Tag Archives: Work habits

What’s on your Bench?

I love to work. It’s so delicious to sit down at the bench and play with a wide range of fun and inspiring stuff and let the old gray matter go gonzo. I’ve had a hard few months helping my sister navigate the dark waters of a medical crisis, and now she’s nearing home port. The joy I feel for her eclipses all the hard and nasty stuff on my plate right now, and somehow I have managed to stay strong, help her as I can, and keep the eye on the prize while steering us straight. Sorry I’ve been away, but she is more important.

Now that we are here, I am actually happily excited for the near future. Life is good.

Speaking of the near future, Bead Fest is coming, and in case you aren’t connected, I’ve got some fun new classes on deck that I am making sample objects for. There are two new ones I LOVE: No Torch Captures and Connections, and Urban Conchos. Both are a departure for me — they are technique driven and intended to stretch your design skills, rather than technique driven and intended to increase your tool mastery — but don’t worry, I’ve still got tool classes too, lol.

And, my most awesome teacher’s assistant (the aforementioned super sister) will be there helping you/me/us and playing really good setup tunes, troubleshooting your Dremel collets, standing by you as you rock the Genies, and running the shop — so I can totally focus on giving you a great class. What would we do without her, right?

So, here’s a peek at what’s on my bench now. If something looks fun, try it. I’d love to see you in class if you can come!

helen driggs jewelry

I’ve been cutting some fun materials to connect via rivets and other methods.

helen driggs tools

This is for Urban Conchos — and whoa! check out the antique pipe flaring sets I found at the Flea.

captures and connect driggs

One of the target objects for Captures and Connections.

helen driggs bench

I scored a nice lot of Bamboo Knitting Needles at a yard sale last week. Soon, I will cut them up for pendants.

Let’s have fun together and celebrate the end of a hard journey. Feel free to come by and say Hi to my sister and I — even if you aren’t in class. For those of you already coming, I can’t wait to play with you in class.

PS: It’s been rough, but now that we are almost home, I promise to visit you here more often. See you soon and thanks for your kind words, well wishes and support.


Catching Up on Things…

So, yeah. You may have noticed I’ve been otherwise occupied for some time now, as I’ve been dealing with a few real life issues in my family. But good news: we are out of the woods and into the light now. Sorry for abandoning you, but as they say: family first!
Last weekend, I was very busy teaching all-day and two-day workshops at BeadFest Spring, and I’m sad to report it’s going to be the last show of a 10-year run for that particular event. I must say I am kind of sad to see it go, because that’s how I made the connection with the publishing company I work for, I met my current boss, and got my “dream”job as an editor for Lapidary Journal.
I did love April in Oaks every spring — even when it rained, or snowed, or was too cold, or too warm — because I love meeting new students and starting the warm season energized, inspired and ready to work. But, don’t despair! The annual August BeadFest Show is and will still be on the books, and for sure I will be teaching there every year.
On that note, this is my usual post-BeadFest debriefing, where I answer any and all questions that came in after class from students (so far) and I will continue to add to it through the rest of the month to capture any stragglers. So, without further adieu…

Q: Hi Helen,
I attended your amazing cab making class on Saturday at Beadfest. I planned to order diamond drill bits from the company I usually order metals and materials but when I checked into it I learned that they are very weak on lapidary supplies 😦
Can you recommend a couple of suppliers and which bits you find to be the most durable and reliable. Also, do you have any experience with Diamond Pacific’s Pixie Grinder/Polisher. I know… it’s hard to take a lapidary machine named “Pixie” seriously… but now, thanks to you, I REALLLLLY want to work with stones and the big boy Genie is to much $$$ at the moment. My guess is I should save my pennies for the real deal and not mess with a machine built for rock hounds living in an RV. It’s definitely time for the Spirflame torch to find a new home and make room for new equipment.
Thanks a bunch!
— Gina

A: Hi Gina!
I Like LASCO Diamond for shaped diamond tips for the flex shaft, and the Crystolite brand “Triple Ripple” Diamond Drill Bits. I like The Gem Shop, Inc. and Kingsley North as a great all around Lapidary suppliers, and don’t forget — Diamond Pacific is a full service lapidary and jewelry suppler as well.
For my hands, the Pixie is way too small. I owned a used one for about 6 months, and like all DP equipment, it’s fabulous, really well made and durable. My only “problem” was the petiteness of it  — I could span 4 wheels by stretching out my hand from thumb tip to pinky tip, and needless to say, I went right for a Genie and never looked back. I will be teaching Lapidary again at BeadFest in August, so stop by and say Hi!

Q: Where do you get metal and tools?

A: My favorite suppliers for metals and general metalwork and jewelry making tools are varied. I do have regulars, though:

Metalliferous in New York is always worth the trip for metals, tools, beads, supplies, discontinued parts, findings, chain and other needs. the Store and Mail Order Department is at: 34 West 46th Street; 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036

Allcraft Tools, also in New York is another not-to-miss vendor. They have a website in progress, however I always suggest calling: 800-645-7124. If you want to go, they are located at: 135 West 29 St.; Suite 205, New York, NY 10001

Rio Grande is a large jewelry supply house located in Albuquerque, NM. They have all the major brand name tools and are well stocked in precious metals and materials for the serious hobbyist to the professional bench jeweler. Their online store can’t be beat when you need something right now. Get on their mailing list for a thick fully illustrated catalog, and browse their giant library of tip and trick videos, tool use videos and instructional materials as well as call the live tech support team during the day. 800-545-6566

That’s it for the moment, guys! Thanks for coming to class and I’ll blog again as soon as I get my studio straightened up… Ciao!

Busy is an Understatement

Feast or Famine. This is the way of life for most creative people. Every artist that I know in every discipline constantly copes with waves of too much/not enough over the course of their career. This applies to everything: work, money, time, inspiration, sleep, raw materials, you name it. If you aren’t used to that too much/not enough rhythm, the artist’s lifestyle is bound to be too stressful for you.
I think it’s crucially important to find whatever balance you can and establish a boundary system of sorts — despite the fact that being undisciplined is more common to us creative types than the opposite.

Since the last time I posted here, I have fabricated 9 objects, taken a master class, tech edited 4 issues of the magazine and done the never ending onslaught of day job stuff, produced a series of set designs and illustrations for an immersive theater performance, pitched 9 newly created classes and created sample objects for them, packed kits for 3 Tucson classes, taken inventory for the 6 others and formulated a 2016 student needs shopping list for Tucson, traveled to the home office and back, oh, and also dealt with the normal life stuff: house, family, pets, laundry, garden, gym, etc.

Most of this recent wave of stuff has reached the finish line, and I can see an open space on the horizon. Yahoo!

Bring on some famine, because I sure need it now. I look forward to my famine times — however brief they may be — because those are the places of possibility. Where I think, dream, begin and push. I start to build an energy bank for the next wave. Having those calm, empty, famine spaces is essential for me, so I have disciplined myself to black out sections of my calendar specifically for the purpose of having open space. I may or may not go anywhere or do anything particular during those times, but if I don’t create that space and protect it from intruders, I know I will self destruct.

So here is a trick for you — if you are also a member of the feast or famine crowd. Trust me and try this. The crazy holidays are coming. Don’t feel guilty, just do it. Block off three days of your choosing and then don’t let anybody schedule you for anything. Except you. Guard those three days and see what happens to your head when you know they are there to depend on and that you can trust yourself not to surrender them to anything or anyone. And then, once you have spent those three days doing exactly what you felt like, take a look at how proud of yourself you are for defending your right to open space.

Then, make a habit of it.

See you next time!

Metal Stamping Your Jewelry: Part One

Metal Stamping is hugely popular these days, and I get lots of questions about it — particularly about stamping straight and spacing letters. To understand how to nicely stamp words and phrases, it’s critical to understand a little bit about typography. As a former graphics professional, typography and letter forms are near and dear to my heart, so here is an easy primer on the gentle art of typography for non-graphic designers.

First, a glossary is in order — just so we can speak the same language:
A font, or a typeface, is an alphabet of a specific design. All of the letter forms, numerals, symbols and ligatures of a particular font will be similar in appearance, match in size, weight and style, and they will work well together when combined into words, sentences, and paragraphs.
There are font families: Modern, Egyptian, Script, Roman, Gothic, etc.
There are font weights: Light, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, etc.
There are two major types of letter forms: uppercase (capital letters; all-caps) and lowercase (non-capital letters).

Luckily, today’s metal stamp sets typically consist of one letter form, so the real complexities of typesetting are easily dealt with. Some fonts can be purchased as two individual sets: uppercase letters or lowercase letters. Either way, some essential measurements you’ll need to know about your particular letter stamps are detailed here. I know math and art make an unhappy marriage sometimes, but there are places where you’ll need it, and sorry, this is one of them.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

In today’s blog, I will deal with just horizontal measurements. Stay tuned for Part Two: Vertical Measurements where I’ll be including samples, too.
OK, ready? Let’s start!

Capital letters of a font live in the space somewhere between the highest point of the ascenders (b, d, f, h, k, l) and the lowest point of the descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Some script fonts include flourishes and swashes that sweep into that space as well. The pink highlight in these diagrams, or, total height of the font, can usually but not always, be determined by measuring the shaft of the actual metal stamp. This measurement is critical to know if you are stamping blocks of text, but not so critical if you are stamping just one word.

Without getting too picky, there are also some special considerations for specific round letters — O, Q, G and C — which just look much better when they sit below the baseline a bit instead of on it, but I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, that baseline is the most important line you’ll need to know for well-spaced stamped lettering. It is used for lining up the bottoms of the letters, and measuring the “x-height” of your font is how you’ll find the baseline. See the green highlighted x in my diagrams? Those lines that mark the top and the bottom of the x are the font’s x-height. The bottom line is the baseline. This is true even if you choose an all-caps font. For a lowercase font, it’s obvious. So, take a scrap of metal, whack your x stamp and then measure the stamped x with dividers — so you know what that measurement is for the particular font you have decided to stamp with.
Here’s a diagram with a closer look…

The X height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface -- be it upper or lower case.

The x-height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface — be it upper or lower case.

So, once you know the total depth of the font and the x-height, you are ready to layout your horizontal guidelines, or grid. This is especially important for blocks of text, and again, not too important for single words. But, I suggest always working on an actual-size piece of tissue paper first, and hand lettering the layout for spacing, and then making a test run of your phrase on scrap metal. with the actual stamps you intend to use. Only then should you commit to your piece. In my mind, it’s worth taking the time to test things, because a poorly stamped text block can really ruin your day, not to mention your metal, so don’t go there.
To create the guidelines on your tracing paper, tape it to the table, and use a T-Square to draw parallel lines at all of these points: the top line, the base line, the bottom line, and the space between each line of stamping.
Here is a closer look at that…

Spacing guidelines for metal stamping must include these measurements.

The horizontal spacing guidelines, or “grid” for metal stamping must include each of these measurements.

I like to use the x-height as my line spacing, but you can also use more or less, depending on the style, size and complexity of your font. Again, making a test run (or several of them) is a good idea, especially with complex blocks of text. You did want people to be able to read it, right?
Next blog, I’ll address the vertical guidelines, so get yourself some letter stamps, a scrap of metal and write out a phrase to practice with. I have lots of tips to share with you, so hang tight… I will be back soon.

Pssst: Thank you, you intrepid souls who are following me on Instagram! It’s super-fun playing I Spy with you.

If this is a mystery to you, click on the photo under the photo of my book at upper right of this blog, join Instagram, and play along. And, if you have patience, wait. I’ll be producing a limited-edition instructional kit of the mystery project I’ve been making on Instagram for sale, in my soon-to-open Etsy Store… In the meantime, follow me here:

Twitter: @fabricationista
Instagram: HDriggs_Fabricationista
Facebook: Helen Driggs

Problem Solving at the Bench

Brooke's bracelet after patination in Liver of Sulfur

Brooke’s bracelet after patination in Liver of Sulfur

Recently, I got an email from Brooke Graybill, a former student who took my Flex Shafts Only! class at Bead Fest Spring. She’s been busy working on some interesting etched bracelets, and wanted to experiment with patination, but hit a wall.
Of course, she emailed me just as I was packing for Bead Fest Philly, so it has taken me some time to answer her here. Luckily, Brooke was tenacious, and hunted me down there, so we did catch up with each other, I told her what I came up with to help her (I hope) and I also hope she is moving forward on that bracelet now.

In any case, my mind has continued to work on solving her problem since the day she emailed, and as soon as I clear a half finished project from my bench, I plan to do some scientific research — to see if I can solve her problem without doubt. In the meantime, what I have here are the several suggestions I came up with. But first, here’s her email:

Hi Helen,
I recently took a Flex Shaft course from you, however, my question is about patina, I hope you can help me. I etched some copper for a bracelets. My plan was to use liver of sulfur and darken the etched copper as dark as possible and then buff off the patina on the raised areas.
The one picture I’ve included shows my problem . . . I had trouble removing the dark patina only on the raised areas . . . hence I had to remove all of it.  Is there something I could have put on the raised areas to resist the liver of sulfur?  I would appreciate any suggestions you may have. Thanks – Brooke Graybill

Brooke's bracelet after finishing.

Brooke’s bracelet after finishing.

I love the challenge of solving problems, and in doing so, I first analyze Pros and Cons of the situation. In this particular case, all the pros are about the metal Brooke chose: copper. She got a deep and clear etch, copper forms easily, and there isn’t a more patina-friendly metal. Sadly, some of the cons are also about the metal: the copper will continue to darken over time (unless it is sealed) and eventually obscure the stark contrast between the red metal raised areas and the black patinated recesses. The other con has to do with the design she etched — those raised areas are little isolated copper islands in an ocean of black. This isn’t bad design, mind you, it’s just difficult to deal with technically — as Brooke discovered.

So here’s what I came up with. To help you wrap your brain around it, I will call the raised areas of the design the “islands” and the etched out areas the “ocean”.

Option 1: The hand finishing method. If Brooke had left the bracelet flat after patination and then very carefully used a scotch stone, burnisher, triangle scraper, or a bit of steel wool or abrasive paper to very patiently remove the patina from the surfaces of the islands, she would have had more control and been able to preserve the black ocean. Then she could have very carefully formed the bracelet around the mandrel with a clean rawhide mallet while protecting the delicate surface with a piece of cloth, chamois or leather.

Option 2: The patient patinatation method. This option is also best for a flat cuff, and I would use a weak liver of sulfur liquid solution or the gel for this process. Get a fine-tipped sable watercolor brush — not a cheap, crappy, 50-cent dime store brush that flops around when its wet — and carefully paint the patina into the oceans. You can only do this with a decent brush. Since you want black, black, black, work on a paper towel and let the patina solution evaporate off the metal. Then, form as above.

Steel Wool QTip

Use a chopstick, dowel or round toothpick and some 28 ga. wire to attach the steel wool.

Either of these options requires patience and an unformed bracelet. In Brooke’s case, the bracelet is already formed. So, if it were me, I would throw it in the pickle to remove all traces of former patina, rinse and dry it, and then blacken it again. Then I would make a steel wool Q-tip (photo at left) and very patiently burnish that patina off the islands. After I have what I want, I’d seal that copper with wax, matte varnish or Krylon immediately! Because copper is so patina-friendly, it will turn chocolate brown on you almost immediately, especially here on the uber-humid eastern seaboard.

So, Good Luck Brooke! I hope these suggestions help, and I will do some experimenting myself soon to see if I can  come up with another solution.

Pssst: It might possibly be entertaining and interesting in the very near future for you readers and subscribers to start following my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds soon … Just sayin’

Twitter: @fabricationista
Instagram: HDriggs_Fabricationista
Facebook: Helen Driggs

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…

Get out of my studio, NOW!

It’s early on a gorgeous fall Sunday, and I just had a coffee in my new kitchen — otherwise known as the remodel from hell. What a black hole on your time that sort of job can be! It seems so simple when you start — just save for years, plan well, tear the old one out, and put the new one in. Wrongo.

You see, I live in an old house, and things always take 42 times longer than you expect because of that. In my idealistic, perfect-plan, pre-demolition dreams, the studio would be the temporary receiving department for maybe two weeks, and after everything was done, life would go back to normal. Yeah, right.

I expected the dirt, trash, homeless dishes, pots and pans all over the house and the cooking on a hot plate. Short-term stuff, right? But, in reality, my two week blitz-it timeframe turned into a five-month job. There has been a huge pile of cabinetry, materials, and a new refrigerator blocking my soldering station and bench for the better part of the summer. Worst of all, I didn’t mentally prepare for the seemingly endless parade of strangers traipsing through my private space to measure, deliver, reschedule, hammer, drill, reschedule, plaster, wire, reschedule, plumb and build and reschedule.

I am a private person, and this part of the remodel experience was total torture. I couldn’t escape at all — there was not one normal place in the entire house where I could quietly sit and comfortably focus, think, or create anything — and it made me a terrible person to live with. Crab. Be.

Now, the house is quiet again and the only uprooted thing left standing in my creative space is the old refrigerator, waiting to be picked up Thursday by my state’s green recycle program. Life is peaceful again, it’s somewhat clean, and things are basically organized and back to normal. And, good grief I really. Really. Urgently. Need to make some work. NOW.

However, I am still unsettled and distracted. I really LOVE my new kitchen, but I can’t seem to be able to work. It’s odd, because mentally, I just can’t get back to a place where I want to work. Maybe it’s fatigue, stress, sleep deprivation or some kind of crazy, kitchen-induced-the-book-is-finally-done-and-your-life-is-yours-again, post-partum-like depression or something. And worrying over it only makes it worse.

Whatever it is, I want it gone so I can get to work, and boy, am I tired of waiting for it to go away. You’d think the homemade bread baking in the oven, pumpkin soup on the stove, and really, really good coffee would get me started. But, I am still not ready to sit at my bench, and the new kitchen clock ticks. It’s my audible reminder of passing time that brings me closer and closer to my deadline…