Monday, April 17, 2017

Making Balled Headpins Using Your Gas Kitchen Stove

Have you ever wished that you could make your own ball headpins for your jewelry designs?  Maybe what's holding you back is that you don't own a torch.  Perhaps fear of using a torch or fear of fire is the culprit.  Or, a torch isn't allowed in your building or covered under your insurance.  Whatever the reason, this tutorial will to show you how to make hand made ball headpins or balled wire on the gas stove in your kitchen.  Who would have thought that sitting right there is a big ol' torch just waiting to be put into service!?

While working in my studio one day, I needed some balled wire for a piece I was working on and was annoyed that I was going to have to set the project aside until I found a source of balled wire.  As I entered the kitchen in search of a snack, my eyes settled on the gas stove in my kitchen and I wondered if the flame of the burners was hot enough to melt metal and form a ball on the ends.

Quickly grabbing some copper wire and an old pair of pliers I decided to give it a try.  Not only did it work, it worked great!  I was so excited and having so much fun watching the little ball form on the end of the wire that I ended up making 110 balled headpins!

So, let's get started!

Fill one small container with cold water and set it next to the stove.

You will need copper or sterling silver wire that is no larger than 20 gauge.  I tried 18 gauge but wasn't able to get it hot enough to form a ball. 


One old pair of pliers.  Don't use your good pliers as the flame and heat will blacken the steel and may even cause the pliers to warp a bit.


Cut your wire to the desired length and straighten.  I made three inch lengths as that's usually the length I want my headpins.


Using your pliers hold the end of the wire vertically:



Turn one of your stove burners on high heat and hold the end of the wire in the hottest part of the flame.  What worked best for me was holding the wire about half an inch from where the flame comes out of the jet.  If you look at the photo, you will see a fine blue line and that is what I aimed for:



If the wire is in the right place, the wire will first turn red:


Then it will turn white.  In this photo a ball can be seen starting to form at the end of the wire:



Next you will see a green flame and this is what you want - it means you have found the sweet spot on your stove burner!  The metal is melting and making a ball.  From start to finish, this process should take no longer than 30 - 45 seconds.



When the ball has fully formed, remove the wire from the flame.  It will be red hot and this is where the bowl of water comes in.  Quench the wire in the water for a few seconds to cool it.

CAUTION:  Your pliers will be hot.  Do not touch the ends or leave them somewhere that small children or pets could come into contact with them.  If you set them down put them on something fireproof such as metal or stone until they have cooled off.  One of my cast iron skillets came in handy for this purpose.

Congratulations!  You can now set your headpin aside and start on the next one.




Once you have made all of your headpins, you will want to harden them as the heat anneals or softens the wire.  You can do this by work hardening, tapping gently with a rubber mallet or putting them into a tumbler.  The tumbler will also clean of some of the dark scale that formed on the wire when it was heated.



If you have a tumbler, put just enough water in the tumbler to cover the stainless steel shot and the headpins and add a drop of Dawn dish soap:


Let tumble for at least 2 - 3 hours.  When you remove them from the tumbler many of them will have been bent by the tumbling action.  Simply straighten them out using your fingers or nylon jaw pliers.  Once straightened, you will see that much of the black scale has been removed as well:



In order to remove the rest of the black scale, you will need to make a pickle.   Carina, one of my jewelry making friends at the Jewelry Artisans Community found an easy pickle recipe at The Artisan Life blog which does a great job of explaining pickling metal and it is what I used for this project.  You can read our discussion and experiments for making headpins on the stove at this thread:  Making Balled Headpins


Here they are.  110 beautiful, shiny copper balled headpins!



These can now be used in jewelry designs and if you like oxidized copper they are ready to be dipped in liver of sulfur.

Some safety things to consider.  The copper made very little if any fumes that I noticed but I was curious so looked it up.  Copper is not considered to be a highly toxic metal, but it can cause respiratory problems and/or rashes if one is exposed to a lot of it.  If you are concerned about fumes or have delicate pets such as birds, make sure your work area is ventilated either by opening a window, using fans or using the exhaust fan on your stove.  Wearing eye protection is also recommended.

Don't forget to turn off the stove when you're finished!

Something to keep in mind is that how successful you will be is going to depend partly on your stove.  My stove is propane while others are natural gas.  Propane burns just a little bit hotter than natural gas which is something to take into consideration.  Different stoves will be calibrated differently which can also make a difference in how hot the flame burns.   My best advice would be to try it and experiment until you find what works for you.

Have fun, best of luck and please come back here to post comments about how it worked for you!





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 2017 Blog Carnival - Collaborating with Other Artists

March is here and it's time for the Jewelry Artisans Community monthly blog carnival.  This month we are talking about collaborating with other artists.

Personally, I think this is a great thing to do.  It's a way to expand our horizons as artists, incorporate new and different techniques and to include new styles in our jewelry designs that we probably wouldn't do on our own.

Much as I'm all for collaboration, I've only really had one opportunity to actually collaborate with another artist.  My friend and fellow jewelry designer, Sue, is tremendously talented and creative and I've watched over the years as she's mastered kumihimo braiding, metal etching, form folding and working with tiny seed beads.   Sue approached me a few years ago about working together on a design for a color challenge and I was thrilled to have the chance to work with Sue.

We chose our color palette, which were the blues and browns of the Blue Tiger Butterfly of Phuket, Thailand.


Sue focused on producing her beautiful kumihimo cords (which is a Japanese braiding technique) of intricately patterned cords that are made by braiding strands of different colors of silk together) and I worked on painting wood beads that would complement the braids.


Once the cords and beads were finished, Sue put them together to create this glorious necklace that combined the best of both of our work.  It was when I first saw the necklace that I realized just how much two artists could accomplish together - designs they'd never be able to do on their own.



We went on to take second place in the challenge and sold our necklace for an outrageous price that stunned us both!

Having had such a positive experience, we decided to collaborate on a few other things:




While I haven't had a chance to collaborate since then, I'd certainly welcome the opportunity if it ever comes my way again.

To see what other members of the Jewelry Artisans Community have to say about collaborating with others, please click on the links below:

Cat's Wire

Violetmoon's Corner




Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 2017 Blog Carnival - Projects I'd Like to Try This Year

It's time for the Jewelry Artisans Community February Blog Carnival and this month we are talking about projects we'd like to try this year.

I started out this blog post by writing about all the new things I want to learn and do during the year of 2017 and then was struck by a thought that would not leave my head.  Over the last few days, the thought has grown bigger and stronger and I don't think I can ignore it.

Rather than go on and on about new things I'm going to do this year, I am going to take a step back and re-visit things I've already done.  There are so many techniques that I've dabbled in and tried, but have never truly explored all of the possibilities.

So, this year I want to learn more about making beads from paper.  I really love everything about making them from selecting the paper, cutting the strips and forming them into beads and watching them take shape before my very eyes.  I think there is so much more to this than just the basics that I am familiar with.






I want to experiment more with using buttons in jewelry.  My foray into buttons has mostly involved making rings, but I want to explore using them in clasps and as bails for pendants.  I've used buttons as bails a few times and think the look is terrific, but there are definitely more possibilities than what I've done to date.





Another of my favorite activities is working with wire and I think I've become too comfortable with the techniques I know well.  Time to challenge myself and the wire to new, interesting and unique designs.  Wire sculpture comes to mind as something to try.







Resin is another area where I've barely scratched the surface.  Look for more exploration in resin to come, especially with preserving and using organic materials such as leaves and seed pods in resin.  I had so much fun dipping fall leaves in resin last year and I know there are techniques and designs that have yet to be coaxed from the resin.





Last, but not least, I would really like to play with form folding in much more depth than I've done in the past.  Making these was a fun project, but there is much more to form folding than leaves and hearts.




I'm very good at trying new techniques and mastering the basics, but it seems as soon as I do that, it's off to the next thing.  My attention span is short.  2017 is going to be the year to go back and explore all of the areas I've mentioned in more depth and really master them; not just superficially, but inside out, upside down, backwards and forwards.   Now, I may not to get to all of the things I've mentioned, but I'm looking forward to the challenge!

To see what other members of the jewelry artisans community have to say about the projects they want to try in 2017, please click on the links below:

Cat's Wire

Violetmoon's Corner