Unsoldered coiled wire rings date back to the earliest burial items found throughout the ancient civilizations. Ancient jewelry was significant according to its purpose as a memento, amulet, talisman or a sign of social distinction. It seems only natural that coiling wire led to the snake ring, the snake often symbolizing the occult or one of supernatural powers.
Historically, today’s items vary little from the earliest findings. Earrings, rings, pins, bracelets and necklaces can be well designed and crafted without solder. Jewelry without solder tends toward greater simplicity. This is a good way to develop a sound foundation for beginning jewelry classes. Some of the techniques helpful in giving greater variety to non-soldered jewelry include chasing, repousse, texturing, etching and enameling.
Students are attracted to jewelry making for the same reasons that jewelry has existed as an art form: jewelry is appealing, it is adornment and it is an individualized statement. In fabricating a piece of jewelry, the student must be aware of the design concepts of weight, balance, unity and rhythm. It is also necessary for the student to have a sense of purpose for the completed piece. Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for teaching art through jewelry making is the delight and surprise experienced by the student whose hard work has produced a successful and satisfying piece.
Once students are initiated into the techniques and comfortable with the tools of jewelry making, they are quick to say, “There, all done!” or “That’s good enough.” To this I fondly respond, “When it is perfect, do it over-just to be certain.” Mastery comes only through repetition. The final critique is the student’s answer to my question. “Will you wear it?”
While it would be nice to work in gold or silver, copper is far less costly and an excellent beginning metal. Copper was one of the earliest metals to be used by craftsmen, dating back to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Copper can be forged, is malleable and has a fairly high melting point. The one drawback is that it tarnishes quickly. However, a clear coat of lacquer will protect the piece for a reasonable length of time.
Copper foil is purchased in rolls and is of a very thin gauge (40 gauge). Foil lends itself quite well to chasing and repousse for the beginning students. Chasing is work done from the reverse or backside. To chase and repousse, place copper foil shape on a soft surface such as Styrofoam. Use a burnisher or a smooth rounded tool on the metal foil to make impressions. Turn foil over (repousse) and repeat the process between impressed areas of the front. Foil is given a thicker, more dimensional appearance through chasing and repousse.
All metals that are hammered, bent or twisted become brittle and in time may crack or break. At this point, the process of annealing, or softening with heat, is necessary. Flux is applied to the copper liberally to reduce fire scale. The copper is heated to a dull red appearance and may be dipped either into a Sparex solution (a mild synthetic acid recommended for school use) immediately after annealing, or allowed to cool slowly. Placing the annealed copper in Sparex cleans most, if not all of the fire scale from the surface of the metal. The annealed metal can now be worked with ease, until it once again becomes hard or brittle.
Files cut on the forward stroke. Firm pressure should be placed on the file as it is moved forward. Reduce the pressure or lift file from the metal surface on the back stroke. When filing long surfaces, the file should be pushed forward and sideward to get even, smooth edges without grooves. When filing, small objects can be hand-held, held with a ring clamp or placed in a small vise. Small jewelry vises come with a type of leather coating on the jaws to protect the metal from marks. (It is very easy to mark metal but very difficult to eliminate unwanted or unintended marks.)
Files come in a variety of cutting surfaces from very coarse to very smooth. A good average rough cut file is a number 0. Numbers 2 through 4 do well for smoothing and finishing. Needle files are especially useful for finishing small areas or delicate pieces. A common needle file size is 5 1/2″ (14 cm) in length with a 2 3/4″ (7 cm) cutting length. Complete sets of six or twelve needle files of various shapes are particularly helpful.
After filing, jewelry objects should be robbed with emery paper to remove file marks, burrs and scratches. Emery paper can also be wrapped around a ring mandrel or dowel to smooth the inside of rings. In general, emery paper surfaces #1/2 to #2 are sufficient for finish work with copperjewelry.
Saw flames come in a variety of depths. A 4″ (10 cm) depth is best for beginning students or general craft work. When loading the saw frame, first adjust the length of the frame to fit the length of the saw blade. Turn the frame upside down, insert the saw blade in the front wing screw of the frame. The saw teeth must be facing up and back. Place one end of the frame against a desk or bench and apply pressure to the other end with your body. Insert blade in rear wing screw. The blade must be taut, otherwise the blade will break due to improper cutting.
Saw blades come in sizes from 8/0, the thinnest, to 14, the coarsest. The thinnest, 8/0, is entirely too delicate for beginners and the thicker blades above 5 are too rough for jewelry. The best all around blades for jewelry are the size 2 or 3. With beginners, expect many broken blades before the skill of sawing is mastered.
Saw on a bench pin holding the metal firmly with fingers. Start with a straight cut, keeping the saw perfectly vertical and placing very little pressure on the blade. By using very little pressure the beginning craftsman will be amazed at how quickly and easily cuts can be made. Do not clamp metal to the bench pin. Clamping metal to the bench pin inhibits proper manipulation of the metal and is time-consuming.
To make a turn or a circle, continue the up and down motion making a series of light cuts, while almost backing off from the metal. Both the saw frame and the metal should be turned slightly during this process. Saw as closely to the inscribed line of the design as possible. Later, file the copper to the desired line of the design. To cut out center designs, punch out or drill a hole in the area of the design. Put the saw blade through the opening and attach blade to the saw frame as described above.
Beeswax, used sparingly, can be helpful when sawing. Simply run the edge of the saw blade gently along the wax. A small amount is all that is needed to lubricate the blade. Too much wax will clog the teeth.
The two basic compounds used in buffing are tripoli and rouge. Tripoli is slightly coarse and is used for removing small scratches from the metal. Generally, a hard, close-stitched buffing wheel of coarse muslin is used with tripoli. The softer cotton or flannel looser wheels are used with the rouge compound. Rouge follows tripoli and will polish the metal to a high sheen. These two compounds come in solid stick form. Each should be used on separate buffing wheels marked tripoli or rouge. The compounds are applied to the buffing wheel while it is turning.
When buffing, rings should be placed on a ring mandrel or dowel, eliminating the possibility of the ring flying from one’s hand. Boards should always be used to hold chains. Other safety rules include wearing safety glasses, tying back hair and no loose clothing. Heat resistant gloves should be used when handling annealed metals. Copper tongs are necessary for immersion and recovery of jewelry pieces from the Sparex acid bath.