MeritMade Lessons - Torches

Author: Kelly Conner

One of my favorite parts of metalsmithing is the fire! Here is a super basic overview of what you need to consider when buying a torch to create all the fire you need.

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First lets talk anatomy:

Torch: This is just the part the the flame comes out of that you hold in your hand. You will want something that has multiple tip sizes that you can change out. These additional tips will greatly increase the scenarios that your torch can be used in by changing the size of the flame.

Hoses: Make sure your torch comes with the necessary hose or hoses. Green hoses are for oxygen and red hoses are for flammable gas.

Regulator: This is the thing that screws directly onto the tank and connects your hose to the tank. It is important to buy the right regulator for the type of tank that it is attaching to. For example a regulator needed for a propane tank is different then one needed for an acetylene tank.

Tanks: Depending on the torch you pick you may need 1 or 2 tanks. Every torch needs a mix of "air" and gas. The gas is what is burning, and the air is what controls the flame. The torch and regulators will also determine what type of "air" and gas you will use. Air can either come in through a vent or through a hose from an oxygen tank. (Oxygen will make everything hotter. Acetylene + Air = HOT vs Acetylene + Oxygen = SUPER HOT) In the jewelry world, gas is typically acetylene or propane. There are many others, but it is what you see jewelers using 90% of the time.

My recommendations & what I use:

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My main torch is sometimes called a "plumbers torch". The brand is Prest-O-Lite, and it uses an acetylene b tank. It came with 4 different tips that I can change out to adjust the size of he flame. One of the main benefits of this torch is that it only requires 1 tank (not 2) and it can solder in a wide variety of scenarios. The one negative of this torch is that it doesn't solder super teeny tiny things well. Even using the smallest tip, the flame is a bit too big for the super teen tiny things. You can likely buy this torch at a welding supply shop.

If I was buying my first torch all over again, I would get the Smith® SilverSmith™ Acetylene and Air Torch(pictured above). Its basically the same as the Prest-O-Lite but has a wider range of tips for soldering super tiny things. Just like the Prest-O-Lite it only needs 1 tank, an acetylene b tank. If you go this route, order some additional/larger tips too. You can get the acetylene b tank from your local welding supply shop.

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I also use a small torch, the Smith® Little Torch™. The little torch is a beautiful little guy and most jewelers use it as their only torch. However, if you plan to make anything larger in sterling silver (3"+ and solid) this might not provide a broad enough flame. To reiterate though, most jewelers don't do that. I'm a bit weird :) This torch, despite it's small size, gets super hot. That is because it is a combination of gas and oxygen This combination also offers greater control of your flame size and gas/air mix, since you can adjust how much of each you want. You can buy this torch as either propane/oxygen or acetylene/oxygen (I went with the propane (want to know more about the difference between propane and acetylene - click here)). Like the other Smith torch you will want to buy this one online. You can then buy the tanks at the welding supply shop.

If you would like more information, check out this super detailed post from ganoskin.

I will also point out that a lot of jewelers starting out like to use butane torches. These are inexpensive, compact, and don't require a trip to the welding supply shop. That said, they really don't have the range needed for more complex and larger scale work (anything over 2 1/2 inches). If you want to learn more about butane torches you can check out THIS LINK to a video by rio grande and THIS LINK for a well written article on butane torches and their limitations. 

Don't hesitate to reach out to me with questions. I know this can be an intimidating and scary descision. 

xo, Kelly

MeritMade Commentary - So, you want to be a maker, eh?

Author: Terra Butler

Kelly is a maker, through and through. While metalsmithing is how you know her, this woman is CONSTANTLY making across a broad range of crafts and mediums. Her wedding thank yous were handmade, featuring a carved stamp of her and her husband. She has been kitting the same gold shawl with the tiniest yarn for at least 7 years. She built the table that is the center piece to our workshops. She welded the steel displays that we use at shows. She loves any excuse to gift wrap. She has started AND finished multiple quilts. I could go on for a long time.

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To say Kelly loves to work with her hands is a massive understatement. When we meet people at shows or in workshops, often they will express a wish to be a maker of some sort. She is immediately excited and encouraging. If you haven' been privvy to one of her gushing recommendations to use your hands,  I give to you Kelly’s tips to becoming a maker. Enjoy!

  • Find something you love to make. What do you want to create or improve? Many people are drawn to specific types of materials. Perhaps getting your hands dirty is an important component or maybe you absolutely must work from home. Before you get started, it is smart to consider what sorts of things are important to you. For example, if you hate computers, maybe robotics shouldn't be your thing.
  • Get educated. There are so many workshops, in-person class, online videos, and educational resources out there. Searching YouTube is a great way to get started. When you are ready to pay for education, sites like Craftsy (www.craftsy.com) do a great job of providing a more thorough online education for a small investment. Don’t forget about your local guilds, clubs, libraries and schools. Often these places are wonderful for learning.
  • Buy some tools and materials. This can be a bit daunting. How do you know which tool is right? Do you get the expensive one or the cheap one? It is really all about budget. Determine what works best for you. I started out with the cheapest tools and materials, because that is all I had the money for. Some of them are still operational today, and some I have upgraded and replaced. It is always a work in progress. That all said, great tools can really make a difference in saving time and making a task much easier.
  • DO IT! Don’t be scared, you have nothing to lose. Besides, how will you know if you like it if you never try? Seriously, you have to start somewhere. Dive in head first and don’t be afraid to change your mind.
  • Find and Expert, and become their best friend. Plan a visit to their studio/shop/home/company, or take them to coffee to pick their brain. Most are happy to share and pass along the knowledge they have. You could also offer to help them. I don’t know a single maker who couldn’t use an extra set of hands. In exchange for your help, you would be getting valuable hands on training and experience.
  • Support other makers and get inspired. Go to a craft fair. Go to meetups. Join a Facebook group. The maker community is a welcoming place full of knowledge and inspiration. Support it with your presence and if possible, your dollar. These people work hard, and by supporting them you are fostering an environment where makers are respected and can continue creating.
  • Remember, a maker is simply a person who makes something. Have fun, explore, and most importantly create what YOU want.
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Sounds like pretty legit advice to me! I would add be patient; you will not be instantly amazing at your new craft and that is perfectly okay. In fact, it is the process of learning, trouble shooting and perseverance that makes being a maker so awesome.
Now get to it!
xo,

Terra

(maker of mixed media, painting, collages, baskets, textiles, wall-hangings...)

DIY Wedding Band Workshop

Author: Terra Butler

Being a metalsmith, it seemed obvious from the beginning that Kelly would make her husband's wedding ring. And then the idea arose that he would make hers. After sharing the experience, Kelly decided to open up this opportunity to others and the DIY Wedding Band experience was born. 

In the DIY Wedding Band workshop, you will spend about 4 hours in the studio sawing, soldering, hammering, filing and finishing the piece of jewelry that your partner will wear daily, forever! Kelly is with you every step of the way, guiding the process and ensuring that you leave with heirloom quality rings that you both will cherish for a lifetime. No prior experience necessary; this workshop is created for beginners. Rings cost anywhere from $200-$1500, depending on the metals chosen.

Maggie reached out to Kelly about purchaisng a ring for her husband and when Kelly responded with an invite for Maggie to make the ring herself, she said yes!

Maggie Sam DIY Wedding band ring

"Ever since I was a little girl I loved working with my hands. I'm not super artistic, but always enjoyed picking up a hammer or drill to do a project. I had no idea that I would eventually be able to make my husband's ring. I was ecstatic when Kelly offered to instruct me on making his wedding band. The love and effort put into making the ring made it extra special and symbolizes my commitment to him every day!"

 

 

Want to take it next level? How about you both make each other's wedding rings. That exactly what Melanie and Aaron did.

"Kelly is such an amazing teacher. She is encouraging and patient. We had such a fun time every step of the way. And now we have these beautiful rings that WE MADE and will cherish forever! We loved this wonderful experience. Thanks Kelly!!!!!"

Don't let your wedding bands be just another thing on the wedding checklist. Making your own bands, the symbol of your union, will provide an experience that shopping online or at a jewelry store never will. Working with Kelly is laid-back, fun and informative. And, let's be honest, who doesn't love to play with fire?

Reach out to us with any questions and to get your workshop scheduled!

- Terra

MeritMade Lessons - What is oxidized silver?

Author: Amanda Watson

The photos below show a direct comparison between oxidized and non-oxidized silver. Oxidation of silver is simply the process of intentionally exposing silver to environmental factors that cause tarnishing. As you can see, there is a significant difference in the appearance of the two. Let's dive a little deeper...

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The final result of the oxidation process is a very smoky looking blue grey silver that some people find appealing. The best part is that silver that has been finished in this fashion requires less cleaning and maintenance than traditionally finished silver, and further tarnishing of the surface usually results in an even more dramatic appearance. 

There are several different oxidizing solutions on the market that can be purchased specifically for the purpose of this process. Most of them require that the solution be diluted in water. Some are in gel for and can be painted on. One of the weirdest "solutions" is to use a hard boiled egg! Crazy, I know.

In our studio, we use Liver of Sulfur for the oxidation process. Liver of Sulfur is a mixture of potassium sulfide, potassium polysulfide, potassium thiosulfate, and probably potassium bisulfide. All very technical chemical terms, but dilluted correctly and heated just a bit it provides the most even and consistent finish.

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While the underlying metal is still the same material, there are some significant differences in how to care for oxidized silver as opposed to traditionally finished sterling silver. If you clean the oxidized sterling silver as you would with any other type of jewelry, you will find that it completely ruins the blackened look. 

Here's how the best method to clean oxidized silver:

  • Start by mixing warm water and washing liquid in a large bowl. I recommend "the blue" Dawn for this step as I've found it to be the best de-greaser. However, any detergent will likely work.
  • Stir the liquids together. 
  • Place the silver into the bowl, moving it around occasionally.
  • Let it soak for about 20 minutes. 
  • Take it out of the soapy water, and place it onto a soft towel. Gently wipe the silver with the towel, taking care not to scrub. A harsh scrubbing action could also remove the black finish.

As you can see in our shop. We often use this beautiful blue grey oxidized finish in our pieces. We love the look, and hope you do too!

Have questions? Add a comment below or send an email to kelly@meritmadekc.com.

Enjoy! Amanda