Inspiration is everywhere and I
once saw an episode of “Upstairs, Downstairs” where the main character, Rose,
wore a utilitarian brooch with a watch on it. Thinking this would make a great
gift, I gave the first one I made to a friend for her birthday and she loves it.
My eyes just aren’t good enough to focus that close to my nose so I made myself
a watch/necklace using most of the same materials and tools. So, if you’re young
and have good eyes like Rose, make yourself a brooch. We old timers will be
sporting our necklaces.
Your local hardware store has a
little-known treasure called copper grounding wire. Contractors and plumbers
bury it with PVC pipes and other underground lines so that they can be found
with a metal detector later. This workaday wonder is an inexpensive and
readily-available source for thick gauge copper for your jewelry and art
projects. It comes in several gauges and the different thicknesses are great
The problem with wire as heavy
as grounding wire is that it’s really hard to bend and that’s where annealing
comes in. Metal is made up of a crystalline structure and the crystals have lots
of bumps and pointy places on them. If you put the metal into the flame of a
torch for a few seconds it gets not-quite "melty" and then re-crystallizes with
smaller crystals. The metal becomes much more malleable and makes working
with heavier gauges a more pleasant experience. If you are ever working with
metal that is too hard to manipulate, consider annealing it.
Step by Step
1. Cut a piece of copper grounding wire about 3 or 4 inches long,
depending on how long you want the piece to be.
2. Use the flat hand file to
shape the wire ends
so that they are neat and tidy or have tapers or
other features that you design into the piece.
3. I file a groove in my bench
pin to make
it easier to file wire.
4. A few hardware store items add up to make
a safe way to clamp a torch to a table: 2 hose
clamps, one L-bracket and a C-clamp.
5. Set up your torch in a safe
and well ventilated place.
Use old flatnose
pliers (with non-metallic grips) to hold the wire about 1” in front of the blue
cone of the torch’s flame. It’s the hottest part of the flame and will bring the
metal to temperature quickly. Once the copper is a dull glowing red (not hot
cherry red), remove it from the flame, wait for the glow to dissipate and then
the wire in cold water in a glass dish.
6. Now you will use the roundnose or
pliers to shape the wire into a meandering, lazy
river shape. I find it much easier to push the wire
around the pliers rather than to trying to move
the pliers around the wire. Use masking tape on
the jaws of your pliers to prevent tool marks.
7. Once the wire is the shape you want have
some fun and decorate it with texture or flatten it between 2 steel bench
blocks. You can really beat it up on a concrete driveway using an old steel
hammer. Run it through a rolling mill if you have one. Using assorted hammers
you can texture the wire quite a bit in very interesting ways. Here I'm using a
cross-pein hammer on a bench block.
9. Assemble the piece into a necklace (or add
a piece of sheet metal and glue on a pin back if you’d like a brooch) and close
all the jump rings tightly.
8. Use a riveting hammer or a chasing hammer
to form the end of the wire into a flatter, broader
shape and clean it up with 400 grit polishing
paper. Center punch and drill a hole large enough
to accommodate a jump ring.
Once the shape
and texture are what you want, finish
the piece with a flex-shaft or polishing lathe or by
hand using various grits of polishing papers. If you’d
like the piece to have a darker color dip it in a
commercial oxidizer and then neutralize with soap
when you remove it.
10. If you’ve made a necklace and think that
copper will discolor your skin, seal the back of the
piece with several coats of carnauba wax, following
the directions on the can.
Whether a brooch or a necklace,
the copper looks
striking against black or turquoise fabric and you'll
always know what time it is.
|Christine Cox is a regular
contributor to ARTitude Zine. This article originally appeared in her column, 'The
and is reprinted here with permission. For more fantastic articles
about art and collage be sure to subscribe to ARTitude Zine.