Friday, September 14, 2012

Multi-technique Pendant Tutorial

Two years ago I gave my good friend Anita a Gracebourne gift certificate so that she could order anything she wanted in my store, including custom work!  She chose a custom pendant, but really had no idea of a style, so she let me pick.  Ok, it took me two years to get it together.

Anita's Epic Necklace.  Hope it was worth the wait!

I used a few different skills in its construction, so I thought I would share them on my blog for anyone who would like to try a similar piece.  It's not too intense, but it took a fairly long time to complete.  A less complex design would be much quicker and easier, and you could also leave out the bail and use a jump ring instead.  But I get ahead of myself.  Here are the skills and techniques that I used in the making of Anita's Epic Necklace:

  • transferring a design onto metal
  • cutting and piercing silver
  • filing, sanding, polishing
  • sweat soldering (fun, fun!)
  • rivetting (the whole process was, indeed, rivetting.)
  • applying a patina
  • some smithing ie. forming with pliers, hammering
The first part of the process is image transferring:
Photos of my original sketch, the cleaned up graphic design, and the transferred and inscribed lines on the silver

The idea for this pendant began with a sketch, which you can see above.  I traced a digital photograph of this sketch with Inkscape to clean it up and make it pretty and symmetrical, then printed out a copy in the size I wanted to make the pendant.

My silver was 20gauge, or about .8mm.  I began by roughing up the surface of my metal with fine grit emery paper so it would take the transfer more easily.  I put graphite tracing paper face down on the silver, placed my design over it, and traced each line carefully with a scriber.  You can see in the pattern photograph that my scriber cut the paper.

After all lines were transferred, I removed the pattern and graphite paper, and again traced each line with a scriber, this time directly onto the metal.  This is important because your graphite lines will wear off when you are sawing.  Be as careful and as exact as you can - you are creating a road map for your saw and you need to be accurate at this stage.

There are other ways to transfer a design onto metal, but I find this works great for me and has the maximum accuracy.  I've tried gluing the pattern directly on the metal, but with the sheer number of lines I usually use in my patterns, the paper gets shredded and I lose accuracy.

The second part of the process involves piercing your metal:
Photos of drilling, sawing, and the completed piercing.
For each piece of negative space you'll be sawing out, you need to make a little divot for your drill bit to grab.  For this, I put my metal on a steel block and used my scriber and a rawhide mallet to make indentations.  Then I chose a drill bit which was small enough not to distort any of the smaller holes I had to cut, but large enough to accommodate the saw blade.  I used 3/0 sawblades for this project.

Piercing with my jeweller's saw is probably the thing I do the most, and it's one of the most enjoyable processes for me in jewellery making.  I could probably write a book about it, but for now I will just lay out the most salient tips:
  • make sure your sawblade is not too loose or too tight.  The more you pierce, the more you will get a good understanding of the tension you need.
  • keep your sawblade lubricated.  There are commercial preparations available for this job, but I use natural beeswax, and it works great.  I put it on the back of the sawblade (the part without teeth!) otherwise I find the teeth get gummed up with wax and silver dust and don't saw very well.  It's good to lubricate the blade regularly, and right before you are about to turn a sharp corner.
  • let the blade do the work.  Your forward motion on your saw should be minimal.  I prefer to think of gravity guiding my sawblade through my metal - you don't need much more force than that.
  • don't freak out when you break a blade.  It's ok, it happens all the time - I go through a ton of blades.  Broken blades are my battle scars.  If you think you are breaking too many blades ( I broke 2 during this project and had to change a dull one) re-read the three preceeding points!  Also check if you are using an appropriate size of blade, and check if your blades are dull or rusted.  You might need different or new saw blades.
  • follow the INSIDE of your scribed line.  Try to be as close to the line as you can without erasing it.  You will need to do a bit of filing when you're done, but you don't want to have to file a piece for an hour.  Most of your metal removal should be done at the piercing stage.  Be careful not to go over your lines, though, because that kind of mistake is much harder to fix. 
After the piercing was complete, I used my needle files to fix any bumps or ridges I made in my piercing, and to smooth all the saw marks.  Filing takes a long time and it isn't fun, but it's crucial to having a nicely finished piece, so take your time, and don't forget to use your ring clamp to hold the piece.

Next step - Turn on the pickle pot.  It's time to do some soldering!
Solder paillions, placing the solder on the piece, clamping the top to the bottom with binding wire, and the finished soldered piece fresh out of the pickle.

Sweat soldering is a little finicky, but not really complicated.  First I cut my solder into paillions - I use silver sheet solder and I would estimate my paillions are about .5mm squares.  You need way more solder when you are sweat soldering than you do for most other soldering jobs just because of the large area of metal you are joining.  I fluxed my piece, heated it, and began placing my solder.  This took a long time and I had to continually heat the piece so the solder would stick to it and not dance around instead of slumping in place.  I dipped every paillion in flux before placement.  You want the solder to be very flowy when melts, so you need a good amount of flux.

After the solder was placed and melted, I pickled the piece it until it was nice and white.  I had to sand it a bit to get rid of a few bumps.  You want your pierced component to sit flat on top of the base so that you get every little bit of metal joined up.

I fluxed the base and placed the pierced component on top, then bound the pieces together with binding wire.  You want the binding wire nice and tight, so that it will "pull" the two pieces together when the solder starts to melt.

The solder needs to flow from the top (pierced) piece to the solid bottom.  For this to happen, the base has to heat up first, so I would recommend raising your piece and applying the torch to the bottom.  I used a metal trivet to support the piece while I torched it. 

After pickling, you might notice that some areas have not joined.  Make sure your metal is touching in the place you need it to join, reapply flux, and torch the piece again. 

When I was done sweat soldering this piece, I noticed that it had warped slightly.  To fix it, I put it on my steel bench block and beat it into shape with my rawhide mallet.  If you are lucky enough to possess two steel blocks, you can sandwich the pendant between them and hit it with a large rubber mallet.

I cleaned up the edges with a file and some rough emery so the top and bottom pieces fit together seamlessly before I moved on to the patination.

Applying the patina

For the patina, I used a preparation called SilverBlack.  It contains hydrochloric acid, so if you choose this chemical patina, use it in a well ventilated area.  I applied it to all the "low" points in the design with a paintbrush, let it sit for a few minutes, rinsed it off, and reapplied.  Two applications seemed to get it to a point that I liked - I used a brass brush to transform the dull, matte black patina into more of a gunmetal gray colour.

There was a lot of spillover onto the top of the pendant - I didn't worry too much because I knew I was going to have a LOT of sanding to do.  I started with a fairly coarse grit emery and graduated to finer papers (I used 3 different grits.)

If you have any firestain on your piece, now is the time to check for it and sand it off.  Hold your pendant perpendicular to a piece of white paper - If you see vague, slightly purplish spots, sand, sand, sand!!

Making and rivetting the bail.  I know I have hobo hands.

This ended up being a moderately heavy piece, so I felt it needed a substantial bail to connect it to its chain.  The triangular shape of a bail is important, because the width of the top part distributes the weight of the pendant and puts less strain on your delicate silver chain.

As you can probably tell from the photograph, I scribed this bail freehand onto a scrap of metal.  Using the same techniques I used for the pendant, I cut it out, filed it, and sanded it with emery paper.

I used my round pliers to form the bail.  These pliers are tapered, so I had to bend carefully on one side, then flip to the other to make a nice, symmetrical loop.

To rivet the bail onto the pendant, I first drilled a hole through one side of the bail and burred it out so it was exactly the diameter of a piece of 16 gauge wire.  I put it on the pendant where I wanted it to sit, and scribed a mark to indicate where to drill on the pendant - I drilled this hole to the proper diameter, then put the two together, placed the drill bit through the two matching holes, then drilled through the bottom part of the bail to get the three holes to match up nicely.

I used a small ball burr on each side of the bail to open the top of the drill holes slightly - this is where you smoosh your metal down to make a strong rivet.  I just held the ball burr in my hand and twisted gently to make a small indentation for the metal to be hammmered into.

Lastly, I cut the 16 gauge wire almost exactly to the size of the rivet and used my rivetting hammer to slightly flatten each side of the wire into a strong rivet.

Everything was done except for more sanding and polishing!  The Gracebourne monkeys are in contract negotiations right now, so I had to do this monkey work myself.  I used Tripoli then fabulustre, with baths in the ultrasonic in between, then I shone it with a Blitz cloth. 

Here's me, modelling the pendant for scale!

I have dinner with Anita tonight, and I hope she likes her Epic Necklace.  I also really hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that you now rush off to make something beautiful for yourself!! 


  1. That is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and process :)

  2. Thanks for sharing!
    Very nice tutorial!!! :-)

  3. Thank you so much for sharing. It was clear and understandable.

  4. What gauge was the metal you used for the pendant?

    1. It was a while back! I believe I used 20 gauge.

  5. Very very beautiful! I love your design!!!

  6. your sawing skills are awesome! great work.

  7. that's some BOSS piecing! Great job an excellent instructions! thanks for sharing your process:)

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your process. Having it explained makes it less intimidating to try.:-)

  9. Thank you Grace for sharing, very informative! I love the look of pierced metal. I wondered if you know of a source for templates that would work for this type of technique. I can never find any suitable patterns. PS my last name is Bourne too!

    1. If you are not quite confident in your own design work (yet!), you can always do a quick google search or pinterest search for key words like "saw piercing designs" or "scroll saw patterns". There are a lot of copyright-free designs out there for the picking if you need sawing practice (and we all need lots of practice, always!)

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Hey can u follow my page on.instagram@ratlamigoldsmith dear i.m making sawing cut jewelry btw i m Goldsmith from India i hop u like my jewelry

  11. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial. I'm currently taking a beginning jewelry fabrication class and several of your tips like using a scriber for design transfer and a ring clamp to hold the piece are incredibly helpful.

  12. thank you for your tutorial. It will help as a follow up when I remonstrate this technique to my jewelry students. Beautiful work!