What’s in the Shoebox?!

Tonight is the Winter Solstice and an (almost) full moon, so it feels like a good time to send this annotated list out to keep you busy on the longest night of the year :).  I wrote this months ago, and have been wanting to post it in the form of a FAQ with pictures and links, but a FAQ is not an option on this free site, and the pictures and links take a ton of time, so it never happened.

Instead of letting my deathless prose languish unread even longer, I’m heeding the pleas of numerous students (thank you for asking and then for waiting SOOOOOO patiently) to list just what is in the shoebox of basic tools that I think no jeweler should be without.  I named this site Shoebox Studio because I believe that you can make professional quality jewelry with only the tools that will fit in a large shoebox.

Finally, here is an idea what those might be!

Continue reading

Posted in Mewsings | 3 Comments

Be Kind to Fish! Dispose of ALL Spent Pickle Responsibly.


The sad truth is that the  “safe” “organic” “natural” or “food grade” products sold as jewelry pickle are only all of those things BEFORE you use them. Even after you use them they are still (relatively) safe for you and your drains, but they are NOT safe for the environment. The retailers don’t have to tell you this because they aren’t selling you the used product, which is FULL OF TOXIC COPPER.

Fresh, unused jewelry pickle contains no copper. It is just a dilute solution of  an acid like sodium bisulfate (Sparex®, Rio Pickle™, HTH® pH Minus – my favorite!), sulfuric acid, citric acid (PickleIt™), lemon juice, or vinegar. This changes dramatically after you use ANY type of pickle to clean your jewelry metals.  ALL the different chemicals used as jewelry pickle are very effective at stripping copper oxides off your metal. As a result, pickle turns blue because copper molecules have been converted from solid metal into a contaminant in the liquid solution. Even pickle that has not turned blue yet is loaded with copper. The bottom line is this: If pickle has been used to clean metal, it is contaminated with copper.

Copper is extremely toxic to fish  – 10 times more toxic to fish and other aquatic life than cyanide is to people!*

This copper contamination is NOT removed when pickle is neutralized with baking soda, so putting neutralized pickle down the drain is – from the perspective of a fish – like dumping cyanide into your local drinking water reservoir.  If you dump copper contaminated pickle on the ground, it quickly leaches into the ground water, which is also very bad. It is extremely important that no matter where we live, we ALL dispose of this material carefully so as not to harm our fishy neighbors and further damage already beleaguered aquatic ecosystems!

Luckily, you have two GREEN choices for proper disposal: Continue reading

Posted in Studio Chemistry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Solder Inlay

Lowther_Spinner Ring

Spinner ring with silver solder inlaid into the copper spinning band.

There is something strangely appealing about metal mosaics, in which different metals are juxtaposed seamlessly into a single smooth surface.  Delving deeply into the mystery of that appeal will lead you to exotic techniques like mokume gane, marriage of metals, and damascene.  Back on the relatively simple surface of the subject is solder inlay. This technique is fairly straightforward to master, and the fee for its simplicity is paid predominantly in elbow grease.  Continue reading

Posted in Soldering, Surface Embellishment | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Dressing Pliers – “Fashioning” Your Tools

What the well-dressed pliers are wearing.

What the well-dressed pliers are wearing this season.

This is an authentic Peruvian llama finger puppet. Only the finest and most exotic dressing for my pliers! Why do pliers need dressing? They don’t, actually, need clothing, but what almost all pliers DO need is a bit of specialty finishing work. A few minutes of focused effort on your part can make a huge difference in performance for even the highest quality pliers. Continue reading

Posted in Get the Most from Your Tools | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

MISSA, how I

Ah... me at MISSA relaxing post-massage.

Ah… relaxing post-massage at MISSA (my Dansko-clad toes there lower right).

This is a love letter.

My favorite place to teach asks a lot of me and of my students. No spiffy studio chock full of tools and equipment awaits us here, just folding tables covered in protective cardboard standing in a regular classroom. The tables are the wrong height, there is no running water in the room, and we have to do our soldering outside, but these “inconveniences” only make this amazing place even more dear to our hearts <3! Continue reading

Posted in Mewsings | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on MISSA, how I

The Elusive Tam O’Shanter Hone… Mourning the Loss… Seeking a Substitute.

Testing strip for finishing stones...

Testing strip for finishing stones…

Many years before I ever saw one, I had heard of the mystical Tam O’Shanter Hones (also called Water of Ayr Stones, Snake Stones, or simply Scotch Stones). Touted by old hands in the jewelry business as the best no-fuss way to quickly remove small amounts of unwanted solder or other blemishes on metal, these lovely stones disappeared from the market around 2000, some years after the faltering Scottish mine finally closed. You can find them on Ebay occasionally, but such an unreliable source is a poor suggestion to make to an eager student. Much better would be an answer to the question: What can reasonably replace the celebrated Tam O’Shanter Hone of old? Continue reading

Posted in Get the Most from Your Tools | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Pickle Tags

Hardworking and unsung... until now :).

Hardworking and unsung… until now :).

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching another silver stack rings class, so I made pickle tags for my students. Nothing fancy, but SO useful (like that horseshoe nail in the adage). If you need to pickle a bunch of similar but not interchangeable objects (like rings or bezels in a class), then a handful of pickle tags will be just the ticket to keep everything orderly and save you from tears and tearing your hair. Continue reading

Posted in Get the Most from Your Tools | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Pickle Tags

Wind & Cut Jump Rings Simply & Efficiently


Do you need a lot of wire rings that are consistent in size, but you don’t have an expensive pendant drill and jump ring cutting system? Read on for the simplest and least expensive ways I have found to achieve a big pile of uniform jump rings. Continue reading

Posted in Get the Most from Your Tools, Tools to Make | Tagged , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Golf Ball Bezel Pusher


Luminary metalsmith Tim McCreight casually mentions making a bezel pusher from a golf ball and a nail in one of his books*. Turns out that pounding a nail into a golf ball is surprisingly difficult. Golf balls are very tough, and designed to bounce. There’s a simple solution, of course, as there usually is, and I offer it to you here – complete with pictures. Continue reading

Posted in Tools to Make | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Wire Gauges – Why They Are Useful

Not all precision instruments include digital displays!

No LEDs on this precision instrument! AWG (American Wire Gauge) … this will be important later….

Though the tool pictured above is called a wire gauge (or gage), it is also used to measure the thickness of sheet metal. For a metal disc with holes in it, its price ($30-$50) can be a bit surprising to those new to the jewelry field. What you are paying for is a modicum of precision. If you work with wire a lot (chain makers, take note), this tool is a shortcut handy enough to be worth spending the money on. Let me explain why.

Continue reading

Posted in Get the Most from Your Tools | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments