MD28 The Columbus Chain

For today’s project, I picked up something I had started long ago and left sitting on my bench.

This particular chain has several names, but my favorite is the Columbus chain. In this story, someone figured out how to make it from a painting of Christopher Columbus where he was wearing one. True? Who knows? But I applaud the ingenuity that would be required to do that, because it is not as simple as it looks.

In the past I have made this sterling silver chain with larger links & heavier wire – it’s really lovely that way. But I thought it would be interesting to make a more delicate version, and that’s what this is.

It also requires soldering each link, so I’m getting the opportunity to brush up on pick soldering. Literally, I take a tiny piece of solder and use a tool called a solder pick to put it on the join for the link, then hit it with the torch to solder it closed.

As you might expect, it took me a few times to start getting back to my old level of skill with this technique. Practice makes better.

Sterling Columbus chain in progress

Sterling Columbus chain in progress

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MD27 The Bracelet is Done

Is there such a thing as a normal day anymore? Today certainly was not. But I did finish the double-loop-in-loop chain and turn it into a bracelet by adding a clasp.

Once this type of chain is woven, it must be annealed and pulled through a drawplate to even it out. Today’s picture shows the final step, as the chain is being pulled through its third and final hole, each successively smaller.

I then soldered on the clasp, soaked it in hot vinegar to remove all the black from the torch, and tumbled it to make it nice & shiny. The tumbling also adds suppleness & strength.

Double-loop-in-loop chain in the drawplate

Double-loop-in-loop chain in the drawplate

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MD26 Moss Agate Earrings

Today kind of went sideways. I got my bench vise bolted down this evening, but I’m too tired to tackle my chain tonight. I want to be fresh for that, so tomorrow.

Instead, for today’s project, I made another set of simple earrings. This time I used moss agate beads – it’s such a pretty stone, and I really like this style of earring. I’ll tumble them to strengthen the wires when I finish the bracelet. They can share!

Simple Earrings with Moss Agate

Simple Earrings with Moss Agate

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MD25 More Double-Loop-in-loop

You might have noticed a gap since my last post – we were out of town for the holiday weekend. Never fear, I’m still committed to my 100 Days of Metal so I pick up again at day 25.

Today I continued with the double-loop-in-loop chain that I started last week. I’ve done enough now to make a bracelet for a slender wrist, which will do for this project. At this point it has to be annealed before the next step, so that the metal is nice & soft again.

For that next step, I have to bolt down my bench vise to my workbench. That will be tomorrow morning.

Fine Silver Double-Loop-in-loop chain

Fine Silver Double-Loop-in-loop chain

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MD24 Whoops!

I accidentally started making a new chain today. It wasn’t what I had planned to do….

I cut & fused more fine silver links this morning, and that was going to be my project for the day. Then this afternoon I started thinking about the chain I want to make with them. I couldn’t remember exactly how to start it, so I got out Classical Loop-in-Loop Chains & looked it up. Then I thought, well, I’ll just get it started. The links of course take additional prep, they have to be shaped and annealed. Next thing I knew, it was an hour later, I had an inch & a half of chain, and 50 more links ready to use.

I think it’s a good sign to fall into flow that way.

The start of a fine silver double loop-in-loop chain and some prepared links

The start of a fine silver double loop-in-loop chain and some prepared links

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MD23 Blink and You Miss It

When fusing fine silver links, the trickiest part is moving the torch away at the exact right instant. Too soon, and your link doesn’t become a circle. Too late, and it’s ruined.

Once the red line appears, you can’t blink until it’s gone again, because the torch has to move away immediately. Fortunately, that’s only a few seconds.

Today I fused over 100 more links, mostly successfully. The “lost ones” were the ones where I didn’t move the torch away quickly enough, and got the bulges & corresponding thin places that go along with that. Those have to go in the scrap bin because they will break if you try to use them.

It feels good to be getting this practice in and reset my skill level to what it used to be.

Fine Silver links, fused & formed into ovals

Fine Silver links, fused & formed into ovals

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MD22 Fusing Fine Silver

After yesterday’s debacle, it was a relief to find that fusing fine silver links came back just like riding a bike.

Note: The rest of this post is a technical description of the fusing process. Feel free to skip down to the pictures!

First, I switched torches from my usual oxy-propane to one that just uses propane. The flame is not as hot and it’s easier to control for this process.

Then I laid out my links on the special dedicated soldering board that I use only for fusing, so it stays clean. Setting up the links means butting up the ends precisely, so there are no gaps. I put them on the board so that the joins are all oriented the same way, at the top.

For the actual fusing, I dim the room because it’s easier to see what’s happening. One link at a time, I take the torch in quick little circles around the circumference until first I see the join as a little red line, then the line disappears and that one’s done. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. There are always a few that fail, for whatever reason. Those go into the fine silver scrap bin.

Then I oval out each one with half-round pliers as I take it off the board. This is why the orientation when I laid them out is so important. For the chains I make with these links, I want the joins in the middle of the oval because they are a potential weak point and that’s where the least amount of stress will be. So because I know where the joins are, making the ovals correctly is easy.

One board’s worth of links was enough for one day. I’ll do another one tomorrow.

Fine Silver Links Ready For Fusing

Fine Silver Links Ready For Fusing

Fine Silver Links, Fused & Ovalled

Fine Silver Links, Fused & Ovaled

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MD21 The Scrap Heap

My latest project turned out to be not at all what I wanted, so it went to the scrap heap. *Sigh*

I know this is fine, and I’m trying not to be discouraged. But I am really not feeling particularly creative right now so I have to move myself past that.

I think this is a good time for a “skills focus” project, something that will help me hone a technical skill and give me a breather.

I have a bunch of fine silver links (that’s pure silver) that need to be fused – in other words, changed from cut links to closed circles. This takes precision torch work, and I used to be really good at it. I haven’t done it in years. So I think it will be the perfect project for tomorrow.

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MD20 Hydrogen Peroxide & Vinegar

Today was a long, busy day. But I remembered that a mixture of hydrogen peroxide & vinegar will remove the copper from soldered brass.

So I mixed some of that up & put yesterday’s piece in to soak – it only took a few minutes & now it looks fine.

More tomorrow.

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MD19 Sweat Soldering

Today I proceeded with the parts I was playing with yesterday. Still not entirely sure how it will end up, but I started by sweat soldering the circle of etched brass to the the circle of silver.

This is done by melting tiny pieces of solder into little puddles on the bottom piece (in this case, the silver), then laying the top piece where you want it and heating it again, mostly from underneath. The solder re-melts and hopefully sticks the two pieces together. It’s important to make sure the top piece is really flat on the bottom, so I had to sand the back of the brass to get it flat enough.

Soldering brass has an interesting side effect, because it has copper in it. The heat brings copper to the surface of the metal. There’s a way to get rid of that, but I will have to go back through my old notes because I don’t remember how to do it.

Sweat-soldered disks on a copper background

Sweat-soldered disks on a copper background

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