Fabrication: Modifying the elements for a better effect.

by jaywhaley on September 26, 2010

A new student of mine recently asked my advice on a fabricated pendant she had planned to mold and replicate by casting.  It was made out of curved lengths of square wire, soldered together.  As I looked at the construction, I realized that it would never mold and cast as cleanly as the fabricated model she showed me, and I told her so.

The beauty of fabricated pieces is how clean and perfect rolled stock can be assembled.  The fact that its components were so exact and smoothly finished is pretty difficult to replicate by casting and finishing afterward.

I explained that the piece she had made out of square wire looked as good as it was ever going to, and that she should consider hand fabricating any clones of that same design.  She really had been looking for an easier, faster way to make more pendants like the original.  Casting just wasn’t going to be her answer, in this example.

Another part of my metalsmithing “philosophy” came to me, and I explained this to her.  I think that the wire and sheet that are part of fabricated work should not readily be identified.  By this I mean that to someone looking at a fabricated piece, it should ideally not be so obvious what elements the piece was made from.  I don’t want to look at a piece and notice immediately a square wire soldered to a flat sheet. I want to see some creative thought by the maker, making the elements not so ordinary and obvious.

To explain my reasoning in a more practical way, I used her square wire as an example.  We began to take a heavy piece of wire stock she had, and step-taper this wire in the rolling mill.  After annealing and lightly hammer planishing out the steps made from the mill, she cross-peened a texture across the top of the tapered wire.  After an additional annealing, we used a tapered mandril to hand bend a zig-zag shape in the textured taper.  This whole process took less than 10 minutes.

While holding the new hammer-textured taper in her hands, she could immediately see how much richer this new tapered wire was than the unmodified smooth square wire she had been using in her fabrication.  It was simple and fast to make the far more interesting shaped wire, and what a dramatic difference between the two wires!

As a metalsmith, you shouldn’t have to settle for “off the rack” wire and sheet for your original work. The rolling mill can make creating as well as altering flat and wire stock quickly and easily, if you know how to use the machine to its creative potential.

–Jay Whaley

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jamie Hall September 27, 2010 at 1:15 am

That’s a very good point – depending on “off the rack” bullion is very limiting. I use a rolling mill and draw plates every day – each job would take 3 times as long if I had to depend on buying the right size of wire – and you always need to tweak it slightly anyway, to get a push fit or whatever.

Although casting can be really useful, and there are some very artistic casters out there, it can be a false economy when it comes to the final finish – after you’ve spent an hour polishing up all the concave areas and the insides of settings…etc, you might as well have spent an hour fabricating it – and you’ll have a lot more fun while doing it.

This obviously doesn’t apply if you’re making hundreds of items and mass-finishing them in barrels, chemicals..etc, but it doesn’t sound like she was trying to do that.

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