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From blank page to bangle: a day of silversmithing

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As part of my plan to try out as many jewellery techniques as I could, I Silver 025took a Beginner's Silver day at London Jewellery School early this year. During the day we learnt the basics of cutting, annealing, texturing with a hammer and soldering to produce a ring.

While I was very pleased with my end product, I found the day very hard and wondered if these techniques were really for me. But then I had a revelation - I had been walking round, sawing, hammering, etc with a fractured vertebra (I'd previously been told my back was just badly bruised), which may have impacted on my silversmithing experience.

So I signed myself up for the intermediate workshop. This is a major step up because it isn't a case of following along with the tutor - albeit making your own variations - on a single project. This time each of our group of five had to come up with our own project and design, within the constraints of available materials. Then the tutor Melissa Hunt then worked with each of us to identify the techniques we would need and indeed it the idea was feasible.

Silver 035The one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to make a cuff-style bracelet.

Plus I like spirals, coils and curves - in metal, fabric, etc - and have often used them. Working in wire recently has seen me play with those shapes a lot.

The question was how to bring this elements together. But as I was sketching and thinking I noticed the ring I was wearing, which had a small coil of wire soldered to it.

That helped me with one element - I would use silver wire to make raised coil end pieces for the bracelet.

On the left you can see a test coil in copper as I played with width and shaping.

But then I was stuck. I wanted to reflect these motifs on the body but couldn't see how.

Melissa had the answer. I could try making a series of scrolls in copper wire and use a roller print technique to impress them into the silver. Roller printing involves annealing (softening) the metal and then placing it and a texture between two large rollers to press the design into the piece.

So the first jobs were to cut the sheet metal to length and to test the roller printing idea on a scrap of copper. I need a lot of sawing practice but with a bit of vigorous filing I did produce a neat piece.

As for my test piece:

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 There was some distortion but that was useful in working out the settings for the real piece.

Plus it showed that there is no chance of reusing a a copper motif.

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So after a spot of gentle scroll rolling it was time for the moment of truth. I attached my motifs to a strip of sellotape and alligned them on the annealled bracelet metal.

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Then the moment of truth - the whole thing went into the rollers. I didn't get it quite right at the beginning - so admit that one end of one scroll impression isn't perfect (the pictures avoid this little blemish) - but over all it worked.

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Silver 037Then all that was left was shaping the ends, crating and attaching the ends and shaping the actually bracelet with all the intermediate heating, cooling and cleaning stages.

Plus Melissa had a new challenge for me. We'd orginally talked about soldering the wire motifs to the bracelet but she now reckoned I should consider riveting them instead. This meant working out how to build pins into the centre of my spirals (as in my test copper cols, left) and drilling holes into my piece. 

The drilling worked with a lot of help from Melissa because we had trouble with fine enough drill bits and then it was time to rivet the piece. The drilling is the scary bit - if the pins fit in the holes (and they did) the rest is about good soldering and finishing.

Silver soldering involves painting your joint with borax flux, heating the area with a small blow torch in one hand and adding tiny pieces of silver solder with tweezers.

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Then you snip of the excess pins and file down the bumps. This is another worrying moment. My joints held but one of my fellow students managed to file through one of hers and had to start again.

And then there is plenty of polishing and cleaning up to do before a final shine up in the tumbler to produce a pretty piece.

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