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Hi and welcome! Check out MF on Facebook and Instagram for my latest jewelry creations (and works-in-progress.) My jewelry is available for purchase at the Siskiyou Arts Museum in Dunsmuir, and by contacting me. I love commissions and custom work!

Casting, Part 2

Today was Day 3 of Casting class, so here’s the rest of the wrap-up!

My cast silver ring, cleaned up and ready to finish and polish.

Before class started, I borrowed a coarse file and removed the remainder of the sprue from the bottom of my ring, so it’s now ready to (more finely) file, sand, and polish. (I ran it through the magnetic tumbler, which shined it up somewhat, but also scratched it up quite a bit, so in hindsight I wish I hadn’t bothered with it. Oh well.)

Since I forgot to photograph it yesterday, this is the kiln. ...and this is the vacuum machine. The left side is where a bell jar would go; the right side is used for vacuuming out a flask.

Today we were vacuum casting, and it did seem to go somewhat faster than the centrifugal casting (in part because the instructor took charge of melting the metal.) Each student removed their flask from the kiln, set up the vacuum on the flask, poured the molten metal, removed the vacuum, removed the flask for further cooling, and quenched the flask and cast object. It was, again, slightly frightening to go through the process, and I over-filled my flask, getting metal onto the vacuum chamber (oops.) The excess, I poured into ingots for re-use.

Here are the bronze chunks I chose to cast with. Starting to melt the bronze. Heating, heating, heating... It really took a long time to melt, I have to say. Nearly there. My flask is ready on the vacuum, and the metal is ready to pour. About to pour... I've just overfilled (you can see a blob of molten bronze on the vacuum machine.) Pouring the excess into ingot-depressions carved into a charcoal block. The molten top is actually borax glass, from the flux used in the crucible. So I kindof singed the paint on the vacuum... Still hot, still under vacuum. Cooled enough to remove to a heat brick, for further cooling.

So how did it come out? Well…

Here's my succulent casting, freshly out of the investment (with a lot of cleaning yet to go...) Another view of the fresh casting. Yet another view.
Here I've cleaned it off a bit better, though there's more work to be done. Another view. The spiky leaves are quite sharp! ...sharpness demonstrated by my already having a bandaid on.

The texture cast perfectly, as far as I’m concerned. There’s still a lot to clean up — there’s lots of tiny crevices where investment is lurking — but the zebra plant leaves are sharp and amazingly textured, and the gollum jade leaves are plump and weird-looking. There were a few minor issues with shrinkage and porosity (since the piece couldn’t be vacuumed after the investment was poured in, not every bubble was dislodged), but over all, I’m pretty happy! I need to have someone cut off the bottom to flatten it out (right now it wobbles like a Weeble), so it’ll sit properly.

One bonus to casting this piece in bronze is that I can patina it, using any number of wonderful recipes. Since you can only do so much with sterling, and I don’t really work in other metals that patina well (like copper, or bronze), it’s an exciting prospect!

Thanks again for following along! More posts (with actual, finished, non-class-related jewelry) coming soon.

Casting, Part 1

I’m in San Francisco for a class in casting at Revere Academy — MOLTEN METAL, AWWWWW YEAHHHHHHH — and wanted to share what I’ve done so far. There’s a lot to learn about the process, combining skills of working with wax, using molds, calculating metal requirements, setting up the investment (plaster mold formed around the wax or object), and the actual casting of the metal.

Whole succulents, cast in bronze by Jonathan Russell. Whole jade plant, cast in bronze by Jonathan Russell.

These are a couple of examples of succulents cast by my instructor, and the detail and texture on them is just mind-boggling. I was instantly obsessed with the idea, and hopefully tomorrow it will come to fruition! (More on that later. There’s a cactus of some sort, a sempervivum, and a zebra plant in that first picture.) I ran right out Friday evening and bought some succulents to sacrifice for the greater good cast.

Taking a cooled, injected wax out of a mold. Harder than it looks. Six waxes I made from molds, ready to assemble into a "wax tree". Waxes, assemble!

The first part of the class was to inject wax into molds (supplied by the school, unless you had your own), and assemble several waxes into a cast-able “tree” that fit the dimensions of the flask — not as easy as it sounds. This tree wasn’t actually cast — just an exercise in how to assemble a tree for casting. By angling things right, dozens of small pieces can be cast all at once, in one flask. (If you’re wondering, among other things on my tree is a LEGO stormtrooper helmet, and half a washer. You can mold darn near anything.)

A wax ring I carved in August 2013, fitted to the base of the flask. Flask assembled and ready to invest.
Mixing the investment... ...mixing goes faster in a stand mixer. Flasks under vacuum, to remove air bubbles from the investment before it hardens.

I decided to cast one of the wax rings I made in Wax Carving class, back in August 2013, as my first actual project (green wax.) This first casting uses the centrifugal method, which is… action-packed. (I’ll get to that in a minute.) I mounted the wax to the base of the flask using sprue wax (yellow and red wax), which will provide a conduit through the plaster for the metal to be poured in. (What you’re looking at now will be upside-down, when cast. A sprue is just a conduit for metal to flow through, and one piece can have multiple sprues, to aid in the flow.) Once the flask is assembled, a kind of plaster called investment is mixed, put under vacuum to remove air bubbles, then quickly poured into the flasks, and then the flasks are put under vacuum to remove air bubbles from around the wax, which would mar the mold. There’s only about 12 minutes to go from mixer to poured, to bubble-free and sitting in a safe place, so the process is a little intense.

Maybe I should say, the class is a little intense.

So all of that was day 1. Once hardened, these flasks are placed in a kiln overnight to burn off the wax, and any carbon or moisture that remains, and held at a temperature optimal for the casting process (which varies; ours were 950° F.) Today was day 2, and we started casting immediately after lunch. Guess who got picked to be first? (I probably looked like a deer in headlights.) So here we go…

The crucible part of the centrifuge, where the metal is melted. Here I am, not remembering which direction to turn the knobs to light the torch, because I'M BACKWARDS, OKAY?? Heating the silver until molten. Stirring the silver with a rod of carbon, which removes oxygen from the molten metal Just about ready to cast now... Once the flask is in place (in the gap between the crucible and the plate at the left side of the last frame), I take away the torch, and my partner sets the centrifuge off. Once the spinning stops, the flask is removed with tongs (still extremely hot.) The dark spot in the center of the white is the metal. Once the flask cools for a few minutes, it is quenched in water, which simultaneously cools the metal completely, and dissolves the investment plaster. Imagine holding a tiny jacuzzi in tongs, underwater, trying not to pull it out or... panic. And here's the cast ring! Cast ring, pickled to remove oxidation.

So. Centrifugal casting. (Did I mention I was being quizzed on each step in the process? NO PRESSURE…)

The open drum is wound up with a handle, that can be locked in place. You wind it up, then lock it, then place your metal in the crucible and start melting. Once the silver is perfectly melted and prepped, a partner places your flask (which has been in a kiln heating the whole time) next to the crucible, you take the torch away, and the partner unlocks the centrifuge, which spins at great speed, flinging the molten metal into your mold. (It’s a little scary.) Once the drum spins down, the flask can be removed, set aside to cool for a few minutes, before quenching it in water to simultaneously cool the metal and dissolve the investment plaster. Once it’s done violently bubbling underwater — INTENSE — you can pull it out and grab your finished piece! My ring turned out great, and it’s ready to trim, finish and polish.

In reality, it was a blessing to go first, because then it was done, I was relieved, and I could spend the rest of the afternoon preparing my second piece for tomorrow’s vacuum casting…

The succulents I picked to cast: an echiveria with bloom, gollum jade, and another jade (that came with the pot.) Assembled succulent leaves, mounted on toothpicks and stuck together with sticky wax. I'm using gollum jade and zebra plant leaves, which should reproduce in fine detailed texture... And here they are, ready to invest!

So in the end, I wasn’t able to use the succulents I’d hoped to cast as whole plants, due to space limitations. Instead, I created a “bouquet” of gollum jade leaves, and zebra plant leaves, which I mounted… creatively… into a flask. I won’t know until tomorrow how it all held up under the investment, but I’m hoping for the best! (Unlike waxes, organic items can’t be vacuumed once invested, as the vacuum will crush the organic materials and ruin the mold. You just have to tap the sides of the flask and hope all the bubbles dislodge before it hardens.) I will be casting it in bronze, as I love the look of the instructor’s examples, and it may be an opportunity to try some patinas, on my own time.

Tomorrow will be vacuum casting, which has less open swinging flames, but just as much molten metal (more, actually, since I’m making a larger piece.) I hope to have more action shots! A GIGANTIC thank you to Aussie classmate Diane for her barrage of photos of my casting experience!!

Thanks for reading to the end, and I hope you enjoyed the blow-by-blow commentary!

Fabrication 3: Construction

As promised, here are my photos from the Fabrication 3 class I took at Revere in July. The two projects were a sweat-soldered layered brooch, and a hollow box ring.

The brooch was a fun project, as we used a rolling mill to impress the silver with patterns from fabric, paper, and plastic textures. I patterned the base of my brooch with a glittery tulle fabric, and paper-punched snowflakes. The top layer was rolled with 220-grit sandpaper. I domed the two layers, then soldered them together (which was harder than I bargained for, LOL), and soldered on the back pin hinge and catch.

The hollow box ring was quite challenging. It starts as two long strips, the inner ring and outer wall. The inner strip is soldered together into a ring; the outer strip is soldered to the outside of the inner ring. In the end, the bottom half of the ring is solid metal, and the top is hollow. Once attached, these are soldered onto a flat sheet, forming the first side of the hollow ring, which is then cut out from the sheet and cut out on the inside (remaking the finger hole, basically.) Once this is done, you repeat the process with the other side, forming a box ring with an open top.

There’s a lot of filing and finishing to be done at this point, to make all the corners square and flush. A pattern is chosen for the top, and the final bit of soldering is done (there must be a hole either in the top piece, or drilled through the bottom part of the hollow ring, else the ring will explode during the final solder. No, really.) I got as far as soldering the top on, and then finished the final trimming, filing and polishing closer to home.

Just keep making.

If you follow my Instagram, you’ve seen that I’ve been busy this summer, making jewelry. I’ve been meaning to repost those progress photos here for a while, but, well, here it is, September. (I need to repost my Fabrication 3 class photos, too.)

I’ve been making a lot of pendants, and now I’m trying my hand at some earrings. Rings are always happening, I can’t make enough rings. A lot of the stones I have now are more pendant-size, but there will still be a few rings in there. And at least one pair of earrings. Stay tuned.Continue Reading

The short, short version.

Revere Academy classroomI have about three posts I could write about the last week, but in the interest of time and actually POSTING something, I offer you some bullet points, to be embellished later on.

  • I held a mechanical watch in my hands, for the very first time ever. Now I know what watch experts mean, when they talk about the “heartbeat”. IT WAS SO COOL. I TOTALLY WANT ONE.
  • I went to Revere Academy last weekend for the Fabrication 3 course. Made a layered, sweat-soldered brooch, and a hollow “box” ring.
  • I “live-shared” my Fab3 experience via Instagram, reposted to Facebook and Twitter, so if you want to see the stages of construction on both pieces, click the link to see my photostream. I will repost those images here, later.