my ghetto metal smithing set up. ceramic tile, paver, worn out tweezers and home made earth-friendly pickle all on my kitchen range.
Today, in Art Studio on the Cheap we're talking about a cheap torch setup.
Yesterday, one of my jewelry peeps posted a funny update on Facebook about her fear of soldering. I commented with a reference to Stephanie Lee's Homesteader's metal class and semiprecious salvage book of whom/which I am a big fan. I facetiously called what I do not even homesteader's metalsmithing, more like ghetto metalsmithing...so I thought I would show you my ghetto metalsmithing set up. This is a great set up for those just beginning or with limited space who want to whet their appetite before investing into a larger setup.
When I was in college, I took two basic metals classes. The professor I took for both, who was a former Buddhist monk (just an interesting side note there) advised us once, when we were complaining about wanting to continue our metals studies but without being jewelry majors, we wouldn't have access to the studio if we weren't enrolled in a class. He told us a very simple setup could be obtained in one's own kitchen.
Okay: here is the disclaimer to this post. Please don't take what I am saying as gospel, because I'm not an expert. Please wear safety goggles when torching and remove basically anything that might catch fire in the immediate area. Tie back long hair and pull back long sleeves and wear normal clothing that won't get caught or in the way. This isn't the time to be wearing flippy-floppies and loose fitting shifts. Save that for the beach. Please be safe, you're using fire and heating metal to a red hot state. This is nothing to fool with people. Use this tutorial at your own risk and safety.
When you torch, you need several things:
1) your torch. I use both a simple propane unit obtained at any hardware store with disposable propane tanks or a butane micro torch (kitchen model).
2) A kitchen range with an exhaust hood. This is essential for propane because the flame produces carbon monoxide, which is toxic and can kill you and you need lots of venting. I usually also open the window too if I'm involved in a lot of torching that day. If I'm just doing a couple of headpins or annealing a small piece, I just turn on the range exhaust on high.
Alternatively, you could do this outside or in an open garage or carport. Save it for a day when it's not too windy. Wind isn't good for torching. Remember, fresh air is good when working with gases.
3) You will need a fire safe surface as well as a fire resistent surface. There are lots of commercial firing surfaces. I bought a paver at Home Depot for 43 cents (the torching I do doesn't require much heat, I mostly just anneal metal and make headpins) and I grabbed a piece of tile left over from when the kitchen was tiled as the fire resistent surface. DO NOT use ceramic tile for torching. It will take a bit of warmth but will EXPLODE if you torch on it. The tile will act as your work surface and the paver or torch brick will act as your torching surface. This is a cool setup because you can move it when your done and make dinner. :)
4)Pick a spot on your kitchen range and/or surface to light your torch and make that the spot where you will always light and turn off your torch. You are in a living space that probably has cabinets and other flammable objects nearby. Form an early habit of always lighting the torch in the same spot, away from cabinets and flammable things. Remember this is a hot flame, people, you need to respect it.
5)ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS clean your torching area BEFORE and AFTER you torch. I mean like you would lick it like a lollipop clean. This is easy for me because I keep an immaculate kitchen, but if you fried fish last night and haven't cleaned your range, you could be headed to a full on 5-alarm fire. When you're torching, you're often using flux which contain nasty chemicals that you probably don't want to eat. Keep it that way. CLEAN BEFORE AND AFTER.
6) A bowl of water to quench your metal pieces.
Like I mentioned above, this is ghetto metalsmithing. If you've never worked with a torch before, you should take a class someplace local first. Don't do this if you've never used a torch before. But if you've taken a class or two, and don't have a setup at home, this is a very good way to start, especially if you have limited financial resources.
I also make a home made metal pickle. This is a great recipe for kitchen metal torching, because there are no nasty chemicals to mix up. I use a recipe of 1 Tablespoon natural (pickling) salt to 1 Cup distilled white vinegar heated up in a microwave safe container. That is in the picture above but it needs to be changed. It shouldn't be blue. That is a result of putting a verdigris patinated copper piece in the pickle after the fact. When I'm ready to torch, I put the pickle in the microwave for about 3 minutes to heat it up, do my torching (making sure to quench my pieces) and throw them in the pickle. Make sure you rinse them with water after you remove them from the pickle or else you will get a green verdigris finish (on copper) hence the blue pickle above. :) My pickle is blue because I threw the ones I forgot to rinse back in.....
So, I hope this helps those out there who want to make some headpins or anneal a piece without fear that you need to invest in a $1000 torch area. This serves me very well doing simple annealing of copper, brass and sterling and making sterling and copper headpins. All for about $25 or less if you can scavenge some things around the house!