Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Few New Pennies

Just wanted to make a quick post to share the newest additions to "Monetary Bondage", a pair of really fancy "new" pennies. 

"Orange Indian Head" (front)
Copper, Vitreous Enamel, Fine Silver, 1905 "Indian Head" Penny
"Orange Indian Head" (back)
Copper, Vitreous Enamel, Fine Silver, 1905 "Indian Head" Penny
"Red Indian Head" (front)
Copper, Vitreous Enamel, Fine Silver, 1904 "Indian Head" Penny
"Red Indian Head" (back)
Copper, Vitreous Enamel, Fine Silver, 1904 "Indian Head" Penny
Hope you enjoyed the new pennies. Until next time, peace and love.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Pins and Other News

Hello every one,  I would like to start this post of by mentioning I recently posted the second entry to my work processes section (just in case any one didn't notice) and if you would like to check that out here is a short cut... 

Second Entry: How to Make Wire (Manually Drawing Wire) 

And since I just finished talking a whole lot about how wire is made, I figured I would show off some of my recent wire creations.
This was the first filigree brooch created, not the most practical brooch ever made but it works well and was a very nifty experiment that got me thinking some cool ideas.  
Pieces now for sale CLICK HERE!
These pins are the 2.0 version, a little more refined of a mechanism and some different features but I think there is a pretty clear evolution. A few of these have been posted for sale on my Etsy shop (click here to see what is up for sale now). These few pieces are just the beginning as I have many more filigree ideas swimming around at the moment; as well as some up coming additions to "Monetary Bondage".


This is a limited series of eleven cast bronze pins (the silver versions can be seen HERE). The pin backs are made of bronze wire made from the same alloy used to cast the pins and was soldered with silver solder. This wire was one of the hardest wires I've ever had to make, but turned out beautifully and incredibly strong. These too may make there way onto Etsy and I will be sure to make an update if that happens. Until next time I hope to be making another post soon... but that's the news for now.
For more information about any of these pieces please feel free to leave a comment, contact me through Etsy or send me an e-mail direct at 
as always peace and love.
Daniel Icaza 

Second Entry: How to Make Wire (Manually Drawing Wire)

Welcome to the second entry in this series of articles. Here I will discuss how to process a cast ingot of fine silver into a fine silver wire. CLICK HERE to learn how an ingot is cast! The first step in creating your own wire is having the appropriate starting material and the appropriate tool set to process that material into a wire. It may seem like a large list of tools but many of them can be fabricated at a fairly low cost and I will address that in this article as it becomes relevant.

Necessary Materials and Tools:

-Rolling mill (grooved for wire)
-Measuring tool (caliper or gauge plate) 
-Annealing Area (fire proof work area)
-Wire Drawing Bench or some sort of tool that will allow you to “draw” your wire.
-Drawplate/s (round, square, oval it is up to you…)

Depending on your particular tool set you may need to start with a smaller piece of material and not such a large cast ingot. For example, you may not have a rolling mill that will allow you to process down a cast ingot, or a wire drawing bench that will allow you to draw a thick wire but there are many ways to get around this. Using only a draw plate, tongs and a bench vice it is quite easy to produce a range of different wires, but you may need to start with a thick gauge wire and or a small cast ingot; this will become clearer toward the end of the article.

I will be starting with a large cast ingot. After cleaning and drying the ingot, take it over to the rolling mill. If the ingot is too large to pass through the widest opening of the rolling mill it may be necessary to open the rollers to allow the ingot to be worked. Some wire rolling mills do not have this ability and if this is the case you may have to forge the ingot down or start with a thinner material (like a thick wire/ rod). Several ingot molds come in different size and designs that allow you to cast small ingots of wire ready to be rolled through a mill.    

In this picture you can see my cast ingot and wire rolling mill. Notice that the rollers of the mill are not pressed together; this is because I have opened the gate of the rollers wide enough for me to pass the widest point of the ingot through the mill. In this position the ingot can pass freely through the largest groove in the mill. Once the rollers are spread far enough apart, we can begin to process the ingot down.
With the ingot out of the mill (never tighten the rollers with material in the mill) begin to tighten the rollers closer together; only by a quarter to a half turn at a time (this will often depend on the malleability of the material you are working with). After every quarter to half turn test to see if the ingot will pass through the widest opening. If the ingot still passes through freely, tighten the rollers by another quarter to half turn, until the ingot will not pass through the opening.
Once the ingot can no longer pass through the rollers, the ingot can make its first real pass through the mill. Place the ingot up to the opening that it was previously able to pass through and turn the rollers with the hand crank to pass the ingot through the opening. When the rollers are correctly positioned the material should be rather easily forced through the rollers and worked on the two sides that where in contact with the rollers. As the ingot exits the other side of the mill it should be retrieved and sent back through the mill with the rollers in the same position but with the ingot rotated ninety degrees (or a quarter turn); so that the two sides that were not in contact with the rollers may now be worked. If we neglected to do this, we would only work two sides of our ingot and it would not turn into a proper wire; as all four sides of our wire need to be worked evenly.

 The rollers are slowly working the material and moving closer together one “pass” at a time. Notice how the material appears to bulge out of the sides of the groove it is passing through. This is precisely why we must rotate our material…

Continue to make additional passes through the rolling mill always tightening the rollers by the appropriate amount for the material you are working with after each pass. Remember that every “pass” is made up of two parts. The easiest way to think about it is if you were to always stay on one side of the rollers. A complete pass would consist of (part 1) the material passing through your side of the rollers, coming out the back end, (part 2) the material making a ninety degree rotation and coming back out of the rollers toward your end again. At which point the rollers can be tightened by a quarter to half turn and another pass can be made.

Here you can see the rollers are pressed together and the ingot has been transformed into a square-like octagonal wire.
After making several passes the rollers will meet and should be pressed firmly together and stay in this position for the remainder of the work. When I am producing wire for my work I will process an ingot of fine silver down to this thickness before annealing. The general rule of thumb I was taught to go by, is to work your material down to half its original thickness; at which point it should be annealed before continuing work. For this reason it may be very useful to keep a measuring device handy to keep track of the thickness of your material as you work. In my case, I know that the point at which my rollers meet is just about half the thickness of my original ingot, so things work out pretty well for me in this case; particularly with fine silver which is so forgiving, if this was sterling or some other material I would have probably annealed the material at least once before reaching this point. Note that we don’t have to anneal our ingot at the beginning of this process because it was recently cast and had not undergone any forceful reorganization of its crystalline structure; until we began to roll it through the mill. 
To anneal our metal we want to heat it up and there are a few different ways of doing this… I use my torch, usually with a fairly large bushy flame. Different metals may have different visual indications of when they are annealed. In this case, fine silver usually appears as a very frosty white when annealed. If you notice closely at the picture above you can see the transition beginning to happen as the end closest to the flame is a dull white compared to the end in the foreground of the picture which still has a metallic luster from being “cold worked” through the rolling mill. These color indications show that the metal is at the appropriate temperature and not all metals should be heated to the point that it begins to glow red as this is usually an indication of approaching the melting point of the material. 

Not annealed…

After your material has been properly annealed you can return to the rolling mill for further processing. 
Since my goal is to make a wire fine enough to produce filigree with, I will be taking this wire to the very last (smallest) groove on the rolling mill; I am taking it as far as I can on the mill because it is faster to pull material through the mill than through a draw plate.
Remember which opening / groove you had just come through before annealing and proceed to the next one. In the picture above you can see that my ingot (now my rod/wire) had passed through the tight rollers of the biggest groove before annealing so now we are on to the next groove. Now that the rollers are pressed together there is no need to adjust the height of the rollers, you can simply move on to the next groove after making a complete two part pass through each groove as you go; be sure to anneal your material after it has been reduced to half of its thickness (after annealing) as a general rule of thumb (some materials may require annealing after each groove!). On my rolling mill, I tend to go through three grooves and then re-anneal the material. In the case of fine silver, I could probably get away with more but I don’t want to over-stress the material; particularly when going as thin as filigree wire. 
 Wire can be rather uncomfortable to work with as it can take up a lot of space at times, make sure you give yourself appropriate room to work with. Eventually after making enough passes through the mill it may become very tricky to pass such a long piece of material through the rollers as the material may want to turn itself while passing through the mill. To avoid problems like these, I will usually try and keep the wire that is going through my mill at a comfortable length. To do this I will cut my wire in half as soon as it becomes too awkward to work with (like the really long wire in the picture above has become).

 As you can see in this picture I am cutting the wire in half to fit on my annealing station.

After cutting, annealing and doing more passes through the mill your wire will become so lengthy that you can begin to spool it. There are many ways to easily make spools. The simplest method is to wrap the material as evenly as possible around the palm of your hand and to wrap the ends over the bundles to keep the spool neat. The most important part of making spools is keeping the bundle tight and even so that no separated (larger or smaller loops) pieces of the wire get overheated or melted during annealing.  
 Once our material is maybe a millimetre or two away from the desired thickness we need to stop using our rolling mill. Remember that the rolling mill only works two sides of our wire at a time and that it produces a funky square-like octagon, not a truly round or square wire… To actually make our wire into a nice clean shape we need to move on to a different tool and we need to allow the wire enough extra material to properly transition into the correct dimension. For example, if you needed to make a 1mm round wire but you already rolled your wire through the mill to 1.1mm square/ octagon, the wire will not have enough excess material to transition into a round wire of the desired diameter.
In order to produce truly round or square or whatever other shape wire you desire, we need to pass our rolled wire through a draw plate. Draw plates come in many shapes and sizes and the one you will use, and at what point you transition from the mill to the draw plate, depends entirely on you and what the final desired wire is. As I mentioned earlier, I want to make filigree wire which is very thin and fine so I will be using a draw plate with very fine round holes.
Important: Whenever you transition from the rolling mill to a draw plate make sure your material is annealed as it will undergo an extreme amount of stress and needs to be as malleable as possible for this transition to occur.

  In order to get your wire into the draw plate you will have to file a taper onto one of the ends of the wire. Alternatively, if your wire is still on the thick side you could simply pass one of the ends through a smaller groove in the mill to step/taper the end a bit. In my case I need to file as my wire has already gone through the smallest groove of my mill. Once you have a good taper on the end of your wire you can begin to figure out which hole in the draw plate to pull through. In order to do this, use the same method you used with the rolling mill; find which hole the wire slides through easily and pass the wire through the hole just smaller than it can fit through. To pull the wire through the draw plate, insert it through the back side of the draw plate (the back side has the conical openings and usually lacks numbers) via the tapered end and pull it through using tongs or pliers via the front side (this side usually has numbers on it).
 This is where you can cheat the system a bit, if you don’t have a rolling mill or wire drawing bench but still want to draw your own wire, this is how… Once you have a thin enough wire particularly of soft materials like pure gold, fine silver and copper, the extra force of the rolling mill and wire drawing bench are no longer necessary as the wire can be manually pulled with a pair of tongs through a draw plate placed in a bench vise. Since the length of wire I can make on my wire drawing bench is limited, and I want to make as much filigree wire as possible at one time, I will be pulling the rest of my wire this way; even though I do have a wire drawing bench. The mill and bench are really only necessary to process harder materials and thick stock material. If buying a thicker gauge wire from your supplier is cheaper than paying for more length of a thinner gauge, then being able to process the wire down to different sizes using what you have, could make drawing your own wire very useful. In my case, there are not many places in Costa Rica where one can purchase already made wire (especially of trust worthy, quality material) so fabricating my own wire is not only a good idea but a necessity.
 Once your wire is in the correct hole of your draw plate, grab the end with your tongs and begin to pull it through. Note that if I were pulling this wire on my drawing bench this would probably be the maximum length I could achieve.
 Although they do have a limit on length, wire drawing benches are extremely useful tools for creating thicker wire gauges that one cannot pull by hand. Another good way to cheat the system is to fabricate your own bench as I did. It is a very simple machine and can be made quite easily and inexpensively out of almost any material; although metal is almost always preferred due to its weight and strength, as a wire drawing bench needs to be very sturdy and heavy. They usually operate by means of a hand crank which pulls a pair of tongs across a surface thus multiplying the amount of force you exert on the pull and thereby allowing you to create thicker wire than you could pull by yourself. My bench utilizes a very basic winch as a crank which tightens a steal cable that has a pair of tongs attached to it (for a closer look at it and its construction please CLICK HERE).     
  Back to the actual wire… Keep going through the different openings of your draw plate as we did with the rolling mill and don’t forget to anneal after every few passes. Fortunately unlike the rolling mill the draw plate works our wire evenly on all sides so we only need to pass through each hole once. If the wire is difficult to grasp with the tongs, try giving it a tug to help it along with a pair of simple pliers.
Continue this process at least until the wire has transitioned into a proper shape; but of course you may want to continue until you have reached whatever specific dimensions you desire, whether that be length, shape, diameter or what have you.
            Once your wire has reached its desired dimension/s it is almost ready for use. There are only a few more last minute details that I would like to include. If you would like your wire to remain firm and rigid (say for a pin back mechanism) don’t anneal it, but if you are going to be manipulating your wire a lot and need it to be flexible be sure to anneal it before working with it. You may also want to briefly pickle your wire to clean it of any oil or other unwanted residues, besides pickle you could also wash the wire using soap and water; you could also brush the wire with a scotch bright pad although this may leave a very subtle texture on your wire.       
And that pretty much sums up how wire is made. I hope you found this entry to be useful and informative and I hope you return for the next entry. Third Entry: How to Roll Sheet Metal (Making Gold Foil/Leaf) CLICK HERE! If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or leave a comment. 

Daniel Icaza 3/20/11

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking About Art

So the other day I had some random thoughts floating around my brain about art. Particularly good art and bad art. Was there such a thing? At one point I had thought it was a very obvious concept but after thinking and reading about art for so long now, the argument becomes very real and relevant. Indeed it is an argument as old as art itself.

Today I have a different approach to my logic and it usually drives me up the wall because every topic I delve into always comes back to subjectivity and semantics. Inevitably it all depends on how you view the question and the world (is the glass half full or half empty?). Due to this logic; as the thoughts were bubbling around my brain I realized it was very clear to me... The answer is no there is no such thing as good art or bad art. There is art you like and art you don't like. No one can truly say whether or not it is good or bad.

The argument had evolved in my brain, into a new bigger monster. The question is now not about good or bad art, but about craft/skill. It is possible to talk about craft in terms of good and bad, and most people (generally speaking) can identify whether an artists craft is good or bad. But does the level of craft even matter when an artist removes him/herself from the physical act of creating a work of art? When the artist chooses to have others create the work for them, or create art through other means that do not measure in level of craft, but perhaps level of intent or purpose for executing the work?

This is where I am at for now. If I think of anything else to add or if you have anything to say on the subject please feel free to share.

Oh art! What a perplexingly frustrating subject...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Page: Work Processes/ How Metal Works

In case anyone didn't notice I finished adding a new page to this blog. This page is meant to a) Show any curious parties how I work and what my work process is like and b) As a teaching tool and guide for any one craving more knowledge in the subject of metal working. Any way I just wanted to write a little post to make it official you can view the page by clicking in the top bar of this page where it says "Work Processes: How Metal Works" or simply click "HERE" to look at the page and how it works.
I'll be back again soon,
Hope your all doing well,

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Entry: How to Cast an Ingot (Fine Silver Ingot)

Ok so this is the Beginning of my section on how different materials are prepared and hopefully eventually even some different techniques I like to work with. Now this page isn't really set up for anything like this so bear with me and I'll try and make it work the best I can. 


First Entry: How to Cast an Ingot (Fine Silver Ingot)

Necessary Materials and Tools:
-Some sort of precious metal preferably gold and/or silver 
-Water (preferably in glass or metal container with a wide opening/ top)
-Brush (size will depend on the size of the ingot mold)

Casting an ingot of metal might seem simple enough of a process, 1 grab some metal, 2 apply heat and 3 dump it into an appropriate vessel, but it really does require a certain level of care and knowledge to do it properly. 

The first thing you need to take into consideration is what material you will be casting. Not all metals behave the same way and all of them have very particular characteristics that need to be taken into account before we can begin (melting temperature, purity, compatibility and this barley scratches the surface). 
In this particular case I am going to talk about fine silver, fine silver is as close as we (humans) can get to pure silver it is 99.99..(you get the idea)..% pure silver. It is very soft, works very easily, is rather forgiving (as far as metal goes) and does not tarnish much. 

Different representations of Approx.: 1 troy ounce of fine silver (31grams) from left to right: casting grain (how all my projects start), "one dollar" (LOL) USA coin, a cast ingot, bezel wire, round wire)
Now that we know what material we are working with we can begin to understand the following steps that need to occur. Since we know that silver melts at a fairly low temperature (1763°F) we need to have our tank regulators set accordingly. Yes, we do want to melt the material but we don't want to overheat it and "cook" it by being too aggressive. It is actually possible to "boil" off some of your metal if you attack it with too intense of a flame, causing it to literally evaporate in the form of bright sparks. When working with precious metals you want to use a flame that is big and hot but not super intense and heavily oxidizing you want is to be almost a little reducing and a little "bushy" (not a super fine tip on the flame). To achieve this I usually have my propane fuel regulator set to around 5psi and my oxygen regulator set to no higher than 10psi (typically I work between 5psi and 10psi sometimes lower, a little pressure goes a long way).

Here is my oxygen regulator set to 4psi, I decided that was just about right as my tank is about half full and I don't want to waste more oxygen than I need too. 
Here is my fuel regulator (propane) also turned up to about 4psi.
Ok the next step is to decide how much material you will be casting. Not very important when creating an ingot that will be processed into other forms but, sometimes a very crucial step; for example if one was preparing a "charge" for a lost wax casting/ mold, where you need a very specific amount of material to fill a void. Another example which comes into play in my work is; I like to cast ingots into one or two ounce ingots simply so I can easily keep track of how much material I am using/ processing. 

        Just a bit over one ounce.

Important: Make sure your work space is rather flat and constructed of appropriate materials; if your ingot mold is not flat enough your material will pool on one side (the high side) and possibly spill over causing a mess and a waste; alternatively your material could flow to the other side (the low side) and be stretched thin (these issues are most concerning when casting a wire ingot like I will be doing here but may also be relevant with other molds).

Note: It is also important to know what type of mold you have and how it works. Many times molten metal will stick to other metals so many molds need to be lubricated to provide a barrier that will keep the two metals from sticking together. I usually dab a little motor oil over my molds with an old brush before I cast into it.     

Safety Notes: Always use a torch and hot molds in appropriate surfaces and work areas. Many people choose to do this process using gloves and special safety glasses, protecting your body is always a good idea. I find that gloves interfere in my case more than they help; so I take extra care around hot working areas and always have a pair of Kevlar gloves within reach just in case. Same with eye wear sometimes it helps sometimes it gets in my way; for this reason I like goggles that have a flip screen so you can protect your eyes when you want to, but still easily be able to see in the daylight again.  

Now it’s time to get cooking. Lubricate your ingot mold, spark up your torch and begin to pre heat your ingot mold and crucible. This is a very crucial step because it allows the surface of the ingot mold and crucible to become hot and ready to accept the material; as well as not having to subject the material to excessive heat before the crucible is at an appropriate temperature.  

Very Important!!! If you don't pre-heat your ingot mold your material will get shocked into a small tightly packed crystalline lattice structure and probably be weak, fragile, brittle and prone to cracks, inclusions and bubbles.
Pre-heat your crucible as well, the hotter things are the better, you should be sweating a bit or you’re not doing it right.
Note: Please notice the very colorful flame, particularly the greenish color; this green hue is produced by the burning flux (among other things that may work there way into your crucible) but if you have ever cast copper in a foundry, this green hue is also a telltale sign of a nice reducing environment. This environment is crucial in keeping the copper from oxidizing with the air especially in an intense fire which needs oxygen to burn.
Keep heating your crucible until you reach this point...    

Once your crucible is glowing a bright orange/ red you’re ready to add your material.
Note: If we were to prepare an alloy, say of sterling silver or a gold alloy, the general rule that I follow is to start with whichever material has the highest melting point, and proceed to gradually add the other metal/s in small quantities; again starting with whichever material has the higher melting point. For example let’s say we were making a hard 12K gold of 25% copper, 25% silver and 50% gold. We would first melt the copper (1981°F) then add small amounts of gold (1945°F) and finish by adding  small amounts of silver (1761°F) until the full amount of material has been added and melted; if done properly and agitated well the mixture should be consistent and molten throughout. Also note that it is not uncommon for metal smiths to cast an ingot of an alloy two or three times to ensure it has a consistent distribution and color.   

Now with our material in our nice warm crucible we can begin to heat and melt the material. 
You will begin to see the material begin to glow a bright orange/ red just like the crucible and it may become difficult to see what is actually happening inside the crucible. A pair of specially tinted goggles or safety glasses may be helpful if you want to protect your eyes and see the action.
Note: If you see sparks coming out of your crucible your fire is to intense and you should pull back your torch, add more fuel or decrease the oxygen. You want your metal to gradually melt as uniformly as possible. 
Once you see a very reflective/shiny molten silver bead like blob at the bottom of the crucible you are getting very close. 

Now would be a good time to add a sprinkling/ dash of flux into the crucible to purify the material of any undesired contaminants. To do this simply remove the torch for a moment (as shown above) and sprinkle the flux into the crucible (watch your fingers as everything should be very hot by now). Now we need to make sure all the material is molten, to do this I will typically use a test I call the jiggle test; agitate the crucible by jiggling the handle a bit. If you see the material swirling around the crucible very freely and bouncing and jiggling with surface tension and ripples (like water in a glass) you should be good to go. Tip: It can be helpful to prod into the bottom of the crucible with a steel rod (or clothes hanger) to check for possible clumps of not quite molten material, this should be done very quickly to avoid melting the rod into the alloy. As soon as you are certain all the material is molten you may proceed to casting.

Ok now the for the climactic sometimes intimidating part of the process pouring this precious molten material you have just been sweating over and making sure that you don’t miss! 
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you want the metal to reach the mold completely molten and stay molten in the mold until it begins to solidify (you don’t want it to start solidifying while you are pouring). To help transition the material from one vessel to the next keep your flame on the edge of the crucible on the side you will be pouring from. Pay attention to the position of the flame in the picture, on the edge of the crucible also heating the mold. I’m pouring to the left, holding the crucible in my right hand and the torch with my left hand). Once the flame is in the correct position you can begin to tip the crucible over to the side and the blob of metal should move easily into the corner. Begin to tip the crucible onto its side allowing the material to flow up the side and down into the mold. You want the edge of the crucible to be exactly above where you want the material to fall or flow into. Begin to pour into one side of the mold and allow the material to flow at a constant smooth rate and fill the cavity toward the other end.

Note: It can be very useful to prepare several things to be cast at one time so that you can take advantage of your nice warm mold and crucible. 
Allow your ingot to cool down a bit and solidify, if your fast and good enough you should be able to watch your metal solidify and see the crystal lattice structures forming over the surface of the ingot.

Once things have cooled down a bit and your ingot stops glowing you should be able to turn your mold on its side and have your ingot plop right out.

Allow your ingot to cool slowly to ensure that all of the crystal structures have time to form large strong organized patterns. This is a crucial step for some materials that cannot handle rapid cooling (quenching) but is a good idea for all materials (unless you are trying to achieve something specific) as we always want our material to be strong and well formed. Once it has cooled properly the ingot should be placed into a warm “pickle” bath to remove any unwanted residues and pieces of flux that may have poured out of the crucible with your material. In this picture you can see two ingots being “pickled” inside my crockpot set to a low heat.   

After pickling it is a good idea to rinse off the ingot in clean water and dry it off with a clean rag or paper towel (preferably a rag that you can wash and re-use). (please excuse the messy work space)

And once your ingot is clean and dry it’s ready to go. Please keep an eye out for the next entry where I will show you some different things you can do with your ingots (hopefully wire will be the next entry). Second Entry: How to Make Wire (Manually Drawing Wire) CLICK HERE! In case anyone is curious the closest ingot (on the bottom) is a two ounce ingot and was cast after the one ounce ingot (above) while the crucible and mold where hot. Thank you for reading, I hope you found this helpful and I hope you come back for more next time.    

Daniel Icaza 3/9/11