One of my “life list” goals is to be constantly learning something new (Life List post coming soon!). This past winter, a friend of mine told me that she had recently become involved with the Bellingham Metal Arts Guild. When she told me about the classes, I was instantly intrigued. I have always been interested in metalwork, specifically as it pertains to jewelry, but the cost of all the necessary tools made dabbling in this field cost prohibitive. These classes offered a chance to learn metalsmithing techniques without the need to purchase my own tools. An even bigger perk is that once you become a member of the guild, take two classes, and complete a safety test, you can rent studio time for $10 for 4 hours!
I signed up for the very next 5-week introductory session. Each three-hour class brought a new lesson and an opportunity to work on our individual projects. The instructor was incredibly knowledgeable and provided information on the science behind why metals behave certain ways as well as lessons on how to use all of the tools. She then set us free to experiment and checked in with everyone to provide support and guidance when needed. It was the perfect balance of teaching and practical work.
Copper and brass were the metals used in the introductory class as they are apparently the most forgiving. The first step was to come up with a design, which I think is probably the hardest part. Never having done anything like this, how was I supposed to come up with a design? Pinterest was a big help. I ended up choosing an octopus design, which was a little ambitious for my first project, but with the encouragement of the instructor, I started sawing, and sawing and sawing some more.
As the weeks went on, we learned about annealing, soldering, sanding, polishing, texturing, etc. When it was all said and done, I ended up with a completed piece consisting of a brass octopus on a copper background, both textured, and finished with silver eyes.
I was definitely hooked! I immediately signed up for the intermediate class, which was setting stones and working with silver. Silver is a little harder to work with. It has a lower melting temperature than copper and brass. The melting temperature is also just a bit higher than that of the solder, so you have to be very careful not to melt your piece. If you get silver too hot, it will immediately shrink right up into a ball, which is actually a really fun thing to make with leftover silver scraps, but not so fun when you melt your bezel!
We started this class by choosing a stone for a ring. The next step was fitting a bezel, soldering the bezel onto a base, and sawing or sanding the base to the desired shape. When the bezel was finished, next came figuring out the size of the ring band, cutting and sizing the band, texturing, shaping and soldering the band into a circle, and finally soldering the band and bezel. I love the finished product and am still a little in awe that I created such a beautiful ring.
Heading into my last class, I am hoping to finish up another ring and then start work on a donation project. The Bellingham Metal Arts Guild (BMAG) teamed up with the Mt. Baker Rock and Gem Club and provides jewelry and other items made by members to local 501(3)(c) organizations free of charge to use for their fund raising events. It’s a great way to pursue a hobby and give back at the same time!