Tag Archives: jewelry

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? 🙂

dsc01105

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? :)

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 🙂

 

72: Bending Acrylic

This post resulted from Rebecca of Hugs are Fun asking if a thin piece of acrylic could be bent for a bracelet.  Challenge taken, and the answer is yes, it definitely works!

cuffs

My first thought was to try to boil the plastic to heating, like they do to make toothbrush bracelets.  This seemed potentially messy (or scalding) so when I saw that Harbor Freight had low level heat guns for $15, I picked one up.  (Any excuse to get more tools, right?)

Bendycrylic (17 of 42)I happen to have a never used bracelet mandrel in the back of my supply closet, when I had big dreams of making wire wrapped cuffs.  I dusted that baby off and it was perfect for this project.  The biggest problem is that this thing weighs a ton. So it has to be a stationary mandrel – it’s not something I could flip around too easily and it might disfigure the warm acrylic if I laid it directly on it.

The materials:

For the test, I used 1/8th (3mm) acrylic. We had some extra leftover 3mm florescent acrylics we used for Ingress badges, and I figured if were were making cuffs, let’s go 80’s all the way!  I cut the blanks using the leather cuff designs from Week 3.  I made them 6.25 inches long, since it seemed all metal cuff blanks (that you can buy to stamp on) are 6 inches long.

bracelet blanks
bracelet blanks

The process:

We weren’t sure how drippy or gooey the acrylic would get, and how hard it would be to handle, so we laid the mandrel flat, propped up on a couple potholders.  We set the acrylic perpendicular to the mandrel, so it could drape around it as it melted.

Big heavy mandrel!

Heated acrylic
Heated acrylic
You can see where the bend wasn't quite right
You can see where the bend wasn’t quite right

This setup was very cumbersome, and took both Ryan and I to make it work.  The acrylic didn’t stay in place on the mandrel (it slipped off because of the taper), so it had to be held.  While Ryan held it, I had the heat gun.  I started at the low level, and slowly it heated up.  Because we had to continually hold it (and we like our fingers), the heat wasn’t even.  It created some lumpy / flat sides, and we had to flip the entire mandrel in order to curve the open part correctly, which required more heating.

Look, ma, no gloves!
Look, ma, no gloves! (we didn’t get any photos of the second and third cuffs – we had to work fast to keep the heat!  To fast to remember to stop and aim the camera 🙂
Parchment paper heating.
Parchment paper heating.

Second go round, I set the mandrel upright, and it stayed nicely on the sturdy base.  I heated the blank laid flat on a piece of parchment paper, sweeping back and forth slowly to make it even.  When it was pliable, we picked up the whole parchment paper and wrapped the bracelet around the upright mandrel.  It worked well, but the ends did lose some heat.  They weren’t pliable enough to wrap around and make the perfect cuff oval.  I didn’t think to reheat the acrylic when I got a little resistance, but instead pushed harder, and part of the intricate swirl design cracked.  Lesson learned.

The circle shows the crack - the florescent material made it hard to photograph!
The circle shows the crack – the florescent material made it hard to photograph!
The center row of beads is not in the center - it meltd before the outsides got fully pliable, and then cooled closer to one edge.
The center row of beads is not in the center – it meltd before the outsides got fully pliable, and then cooled closer to one edge.

The third bracelet, the triple strand, was heated up slowly on parchment (even slower than the swirly one, because the thin middle strand heated up faster than the outside ones and started to warp.  Keep that in mind for future designs!)  When pliable, we shaped in around the mandrel.  Instead of pushing the ends down, Ryan held the bracelet and I gave each one a shot of heat and pressed.  The resulting cuff was amazingly perfect.

In order from worst (right) to best (left)!
In order from worst (right) to best (left)!

Tips and Lessons learned:

– Go longer than 6.25 inches.  I think I would try 6.5 next time.  The cuff opening was a little too big for me.

– It didn’t smell awful, but it is warm plastic – work in a ventilated area.

– Pliable plastic is hot, but not instant burn hot (says the girl who started molding it with her bare hands, whoops).  That said, pot holders and work gloves did come in handy.

– You can leave fingerprints in pliable plastic.  That’s a novel way to sign your work 🙂

– Make sure your designs have even line thickness, or take special care not to melt thin areas before the thick ones are fully heated.

– The cheapie heat gun worked great, no need for anything fancy.

Squish.
Squish.

– The acrylic is flexible, but not overly so.  I was able to touch the open ends of a cuff together without cracking or stress.  Anything beyond that broke the swirly cuff.  Something to take into account with designs as well.

It broke on the thinnest part.
It broke on the thinnest part.

I’d love to hear what you think!  Is there a market for these?

64: To paint before, or paint after engraving?

I’ve been working one some new designs based on quilt blocks that involve engraving to create a two toned design.   Given that the engraved / unengraved area is roughly equal, I thought this would be a good time to test whether it’s better to paint first, then engrave away the color or surface you don’t need, or engrave first and fill in the engraved areas with paint.

Cut quilt blocks, with the transfer tape still in place.
Cut quilt blocks, with the transfer tape still in place.

During Week 24, we discussed why transfer tape was a wonderful time saving device when it comes to laser cutting. For Week 27, we used the transfer tape to personalize a wedding gift, engraving first, then painting.  Week 56 was all about decorating clothes pins, one of which I prepped by painting first, then engraving designs.

The patterns I vectorized were classic quilt block: Old Maid’s Puzzle, Contrary Wife, Pinwheel, Ohio Star, and Hexagon Star.  I made them jewelry sized – 1″ for the pendants and .375″ for the ones that were stud earrings.

To make the comparison a little more scientific, here are my 4 variable groups:

Naked Quilt blocks, just the bamboo!
1 – Naked Quilt blocks, just the bamboo!

1 – Au Naturale – this is unpainted cut and engraved bamboo.  You can see how the laser changes the surface of the bamboo when engraving.  By its nature, the laser burns the softer wood rings faster than the hard rings – leaving the a more pronounced wood texture than the surface.

These were probably my favorite.  Easiest prep, easiest clean up and cleanest lines of the bunch.
2 – Paint before engraving. These were probably my favorite. Easiest prep, easiest clean up and cleanest lines of the bunch.
This is the best shot I had of the gold painted wood before laser cutting - it was hard to tell the gold with the bit of shine.  Regular bamboo ply is on the right.
This is the best shot I had of the gold painted wood before laser cutting – it was hard to tell the gold with the bit of shine. Regular bamboo ply is on the right.

2. Painted first – I had some lovely gold spray paint, so I applied three coats to an uncut piece of bamboo.  It’s a little hard to see in photos, but it’s gorgeous.  Shiny and metallic.  I’m learning I really like spray paints, much better than acrylics at least.  We then engraved away the areas that shouldn’t be painted.

Blue paint in engraved areas
3. Paint after engraving.  The blue paint in engraved areas has an interesting weathered look.
Gold sprayed in the engraved areas.  It's not a smooth, shiny look.
Gold sprayed in the engraved areas. It’s not a smooth, shiny look.

3. Paint after engraving – to keep a constant, I used the gold again.  To add some variety, I used my favorite blue acrylic paint on some. The paint was applied to the engraved areas only – unengraved areas were protected by a layer of medium tack transfer tape applied before cutting.

Blue acrylic paint in the engraved areas, gold sprayed before engraving.
4. Two toned! Blue acrylic paint in the engraved areas, gold sprayed before engraving.
Gold sprayed on gold paint.  It would have been the same effect as if I had just sprayed a plain one!
Gold sprayed on gold paint. It would have been the same effect as if I had just sprayed a plain one!

4. Two toned! – Getting a little crazy here; I wanted to see how it worked to combine the techniques.  Theoretically, it should have lead to two neatly colored layers.  The first layer was the gold spray paint.  I did a second shot of gold paint post engraving on some; blue acrylic paint on others.

Things I learned:

Plethora of transfer tape
Plethora of transfer tape

–  Painting first is so much easier.  Painting the uncut surface is neat and fast.  It makes a cleaner line, and is much less work overall.   Also, if you paint first, you don’t necessarily need transfer tape.  Often times the soot cleans easily off of painted pieces, especially glossy paints.  Peeling all those little transfer tape papers was about to make my eyes cross.

– I preferred the paint on the smooth areas.  The paint simply wasn’t as vibrant in the engraved areas, where it was highly textured. (Another point in favor of painting it first!)

– Painting tiny laser cut bits with a brush is a PAIN.  I had more paint on my fingers than the pieces, I swear.  Also, excess paint went over the sides of the quilt patterns easily.  When painting first, the original edges are cut away, leaving clean sides.

Stack of quilt block pendants - no paint, gold on gold and blue overpaint.
Stack of quilt block pendants – no paint, gold on gold and blue overpaint.

– Spray painting tiny laser cut bits was much more painless; the spray didn’t drip down the sides but rather speckled it.  To keep them in place on the windy day outside, I stuck them to another bit of transfer tape (a method I used in Week 61: Hexagon Trivet)  With both “paint after” methods, the sides did not stay clean.

– The two toned pieces were unique, but spraying gold on gold was a bit pointless 🙂

So, my advice is to paint first to save yourself a lot of headaches, unless it’s something precise and small (in respect to the total surface area), like a name.

Side by side comparison, form the top to the bottom: 1) naked bamboo 2) gold painted before engraving 3) blue painted after engraving and 4) two toned
Side by side comparison, form the top to the bottom: 1) naked bamboo 2) gold painted before engraving 3) blue painted after engraving and 4) two toned