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.

114.159_zoom.jpg

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:

tips.png

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.

regs.png

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 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...

oxidized silver sterling silver meritmade meritmadekc kc handmade kansas city merit made meritmade kc handmade jewelry art jewelry unique jewelry

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.

oxidized silver necklace meritmade meritmadekc handmade jewelry kansas city merit made meritmade kc handmade jewelry art jewelry unique jewelrykansas city merit made meritmade kc handmade jewelry art jewelry unique jewelry

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

MeritMade Lessons - Favorite Vendors & Suppliers

Author: Kelly Conner

 photo by  Jason Dominques

I'm often asked where I get my materials, tools, and stones. In this post I'm going to share with you some of my favorites. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't something that I have researched extensively but instead have stumbled about until I found something that works for me. No guarantee that it'll work for you, but who knows ;)

Rio Grande
www.riogrande.com
What I buy: 80% of my materials and tools from here. This is my go to.
Note: Not always the cheapest, but huge selection and good quality

Fire Mountain Gems
www.firemountaingems.com
What I buy: bulk calibrated stones and packaging (kraft paper boxes)
Note: Loads of beading supplies and findings

Reactive Metals
www.reactivemetals.com
What I buy: Unique metal and unique patinas

One of a Kind
www.etsy.com/shop/oneofakindwire
What I buy: Unique Cabs
Note: HUGE selection if you visit them in person at a gem/mineral show

Jules Borel
www.julesborel.com
What I buy: Jewelers Bench!
Note: based in KC. Purchased items can be picked up to avoid shipping costs

Otto Frei
www.ottofrei.com
What I buy: Jewelry Kits - Great price and the right tools (not bloated with a bunch of stuff you don't need)

Hiles Plating
hilesplating.com
What I buy: Gold and Silver Plating
Note: based in KC

Arroks Rocks
www.etsy.com/shop/ArroksRocks
What I buy: Good quality unique materials - Cabs

Cool Tools
www.cooltools.us
What I buy: Stencils and freeform (non-calibrated) Stones
Note: They have a ton of PMC (precious metal clay) stuff

Hauser Miller
www.hauserandmiller.com
What I buy: Nothing currently, but I would like to start using them for my metal
Note: Based in STL and I have heard really good things about the quality of their metal.

Metalliferous
www.metalliferous.com
What I buy: Brass

Wolfe Lapidary
wolfelapidary.com
What I buy: Good quality unique Cabs

Stuller
www.stuller.com
What I buy: Gold and Faceted Stones

 Photo credit:  Foter.com

Photo credit: Foter.com

Honestly the best way to get stones is to buy them in person. I highly recommend going to gem & mineral shows. You will not be disappointed. Here in Kansas City, we have a twice yearly show that has great stone cutters and lapidary artists selling their wares. You can also find jewelry tools, findings, crystals, display materials, and all kinds of other goodies. I'e been to the HUGE Tuscon show once, and can't wait to get back. I've also heard great things about the Denver show, but have never been. 

Don't overlook the small shows! I've found that these can be some of the best. I got a chance last year to the go to the Tri-State Gem & Mineral Show in Joplin. Let me start off by saying that there wasn't a huge selection, but what was there was very reasonably priced. Also you'll meet some of the most interesting people with the BEST stories. There is nothing quite like chatting with the rockhounds that both found and cut the material. 

Kansas City Gem & Mineral Show
www.showsofintegrity.com
www.kcgemshow.org
Held in March and November

Tuscon Gem & Mineral Show
www.tgms.org
Held in February

Tri-State Gem & Mineral Show
Joplin Historical & Mineral Museum (504 S. Shifferdecker Ave., Joplin, MO)
Sept 22-24 2017 - Fri. 10-6, Sat. 10-6, Sun. 10-3
Contact Chris Wiseman (417)-623-1180 jmc-cwiseman@sbcglobal.net

 

Hopefully you found some of this information helpful. If you want more of my recommendations, you might check out THIS blog post about tools needed to get started silversmithing.

What are some of your favorite vendors and suppliers?! I would love to expand my list. 

xo - Kelly