Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tutorial Tuesday - TUBULAR! By Karen McGovern

I learnt sumthin' NEW! Don't you love that feeling when you master a technique you've been too chicken to actually try before???  That happened to me last week.  I've always loved the look of cross-pined jewelry designs, and have wanted to learn this technique FOREVER.  I have tried before--but never seriously and always with DISASTROUS results.  Burnt metal, ruined designs, etc. etc. etc. So I just gave up on it.

I have also loved designs using bent tubes as focals, bracelets, beads, etc. Again, never really thought I could do it myself given the limited tools I use (micro torch exclusively). I always figured this was beyond my skill set....NOT ANYMORE!! I'm going to describe what I learned here, not in step-by-step form, but more conversational. I didn't take step-by-step photos while I was working....so if you have a question, ASK IN THE COMMENTS SECTION and I'll get back to you--promise.

Last week I was digging around under my bench (also known as the Sucking Back Hole of all Small Findings and Tools) and I found this:


I completely forgot I had it. Purchased at Home Depot forever ago in a moment of, "Hey, I bet I could do something with that...".  At the same time I had just received a nice box from Rio Grande full of different gauge sterling silver wire (I splurged...sigh). Sitting with the copper tube in my lap and the wire in the box I decided to TEACH MYSELF CROSS-PINNING AND TUBE BENDING, DAMMIT! BTW, this copper tubing is found with refrigerator repair stuff....just ask the guy/gal wearing an orange apron....

Ganoksin is a wonderful resource for all things jewelry related. Tons of videos, tutorials, tips and so much more.  Their Facebook page is a rabbit hole of inspiration! They had a video on tube bending that I watched with one eye, learning just enough to run back out to the studio to give it a try.  The key is ANNEALING the metal really, really well. That is where I always figured I would fail because I only use a hand held micro torch--a Jumbo Max Flame to be exact. I went for it anyway. In my first attempt I wanted to make a bracelet that would be half tube, half gems. I figured I'd need around 4 inches of finished tube for the design. Copper, as we all know, is a nice, soft metal so I figured I could handle working with this in tube form. You need to cut more tube than you will need in order to get a nice bend with no crimps.  I lot more. I cut over 8 inches of tube using my handy-dandy pipe cutter from Home Depot.  Cut the pipe like butter in a few rotations. Then I laid the pipe out (it was already a bit curved from the way it was packaged so--bonus) on a solder block and went at it with my torch till it glowed red. It heated nicely, easily and faster than I thought it would. Probably helped that my garage studio was 94.5 degrees that day. Florida in the summer....yea? I CAREFULLY quenched the tube, then using my hands and a rubber mallet, centered it and shaped it around a bracelet mandrel to get the curve I wanted. Even fully annealed the metal was stiff, but totally manageable, and I got the curve I wanted no problem and NO KINKS.  You hang on to the ends of the tube then make the curve. The waste will be on either end of the centered curve. I made cut marks with a Sharpie, then back in the pipe cutter it went. VOILA! You can also use a jeweler's saw to cut the tube...whatever works for you.

After cleaning the ends and buffing with a polishing cloth to see what I had, I wanted to try to add cross-pins in sterling silver. I laid the tube on my steel bench block, marked where I wanted the pins then CAREFULLY cross drilled using my FlexShaft and a 1/16th drill bit. NOTE: Do your very, very best to drill straight through the tube so your pins end up nice and even. A drill press would be awesome here, but I don't have one. I then cleaned the holes with a needle file and was ready to add the silver. I used 18 gauge sterling silver wire. I drilled six holes, so I cut six 4 inch lengths and balled one end on each piece using the micro torch. I placed the tube in the jaws of a third hand, inserted the wires so the CUT ends dangled below, then trimmed to what I thought would be the appropriate length to allow for a nice ball to form close to the tube. This is a tricky bit--you may end up having to cut more wire and trying a couple times here. If the wire is too long the ball of sterling will drip right off the wire when it gets too big, and if the wire is too short, you won't get a ball to form at all. Anyway, when you have the right length, simply direct the flame of the torch to the tip of the wire and as the ball forms follow it up to the tube. I ended up cutting 9 wires--2 failures in the seven.  NOT BAD FOR A FIRST TIME!!! Wire gauge is, of course, a big factor here. The finer the wire the easier it will ball in the flame of a torch. BUT THE TAKE AWAY MESSAGE IS THAT IT WORKED!!! CAREFULLY remove from the third hand (HOTHOTHOT) and quench, then into the pickle pot it went.

I cleaned, polished and oxidized the tube with liver of sulfur, then sprayed it with ProtectaClear. I love this look! 

Here it is. I also soldered a dot of sterling to the very center for accent.


Since then I took the bend further and  made a standard 8 inch bangle (will definitely make more) and a 6 inch focal for a neck piece. I see cuffs, more bangles/bracelets and many more necklaces in the future....


I made another necklace...these make lovely sets, don't you think???

I'm so glad I got over my fear and gave this a try. There are so many sources for information and inspiration online--there really is no reason not to try new stuff, right??? As long as you have the equipment and the desire, I say GO FOR IT. You will be surprised--I promise.

Now, GO MAKE SOMETHING AMAZING!

10 comments:

Staci Smith said...

They r awesome! Thanks for sharing those tips.

Lisa Peters Russ said...

Karen you make the most amazing pieces!

Mischelle said...

I love how this came out. I have a list of techniques I want to try. I guess now is a good time as any to start them.

TesoriTrovati said...

Whoa! That is so cool! I have all the things needed to do this, even the pipe! I really need to get motivated and make my space usable so I can hang up the Flex Shaft that I just bought at Bead & Button and get my torch on. I have wanted to do this forever! I think I may need a break from my regular life to do this, though, as I am so far behind that I am perpetually backing up! I thank you for sharing your experience with us. The take-away is that this is TOTALLY DOABLE! Enjoy the day. Erin

Deb VintageSoul said...

you make this look so easy and what beautiful results :)

stregajewellry said...

I love learning new things. I am happy with this post and now will want to take a trip to Lowes refrigerator department. Really like the design of your tubes. Those necklace tubes look like they did not need too much "curving" by you to be usable.

Karen Z said...

Wow! Inspiring!!! (not to mention I LOVE the pieces that resulted!)

Artisan Beads Plus said...

Nice!!! I am trying this tonight!!!!

Kim Houston said...

Oh my gosh! I love the look of what you've created! AND on top of that, I appreciate the approachability in your instructions. I have only a max flame torch and a micro torch, but now I know I can bend tubing! woot!!! :-) Thank you for sharing your experience and for telling us what kind of equipment we CAN use to do more complex pieces. I had NO idea! I am making the hubs take me to home depot tomorrow!

Sooska said...

What size tubing did you use?

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