One of the first orders I received in the new year was for these little domed and textured circle earrings. I have a set in sterling with a little peridot swarovski crystal. The order for was a custom set with a dark blue stone.
- 22 gauge or 24 gauge Sterling Silver sheet metal
- 20 gauge round Sterling Silver wire
- Heavy wall Sterling Silver tubing - 18 OD / .02 thickness - this tube will fit a 4mm stone
- Two 4mm stones
- Pepe Circle Cutting Tool
- Doming Block
- Burlife - a cutting lubrication
- Bench Anvil
- Ball Peen Hammer
- Nylon Mallet
- 1.5 millimeter hole punch pliers
- Calipers (measures size of a stone)
- Dividers (these help get exact measurements in millimeters)
- Jewelers saw and blade
- Tube cutting jig
- Bezel setting tool
- Tripoli polish
- Zam polish
- Fabuluster polish
- Tumbler with shot
Making the Circles
These little earrings are simple little circles. I use the Pepe Circle Cutting tool and a 1 lb brass hammer to cut the circles out of either 22 gauge or 24 gauge sheet metal. I took a metallic sharpie to write numbers on the cutting circles so I can keep track of which circles I used. For these earrings, I used the second to the largest, circle 10.
I watched a video by Nancy Hamilton the other day, her Making Washers with Nancy Hamilton video, and she suggested writing the millimeter size on the tool. I really like that idea.
When using the circle cutting tool, it works best to keep the tool balanced. The piece being cut should go in position and on the other side should be a scrap piece of the same gauge. When you place the cutting portion into the slots, the tool needs to have Burlife. Rio Grande has different kinds available. I have the bench cartridges and the stick Burlife. I also try to use as few swings with the hammer as possible. If it takes more than 2 or 3 swings, the metal will have a "shadow."
After I used my tool, I had two very nice circles. The first time I needed circles, I didn't have a Pepe tool so I had to pierce them (use a jeweler's saw). There's a lot more cleanup when you cut out circles that way. With the circle cutting tool, there's hardly any cleanup at all.
Once I had my circles, I started texturing the metal. For this piece, I decided to use the small balled end of my ball peen hammer. I love the tight texture it gives.
After the piece is textured, it's usually no longer flat. In order to re-flatten the piece, I turn the metal upside down (texture side down) and use a nylon hammer. The nylon hammer is fantastic as it won't mar the metal and will still flatten the piece.
Once I have both circles textured and flat, I use a heavy grit large file. It's best to take the file in one direction. I'm right-handed so I like to hold the metal in my left hand and use the tool in my right hand and I push the tool away from me while holding the metal steady.
Now it's time to punch the holes for the ear wires. This was a small enough gauge that I could use the hole punch tool. I just make a mark on the metal where I want the hole to go and use the punch. I usually have to use a small drill bit in my rotary tool. Although they're my only set, I labeled the pliers so I would know what size hole they make. It should come in handy for when I do get another set with a different size.
Last but not least, at least until we add the stone and the ear wire, it's time to shape the circles into shallow domes. I used my dapping set to do this part. Since I wanted the stone on the inside, I put the metal in the dapping block with the pattern facing up. To be sure I didn't lose too much texture, I hit the dap about 2 times with my 1 pound brass hammer.
Making the Tube Setting
Once the back shape is made, I had to put a tube on the plates to hold the stones. I really like these thick walled tubes. They're easy to cut the seat for the stone.
For this portion of my project, I used a jewelers saw, tube cutting jig, calipers, dividers, a sharpie, my handy rotary tool, stone cutting burs, and burlife.
Before I could cut the tube, I first had to find out if the tube would be the correct size. To determine that, I had to measure my stone. I used the calipers to hold the stone. It then gives the stone's size in millimeters. Although I bought these stones to be a certain size, I still like to measure them. To measure their girth (width), I held the stone on my finger face down and closed the calipers jaws around the stone. These measured out to be 4 mm diameter. Before I could cut the tubes, I also had to get the depth of the stone. When I closed the jaws of the calipers from point to the face of the stone, it measured out 3 millimeters. Once I got the size, I knew I should cut a 5 millimeter long piece of tubing that has an inner diameter just larger than 4 millimeters.
Once I had my stone size, I was ready to use my jewelers dividers to make a line on the tube for the correct length. Jewelers dividers are a lot like an artists compass except that both the sides move and have sharp points to mark metal. I set the dividers to 5 millimeters.
I had seen another artist do this technique and really liked the idea. It gets a much smaller line to follow so the length cut is more accurate. It also helps to tell me which end I cut from last so I'm always cutting the same end. With my sharpie, I marked the end of my tube. Made it nice and dirty. I then rested the dividers with one leg rested against the end of the tube and the other leg down the body of the tube. Then I slowly rotated the tube. This caused the dividers to draw a thin line in the black ink for me to follow when I cut the tube.
Cutting time! This tube cutting jig makes a huge difference when trying to cut tubes. When I first bought tubes, I was laying the tube down on my bench pin (the wood thingy with a V cut out). Let me tell you, that is not fun! It actually hurts. The tube makes it easier to hold the tube steady and get a strait cut.
I put my tube in the jig and set it so the line I drew with the dividers to be at the skinny opening in the jig. The skinny opening is for the saw. I used the burlife to lube my saw then held the pin down and started cutting. I've noticed that when using the jig, I have to rotate my tube a few times before the saw cuts all the way through it.
I followed this process twice as I was making a pair of earrings. Once I had both tubes cut I needed to be sure they were level on both ends. I used a heavy grit file followed by a finer grit file. When I was happy with the flat sides, I took the finer grit file and gently ran it along the outer edges of the tubes to remove any burs.
Almost done! It's time to solder my components together. Before I fluxed the back plate, I took a sharpie and marked it where I wanted to place the tube. I really like how the stone is slightly off center and I wanted the stones to be symmetrical. I marked one domed side on the left and the other on the right. That way the stones will hang either away from the neck or toward the neck.
Before soldering, the piece has to be fluxed. Flux helps keep the metal clean when heated and allows the solder to flow. This piece is not overly large so I used a medium flame to heat the dome. When the back piece has been heated for a few seconds, I sprayed the flux. I could tell I heated it enough when the flux turned white. Happy with the amount of flux on the piece, I placed my tube. To make sure I had a good strong connection, I used hard solder. Just a small little square was enough. I like to place the solder inside the tube so it flows out. It keeps the connection nice and clean so I barely had any clean-up.
After applying heat to a piece, it always has to be pickled. I have seen some jewelers quench before pickling when they have a tiny crock pot. Pickle works best if warmed. I learned to pickle then rinse so I dunked my dome and tube into the pickle to remove any firescale from the piece. Pickle is acid so it must be rinsed before the piece can be touched.
I like to be sure all my edges are nice and smooth. I also like them slightly rounded so I used my extra fine sanding disc on the front, back, and side edges of each earring. I'd already taken my fine file to the edges so I went in directly with my finest grit disc.
Time to make the seat for the stone. I use this tube burlife for my burs. It works really well. I used my 4 millimeter bur to cut the seat out of the tube. Since this is a thick walled tube, I should have enough material left to fold over the stone. These burs have a point that comes to a flat edge. The point creates a small angle for the stones girdle and the flat edge creates a little shelf for the stone to sit on. It's important to keep the bur strait when making the cut or the stone will sit crooked.
I use two different setting tools to complete the setting. The hammer head shape tool is a bezel setting tool. I used that one to push the bezel over the stone. I go around the stone on opposite sides to be sure the stone is centered then finish by pushing down anything that hasn't already been set. The pointy tool is a burnisher which I used to flatten the bezel and smooth it out. The burnisher makes the bezel nice and shiny against the stone.
Second to last step is polishing. I start with the Tripoli polish. Tripoli is used to prepare the metal for the polish. It's like when using sand paper, you start with the larger grit. I then switched out the polishing head for the Zam polish. The Zam is a really nice polish. It gets the metal shiny but I just love the finish of the final polish. I was researching polishes that would give a nice bright finish and found this Fabuluster. It is just like the name indicates, fabulous! It really puts a bright, shiny finish on the metal.
After polishing, I put on the ear wire. I've found that if I put the ear wire on before polishing, the ear wire gets bent and I have to reshape it. I prefer not to do double work so I polish then put the ear wire in place.
The piece would be done, however, the polish can cause irritation if not cleaned. I toss the piece into a tumbler with a drop of Dawn dish soap which cleans off any extra polish. The tumbler also work hardens the ear wires.
Thank you for reading.