Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Have a Ball....Ball Hitch, That Is. By Karen McGovern

If you follow my posts or blog, you know that when it comes to jewelry design I am all about using unusual elements to create unusual designs.  Well, the same can be said for my tools as well.  Basically, if there is a weird (usually code for INEXPENSIVE) way to do something, I will try it.  I usually mix my own patinas--the ammonia/salt mix is my favorite for coloring copper to look like ancient turquoise--and I use the pavers along my driveway for texture plates.  I don't have expensive tools outside of my FlexShaft (or as I call it, MY PRECOIUS) and I am not especially conscientious about how I treat my tools.  That is a bad thing most of the time.  My hammers are nicked and dirty, anything steel rusts (my studio is in my un-air conditioned garage and I live in South Florida, so you do the math...), and my files, screw-drivers, picks...well everything else....is in a lovely pile.  Several piles actually.  Occasionally I hit all the rusty stuff with some WD-40, which is a MIRACLE PRODUCT, but for the most part I am a terrible tool keeper.  Which is why I am realistic enough and know myself well enough to not buy super expensive tools.  Do I want them?  HELLS YES!  I lust after all the shiny, beautiful tools I see out there.  Pristine steel dapping tools in all sizes...SO SHINY!  Hammers for every purpose you can think of and some that never occurred to you...sigh...Fretz hammers are the gold standard for jewelers, and for every super-cool full size hammer, there is a mini version to go along with it.  A MINI VERSION!  BUT, with many hammers costing over $50 EACH...well, that is outside my budget to say the least.
Mini Fretz hammers from Otto Frei
Which brings me to the guts of this post.  I don't have expensive tools save for the basics. In my opinion, if you have a few really good, basic tools you can conquer the world of jewelry design.  For me that consists of my Fordham FlexShaft, a good set of pliers and cutters, two or three good hammers and a decent set of bezel setting tools.  All of these things are readily available all over the web (riogrande.com covers EVERYTHING) and I suggest you shop around, ask questions in forums, and find a good set of tools that will cover the basics of what you want to accomplish.  From there, BE CREATIVE!!!
I have recently become smitten with anticlastic designs.  Concave bracelets, cuffs and rings. Because I am impatient, don't have a lot of cash to spend on extras, and willing to try just about anything, I decided to teach myself this technique using whatever I had in my tool kit already.  If you are familiar with anticlastic jewelry, there are some MIND-BLOWING techniques and tools available to bend metal into amazing shapes and forms.  Stakes, hammers, vises, SO MANY THINGS!  I hit the Google Machine and found some great articles and videos that show step-by-step how to create anticlastic forms.  Most called for expensive tools and such.  Then, my sister called me.
Partial screen-grab of the tons of tools available at Rio for anticlastic work.
My sister, Lynn McGovern, is a wonderful glass bead artist and metal worker.  She also has been bitten by the anticlastic bug and offered me an idea that I think is GENIOUS.  Karen, she said, use a ball hitch to make your anticlastic bangles and cuffs.  A BALL HITCH.
Creating anticlastic jewelry is all about the concave curve.  The neck of a good size ball hitch is PERFECT FOR THIS.  The hitch is heavy steel, cheap as dirt and works like a charm!  I got mine at Walmart for $6.00.  You can set it up a couple ways...if you have a heavy surface to work on you can attach the hitch by drilling a hole in the top of your table and simply setting the hitch in. This is what I have done. I find that working vertical is sometimes better than horizontal, but that is because I stand quite a bit while working as opposed to sitting.  If you are seated, then you should figure out a way to set the hitch horizontally, as it is intended for regular use.  Clamp or drill/set it at the screw/bolt attachment to a really rock-solid surface (like a tree stump or heavy block of wood). The hitches are really heavy, solid steel, so free-handing, while doable, is very awkward and you DO NOT want to drop this thing on your foot (speaking from experience here, folks).
Once set, the hitch will be perfect for basic anticlastic work on bangles and cuffs.  I won't go into step-by-step stuff here simply because I am totally pressed for time and I should be feeding baby parrots RIGHT NOW.  I will throw a tutorial together for next time.  In the meantime, GOOGLE IT.  Below are a couple designs I have made using the ball hitch.  Many more to come!
Anticlastic cuff and bangle made using a steel ball hitch
So, what unusual tools do you use to create jewelry???  SHARE!!!


PyxeeStyx said...

A ball hitch really isn't all that uncommon in metalsmithing circles. There's a group on facebook called Creative Metal Forming, hosted by Cynthia Eid, who just wrote a fantastic book with step by step how to anticlasting projects. I can't afford the book, but I've learned volumes, just hanging around there. Lot's of "how to make do" tools discussed. I actually made my 1st anticlastic cuff on a ravioli rolling pin I picked up at the thrift store for a buck. My second one was made on a broken grooved wheel from the parking gate. Once you're aware of the shapes, you start to see them everywhere. In one afternoon, I turned up 4 different found objects to anticlast on.

Carol Dekle said...

Thanks Karen for this informative post! Sunday I was in Walmart, omg I can't believe I just admitted that. Anyway, I was looking at that exact ball hitch! I love being crafty and coming up with alternative ways to do things. Great reminder Karen, thanks!

Juliette Williams said...

Bravo, Karen! I use a ball hitch when working on anticlastic or other funky shapes and love it. Just a ball hitch and a C clamp and I don't break the bank! Also - thanks for sharing that you use 'natural' patinas too. I do as well, including hard boiled eggs instead of liver of sulfur! One thing I've heard about is using the daikon radish to create a beautiful blue, but haven't gotten my hands on any of the daikon to try.

Vintajia Adornments said...

Love lateral thinking when it comes to tool. Now I have to brag that my tool is bigger than your tool.

Shaiha said...

Those bangles are gorgeous! I haven't played around with this type of jewelry because I am worried that it would get caught on everything.

Barry said...

Love this post. I also use the hitch ball for a variety of metal work - expensive gear is not always the answer. I started off with a set of cheap panel beating hammers - and still use them. B

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