Please join me and feel free to chime in!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Red Copper Oxide Patina

Red Copper by Mrs. Kuroki
Frame by me
So many of my fellow metalsmiths are eager to learn how I achieve the red color on copper which I use a lot in my jewelry. These are definitely some of my most popular pieces of jewelry. Most people are curious what the material is because it doesn't look like what people think of when they think of copper.

I learned this method in Japan about twenty years ago from my teacher, Ayako Kuroki. She called it "houshyayaki" which translates to "grilled borax". Mrs. Kuroki taught me how to achieve a solid red patina which isn't always easy. I didn't have a problem getting the results I wanted at first. But a few years ago I lost my touch for some reason. After many frustrated attempts I finally threw in the towel and decided to take a break from it.

Earrings made in Japan circa 1990
Photographed upside down by man who doesn't wear jewelry!

Due to popular demand from both customers and other jewelers wanting to know how I do it, I started trying it again last night. It looks like there's hope that I may be able to figure it out. The more I practice the better I'll get at it which has always been the case from the first time I learned this technique.

This is all you need.  So simple...yet so not!

It's actually a very simple method. You simply mix some borax with tap water in a ceramic bowl which can take the heat of a torch in close proximity. I was taught that the dilution doesn't matter nor does the temperature of the water. You then heat your copper piece with a torch. I use a propane one. I surround the piece with charcoal blocks to help it heat up. You heat it to a red hot and very quickly quench it in the borax/water solution. It usually takes a few rounds before you achieve the solid red. The first attempt is often too orange for my taste. And there are usually black splotches mixed with the red. I was taught to heat from the back of the piece but honestly I have heated from the front with good results many times.  And if it just isn't working I throw the piece in the pickle and start over.  The pickle will remove the patina very quickly.  Which means the piece has to be cold formed.  No soldering.

As far as prepping the copper goes, Mrs. Kuroki thought that hammering it or at least hardening it yielded better results but I have gotten some of my best color on flat pieces of scrap which had no treatment at all. I also give the metal some "tooth" by rubbing it with scotchbrite.  Sometimes the piece has a beautiful shade of red but it's covered by a film which makes it difficult to really see. The best results have a glassy finish with no film.

Domes on left made last night.  You can see the black splotches I mentioned.
The earrings on the right are about 15 years old demonstrating durability.
I've worn them A LOT and thrown them into pockets with keys, etc.

This ring is pretty beat up and I wouldn't be showing it off except
to demonstrate durability again.  This was an experiment to see if
it was possible to inlay into the copper. It's about 15 years old and
worn a lot as well.  What I learned was that the pointy parts of the
inlay are too vulnerable.  But you can see that the red patina keeps
 on tickin'. I learned this inlay from National Living Treasure,
Mitsuo Masuda.  He invented this method of inlay as a modification
of "nunome zougan".  It is called "chidori ishime zougan" or
"bird's foot inlay".  I'll do another blog posting about Masuda Sensei
and this inlay technique sometime.

I'm no scientist, so I don't understand exactly what is going on in this process. But I believe that the borax is forming a glassy crust on the surface of the piece.  The red color is just a layer of oxidation and there is a core of the pink copper we are used to inside.  It is very durable as you can see in the photos of pieces I made about 20 years ago and have worn and manhandled many times. One would have to take a graver and carve into it to see the pink copper underneath.

I'm sure there are people out there who do understand the science behind it and I would love anybody to chime in with their knowledge/opinions.      

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cool Japanese Tools

Traditional Japanese metal polishing tools

I lived in Japan for six years and was fortunate to be able to study traditional Japanese metalsmithing at the Kuroki Atelier in Daikanyama, Tokyo. It is common knowledge that when the Japanese undertake something, they are not half-assed about it.  I was in total awe of the level of skill and craftsmanship they were capable of in all crafts.  They have so many skills and techniques which are unique to their culture.  When I learned how to polish metal in the old style I fell in love with the tools themselves.  These were being used long before electric power machines such as flex shafts and buffing machine came around.  Take a look...

1. Stage One ~ Naguratoishi

Naguratoishi is a stone.  The first stage of polishing is using this stone by dipping it in water and rubbing the piece of metal in a circular motion thereby eliminating the top layer of scratches.


2. Stage Two ~ Hozumi

Hozumi is a soft charcoal.  This stage is just a repetition of the first stage using water to polish the even finer scratches left.


3. Stage Three ~ Dozuribake

And then we have dozuribake which breaks down in translation to copper/polish/brush.  I think this is the coolest, most beautiful tool I've ever seen.  It's made from human hair which runs through the entire piece.  As the hair gets worn down from polishing, you shave off a layer of the enclosing wood frame.


4. Stage 4 ~ Hozumi powder

The final stage involves grating the hozumi with a coarse file into powder.  You then add a little water to the powder, dip the dozuribake into it and polish using a circular motion for the final stage.

Hozumi Filings

Polishing with Dozuribake

This method of polishing doesn't result in a shiny finish but is more of a sheen I would say.  These earrings and brooch which I made illustrate the kind of finish you get with this method.  The Japanese aesthetic favors the subtle which is expressed in a word which cannot be translated into English: Shibui http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibui

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Steamed Kale Recipe

Steamed Kale and Olives 

I'd like to share with you a really yummy recipe which even my kids love. It's very simple to make and extremely healthy. The most annoying part of it is to destem the kale. I use a sharp paring knife and just slice down either side of the spine of the kale. I like dinosaur kale the best. You can just leave the spine in also especially if it's a matter of eating it or not. 

Next step is to chop the kale into one inch slices and steam in a pan with about one inch of water for about 20 minutes or so. The kale needs to be tender but not bitter. 

When the kale is done steaming put it into a colander and squeeze out any excess water with a spoon.  Put it in a bowl and add about 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

That's it!  Eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography

If you're a jeweler/metalsmith you should read the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, master Italian goldsmith from the Renaissance. I'm very fortunate to have this two volume edition of it with reproductions of forty original portraits of historically prominent people such as Pope Clement VII, Charles V and several members of the House of Medici.  It is widely believed to be the most important autobiography of the Renaissance and, arguably, one of the most entertaining autobiographies of all time.

Besides being a goldsmith, Cellini was also a sculptor, draftsman, soldier and musician.  Here is a Wikipedia description of his autobiography:

"The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started in the year 1558 at the age of 58 and ended abruptly just before his last trip to Pisaaround the year 1563 when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his singular career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions, and delights, written in an energetic, direct, and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. He even writes in a complacent way of how he contemplated his murders before carrying them out. He writes of his time in Paris:
When certain decisions of the court were sent me by those lawyers, and I perceived that my cause had been unjustly lost, I had recourse for my defense to a great dagger I carried; for I have always taken pleasure in keeping fine weapons. The first man I attacked was a plaintiff who had sued me; and one evening I wounded him in the legs and arms so severely, taking care, however, not to kill him, that I deprived him of the use of both his legs. Then I sought out the other fellow who had brought the suit, and used him also such wise that he dropped it.
– The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Ch. XXVIII, as translated by John Addington Symonds, Dolphin Books edition, 1961
Parts of his tale recount some extraordinary events and phenomena; such as his stories of conjuring up a legion of devils in theColosseum, after one of his not innumerous mistresses had been spirited away from him by her mother; of the marvelous halo of light which he found surrounding his head at dawn and twilight after his Roman imprisonment, and his supernatural visions and angelic protection during that adversity; and of his being poisoned on two separate occasions."

Many of Cellini's masterpieces have been lost but here are a couple which are still in existence.  This is the bronze statue Perseus with the Head of Medusa which currently stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence.

And this is the well known salt cellar made of gold, enamel and ivory known as Saliera which was made for Francis I of France.

This book, which Cellini wrote between the 1558 and 1563, is a fascinating read even in our modern times.  I highly recommend it to everyone but especially for my fellow metalsmiths.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Ornament

I made this Christmas ornament about 14 years ago along with the little bag to protect the copper from the points on the tree.  The copper is colored by the borax coloring technique which I have used a lot.  I actually haven't used the ornament in some years because I lost track of it.  So when I opened it up this year I wasn't surprised that the silver would be tarnished.  However, I wasn't expecting the red copper to be discolored by the bag.  It's as if the black ink from the bag stained it.  Merry Christmas 2013!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Treasure from Tokyo


I used to live in Tokyo for six years.  I was amazed at how much jewelry I would find on the streets all the time.  This occurred way more than it does here in the US.  Think about it...how many times have you actually found jewelry just lying on the sidewalk in a major city in the States?  My theory is because Japanese women don't have a history of wearing jewelry.  What they did use for ornamentation was hairpins and other accessories.  It was especially the geisha who wore a lot of hair decoration. Relatively later in their history, women started wearing obidome which are ornaments tied over the obi to be  seen front and center.  Japanese metalsmithing was largely used for swordsmithing and tea ceremony objects.  On a large scale, there was also a lot of metalwork decorating the shrines and temples where they worshipped.



The following photo is my most prized find which is a brooch made of sterling silver and niello (an alloy of copper, silver and lead sulphides).  It is most certainly from Thailand where niello was used a lot from the 1930s to the 1970s in what is referred to as Siam Silver.  I couldn't believe nobody had stepped on it yet when I picked it up.  Somebody was very sad to lose this I'm sure.


But the weirdest thing I found was somebody's gold tooth filling. When you're a metalsmith, you really have an eye for metal.  I saw the gleam of gold luring me in the extremely busy Shibuya Station.  I ran over to pick it up and immediately said "Ewwww!"  But you can bet I didn't throw it down.  I saved it for years until finally putting it in with all my refining scraps.  Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it.