Tag Archives: Ann Cahoon

Teacher chronicles

I have been preparing like mad for several spring teaching engagements, and I have finally gotten my head above the water. With just two weekend days and evenings per week to get ready, it’s been a race to the finish – because my first classes are almost upon me. The last thing I have left is to prep my comprehensive shopping list to take to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows. I’ve got half-packed kits all over the studio, instruction sheets to print, and little boxes and bags of demo pieces all over the place. I love teaching, but it is inevitable that when my mind is sharply focused on what I am soon to teach, something comes up for a student from a class I already taught. Then, I end up juggling questions from students about last year curriculum and questions from organizers about soon-to-come curriculum simultaneously. My brain hurts.

One of those questions came up last week about my “One Hour Rings” video:

“Hello Helen. My name is David. I watched your video (One Hour Rings) and I was left with a few questions. For starters, where can I buy a sanding disk? I can’t find one anywhere. Secondly, you said to quench the metal in water after soldering, can I do that with white gold? Somebody told me that I can’t. I would appreciate it if you could get back to me. Thanks again for such an informative video!!”

And shortly after he replied to say it was OK to answer his question here, David sent me a second email, with a link to a website, picturing a titanium ring:

“Hello. It’s me again. I just had one last question. I have been wanting to make myself a ring for a while now. I finally found one I want to make, but I wouldn’t know how to set the stones like that. It can be viewed here. It is the picture on the left. I was wondering if you had a video or could explain how I could make a ring like that and set the stones like that. I would really appreciate it. Thanks!”

Really, I don’t suggest copying someone elses work, but in this case, the ring pictured was a plain, half-round band with a flush set stone. The only real challenge to fabricating the ring in question was the metal: titanium. But, back to the original question first:

1. Sanding discs (search for brass-center snap-on sanding discs) – my preferred brand is Moore’s. I get mine from either Kent’s tools in Tucson: www.kentstools.com or from Rio Grande: www.riogrande.com. Don’t forget a mandrel for them — they require a square center mandrel for easy switch outs, which is why I love them.

2. Quenching Gold – don’t do it. Especially white gold, because it will cause extreme brittleness in the metal. For hard-wearing jewelry like rings, weak metal is not a good idea. Weak metal is never a good idea, actually. Just let your gold air cool on a steel block. Then, pickle it before proceeding.

3. The ring in question – features plain, ordinary half-round stock and a flush set stone, sometimes called a “Gypsy setting.” I’ve never fabricated Titanium, so I can’t help you on that, but any really good reference on stone setting will give you step by step instructions on how to create a flush setting. However, I am a firm believer in “Show, don’t tell,” so, here is the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words shot…


You’ll notice that a setting bur has virtually the same profile as a standard, round faceted brilliant cut stone. Never bur deeper than the top of the bur.

And here’s an ultra-simplified bullet point process on how to do this:

• Fabricate a band thicker in gauge than the deepest part of the stone – measuring from table to culet.
• Use a drill to start a hole in the band, then switch to a setting bur the same size or slightly smaller in diameter than the stones girdle.
• Cut the seat to the depth that causes the girdle to be just below the surface of the metal.
• Set the stone in the seat, then bouge the metal in and up to the girdle of the stone to set it securely in place.

Fair warning: it’s a lot tougher than it sounds here. It takes a lifetime of practice to set stones professionally, but there is no reason not to try. I’d suggest practice with CZs on brass, and really reading up on stone setting. Again, it’s fun, but it isn’t easy. There are loads of books on the topic out there, as well as Ann Cahoon’s brand-new and fabulous video called Introduction to Gemstone Setting available from IWP. I was at the filming for that video and for her next one, and Ann is a real pro!

And, to my 2013 “Rotary Tools Demystified” students — I finally got your resource list ready.
Email me if I missed you, or if you still need one…


Backstage Pass: Ploof, Cahoon and Warg video sessions

Despite a temporary delay (due to crushing print deadlines) I have finally sorted out my notes and photos from recent studio visits in New England with metalsmith/jewelry artist (and life) partners Chris Ploof and Ann Cahoon, and the incomparable Pauline Warg, enamelist extraordinaire. It was a busy week, with IWP Video Production staffers from Colorado meeting up with me and the fantastic artist talent here on the east coast. I had forgotten just how gorgeous New England is, and I was delighted to spend some time meeting these three talented artists and assisting Garrett and Nick with the backstage and editing support during the filming of three IWP videos.

For the Massachusetts leg of our journey, we shot at the Chris Ploof/Ann Cahoon studio in Leomister. I haven’t been to Massachusetts since I took a workshop at Metalwerx in 2009 (with Michael Boyd) and both Chris and Ann are instructors there as well. Chris specializes in Mokume Gane and Damascus, and is the metalsmith’s metalsmith. He can form, forge, cast, solder, fabricate, make tools and also runs a thriving and busy production/manufacturing facility and business.

Watching him create a mokume gane billet and then pattern it on video was a treat for me, because I have never seen that process live. Chris is a real pro and living proof of the work hard/stay humble ethic common to many New Englanders. Chances are if you own a weighted Delrin forming mallet, it was manufactured in the Ploof facility, right alongside his incredible luxury metal rings and other jewelry objects. You can see his gorgeous work and learn about Chris here: http://www.chrisploof.com/

The other half of this life and work partner duo, Ann Cahoon, spent the afternoon demonstrating a variety of stone settings on camera, and her exacting nature and high level of quality control is another contributing factor to the success of their business. Ann is a consummate professional, and I admire her for the difficulty she conquers every day as a stone setter: one of the most unforgiving tasks jewelry makers perform in pursuit of their craft. I truly do not know how she did it on camera with such composure and professionalism. Learn more about Ann here:  http://www.metalwerx.com/staff/57

Both Ann and Chris are hard-working and modest. It was a long day of filming and they both not only shot their own material for the video, but got other important work done in the studio while their partner was on camera. Both artists were in the midst of preparing a body of work for the Vegas shows, and interrupted that important production process for our filming sessions. I feel so much gratitude to both of them for allowing us into the studio during such a busy period. I picked up some great ideas for my own studio while I was there, and filled two-thirds of my notebook with information on tools, mokume gane, stone setting, sources, and all kinds of studio information which they happily shared with me. Then, after packing up, a hasty good-bye, and the promise to spend time with them in the future, it was off to I-95 and on the road to the rugged and glorious state of Maine.

Pauline Warg is a tremendous teacher, with a full-fledged shop and education storefront in Scarborough, Maine. Her video will cover Torch Fired Enamels, and she is an accomplished pro. I was so honored to spend the day with her and her husband, and I discovered at lunch that she studied with Philip Morton (author of Contemporary Jewelry, A Studio Handbook) — one of the giants of education in our craft. Pauline herself  is the author of Making Metal Beads, and she teaches and lectures regularly at crafts centers all over the country. It was a tremendous delight to spend the day there, and I totally covet her amazing neon-color welding goggles! I took another third of a notebook of notes down, bought some enamel supplies I have been looking for, and the hunt is on for those welding goggles, btw…

To learn more about Pauline and her work, visit http://wargetc.com/


Here is a shot of the rocks near Two Lights, just southeast of Portland. It was a misty morning, and I could barely see the lighthouses. I apologized profusely for all the sand my shoes dragged into the rental car…

At the end of my time in New England, I had a few precious hours left to explore along the rugged coast (just 4 miles from my hotel!) on the way up to the airport, and I got to indulge my inner nature geek. I filled my phone camera with shots taken along the rocky shore, and managed to find and explore three state parks and two wildlife areas in less than 6 hours.

I was delighted that I finally got to see the infamous misty Maine coast and was reminded so much of my beloved island of Espanola in Galapagos. The Maine shore is visually similar to those islands, with rugged rock cliffs, huge waves, fascinating plants and the never-ending song of the sea. Maine was the only state along the entire east coast I hadn’t been to, and I have wanted to go there since I was a child.


2-inch PVC pipe protects those mandrels, and ductwork strapping holds them secure. Awe. Some.

As I clamored over those rocks and listened to the lighthouse horns, I vowed I would return to Maine (with my favorite Galapaganian) and spend some time again on those shores. I had to keep looking at my watch to not lose track of time, because the coast (anywhere) is my favorite place on earth. I got damp and dirty, but I managed to pull out one remaining clean set of clothes to change in the airport bathroom and fix my bad hair day before heading home. After one last bowl of delicious chowder, I was on my way to the gate, and back at home by dinner.

Life is good.

Today’s tip: Is courtesy of Chris Ploof. Check out (above, right) how he stores his many ring mandrels, keeps them handy, grabbable, and clearly labeled, just behind his bench. I intend to make a Depot run this week and use this brilliant solution. It both protects the tools, and puts them in easy reach — what more can you ask for? Thank you Chris!