Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bi-metal Meltdown Part Deux!

They say that your prayers always get answered, though the answer may not be the one you wanted. When I finished working on this ring, I was praying that the bi-metal wedding band would not have to be sized up again. I really wasn’t sure the ring, or I, could take it. But, the answer to my prayer was, ‘Tough luck’.
I bought a ring sizer so that I would be able to do this again if I had to. I got one of the inexpensive Rathbun ring sizers that they sell at Rio Grande. It is a simple design, using percussion to stretch the ring from the inside out. I was psyching myself up for the arrival of the ring. “It will be easy.” I said to myself, over and over. All I have to do is stretch a little and anneal it, stretch a little and anneal it and stretch a little more. I would just be careful and go slowly. That was all that I needed to do.
So, when I got the ring, I annealed it and stretched it a little. I was so afraid to break the ring that I wanted to be sure to anneal it every few attempts at stretching. As I did this, that little, slightly noticeable gap became more and more noticeable. Each time I hit the tool with my hammer I prayed that the ring wouldn’t break. It seemed to take forever to get it to stretch even the tiniest bit. I got it up about a quarter size and I decided to stop there. I polished it and fretted over the noticeable gap in the gold band. I hammered the band to try and force the ends of the band closer together, but it didn’t help much.
I showed it to River, my quality control inspector, and she immediately found the gap. She gave me that look that says, ‘I know you can do better than this’ and I knew I had to figure it out. I had no idea how I could fix it, but I knew that I wasn’t going to deliver it like that or pay someone else to fix it. I just had to do what Yoda taught me. Just try, and if you mess it up, fix it.
I thought, maybe I would flow a little gold solder in the gap and that would reduce the appearance of the gap. No such luck. I couldn’t get the solder to flow. It just stuck to the ring at an odd angle that turned the ring into a wannabe box cutter. That wouldn’t do. I pickled it and fluxed it again. I applied my two little torches to heat up the metal to the point that it would flow the solder but not the gold. It got that scary look like the gold would melt right into the silver and before I could take the torches away I heard the snap. The ring broke, right at the gap. The seam of the ring opened right up. Aaaaagh!
I was so frustrated. I wanted to blame my quality control department for the awful fate that had befallen me, but Yoda loomed in my head, ‘just try and fix it.’ I threw it in the pickle pot and stewed over my fate for a few minutes.
Then I took it back to my bench pin and sawed through the seam with the solder and the porous silver. I filed the ends so they would match up neatly and I wrapped it in wire to hold it closed while I, once again, soldered it closed. It looked like hell by now and the gold was even further from touching. I have learned that gold and silver do not expand at the same rate. At that point I had to stop and walk away.
When I come up against a problem when I am working on anything, I have learned that I have to stop when I reach a certain level of frustration. I just can’t think about it anymore. I have to walk away and do something else, anything else. I just have to trust that the answer will come. It always does.
I left the studio and went to go make dinner. While dinner was cooking, I scoured the internet for advice on soldering gold to silver. I found an article that said use silver solder, not gold. It flows at a lower temperature than gold. That might be the answer, I thought. I finished making dinner.
Back in the studio I took a small cutting of gold and soldered it to the band with silver solder. It worked just fine. It looked ugly, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed with files. Hopefully the silver would hold out. It did.
I went at it with files and emery boards and my flex shaft. I worked on it until I couldn’t see the seam anymore. It took a while, but after all of that, I finally reached satisfaction. I took pictures and called my client to come pick up his ring. I took all the pictures of the bad side of the ring. I could barely see it. Can you? Unfortunately, the quality control department was unable to review the product before delivery. The client was happy with the ring, but it still felt a little tight. Let us pray…

Friday, April 3, 2009

An Honor to Honor Young Gay Rights Activists

My friend Naomi is organizing this Gay/Straight Youth Summit for kids in Reno tomorrow. She has been working on this project for months with the assistance of some great young advocates that she wanted to honor with a special award. So, much to my surprise, she contacted me and asked if I could make them a piece of jewelry with a gay rights theme. Sure I could!

Naomi and I protested together at a couple of rallies after Prop 8 passed in California. I had made a lapel pin that expressed my frustration with the inequity that we as gay American citizens face. My sign that I carried in marches around the State capitol, in San Francisco and in our home state of Nevada displayed the same symbol. Not equal, not yet. (c)2008 (Disclaimer: I know that this isn't a not equal sign. The slash goes the other direction. I corrected that, but this is the only photo of the pin I have right now.)

I wanted the pieces for the gay youth advocates to be more positive than that, so I came up with another concept with some of the same symbolism, but a more hopeful approach. It felt good to make those pieces for such a worthy cause. I am honored to be able to be a part of honoring youth in service to their community.

Lapel pin for Gay Youth Advocate and Straight Youth Ally

The symbolism of this design involves the following components:

The circle with the equal sign incorporated expresses that we are all part of a whole and we are all equal. The inverted triangle is a reference to the gay rights symbol derived from the pink triangles emblazoned on the sleeves of gays in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and early 40's.

The pin is made of sterling silver with a copper accent. The copper triangle is oxidized by flame to bring out the bright colors. As the gay flame lights up and brings out the color in our world.

Designed by Susan Mika Coyote of Suz Coyote Studio

Bi-metal meltdown! Part 1

So, I made this wedding ring, my first piece combining gold and silver together. It was surprisingly challenging. I assumed that I could just solder the gold to the silver and it was a simple as that. Not. I set up the ring stock with the silver band on the bottom and narrower gold band on the top. I used gold solder, thinking that would make my joints look better and make the gold stand out more against the silver. Well, the first thing that happened was that when I heated the perfectly aligned, fluxed pieces, the gold piece slid sideways and became attached, off center to the silver piece. Nice. So I heated again and pulled the gold off the silver and took another stab at it. I just couldn't get it to be centered and the solder was not flowing. I began to get nervous. I had to call my mentor for help. I didn't want this to be FUBAR.

So, I contacted my personal metal smithing Yoda. He was more than happy to help. I went down to his studio with my catawampus piece. He took a look and went to his soldering bench. He lit up his big acetylene torch and heated the piece until it looked like it was going to melt into a pool on the soldering pad. He pulled off the gold and I cleaned up the pieces so that we could take another try at it. I wanted to know what the "right way" to do it was.

After I finished filing and sanding off all of the leftover gold and solder, he laid the two pieces together, just as I had done originally, and then he held them together with self-locking tweezers. Ah, that was it! Of course, you have to clamp them together to keep them straight! Well, not so much. He had a heck of a time getting the solder to flow, just as I did. I thought it was my lame little torch, or my lack of information, no, just my luck. Again he heated it until it looked like it was just going to melt away, in my head I was praying that I wouldn't have to go buy more gold to make this ring again. Finally, it was soldered on fairly well, and I took it and cleaned it up. When I was cleaning it I noticed, that it was not straight, (Even when Yoda did it the "right way" with a tweezers). The gold was just going to be crooked I thought. What can I do to fix it? Yoda said to me, 'that's what files are for'.

So I filed and filed until it looked straight enough to me and then it was time to move on to the next step of cutting it the proper length, shaping it into a ring and soldering it closed. I asked Yoda, what his technique was for assuring the measurement was correct. He did as I do, and got the Bible according to Oppi Untracht. We looked up the proper length and he cut it. I was hoping for a little tip, there was none. In the construction industry they say "Measure twice. Cut once." I think those are good words to go by, (and easy to remember). Yoda was a pro, so I had no doubt that he could measure and cut without my assistance. Not that day. I guess that I could have said that thing about measuring twice, but I didn't. It was about 2 full sizes too short. Aaaaagh, now what!

Yoda didn't sweat it; he just went about soldering it closed. "Then we can size it up with the ring sizer" he said. The silent prayers began again. It took about 10 tries to get it up to the size that it was supposed to be. Every couple of times that you stretch it in the stretcher it needs to be annealed so that it doesn't break. When you hammer on metal it stiffens, when you anneal it, (heat it until its red), you rearrange the molecules in the metal so it becomes malleable again. So, stretch a little, anneal, stretch a little more, anneal, etcetera until you reach the size you need it to be.As Yoda stretched the ring the barely noticeable join in the gold of the ring became a noticeable gap. The gold didn't expand at the same rate as the silver. So the silver would stretch more than the gold therefore, gappage. I have a somewhat critical eye, so I am not a good judge of my own work when there is a flaw. I tend to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But, I couldn't do that with this ring. I had a client waiting for it and I needed to get it done. I was not going to disappoint him or his wife, who convinced him to have me make his replacement wedding ring. This was the ring I had and I was going to have to make it work. I was going to save the baby and the mother and then take a bath.

I thanked Yoda for his assistance, paid for his time and took my pathetic looking project (FUBAR),home to my studio to see what I could accomplish on my own. I always learn from Yoda. Sometimes it's not the lesson I intended, but that's life, eh? What I knew when I left there that day was; I knew what I needed to know in order to do what I had to do. I just hadn't the confidence of a man doing it for 30 years. It's not always possible to avoid mistakes; it is about being able to fix them.

With time, files, my flex shaft and some emery boards I turned that ugly expensive piece of metal (FUBAR),into a pretty ring, with a slightly noticeable gap. I presented it to my client and he was very happy with it. It was a little snug, but he had lost the last one because it fell off. So he decided he would give it a try and let me know if he needed it to be sized up again. (Again with the silent prayers.)