Artist Project Series: Kim Nogueira

This special series of projects by master metal clay artists is proudly sponsored by Cool Tools. (Please note: click on images to enlarge.)

The beauty and enchantment that I am surrounded by here on this extraordinary planet keeps me feeling like I never grew up. I share this child-like feeling of awe and wonder with others by adding the surprise of movement to my jewelry. I hope you give it a try too!

For this advanced project, I will be making a hollow form box pendant with a side lever that creates a seesaw movement of two figures inside. In mechanical terms, this is a fulcrum; in jewelry terms, it’s magic!  The pendant has a back panel that can be removed by a screw. Read through the instructions several times to get an idea of the steps involved and the design possibilities, considerations and challenges to watch for as you construct the piece.

When making things with moving parts, you will often have to try several variations, sizes, placements, angles, etc–things rarely work out the first time, and this should be considered normal. I like to use metal clay for this reason–it’s pretty easy to add more metal, remove it, fix mistakes, change things around, experiment, etc.  I will show you how I made my fulcrum, but if you decide to give this a try, you will want to adapt the process to your materials, tools, skill level and measurement tolerence (mine is a mm or less), perhaps using rivets instead of a screw, for example.

Supplies, Tools, and Materials:

For paper model:
Manilla folder or heavy paper, templates, tape, craft knife, t-pin or needle tool, pliers,  measuring tools, wire cutters, wire (anything from 20 gauge to 16 gauge), test washers (I used 6mm 18 ga. copper discs drilled out with a #38 drill bit)

For pendant:
EZ960® Sterling Silver Clay
templates and/or molds
metal clay forming, shaping and firing tools
dremel/flexshaft and assorted tools–drill bits, burrs, finishing wheels
metalsmithing tools–files, saw, sandpaper, mallet, pliers, blocks  of wood
10 gauge sterling wire (and #38 drill bit for washers and lever to match)
stainless steel #0-80 x 1/8 screws
M1.4 tap drill, assorted drill bits including #56 (tap drill bit) and #52 (clearance drill bit), and vice grips
washers (I used 10mm 18 gauge copper discs drilled out with #38 drill bit)
soldering equipment
eye magnification if necessary
patina/LOS tools, depending on your preference
keum-boo tools and materials, optional
Loctite Purple 222 low strength thread locker

Manilla folder model:

To start, I made a rough manilla folder model. I will make templates for the individual box parts later in a separate step. Making this model will give me an idea of the variety of steps and measurements and parts that go into the finished construction.  I made several mistakes in the construction of my model, minimizing the chances of it happening in the final piece.

Using manilla folder paper, shape templates, a craft knife, a t-pin, tape, and a homemade wire staple squeezed with pliers,  I made several basic versions of my front panel with window and lever with heart/bird. I placed the fulcrum (the wire staple at this point) for the lever in several spots to see where I wanted my figures to land in the window (Figures A, A1). In the top version (Figure A2), you can see that both the heart and bird and part of the lever are visible in the window, so I went with the lower version, which showed only one figure in the window at a time–this was a difference of only about 1 mm or so.

Make 3 sides of the box out of one long strip of manilla folder, bending and taping them on. Make the side with the lever separately, cutting a notch in it to accomodate the lever, and taping it on (Figure B and B1).  Cut away the strip up to that lever notch (Figure B2). Straighten the staple a bit or use tubing (that’s what I did) and make your “fulcrum assembly sandwich”.  A washer will go on first over the fulcrum (that’s your staple or tubing), next will go the lever, and over that, another washer (Figure B3).  This will give you a sense of what will need to fit into the box and what you will have to consider as you work out the dimensions of your box in EZ sterling metal clay, with it’s shrinkage rate of about 10%.

Make the back panel by tracing around the box (Figure C) and add a tab next to the lever, the same length as the lever notch. Fold this up (Figure C1). This method of construction has two purposes: it will be what braces the back panel, since there is only one screw to hold it on, and it will be how the lever is able to be placed inside with the washer assembly and closed back up.

Manilla folder templates:

 Take a look at your model as you decide on the template width of your box walls (Figure D). Consider the fulcrum “sandwich”, along with its little figures, that will be fitting pretty closely into that box, with space allowing for movement –but without “play” or “looseness” in that movement. Consider your box construction: “beveled” textured edges take almost 1mm away from that final wall width. Consider what you will use for washers: metal clay which will shrink, or sheet metal, which won’t. Add up these approximate thicknesses (using metal clay card thickness charts), and add at least 2mm or so extra to that width to account for wonkiness and sanding. I think my template walls started at 7mm wide, with 3.5mm of that as extra. This may change when you can take an actual measurement of your “fulcrum assembly sandwich” of washers and greenware lever.  I prefer to have to trim/sand before firing, or file/sand after firing rather than come up short. You can also try adding extra washers or thicker washers later on, rather than sanding, or use thinner washers if you don’t end up having enough space.

Decide on a lever width. I had to make mine at least 5mm wide, to accomodate my 10 ga wire shaft after shrinkage.  Yours will vary depending on your box size, the size of your window, the size of your figures, etc. There is no one way to do it. If you use templates to make your bail, work that out now.

Make the back panel template larger than necessary–you will saw it to size after firing and drilling out for the screw, since you will be drilling “blindly”.

Making the metal clay box:

Rather than texture, I chose a quote that I had reverse etched in copper several years ago, that would work well with the figures that I wanted to go up and down in my window. I started with 3 cards thick clay and rolled down to 2 cards thick over the etched copper, also keeping the plain walls 2 cards thick. I left the sides plain, assuming there would be some filing and sanding necessary there after firing. The lever was maybe 3 cards thick.  I waited for the clay to dry and then cut out the box template shapes, sanded the edges, and used slip to make the box and bail. All scrap strips are saved until the project is finished–they are good to have for repairing, adding, etc. I gently sanded the open side of the box flat. I will fire the bail and box separately in case of warpage, attaching them after firing.

Roll out panels to cut for the rods that you will use to attach the figures to the lever, making sure that they are thinner than the washer. Make your figures, which shouldn’t be much thicker than the lever–remember that the only extra room in there will be the thickness of the washers.  Attach rods to the figures with slip and dry (Figure E)


Decide where you want the fulcrum for your lever to go, based on your model. You may have to try several spots. I put a ruler in the window and used that to center my fulcrum, inserting a piece of bent 16 ga wire into the front panel and and through my lever to test it (Figure F). I will fill in that hole on the front panel before firing and a piece of 10 gauge wire will eventually be soldered to the inside of the box there to function as the permanent fulcrum for the lever. Cut out space for the lever to go up and down in the side wall of the box, similar to what your model looks like (Figure F1). I left enough wall height for the first washer plus a little extra for shrinkage, and a hair more for just in case–it will be filed later if necessary. I used an emery board to gently sand the greenware notch flat.

Decide where  you want your figures attached on the lever.  I added a washer and the lever to the 16 gauge wire fulcrum, and held the assembly in my fingers, along with the figures on the rods, as I looked through the window to see where the figures landed when I moved the lever (Figure F2). You may need to cut more wall area out to get the figures to reveal themselves the way you want. At this point, I decided that the bird I originally chose was too big for the space in the window, so I made a smaller bird. I had to remove the figures from the lever and reattach them several times on the rods, to get them where I wanted them in the window. Since the change to a smaller bird left so much extra space in the window, I decided to place a beautiful cherub in the middle of it, which would be fired separately and attached in a second firing along with the bail.

To make the bracing tab on the back panel of  your piece, see Figure G.  Trace the open space on the side wall for the lever onto the back panel and attach a 3-cards-thick tab there with slip. Let dry, then trim the notch to fit tightly and evenly when the back panel is fit to the front (Figure G1).  Your back panel should have overlap on the other 3 sides, 4 is best if you can do that. Place your “fulcrum sandwich” of washer/lever/washer into the box, with the lever extending out through the notch in the side wall. Trim and/or add clay where necessary in this notch area so that you are happy with the movement of the lever (Figure G2). I like mine secure, not loose, but not tight. I was holding the back panel, with a quote on it, upside down when I attached the back panel’s tab the first time and consequently added the tab to the wrong side–it was easy enough to remove and readhere the correct way.

Decorate your box with added detailing if you want (see Figure H). I framed the window using template trimmings and used leaves from a mold that I made of an antique button.  Don’t put anything in the way of interfering with the placement of the back screw. It will lie (perhaps uncomfortably) against the skin if you are making a necklace, so you might want to think about adding detailing on the back that is a hair higher than the screwhead. I used more leaves. Fill in the hole on the front of the box if you drilled it out to fit the 16 gauge wire like I did, but leave a mark on the inside of the box so that you know where to solder the 10 gauge wire fulcrum for the lever.

Fire your pieces. I put a loose brace inside the box, made from my scrap pile, and fit the back plate with its tab securely to the box, so that they were fired together. After firing, I always have some shaping to do; if anyone has a better way of positioning work during firing to avoid this, please let me know.

If you have warpage, reshape your box, back panel, and lever using wood blocks, nylon-headed pliers and mallets or your preferred method ( Figures I and I1). Gently sand the back edges of your open box flat, and make sure that the back panel with tab fits securely against it with the lever and washers inside, allowing for proper movement. File or sand where needed, gently, slowly and carefully. I wanted my lever to move easily when I pushed it, but to stay in place otherwise. Perhaps you will want something different, depending on your subject matter.

Do a second firing if necessary to add a bail, other detailing or other refinements.  I refilled the hole in the front because I forgot to do it in the greenware stage, and added the cherub and the bail. Repeat earlier steps if necessary after the second firing as well.

Soldering the fulcrum:

 Note: At this point, I should point out that I will be tapping out for an 080 screw on the 10 gauge wire about to be soldered as the fulcrum for my lever. If you are not comfortable working within this tolerance, try 8 gauge wire or perhaps experiment with rivets. Google “how to make a seesaw” to see the many ways that you can creatively approach this problem.

I cut and filed a segment of 10 ga. sterling wire to match the height of the interior side walls of the box, so that the back plate fit right against it. I drilled out the center hole in my lever to hold this 10 gauge wire, neither loosely nor tightly, but securely, when it is moved. This was a progressive drilling up to a final #38 drill bit for me. At this point, I also decided on a final washer size/thickness based on how everything was fitting in my box when I held all of the pieces together with the back plate on. I decided to go larger in size, but the same thickness (10mm, 18 gauge, cut from a circle die and sanded flat). I drilled these out to the #38 size drill bit.  I made sure I liked how everything fit together and moved. Next, I spent at least 5 minutes checking to make sure I had the right spot for soldering the fulcrum, marking the spot with a Sharpie.

Using a minimum of solder (I used medium), I soldered the 10 gauge wire on securely (Figure J). Extra solder can interfere with the placement of the washer. Clean the area up if necessary, place a washer on the tubing, then the lever, then another washer, testing the placement of your lever and back panel to make sure that you like how the figures appear. Gently file the 10 gauge fulcrum if necessary (Figure J1).

Marking the backplate, and tapping out for the screw:

Use a thin sharpie to mark your center point on the 10 gauge fulcrum. Using a straight-edge ruler, mark this same point on the  north and south, east and west sides of the box’s rim (Figure K). Make sure you are comfortable with the accuracy of these marks. Carefully and accurately transfer the marks down the outsides of the box (Figure K1), put the back plate on, and transfer the marks to the back plate, making a cross with those marks horizontally and vertically (Figure K2). That center point of the cross should be the spot for your screw. I burred out a divot there, drilled a tiny hole with a  #75 drill bit, and stuck a needle-point tool into the hole with the back plate on perfectly, to test this location for accuracy (Figure K2). It landed on the 10 gauge wire fulcrum a little too high off the center mark. Do I remove the sharpie marks and remeasure? Or just go with it? I went with it, to see what sort of troubleshooting would be involved with a backplate that needed adjustment.  So next, I tapped out a screw hole for a # 0-80 screw on the 10 gauge wire fulcrum. If you’ve never done this before, you will want to practice on some scrap metal, several times, to get very comfortable with the process, and perhaps do an internet search for “how to use a tap and die set for jewelry”. Do your own tests on what drill bits work best for your taps and choice of metal as well, using the charts as a guide.  I burred a divot point for my drill bit in the center of the 10 gauge fulcrum, then slowly, carefully and gently, backtracking often, I proceeded to use these successive drill bits to widen my hole as perfectly straight down as possible: #60, #58, and finally #56, going past the depth of my screw shaft, which was 1/8 of an inch (Figure K3).  I have had drill bits break off during tapping, so I use successive drill bits and take it slowly.

Next, holding my oiled M1.4 tap in a pair of vice grips, I insert the tap into the hole, turning clockwise for 1/4 of a turn (or 15 minutes using the clock analogy), then backtrack, removing the “swarf” (metal shavings) with my finger nail from the little channels in the tap (Figure K4). Repeat, over and over, until you have gone deep enough into the fulcrum to fit your screw. This takes time, but you run the risk of breaking the tap off in the fulcrum if you rush (done that before). Test your screw gently. Never force it; if it seems tight, go back in with the tap, to remove extra metal that may have accumulated in there (Figure K5).

Next, I enlarge the hole in the backplate. I use successive drill bits here too, it’s just cleaner for me. There is already a tiny hole drilled, so I follow up with #60, #58, and #56, and finally #52, which is the “clearance” drill bit for my #0-80 screw.

Put the backplate on and thread the screw. Fine tune any excess around the backplate with a piercing saw, file and sandpaper. If you were really off in your measurements, (and I knew that I would be), mark the areas with a sharpie, add clay strips from your saved scrap pile to the backplate with lavender oil slip and refire.  If you can’t even get the screw on because of how off your mark was, you may have to file part of the tab first. I had issues in several spots, including in the tab area. Use a saw, file and sandpaper, and your preferred dremel tools to refine the areas after firing, so that the backplate meets the box tightly and smoothly when screwed on (Figure K6).

Finish all parts to your liking–I keum-boo-ed the heart and used a LOS patina and pumice. Add your washers and lever to the box and fit the backplate on. Take your tiny steel screw, use a q-tip to clean off the threads, removing any oil/lubricant leftover from your tap drill, and apply a minute amount of Loctite Purple low strength thread locker to the threads on the screw. Practice this on scrap metal first if you are not familiar with this. This will help keep the screw from unthreading, but you will still be able to remove it later if a repair is necessary. Now you can enjoy surprising friends and family with your mechanical treasure!

Kim Nogueira tells wearable stories in metal–the tiny figures in her jewelry are brought to life by old fashioned mechanical cranks and levers. Her optivisor is the only essential tool in her toolbox, and when not wearing this as she improvises in her far-flung Caribbean studio, you can find her walking on the beach, feeding fruit peels to hermit crabs, or paddling the azure waters around her island on her stand up paddleboard trying to frantically keep up with her husband.

instagram life and art:

Cool Tools is the proud sponsor of the “Artist Project Series”. To find more projects click the tab “Learn” on our home page and use the drop down menu to find “Artist Project Project Series”. All of the artists in this master level series are there!  Have fun! If you make a project or are inspired by the series please drop us a note. Cre8tivefire (@)

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>