Tag Archives: tools

Destruct testing, tool making, and jewellery

Damaged pendant

I’d been wondering where this was for a month or so, and it turned out it had been in an inner pocket of my belt pouch all along, with the leather cord wrapped around it. The continual pressure (and probably the warmth) has pulled off a little of the paint, but that’s all. I’m fairly encouraged, overall!

Knife handle

This is seasoned holly, cut from a tree in my garden a few months back when a branch was threatening the elder across the way. I need a new short-bladed carving knife with a full-sized handle, so this is the first step towards that. For the blade, I’m going to use a dismounted Opinel No. 2.

Black & silver chokers

These are always popular, but painting curves on the satin ribbon is awkward enough that I have terrible trouble getting around to finishing them off. One’s spoken for already, but the other will be up for sale when it’s done.

Midsummer Night's Dream jewellery blanks

Like the Twelfth Night jewellery I made, these are cut from an old and much-used play script. They’re going to be quite a lot more ornate, though, using the text more as a background than a main feature, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

Laser cutter designs

Laser-engraved hardwood sign

This is a sign I made for craft fairs—it’s a nice heavy block of reclaimed hardwood, thick enough to stand up on its own, and it proved very eye-catching indeed. Commercial laser-cutting is very expensive (I’ve been quoted £1 a minute) but London Hackspace own their own laser-cutter, and £3 an hour covers maintenance, electricity, and replacement laser tubes. I shaped the wooden block by hand, squaring it off with a chisel and smoothing it with a knife & sandpaper. The text is all digital; the font is True Golden from Scriptorium Fontworks, based on William Morris’s Golden Type, while the E is done in Roughwork, reverse engineered from True Golden capitals to show construction lines. Since I’m a big William Morris fan, these are perfect for my purposes… and if only True Golden had proper double-quotes, it would be wonderful overall, but the left double quote is backwards. (This doesn’t match Kelmscott Press originals; I went to check specially. It’s entirely inexplicable.) I did all the designs in Inkscape (free open source vector graphics programme, much recommended) and from there they load straight into the computer which controls the laser cutter.

Laser-cut jewellery blanks 1

I’ve been making jewellery blanks with a scalpel so far, but that means I can’t do curves or complex shapes with small cutouts reliably. The laser cutter, on the other hand, can cut anything it likes quickly and precisely. These shapes are done in MDF, which lacks the romance of paper but was sitting right there in the offcut bin. Since the offcut bin also had a nice chunk of 10mm perspex in, I decided to try re-running a couple of the text designs on that for comparison. As you can see, they all turned out perfectly readable, though with the perspex of course it depends on the light and the viewing angle. I’m looking forward to experimenting with painting all these blanks—part of the reason for this experiment was to see if I could engrave text that would still be legible once painted. Given the shallowness of the engraving (sort of necessary on this scale, if I wasn’t to set the whole thing on fire) I’m a little dubious, but we can see.

Laser-cut text 1

Epoxy jewellery

Here are three of the pieces I was experimenting with at the beginning of February – I’ve been working on them on and off, coat after coat of paint and then varnish, and now they’re sitting on my desk waiting to go to their new owners. They’re all prototypes – I’m happy with the look of each of them, but there are lessons to be learned from them all too.

Ultramarine & antiqued bronze panel pendant Pendant, 45x65mm, weighs 21g. Ultramarine swirled panel in an epoxy setting, with an antiqued bronze finish. One of the advantages of using two-part epoxy over polymer clay is that it cures at room temperature, rather than having to be heated in the oven, so I can use acrylic paints and (as here) inset rectangles of artist’s mountboard, without worrying about what that sort of heat will do to it. Next time I do one of these, I’ll drill a larger hole (or two holes) to loop cord through directly, rather than trying to bend a jump ring threaded through that thickness of solid material.

Brown & gold square choker slide Brown & gold choker slide, 35mm square, weighs 8g. Sits a bit lower on the ribbon than it does in the picture – next time, I’ll centre the slide on the back a bit more. I actually made three others using the same paper, but didn’t clean the work area quite thoroughly enough and got flecks of epoxy on the front surface. So that’s another area to be careful with.

Aventurine & antiqued bronze choker slide Aventurine & bronze choker slide, 20x30mm, weighs around 12g. Aventurine cabochon stone in an epoxy setting, with an antiqued bronze finish. I need to be a bit more careful about moulding the epoxy around the slide – this one ended up weighing a bit more than it had to, and I had to clear the slide holes with a scalpel after it had finished curing.

Barens and spoons II

This is the print done with a spoon, as promised. It’s slightly different paper (from my stock – I’ve not been keeping as good track of it as I’d like to, so I’m not completely sure whether this is Fabriano Accademia or Atlantis Heritage Woodfree).

Notice the sheer amount of ink on the flat areas, and the way all the internal cut ridges show up – they got just as much ink on them in the first one, but the baren didn’t press the paper down into them in the same way that the hard, solid spoon does.

Brigid's Cross 2

Barens and spoons

I’ve just taken half a dozen prints from the Brigid’s Cross block I posted about before, since I finally finished carving it tonight.

It’s always an amazing feeling to peel off the first print and see the results – once it translates itself from vinyl & wet ink to paper (and reverses itself in the process) it makes it really easy to look on my work with new eyes. It stops being the piece of vinyl I’ve had on my table for the last month, and I can finally see how all those awkward curves and chunky lines, the unexpected holes and the scars where the sankakuto slipped, transform themselves on paper.

I experimented for a couple of them, going back to the serving spoon (solid, sturdy 1950s EPNS) I used when I first started doing this. It’s much harder and gives a very solid line, and unlike the baren it doesn’t have a grain, so that changes how you use it. Also unlike the baren, it wasn’t designed to be used in that position, so it leaves my right hand and wrist aching. And rather warm, because the friction of the plated steel across the back of the paper gets it hot enough to be uncomfortable.

Tomorrow, when they’re dry, I’ll post pictures for comparison.i


Quick post to mention another good materials source.

Falkiner’s (formally Shepherds Bookbinder Ltd) on Southampton Row (near Holborn) – specialist bookbinding supplies. Good paper in large quantities, thin leather of just about any description (including stingray, parrot fish, perch, and cane toad skins), and Useful Tools. They also sell good-quality lightfast pigment ink calligraphy pens, too.

They do leather scraps & offcuts at £3.50 for 100g, and they aren’t stingy about what goes into the offcut box either – I picked up some very nice pieces.


I’ve been using the GIMP for quite a while, so I was rather interested to see this review from Dave at Scriptorium.

As far as free software goes (in the FOSS sense, rather than the strictly literal send-no-money-now sense), the GIMP is pretty damn good. However, as free software tends to be, it’s designed (in the usual loose sense of ‘designed’) by programmers and ideologues rather than by domain experts. It’s extremely good for just about any casual purpose, eg. web graphics or home inkjet work, but just doesn’t have the tools for pre-press or professional design work.

Ow, again

No, I haven’t stuck myself again – this one is muscle strain from a few hours with the carving tools. I’m working on the largest, most complex block so far – katsura, designed to print onto A4 paper.

But still, I’m most of the way through the final pass. It takes more or less four, after the design’s been drawn on – first I cut out the gutter around the edge, and neaten up the outside edge of the printing area. Then I scoop out the white areas with the komasuki (U-shaped gouge – 5mm and 3mm depending on the size of the area) and/or the kentonmi (registration chisel – a standard straight-edged flat chisel. This is very much not what it’s intended for) and after that go around again with the komasuki to deepen the holes and neaten up the edges a little. The final pass is with the sankakuto (ninety-degree V-shaped gouge – an amazingly useful combination of chisel and scoop) to neaten up the edges properly and eliminate as many random splinters and inappropriate angles as possible. It’s also particularly good for steepening the cutouts, which is good for this one because I want clear white areas without cut marks this time.

I have only a rough idea what the final product is going to look like at this stage – well, obviously I know where all the lines are supposed to go on the macro-scale, but on the millimetre scale it could do almost anything, and that’s one of the things I particularly like about printmaking. It almost completely sidelines my natural fussy-perfectionist tendency, and leaves the print with an unpredictable vitality.