~ Cool Tools and Creative Fire are proud to present another project in this series by Gordon K. Uyehara. Gordon’s work is always interesting and his projects are sure to inspire artists from all levels. Having a chance to look over the shoulder of Gordon as he works is a treat for metal clay artists worldwide.
Dino Bracelet by Gordon K. Uyehara
What does one do with two leftover pieces of double-knit Viking weave chain? Dig it out of the drawer after many years and make a bracelet. I envisioned a focal piece and end caps created out of silver metal clay. Although it seemed rather straightforward at first, I encountered some challenges along the way. I detail them below. You may choose to steer around some of them.
I learned how to weave the chain in a workshop many years ago, and unfortunately, I don’t recall how to do it. However, I do recall we used a starter wire shaped like a flower and a wooden dowel to weave around. The chain was pulled through a vinyl drawplate (made out of cutting board) with different size tapered holes. This was for drawing down the diameter of the chain. The source book was, “Great Wire Jewelry” by Irene From Petersen. With a little imagination this project can be modified to work with other types of chain or cord. It is a good idea to peruse the entire project instructions first before proceeding.
Materials and tools
FS999 Fine Silver Metal Clay 50g
Crossing needle file, lettering tool, or scribe
Carving tools (optional)
Curved drying form or smooth coffee mug
Sandpaper and sanding paper (400 and 600-grit)
Vermiculite and fireable container or thick fiber blanket
Common metal clay tools
Soldering supplies (optional)
1) Sketch out the design of the main focal piece and for the end caps. Note that end caps for Viking weave chains are usually cones with a hole at the end to pull wire through for looping around clasp findings. I decided to make life more difficult; more on this later.
2) From the sketch, create a template with cardstock. In regards to sizing, remember that the clay will shrink between 10 and 15 percent. I actually scanned my sketch and recreated it in my vector illustration program. If you do this, it is easy to create different sized printouts. If you have a cutting machine, you can create your stencils on that. See below, the template with a modified skull sketch.
3) I used the same template to create a base and then again to create a frame. I placed the 5-card thick base on a curved (oiled) drying form and then joined the 3-card thick frame to it while the pieces were still wet. This requires a gentle touch to avoid marring the pieces. Note that pieces won’t match up exactly because the thickness of the clay is not taken into account when using the same template. I.e., the edges will need to be sanded later to even them out. You can also dry the bottom first and then add the wet frame or paste together after both are dry. Another way to create a similar effect is to roll the inner shape (made out of card stock) onto the clay thereby impressing the middle section and then cutting the frame outline out around it.
4) For the skull, I pasted down a 3-card thick piece of clay in the outline of the fossil. I then sketched in features with a pencil after drying. Gradually I carved out the main shapes first with my crossing needle file. I.e., I worked on the general shapes first and then worked on the smaller and then finer details. I also alternated between the file and sandpaper (often rolled) and toothpicks to achieve the design. The good thing about metal clay is if you remove too much, you can always add clay back in. Since this piece is curved, do not apply a lot downward pressure while scraping away clay; think side to side more and you can avoid cracking your piece. If you don’t feel like carving, you can create a focal design in other easier ways. For example, a molded form could be used instead.
5) I carved some design elements into the frame. Pencil it in and then score it with a sharp pointy tool and then refine the line with toothpicks. Run the edge of a small piece of sandpaper through the line to refine it.
6) Using paste, I painted the areas around the fossil to make it look “earthier”. If, after drying, you see brush strokes you would like to disguise, let some water run off your clean brush on to the surface and gently disturb the brush marks. Wick off excess water with a drier brush tip. Re-dry.
7) Add rings on the back to act as chain guides. One mistake I made was thinking the clay wouldn’t stick to the oiled dowels. This particular clay did. So I remade them 3-cards thick with non-stick (Telfon) worksurface wrapped around the dowel. This made them a little too big, the second mistake. I also should have angled them at opposite angles so the chains would have more tension on them; more on this at the conclusion. They are about 3/16-inch wide. After drying and refining, I pasted the chain guides into place.
8) The end caps are essentially an open-ended box with a tab. Size it according to your chain thickness although later the chain ends can be squashed with pliers for fitting. You may prefer to make or use commercial cone ends because they are easier. The chain is simply secured with a wire, pulled through the cone, and then wrapped around a finding on the other end. What I did requires soldering or perhaps it could have been done with riveting. Use paste if necessary to join the walls of your end caps. Add decorative elements after refining the main shape. I used 3-card thick pieces of clay, except for the side that serves as the clasp catch, that piece is 4-cards thick. The top, tab portion with the hole was dried curved.
9) Since this was my first time using this clay, I fired one end cap first in vermiculite according to the included firing schedule. As a precaution, I put a little fiber blanket into the opening in case of slumping. Looking back, I don’t think that was necessary. After firing, the main focal piece can be brushed but do not brush the end pieces that will be soldered. Brushing closes the surfaces pores that may lead to ugly moisture blisters during soldering. I used a brass brush with a little soap and water.
11) Burnish the interior of the end caps where solder has to flow and hold the chain ends. Check how the chain ends fit into the end caps. Use pliers to compress the ends if necessary. I found it difficult to get enough surface contact for soldering the caps on, so I soldered a small sheet of sterling onto the ends of the chain. Then I flowed some solder onto the sheet where it contacts with the inside of the cap. Remember to flux the sterling parts as normal and only the areas on the fine silver end caps where you want the solder to flow (same area you burnished). I only pickle the parts where flux was applied rather than the whole bracelet. Be careful not to overheat the thin wires.
12) The catch is cut from 24-gauge sterling sheet and shaped with round-nose pilers. Shown below is the general shape of the clasp. Use a file to round out the edges. Adjust the clasp so it doesn’t slip out easily.
13) I used a brass brush and water to shine up the bracelet. Then I applied a liver of sulfur patina. To highlight the detail, I then polished with a Sunshine polishing cloth. For the back side and chain, I used a pro polishing pad to help lighten the darkened areas faster.
The soldering exercises loosened up the stiff chain more than I had anticipated. This was probably due to annealing. As a result, the focal piece moves around more than I’d like. To counter this, I fashioned a slim, removable clip to keep tension on the chains. I created this out of a 24-gauge sterling strip. A drill bit and chain nose pliers helped in shaping the clip. Had I angled the guide rings in the opposite direction, perhaps this wouldn’t have been necessary.
Finally, I am not totally enamored with the clasp. While it works, I think a box clasp would be great. However, that is a much more involved process and something I leave for the future or for you.
Gordon K. Uyehara continues to be a metal clay artist. In Hawaii, he seeks the wondrous in the mundane because he thinks it is there. He shares his findings on social media with the quite unfounded belief it is raising the collective consciousness. Some ideas venture out of his head and eventually manifest themselves as silver, bronze, or copper art. He strongly dislikes doing the dishes.