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Turn Rough Stones And Metal Into Jewels

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

A little tight, but cozy, with everything within reach. Front left, the home made anvil. Center, the 1880 Patent alcohol lamp.

In the winter, when it’s too much bother to heat the shop, I retreat to the laundry room where I have set up a silversmithing bench in about 6 sq. ft. of space.

In my early 20s I worked in a dental lab where I was introduced to wax modeling, the lost wax casting process and metal finishing. Later, when our kids were in primary school, we went on field trips to rock and gem shows and there I discovered the wonderful world of lapidary, the cutting, shaping and polishing of stones, and bringing those two together is how my silversmithing began.

The type of jewelry I usually make tends to be on the larger side, accent pieces, mostly necklaces and broches that afford me more freedom in expressing ideas and showcasing the beauty of the materials.

I draw inspiration from many sources and the titles of the pieces sometimes hint to them, like “Homage to Van Gogh”, the Bumblebee Jasper bringing to mind the sunflowers painting by that author, or “Full Moon Over Petunia Street”, the place where I grew up. At other times, the flow of the silver creates unexpected shapes that paired with other materials, give a sense of energy and movement bursting forth, like in "Rising", an abstraction of Christ's rising from the

grave. See "Pine Needle Casting" here,

When it comes to stones, I like agates and jaspers and whenever I have opportunity, I buy these in slab form so that I can cut my own cabochons. I cut the stones on a tile saw and shape and polish them on an old Lee Faceting Machine, which is not ideal, but I make do. I faceted a few stones 30 years ago, but I no longer have the patience and quality rough is expensive. Sometimes I incorporate wood in my pieces, and that speaks of my love for that material.

The tools I use for silversmithing I acquired over time and although my bench is full of them, one only needs a few basic ones to start out. Below is a picture of some bare-bone necessities and then one can build up depending also on the direction they’re taking.

A note on Safety

Silversmithing entails the use of open-flame for soldering, annealing and casting requiring one to pay attention to the hazards associated with that, by keeping flammable materials stored in designated places, out of the way.

Good ventilation is also a must since the burned gasses that result are toxic if inhaled. Some abrasives that are used in grinding/polishing contain silica that is also harmful if inhaled, making the use of some dust-absorbing device and a dust mask, good practice. And don’t forget the goggles, protecting your eyes during grinding/polishing is important.

The silversmith also uses some acids for etching and pickling the silver and those solutions also must be kept in proper containers clearly marked as to the contents and with tight sealing lids. In case of spills or splatters, a close-by source of running water is a must.

Here is a Basic set of silversmithing tools, (check out the "beyond bare bones" article too)

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