring the image of Mrs Nation's face a breeze!
Because I couldn’t resist, I also made up a pin based on this much larger cast iron piece. The laser’s half toning capabilities (more visible on the left) made transferring the image of Mrs Nation’s face a breeze!

110: Resin Topped Stud Earrings

DSC00962I’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!

Variety of papers
Variety of papers
Glue prep - coat with paste, and let it get tacky!
Glue prep – coat with paste, and let it get tacky!
Blanks ready to be made into studs!
Blanks ready to be made into studs!

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.

Freshly cut!
Freshly cut!

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.

MDF glue board, with the Perler bead board on top.
MDF glue board, with the Perler bead board on top.

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.

All laid out on the perler bead board.
All laid out on the first Perler bead board.

I donned by respirator, as the resin can be strong smelling and I was working with tiny pieces, and gloves are good to limit your exposure (nitrile, not latex).  Resin Obsession Website has a full list of safety tips.

Unmixed resin!
Unmixed resin.
Unfinished studs, with 4 drams of unusable resin. It was like spreading taffy at the end!
Unfinished studs, with 4 drams of unusable resin. It was like spreading taffy at the end!

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.

Resin drops spreading as I try to be patient.
Resin drops spreading as I try to be patient.
Patience only lasts so long. Helping the resin to the edge!
Patience only lasts so long. Helping the resin to the edge!

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.

Too much resin!
Too much resin!
You can see the difference between the resin topped and the "raw" paper pieces. If I would have sealed the paper, it wouldn't have changed color as much.
You can see the difference between the resin topped and the “raw” paper pieces. If I would have sealed the paper, it wouldn’t have changed color as much.

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.

The studs *barely* fit on the posts of the doming board. It was a delicate balancing act to get them to stay on the board flat and spread the resin around.
The studs *barely* fit on the posts of the doming board. It was a delicate balancing act to get them to stay on the board flat and spread the resin around.

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!

Resin overflow.
Resin overflow, from the underside.

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.

Pretty and perfect on my brand new post earring cards! Also laser cut, or course.
Pretty and perfect on my brand new post earring cards! Also laser cut, or course.

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 🙂

 

109: Edge-Lit Acrylic

I’ve been playing a lot lately with a new toy I picked up from Inventables: a powered LED strip for edge lighting acrylic. It’s made in particular to work in tandem with specially made acrylics that transmit light efficiently, but I’ve found it works really well with simpler transparent and fluorescent acrylics.

The first dual-layer design.
The first dual-layer design.

My first test was with transparent orange material sourced at the Aurora Public Library’s Makerspace—check it out if you’re local!—and it seemed appropriate to design a little sign for the space as the test. Because the LED strip is designed to snap to the edge of a 1/4″ piece of acrylic and I only had 1/8″ material available, I decided to split the design across two layers of acrylic. The front layer included all of the vector engraving and the back layer was just the main title text filled. The resulting look is striking, but using two transparent layers means you have to be extra careful not to let any fingerprints or dust get in between.

The short sign lit up easily.
The short sign lit up easily. Please ignore the Macbook!

Around the same time, I was working with a local artist to create some wall décor based on the classic Pac-Man maze. We agreed pretty quickly that the lit effect would look great and settled on some fluorescent blue acrylic. The first several tests confirmed that the two layer effect would be excellent; dividing the pellets, ghosts and other objects from the maze walls might not be very visible in the photography, but it’s a really neat trick when you’re examining the piece up close.

A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.
A small cross-section of the Pac-Man design in two layers.

One concern I continue to have is whether a single LED strip will be able to illuminate the entire flourescent blue acrylic sheet—this piece is 16 inches tall, towering compared to the 4″ makerspace sign. A quick test on some scrap acrylic shows that the light visibly dims near the top, but I won’t be able to know for sure how the final piece will look until a last-minute shipment of materials arrives. Speaking of that, here’s a pro tip: don’t assume you’ve got all the materials you need until the day you’re scheduled to cut! Always check, even if it’s something you always keep in stock, like the black cast acrylic that was supposed to be the backing layer for the finished Pac-Man piece.

A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.
A later single layer test cut with rounded vector engraved maze walls.

Edge lit acrylic is a great look, and I’m might have to investigate the “EndLighten” brand or similar substrates to maximize light transmission. I know I’m also going to be looking into portable equivalents; this hardware has to plug into a wall. I’m sure that’ll be a post in the future; until then, look forward to an update on this post with additional pictures of the finished Pac-Man piece!

This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We'll see how it looks in the finished piece!
This crazy square panorama shows how the lighting falls off near the top. We’ll see how it looks in the finished piece!