Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Clean Dirty Jewelry--Part II

Or...The Dirty Secret About Jewelry--Part II

In the previous article, we went over how to clean debris from your jewelry that builds up from lotions, soaps, grime and sweat, using an ultrasonic machine. Now we're going to learn about getting rid of tarnish. It's the special enemy of silver jewelry.
Tarnish. An ionic machine is the perfect solution for this problem.

Tarnish can be gone forever with one of these little beauties!

Ionic cleaners

Oh happy day! They finally have been able to produce these for consumers and they are a godsend! If you have a lot of jewelry, especially silver, an ionic cleaner is relatively inexpensive way to blast off tarnish. It won't do a thing to get the debris off, but it will blast away dulling tarnish and make your metal sparkle again.

Ionic cleaners work electrolytically to remove the tarnish.

In other words, they use a small electrical charge from direct current, an alkaline based cleaner and an anode plate in the bottom of the tank. There is a little clip that is the cathode, that you attach to the jewelry to complete the circuit. You'll know it's working because it will give off little bubbles, and with heavily tarnished silver jewelry, you'll notice the smell of hydrogen sulfide, or the rotten egg odor.

A company that I know sells a true consumer level ionic cleaner is Speed Brite. Their smallest one is called a Mini Speed Brite and it uses a 9 volt battery to power it. You won't have to worry about getting electrocuted with the battery, unlike the ones where you plug in the transformer to regular 110 v AC power. Usual disclaimer that I don't get paid, just personally satisfied with the product.

This one is a commercial one, but it works similar to the consumer version.

A commercial ionic cleaner in use with the clip on lead attached to the chain laying across the bottom of the tank

Cleaning chains

This machine is great for cleaning chains, because it can remove tarnish from the inside of the chain links, a boon for something that has very fine links, like a French rope chain. However, if it doesn't remove the tarnish from inside the links, it could mean you have a combination of gunk and tarnish. An ionic cleaner can't remove debris, so you'll have to use some hot water, dish soap and a toothbrush to get rid of the debris so the ionic can get to the tarnish itself. Or use a spiffy ultrasonic machine.

If you're cleaning a chain, you can only clean a long chain a few parts at a time. If the chain crosses over itself, it will deposit the tarnish that it cleaned off the rest of the chain to the part where it crossed itself--and then that part will be really tarnished! So, unclasp the chain, put what you can across the bottom and clean that. Move the clip up to a tarnished area, lay out more of the tarnished part across the bottom and clean a little more.

In this demonstration, I'll show you how a chain is cleaned. First, let me state that this particular chain had an oxidized patina put on it that used several mordants to make the oxidation really stick. In addition, it has also sat around for awhile, so the oxidation is age hardened to the chain. In other words, this type of tarnish is tough to the extreme.

Extremely tarnished chain


When the machine is turned on, it immediately starts bubbling and lifting the tarnish

Here you can see the part of the chain that is clean, next to the original tarnished area
One thing you need to be aware of, it will also clean off the oxidation that has been deliberately added to enhance details. So if you have something that has a black finish in the recessed areas, clean in stages of 5 seconds at a time. Make sure you're not cleaning off the detail!

Don't use an ionic cleaner for anodized aluminum, niobium or titanium. It will strip off the lovely colors!

Likewise, there are certain stones that shouldn't be used in an ionic cleaner, like some drusy (druzy) crystals that have been anodized. If in doubt, take your piece of jewelry into a professional jeweler's store and ask.

The chain above was dipped 3 times in the 30 second cleaning cycle, for a total of 90 seconds. Your average tarnished piece with oxidized detail may only take 5-10 seconds.

This machine will also clean gold, platinum, white gold, fine silver, coin silver and a host of just about any metal. It's superb for copper.

Finishing up

Be sure to rinse thoroughly with clean running water. Dry with a soft tea towel or old T-shirt. Your jewelry is bright and tarnish free.

With the next article in this series, we'll be going over low tech methods, also known as elbow grease, and a little kitchen chemistry. Not too much elbow grease though, because frankly, I don't have the time and neither do you!

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Handmade Ripple Earrings

The ripples of sand in the ocean waters...

Conjures up an evocative image, doesn't it?

Think of the ripples on the sandy bottom of the edge of a calm sea. The patterns they make have a calming effect on you too. The day is perfect, sunny with a blue sky and a fresh breeze.

You're wading in the ocean, and in the perfectly clear water, you can feel these ripples in the sand under your toes.

These earrings have that same feeling of calm. Repetitive lines, smooth but distinct. The undulating shape enhances the ripples calming effect with a continuation of the flowing lines.

The ripples are oxidized to bring out the pattern, and the highlighted lines have a soft satin sheen to them. The design is exclusive to myself, handmade with a technique that makes a dimensional form, but are still lightweight.

They're entirely handmade from sheet silver and formed into that wonderful shape. Then they are soldered to freeze that shape and make them very strong. They are completed with a handmade earwire that features a ball on the front detail.
This is a great pair of earrings to accessorize jeans for a little more dressed up feel, or for that flirty little dress.

Handmade ripple freeform earrings in sterling silver

If you plan on ordering anything for Christmas from my Etsy shop, do it before 10 p.m. MST, Sunday December 18, 2011.

Those reindeer are slow!

For a limited time, you can purchase these earrings by clicking here.

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak

How to Clean Dirty Jewelry--Part I

Or...The dirty secret about jewelry--part 1

We girls love our pretty sparklies. Even if you don't wear jewelry much, I'll just bet you'll throw on a pair of earrings or a necklace for the office party. Maybe you wear your wedding ring religiously, but would like for it to look as good as it did they day it was first put on your finger.

This is going to be a primer series for what's available to you as the general public. We'll be going through the luxe items in jewelry cleaning, right down to the inexpensive, but highly effective methods, that you can do with common household ingredients and an electric toothbrush, dips, polishes and cloths.

First, let's go over what machines and methods are available for professional jewelers, because the new jewelry cleaners for the general public consumers are spinoffs from these machines. We have ionic cleaners which remove tarnish; ultrasonic cleaners that remove debris, oil and dirt; steam cleaners for likewise removing oil, debris and dirt; and good old-fashioned elbow grease. We also have our bench polishers and flexshafts, with their different buffs and compounds, for actually polishing and removing scratches. There are a few other things that are available for removing caked on debris like lye (definitely not for consumers!) and other caustic methods, but you have to be trained to use them safely and know which stones can handle the different types of acids or bases. Chemistry does play an integral part in cleaning things for us.

Ultrasonic cleaning

Ultrasonic cleaners are ubiquitous in a jeweler's shop. These produce powerful ultrasonic waves that scrub debris off. They have a transducer in the bottom, and some have them in the sides also. They are not silent. They will remind you of sounds you hear in a dentist's office. They are one of the new luxe items for cleaning your jewelry at home.

A lot of the machines I've been able to find in the consumer area are ones that tout they are "ultrasonic," but are not true ultrasonics.

Instead, they rely on sonic waves (think vibration) or an electrolytic process with an alkaline based soap. If ever in doubt, if it doesn't have that high-pitched whine and put holes in aluminum foil, send it back with a big raspberry and get your money back.

A professional ultrasonic with a manual timer and a heater

However, there is one I've found that looks like a mini version of my ultrasonic and is made by the same manufacturer. It has the metal bottom with a raised area that typically houses the transducer. It is a GemOro, and no, I don't get paid or given anything to promote their products. I noticed is selling these mini GemOros on their website for around $100 as of this date of Christmas 2011.

The raised area where the transducer is located beneath the stainless steel tank

If you put a piece of aluminum foil in the tank of a true ultrasonic, it will be full of holes within a few minutes.

If you think sticking your fingers in it to retrieve a piece is okay, prepare to have your fingernails start growing out pitted, or if more than a few times, your fingernails will just fall off. Just because it only seems to "tickle," don't be fooled. These are powerful machines!

The aluminum foil folded over a stick that will span the width of the tank

The aluminum foil added to the tank

There are large holes in the aluminum foil now. Particularly notice the ragged edge.

The aluminum foil unfolded. Notice the large missing areas.

 Likewise, you have to be careful what kind of stones you put in them. If your stone is fracture filled (some diamonds are) or oiled (like emeralds) it will destroy them.

If they have natural fractures or inclusions in the stones, like tourmalines, rutilated quartz, cape amethyst, opals or diamonds with a lot of carbon deposits, it will likewise shatter or cleave them.

Oops. Check with your jeweler if you can't bear to take a chance.

Things you should know

When you use an ultrasonic, make sure nothing touches the bottom where the transducer is located. It will cause vibrations that will wear out your transducer prematurely. The exception is soft materials like plastic and silicone. You will see various jigs that suspend jewelry away from the bottom, such as baskets and ring holders.

However, these soft surfaces and metal meshes tend to break up the action of the ultrasonic waves, so it takes longer to clean the jewelry. Jewelers tend to go out of their way to find some way to suspend the jewelry directly into the ultrasonic, using paper clips, bamboo tongs and hand-held glass beakers.

Rinse your jewelry thoroughly in clean water after removing it from the ultrasonic. This helps to remove any remaining debris and cleaning solution. Sometimes a quick scrub with a toothbrush is also needed to get debris out of very small spaces. Wipe the jewelry dry with a soft, clean cloth. Don't put your jewelry in a sunny window to dry. Certain stones can lose their color or change color! Speaking from personal experience, amethyst is one of those stones.

The vibrations of a true ultrasonic will shake slightly loose stones out of their mountings, so take a needle across the face of the stone, pushing slightly and noticing if there's any slight rocking. If there is, take it to a jeweler so the setting can be tightened and you won't lose your stone.

Please check with a reputable jeweler first to make sure your stones will survive ultrasonic treatment.

If you don't want to go to the expense of buying your own machine, or the vagaries of whether a stone will survive or not, then just take your precious to a real jeweler, where they will clean it for a pittance. Most will educate you about your particular piece of jewelry and how to keep it clean between professional cleanings.

Check back next week for the second part of this series with information on ionic cleaners, another luxe item, and why you want one, especially if you have silver.

Copyright Katherine Palochak 12-17-2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Jewelry Storybook--Lines Bracelet

 What was it?

The last posting of what I had on the bench, I asked you to guess what it was I was making. I finished it and finally took some photos of it. You see the teaser below? It's a bracelet, all right!

This is how I made it

First, I started with a bracelet blank; a strip of 16 gauge silver that is 6" long. I took pieces of wire and formed them into various shapes, and melted some scrap silver into balls. You can see most of this laid out on the charcoal block. If you're wondering what the white crud is that's all over the metal, it's a flux that prevents firescale. Sterling is notorious for taking up cupric oxide and it leaves a nasty purplish stain in the metal if you don't take steps to prevent it from forming.

All the wires are sanded so they'll sit flush on the bracelet blank. The wires are soldered on a few at a time, with cleaning baths in pickle in between solderings, and of course, more flux to prevent firescale before soldering again.

Here you can see the wires all soldered and the form pre-polished, before filing and forming the blank into the bracelet.

And now the purdy...

I love the movement of the lines on the bracelet, and how that movement changes, depending on which angle it's viewed. You can go to this link to see a few more pictures of the Flowing Lines bracelet from different angles:

Thanks for stopping by to read! You can find more stories on Making Jewelry Storybook posts. Learn how handmade jewelry goes from sheet and wire to be fabricated into volumetric and gorgeous jewelry.

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak

Friday, December 9, 2011

On the Bench!

Working on the concept
This is one of my current projects. Maybe you can guess what it is, but I'm not going to tell you until it's finished and I have it in a Storybook Jewelry posting. But I like the way the lines move on this piece. It's somewhat similar to the honking big amethyst pendant in another Storybook Jewelry posting. I think I'm going to have to do a whole series of this type of pattern development to get it out of my system. These have been some of my more enjoyable ones, so it might take awhile. I have a whole season of downtime (my favorite and most creative time!) coming up. 

If you have any ideas of what you think "lines" might look good in jewelry, why don't you give me some feedback. You never know when I might use those suggestions to make something. I depend on feedback from people to help me develop jewelry that gets noticed!

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak

For the Metalheads--Sanding Small Parts

Tired of bloody fingers?

It's always a pain to sand small parts quickly and efficiently, and you tend to shred some skin in the process. If you're going to solder two parts together it's imperative that you have both surfaces in good contact with one another, and that means you need to get rid of high spots and have flush fittings.

You need a handle!

You need some tape. Duct tape or electrical tape are good because they have very sticky adhesive. My personal favorite is Gorilla Tape, but sometimes it can be overkill, but it's great for very tricky sanding jobs. For the purposes of the photos, I've used masking tape so it will show up better against the surfaces.

You need to have about 2" of tape for the "handle" and enough additional tape for the "legs" that will cover most of the piece. Double the tape in half, and stick together the first inch for the handle and then stick the two "legs" onto the piece, as shown in the photo below. Press the "legs" firmly onto the piece.

Now you can grasp the "handle" while you're sanding and have a secure grip on your piece. Sanding is easy!

Be sure to remove the tape adhesive before soldering, and make sure the whole piece is squeaky clean before soldering. You know the saying, "If it ain't clean, it ain't gonna solder."

Another pointer for a really small piece

If your piece is too small for tape, you can use the eraser off a pencil as a handle. Just push the eraser onto the piece to embed it. I like the white erasers that come off mechanical pencils, and you can buy them at stationary stores in a tube of erasers for replacements. They have the right amount of stiffness to grab them and not disintegrate, and yet soft enough to push down onto and embed a piece into them.

Wait! What's that sanding surface?

Aha. So you noticed my actual sanding block. I use 3M's finishing film stuck onto one of my bench blocks (I have two), in the 100 micron size. Sorry, can't find the mu symbol for micron in this program. It's self-adhesive, sands quickly and because of the close-tolerance graded media, no huge scratches that have to be sanded down further.

The bench block is perfect. It's very flat, has a decent surface size and it's heavy enough not to move around. I still have the other side to use for flattening things and other stuff a bench block is used for. I do have a small piece of rotary cutting mat I keep under it so it won't scratch my bench (not that you could tell really), and that mat also dampens sound when I'm banging on the bench block.

I don't get paid any kind of endorsement for touting 3M's products (wish I did!), but they have some awesome things I just can't get along without. The finishing film is one, and the other are the bristle disks for both your flex shaft and your bench polisher. That's for another posting.

If you liked this tip, look for other tips in the "For the Metalheads" postings.

Copyright 2011 by Katherine Palochak