Working on the Chain Gang

by laurie jane kern on May 9, 2009

I have been working my way through Making Silver Chains: simple techniques, beautiful designs by Glen Waszek, and as I made each chain my soldering has gotten better: less messy (too much solder, bumps, voids, small gaps) and I am not soldering 2 or more links together or having to re-solder a link; and the time it takes to make a chain is shorter  not that one should rush it but all these little issues add up.

One of the first big ticket tools I bough soon after I started this journey was a Koil Cutter from Dave Arnes. This is one of the best investments I have made so far. If you still hand saw your links from coils you really have to get one of these set ups. I also bought the hand winder with the basic mandrel set. I have then supplemented the mandrels which are in .5 mm increments with bamboo knitting needles – double pointed needles to be exact. Why? A) Knitting needles can be found in .25mm increments. B) Bamboo allows for easy cutting and modification C) Double pointed (which are for socks) are the perfect length for winding coils on!

As I was saying….The instructions from the chain book are very easy to understand and the chains progress from easy to harder and more complex. The one problem I have is that the wire size for each project is listed as gauge size (ie 20g) but the physical size (in mm) is not the true gauge size, in either gauge system. The wire being used for the chains is an exact metric size. This difference does not affect some of the simpler chains but when you get to the more complex chains (loop-in-loop, idiots delight) it does matter.  To resolve this problem, I have taken the wire size and the winding mandrel size – both of which are in millimeters, from the book and calculated the actual aspect ratio of the link. I then use this aspect ratio to see if the true wire gauge and mandrel size should be adjusted.  The advantage of calculating the aspect ratio fore each chain also makes it easier when I want to change wire gauge and still keep the proportions of the chain.  [The programmer in me has built spread sheet so I convert from Aspect Ratio to Wire/Mandrel sizes by just a few key strokes!]

So what chains have I done?

Here they are in order, from left to right: Basic Trace Chain; Fetter and Link; Elongated Trace Chain;  Loop-in Loop and Wiggly – though I call it rosette. ( you will see some of these in the pictures of my pendants)

I am skipping the curb chains cause I just don’t like the look of them.

My next chain (s) will be the “Fancy” chapter. After that I hope to move onto the Classical Loop in Loop book.

laurie jane kern

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

shelbyvision May 12, 2009 at 5:31 am

This brings back memories. My first job in the jewelry trade was making chain. It was about 1974, and it was sweat-shop conditions, just three people making gold chain, until gold prices shot up, then we switched to mostly silver. It was the most tedious work imaginable, and the place wasn’t air conditioned, so it would be over 100F in there in the summer. The wire was wound on special elliptical mandrels on a lathe. Before winding, the mandrel was wrapped with paper, not just any paper, but the brown paper from the sleeves that came on National Geographic Magazines (it was just the right thickness). After the wire was wrapped on the mandrel, the whole unit was heated with a torch, which annealed the wire and burned the paper away, so the coil would slip off easily. The coil was then sawed by hand with a jeweler’s saw at the bench pin, then the links were assembled together and closed with pliers. Then the most difficult part (and the part I thought I would never be able to master, although I did) was taking a tiny square of sheet solder with needle-nosed pliers and inserting it into the joint of the link, one in each link, for chains that were often several feet long. After every link had it’s solder inserted, the soldering was done, one link at a time. This was done with the torch attached upright to the bench pin with rubber bands, so the link being soldered could be held in the flame for complete control. After soldering, the chains were pickled, then tumbled with steel shot, then buffed. After buffing, they were put into a pan of detergent and ammonia on a hotplate, so the shop always reeked of ammonia. We were so used to it we didn’t notice it, but it was really funny when someone new to the place came in there. Ah, what memories! The shop was in Oreland, PA, outside of Philadelphia, and the owner’s name was Walter Haslam. I think he was in his forties when I worked there, so he might still be alive, maybe someone out there knows.

Michael Johnson May 11, 2009 at 10:24 am

Great work!!!
It sounds like you are having fun while you learn :o)

Anne Bellissimo May 11, 2009 at 4:28 am

What a good idea! Thanks for posting with the photos. I am a novice, but have done quite a bit of work with metal clay which leaves a lot of work that needs beads or chain to actually be worn. So–I guess I’ll be figuring aspect ratios soon. Thanks for the tip and the book title. Your work looks good–I crank up my new Little Torch this week…Anne

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