Adventures In Metal

I've been looking at lots of metals lately. Mostly to use as accents for jewelry. Copper is my current metal of choice because it's comparatively inexpensive to precious metal sheet. The only problem is, if you look around – seems like everybody is using it too. And I want my jewelry to Stand Out. To Scream My Name. To be SPECIAL! So whats a gal to do? Find something else to cut up. Suddenly that old Christmas tin was begging to become bead end caps.

Time to bust out the tin snips, disc cutter and dapping block.

The only way to efficiently use the tin is to first cut down the seam then cut the bottom off. The top rolled edge prevented the strip from laying flat so I cut it every few inches. It could also be cut off completely and I may do that later when I get around to using the rest of the strip. A note of caution: even if your not prone to being klutzy, it's a good idea to wear a pair of gloves for this step. Those metal edges are pretty sharp.

Next step: disc cutter. My disc cutter is a cheap-o that cost me about $35. I certainly got what I paid for. The BEST cutters are self clamping, run in the $300+ range, and require the use of a brass mallet which costs another $25. Suffice it to say, I just use a regular hammer and try to aim directly with a sure solid strike. If your aim is off you will deform the the top of the die. Also, my cutter does not clamp the sheet metal. If I hit it all girly like, the metal will shift, the piece becomes 'double struck' and is rendered useless. Someday I will wind up having to buy a new one and will spring for Quality.

I found that by placing the tin in the disc cutter face (painted) side down, I was able to prevent scaring the painted surface. Also, the sharp edge left behind bends upward, and will wind up facing toward the bead, which is what you want.

Sometimes a small 'hanging chad' is left behind that will need to be filed down along with the sharp edge. The black line in the above photo is pointing to it. I used a Bastard File to get rid of it which was perfect, because I had something to call that little hanging chad as I filed away.....

(The above picture was a good one to toss in the mix because it is enlarged enough to illustrate the way the metal edges bend in the disc cutter and hole punch, along with the hurricane icons I discuss below)

Using a fine tip sharpie marker I eyeballed and marked the center with a dot on the backside where the hole was going to go. A little tool called a Bead Buddy Hole Punch works pretty good. I got mine at AC Moore for just a few dollars using a 40% off coupon. It makes two hole sizes 1.5 and 2mm. Just line up your mark and twist the crank. I have used it on some thick metal (flattened coins on the railroad track) and it makes a nice cut. The only thing is you really need to keep an eye on is this: as the punch clamps on the metal, it can shift as you continue to turn the crank – so keep an eye on that. My mistake was working from the backside of my tin end caps. As the punch pushes thru the metal, the sharp edge was pushed to the front painted side. Next time I will be sure to do it the other way so the sharp edge will be facing the bead. I'm hoping Santa will bring me this next year.

When I was done with the cutting and hole punching, I selected a dapping punch and a corresponding depression in the block. It's important to consider the size and shape of your bead. A round bead will require a deeper dome shape while my disc shaped beads used a shallow dome. Because my end caps are made from an antique re-purposed tin, I wanted to be careful with the painted side. I lined the block with a paper towel and used gentle taps with the hammer to dome the metal. Hitting the piece too hard will take the paint off. When the pieces were all domed they were given a light coat of clear lacquer.

Dapping Punch and Block sets come in a wide range of shapes and sizes available from most jewelry supply houses. I bought mine from Otto Frei. Its a value line, unmatched set, but came with a nice variety of punches, a block, and a stand to hold it all. A steal at $45, and perfect for the non professional (me).

The focal beads I made for this project are a disc shape made using this snazzy bead roller made by CG Beads . Its a tool with a pretty good bang for the buck. You get 7 shapes and a textured edge. This was my first attempt at this shape, making a bead with a color core cased in clear, and etching the surface. This shape lent itself well to dapped end caps because of the large flat sides, and the etching helped to disguise a few imperfections. One thing I did learn – which I should have known (duh...) was to make sure the color core of the bead was fairly cool before adding the clear casing to prevent distorting the base color. If its too hot you get these swirly interiors that look like a hurricane icon on a weather map.

I selected brass wire to make the wrapped loop connectors because it matched the endcaps so well, and gold/olive is a classic color combination. The wire was a bit thin compared to the bead hole size. The beads floated and the end caps looked off center and sloppy. To remedy this I used the little-bead-inside-the-large-hole-trick. Worked like a charm.

The bracelet design is unsymmetrical yet balanced, meaning the larger focals are grouped together, with the multi strand side reflecting the size of the focals. It was important to me to have each individual strand contain elements that resembled the focal strand in some way. This was successfully achieved by making 3 strands using the accent seed beads, core color beads, and a smaller version of the focal beads. Having the three strands gathered then reduced to a single chain makes the bracelet adjustable. The clasp was forged from 16 gauge brass. I like to work harden heavier weight wire for closures so they stand up to normal wear and tear.

I'm super happy with the way this bracelet came out. It's detailed, yet simple at the same time, and the color combo came out the BOMB!! I would be remiss without crediting Donna Millard Art Glass . I found her on Facebook by accident and just fell in love with her talent. File this under the "When I grow up I want to make beads as beautiful as Donna does" category. Really. If you love beads and jewelry, take the time to check her out. As you most likely know, when you set out to make a piece of jewelry - or anything with components - you are often left with leftovers. Yes. I have leftovers from this bracelet and plan on making some earrings. When I do, I promise to post a picture. Seeing we are now between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Glass Shack is hot, and the house furnace died and was replaced so the basement/workshop area is upside down - it may be awhile. But I promise I will.

Just don't hold your breath...

 Click here if you care to share :)

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