Copper Flutes

These two copper flutes were based on D (small) and Bb (large) 6-hole English tin whistles that I bought years ago.  I played the whistles quite a bit when I was in high school, but quit in college when my asthma became too severe.  The new copper flutes have a larger bore than the tin whistles and a shorter mouthpiece, so the higher notes are easier to blow, and all the notes are quieter and sweeter than a tin whistle.  After some experimenting with hole positions on the old instruments, I added two holes, one at the top and one at the back, so these flutes are fingered like a recorder and are a bit more versatile than a tin whistle.  Unlike the rimblown flute that I posted here a year ago, these are “fipple flutes” and are easier to play (though making them was a lot more work!).  The blocks are carved from manzanita that I collected in the Santa Rita Mountains a couple of years ago.

Flute Mouthpieces

Flute Mouthpieces

The beads on the larger flute are handcarved from local pebbles.  The bluish-green copper ore is from a local abandoned mine dump, the two striped black dolomite beads are from the Empire Mountains, and the pink and grey rhyolite is from the Santa Rita Mountains.

Today I prepared some fabric for an embroidered wall hanging.  This is a sturdy hemp/cotton plainweave left over from a dress that I made several years ago.  At the top of the photo is the natural undyed fabric which is a warm white.  Below that is the same fabric dyed straw yellow with pomegranate hulls (they are rich in tannin, which provides the color; the dried hulls were crushed and the fabric immersed with them in cold water for several days).  I dyed this fabric a few years ago and have used it for a few jewelry bags etc.  At the bottom is some of the pomegranate-dyed fabric that has been “overdyed” with local clay from my yard (once used for making adobe bricks) mixed with powdered red ochre (hematite).  Of course the clay/iron oxide coating isn’t really “dye” since it doesn’t penetrate the fibers – it just sits on top of them.  But the hemp traps it pretty well and the color is quite even and does not rub off.  The fabric was scrubbed in the wet clay/ochre mixture, left to dry while still covered in it, then washed and dried again.  This process was repeated three times.  I was only working with a quarter yard, so it didn’t take long, and now I have a nice piece of warm, earthy-looking adobe-colored fabric for my project.

Smithsonite Necklace

December 14, 2011

I finally finished a necklace to hold the smithsonite beads that I carved back in August.  My Pink Bead Necklace is so comfortable that I made this one in a similar style.  Forged from high-carbon steel and black steel wire, with bronze spacer beads cut from a broken Tibetan singing bowl.  The copper beads were cut from scrap tubing, then hammered flat and polished.  The bead at the back was carved from a piece of ore that I picked up at an abandoned copper mine.

I usually like to put reverse twists on this type of forgework.  But that doesn’t work with this thin high-carbon steel stock, since it can’t be quenched in water or it will shatter.  So I just tapered, rounded, and curled the ends.  Although it’s not apparent from the photo, the iron pieces have a “vertical” curve as well as a horizontal one, so the necklace doesn’t lay flat on the ground but it drapes nicely when worn.  The bronze and copper beads will eventually tarnish and will be subtle accents for the “screaming” turquoise color of the beads.

I have one small piece of smithsonite left.  It will probably become an earring.  Sometime this winter I’m hoping to go back to the mine where I collected it.  I’d like to find more of this unusual material, since it makes such beautiful beads.

Smithsonite and Forged Iron Necklace

Smithsonite and Forged Iron Necklace

These Cat Eye and Claw earrings seem appropriate for the Autumn Equinox, with their balance of brown and blue, transparency and opacity, receding earth and rising water.  I carved the “claws” some time ago and only recently made the “cat eye” cabochons to go with them.  Settings are sterling silver with fine silver bezels and frosted aquamarine beads, 2.5 inches long, not including the earwires.

LEFT:  Rose gold bead (made in my shop from recycled metals), Oregon picture jasper cabochon, Guatemalan “Olmec Blue” jade carving (jadeite; carved the same on both sides).

RIGHT:  Bronze bead (cut from a broken Tibetan singing bowl), Namibian blue tigereye cabochon (the metallic line down the center is hematite), Siberian fossil mammoth ivory (the rare blue color is from vivianite, an iron phosphate mineral).

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

Cat Eye and Claw Earrings

We’re Back

September 15, 2011

OK, we’re back, and the computer has a new graphics card.  Meanwhile I’ve been working in the shop, drawing, staring at a “to-finish” list of too many projects, and setting priorities.  I re-did the Pink Necklace to include some forgework and more stone beads, which frees up the iron beads to use for something else.  It’s also more comfortable (and flashy!) to wear.  Hot-forged sterling silver and high-carbon steel, with the beads strung on black steel wire.  I carved two dark purple beads from fine-grained volcanic pebbles that I collected several years ago and have been using to decorate my yard.  The rock is extensively altered (mostly to hematite and clays) so it’s not as hard as the original minerals would have been, and takes a soft polish rather than a high shine.  The bright pink bead at the back of the necklace is Peruvian opal.  I carved this from some high-grade rough that a friend gave me several years ago.  This material is mostly an opaque pink chalcedony that forms in thin layers with swirling stringers of translucent pink, white, or colorless opal.  The color is a bit too bright for the front of the necklace (where I want the pink chalcedony to be the focus) but it is a nice accent for the back.

Pink Necklace II

Pink Necklace II

Now it needs some matching earrings.  I am working on a forged silver/iron set with small pink opal beads, but they will take some time.  Meanwhile, these simple wire ones will do:

Pink Earrings

Pink Earrings

I also made a forged pair of Moonlight Curly Cones, inspired by the Ironwing Tarot Ten of Bells card.  These are hot-forged sterling silver and high-carbon steel, like the necklace.  They are for sale on my website, since they ought to match anything black and white!  I have enough silver wire left for a couple more pairs of earwires (probably for me), but with silver at $44 an ounce, I won’t be buying any more for awhile.  I’m almost out of black steel wire, and once I’ve finished the necklace that is sitting nearly completed on my desk, I have chosen not to get any more, in order to focus on expanding my forgework.

Moonlight Curly Cones

Moonlight Curly Cones

The new computer has spawned a host of compatibility issues that mean that some things that used to be easy are now either impossible or too time-consuming to be worth the trouble.  So I am spending more time at the drawing table and less on the computer, and am not tackling any printing/publishing/drawing reproduction projects for awhile.

Today I measure wealth and abundance in the ancient way, with a handful of skystones…although these aren’t turquoise.  I cut this set of smithsonite beads from a single chunk of pale bluish-white, chalky-looking rock that I picked up at an old copper mine.  The black material is mostly manganese oxide but there are also a few tiny crystals of murdochite, a rare lead-copper halide.  The center bead is 15 mm in diameter.  Smithsonite (ZnCO3) is an ore of zinc and is usually found as translucent, pearly-looking bubbly layers in a variety of pastel colors.  Massive smithsonite has a sugary texture, like marble, but is heavier and a bit harder.  The beads might be confused with a copper ore, but they are more translucent than turquoise and softer than chrysocolla.  The polish on these is rather uneven because some parts of the rock were soft and chalky and others were hard and glassy; this is one reason (other than rarity) why smithsonite isn’t often cut as a gem.  When it is cut, it’s usually as cabochons, not beads.  Still, they turned out much prettier than I expected.  The polishing brought out a lot of color and patterns, and the beads have a lot of presence.  The hardness is only 4 (same as fluorite), so they would be too easily scratched for a bracelet.  They will make a nice necklace but I’ll have to make some more beads – probably from various copper ores – to go with them.

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

Handcarved Smithsonite Beads

Pink and Iron Necklace

July 28, 2011

I’ve had these beads for awhile, intending them for several different projects, but they work very well together.  I’ve always liked the pink/black color combination, especially when one of them is metallic.  Today the idea of a simple necklace of earthy, comforting, and familiar materials was very appealing.  It made an easy, peaceful project for the waning moon.  This Pink Earth choker is made from antique African forged iron heishi beads, Mexican terracotta beads with a shiny pale pink glaze, two pieces of sterling silver tubing that I cut, filed, and polished, and a pink agate bead that I carved last year from a pebble that I found in the Empire Mountains.  The purplish-pink color in the agate comes from tiny flecks of dark red hematite scattered through translucent chalcedony.  This is the same type of inclusion that forms “strawberry quartz” but it is rare in agate (hematite in agate is usually finer grained and brighter red).  The clasp is 14-gauge sterling silver wire.

Pink Earth Necklace

Pink Earth Necklace

 

Amethyst Ring Set

Amethyst Ring Set

Mined and Refined:  Amethyst is a set of two rings that can be worn together or separately.  The larger one is made from a piece of iron pipe that was hot-forged to the proper size, then drilled, carved, and polished.  The silver bezel cup is riveted to the iron ring.  It is set with a very pale natural amethyst crystal from a small “Keokuk-type” geode that I collected on the North Rolling Fork River in central Kentucky many years ago.  I’ve seen hundreds of these geodes but only one with amethyst crystals and a couple with smoky quartz.  Most sedimentary geodes of this type have colorless or white quartz crystals.

The companion ring is hammered sterling silver 14-gauge wire, set with a 6mm faceted light purple smoky amethyst.  The point on the underside of the stone had a small but noticeable chip (this is a common flaw in round faceted stones, and is why “brilliant cut” diamonds have a culet, which is a tiny facet that blunts the point).  I polished a tiny dome on the point.  It removed the chip and gives the stone a visual “hole” in the center, like the pupil in an eye, which looks unusual and adds a bit of interest.  Although this is considered a low quality stone (high-grade amethysts are darker and more intense purple), I thought its subtle moody color made it a perfect match for the pale, slightly milky crystal in the iron ring.

These are small rings (size 5) that I made to fit my pinkie.  Both stones have sentimental value for me but are not worth much by traditional gem-grading standards.   One reason that I don’t make more rings is that I do not feel (at least in my own work) that the end result justifies the amount of time involved.  The iron ring in particular was a lot more work than it looks.  But it was an interesting project and should be fun to wear.

Iron Ring with Amethyst Crystal in Silver

Iron Ring with Amethyst Crystal in Silver

 

RING:  Ogun as a Silver Miner

RING: Ogun as a Silver Miner

 

Ogun as a Silver Miner is a forged sterling silver ring that pairs a rusted 19th century handforged horseshoe nail with a natural goethite pebble set in a fine silver bezel.  Goethite is an iron ore and is also one of the iron oxide constituents of rust.  This shiny dark brown metallic pebble is a ventifact (naturally wind-polished stone) with a pitted surface that shows the rough image of a man’s face in three-quarter view (more obvious in person, but I’ve tried to capture it in the pictures – this was a very difficult object to photograph).  The ring is about size 6.5 and is slightly adjustable.  Due to the flat back on the stone setting, it isn’t completely circular, so sizing isn’t as exact as it would be for a circular band.  The nail is exactly one inch long and is securely held in the two tapered “claws”.  The bezel and the outer surface of the ring were given a subtle hammer texture with a small dapping punch.  The back of the bezel cup is bur-textured with tiny irregular dots.  This is a fairly heavy ring, but the inside of the shank is beveled and polished smooth for a comfortable fit.

I collected the goethite pebble in 1999 in southeastern Wyoming.  Ventifact-hunting was one of our favorite pastimes when we lived in Cheyenne.  I found the nail a few years ago on one of our hikes in the southeastern Arizona mountains.  I’m not a big user of “found objects” but the petite size and interesting shape made this one irresistible.

Ogun is usually associated with blacksmithing but oversees metalworking in general.  When I found the pebble, it seemed obvious that this was his face, since it was carved by windblown dust on iron ore.  The nail or spike is one of his symbols.  I was going to call this “Ogun as a Geologist” but once the ring was assembled, I realized that he could also be a miner or silversmith.  The ring honors Ogun in his benign capacity as a creative metalworker and a guardian of the knowledge of metal ores.  It also represents the powerful fiery/windy energy of the Summer Solstice, grounded in the earthy creativity of the Dark Moon that follows it.  Water has been here too (it precpitated the goethite in the pebble and is still locked within its structure, and it corroded the nail) but it is gone for the moment, present only as a reflection in the silver.

Copper and Stone Flutes

March 30, 2011

Copper Flute with BAg

This is a copper flute made from 1/2-inch copper tubing, just under 11 inches long.  It is made in the style of a Japanese shakuhachi (rim-blown crescent-shaped mouthpiece; four soundholes in front, one in back; tuned to a pentatonic minor scale; decorative “root end” at bottom).  True shakuhachis are at least twice this size, and are bamboo flutes made according to strict traditional rules.  So this is just “shakuhachi-inspired” and the copper tubing has a smoother, more ringing or whistle-like voice than a bamboo flute.  Compared to a tin whistle, the sound is breathier, more expressive, and less shrill.  The holes are beveled so it’s easier for my nearly-numb neuropathic fingers to find them, and the ornamental endcap keeps the flute from rolling.  The lowest note is middle C.  The lined drawstring bag is made from my “Blue Tiger” fabric and various indigo cotton scraps.

As a severe asthmatic, I never thought I’d be able to play a rimblown flute, since even fipple flutes like the tin whistle or the recorder are a challenge for me, though I used to play them years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it isn’t too hard, though it’s one of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” kind of things that I always seem to stumble into.  I haven’t heard of anyone making rimblown flutes out of copper plumbing pipe, although some flutemakers are using PVC pipe to make shakuhachis, Andean quenas, and Anasazi flutes.  Copper is cheaper, easier to work with, and prettier than PVC.  So I am experimenting with different sizes and designs, hoping to come up with something that sounds beautiful that I can carry with me on desert hikes.  The one above works nicely but I’d like something a bit larger as well.

TIGER BREATH Agate Flute

TIGER BREATH Agate Flute

“Tiger Breath” is my first stone flute, carved from a bubbly-looking, naturally hollow chalcedony tube.  These agate tubes were new at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows this year.  I bought two:  this one (which was one of the smallest available) and a larger one for which I’ll make a separate mouthpiece.  This material comes from Mount Merapi in Indonesia.  Although sold as “fossil bamboo” (and apparently called that in Indonesia), it is neither.  It is a unique and spectacular example of mineral replacement after a volcanic eruption.  More photos HERE (the link is not the company that I bought from, but is probably the ultimate source). 

So how did they form?  A volcanic eruption produced ash (a fall of silica glass sand) that buried plants of the genus Equisetum, called “horsetails” in the U.S. and Europe, and “Japanese Bambu” in Indonesia.  These primitive spore-bearing plants are related to ferns, and grow in clumps of narrow, cylindrical stems.   The stems are rich in silica and rather rigid, which is probably why they stayed erect while being buried in ash.  In the humid climate, the volcanic ash quickly weathered and broke down into silica, clay, and iron oxides.  The rotting stems were replaced with iron and manganese oxides, probably with the aid of bacteria.  The resulting  iron oxide “sticks” provided convenient surfaces for a thick layer of silica to crystallize around them, creating an “organ pipe” structure of multiple straight tubes.

To make the tube into a flute, I carved both ends and drilled five beveled holes, but left most of the tube completely natural except for a gentle polish with very fine diamond compound to bring out the colors and texture.  The mouthpiece is shaped to give a clean, piercing sound, and the opposite end is a polished cylinder that fits neatly into the endcap.   The endcap protects the edge of the tube from chipping, and keeps the flute from rolling off a table.  It is carved from a piece of Archaean banded iron that I found in the Shirley Basin, Wyoming, in 1999.  I chose this material because it matches the color of the three iridescent brown iron oxide bands within the agate tube, and because the stone that I used was a ventifact (wind-polished pebble) so it derives some of its shape from the High Plains wind.

Rimblown flutes are not easy to play, especially when they are very small, and the notes are somewhat dependent on the player’s breath.  The bore on this flute is quite irregular (imagine the “bubbles” in reverse, with the inside of the tube covered in dimples) so tuning is rather uncertain and the flute is harder to play than a similar sized flute made of copper or bone would be.  But it DOES play, and is especially pretty on the loud, shrieking high notes. 

The “tiger” theme has several layers of meaning.  Of course the three bands on the agate tube are reminiscent of a tiger’s tail (I didn’t see any other tubes that were banded like this – most were uniformly light yellowish, or had bright red or orange patches).   The banded iron endcap continues the tiger color theme, since it is striped brown and black.  It’s hard to imagine two more opposite environments, geological and biological, than these  two stones represent, but they are a good match.

Handmade Stone Beads

October 31, 2010

To honor the ancestors on this last night of the year, I offer one of the most ancient and universal of human treasures:  handmade stone beads.  They have rich autumnal colors, too.  These are hand-polished beads made from pebbles that I collected in the Empire Mountains.  They are not fancy and the stones are not as spectacular as some gem materials, but I made them for my personal projects and I’ll enjoy using and wearing them.  The large ones are a bit over 1/2 inch in diameter and 1/4 inch thick. 

These three red agate beads were cut from a single pebble of hematite-stained chalcedony:

Red Agate Beads

These three beads were cut from petrified wood (black), yellow jasper (chalcedony with iron oxide), and a pebble of translucent “strawberry” chalcedony with an unusual pink color that comes from tiny disseminated crystals of red metallic hematite:

Stone Beads

These three beads are all copper ores from the old mine dumps at Helvetia.  On the left is metallic gold chalcopyrite.  In the center is a mixture of copper ores, including green malachite; this type of rock is the typical Helvetia ore, and I have some big chunks of it decorating my yard.  On the right is metallic purple cuprite (rare at this locality) with minor malachite and chrysocolla.

Copper Ore Beads