Friday, January 20, 2012

Six Rings - Part One

A while back I made a couple of rings with square stones.  They weren't exactly alike, but similar enough that they went well together stacked.  A customer bought them and asked me to make another, similar but not the same, so she would have three to stack.  When she picked up the set, she asked if I could make three more.  She wanted a total of six, three with smaller stones, three with larger.

When I made the first three, sterling silver clay was not yet available, so they are fine silver.  I made them thick enough so they would be fairly strong, but I knew the two colors of silver wouldn't match perfectly.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make all six out of the new sterling silver.  They would be stronger and all six would match in color.

I made a prototype ring.  I came out great, but didn't shrink as much as I thought it would.  But now I have a good idea of ring shrinkage on sterling, which doesn't seem to be anywhere near the 25% shrinkage rate I have read.

So accounting for the new shrinkage factor, I started making the rings.  For thin rings like this, I use a method I developed so that the ring shank is seamless (rather than cutting a strip and wrapping it around a mandrel and joining it).   I started writing a blog post about the process a long time ago, but never got around to publishing it.  I will give a step by step tutorial at some point, but right now I will just go over the highlights of making this particular set of rings.

I cut all the ring shanks out of sterling silver clay and left them on brass tubes so they would keep their shape while drying.  It also gives you something to hold onto when working with the shanks.  I usually only do a rough shape in the wet clay and do most of my work in the dry clay state.

Because I made a mistake when ordering the stones, I only had the larger stones, so I set aside three of the shanks for later and roughly set the three stones in clay.  The colors are hard to see in this picture but they are deep purple, sapphire blue and ruby red.  The stones are absolutely gorgeous.  I may have to make something for myself with the ones I have left.

I then start filing the ring shanks so they are an even thickness all the way around.  You can see in this picture that I don't cut them completely round because I want to have the top of the ring have some kind of a shape.

I put them all on the same tube so I could file them together and be sure the sizes and shapes of the shanks matched.

After I do some rough shaping of the shank, I will also roughly shape the stone setting and then attach it to the shank with slip.

In the photo below, you can see all three drying.  On a couple of them, you can see marks where I have drawn out the shape in Sharpie.

After they are dry, I fill in the gaps with clay and build up areas that might need it.  Once that is all done, I start on the refining of the shape.  On the ring below, I wanted the stone to be held on just two sides and so I carved away the clay where I wanted it to be open.  You can't see it very well in the photo because of the angle, but the opening goes under the stone and right through to the other side.  Once this ring is fired, the shrinkage will hold the stone in place securely.

I also wanted to carve a little design on the sides of each ring as something special that only the wearer can really see.  You can see that I have sketched it out in pencil and below shows my favorite tool for carving like this.  It's just an awl with a shortened shaft.  It has a nice sharp point and gives a pretty good impression.

Finally, after sanding, shaping and refining the surface on each ring, I carved a design on each.  The very last thing I do before firing is to thoroughly clean the surface of the ring so that there is no dust left on it.  Also cleaning the stone with alcohol is necessary because any dust left over from sanding will fuse to the stone during firing.

Here are the three rings ready to be fired.  Sterling clay requires a two-part firing, which I will discuss in my next post.