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Wooden Jewelry 1: “Shield” pendants

January 29, 2014

I am curious and always willing to experiment with new stuff… This time, to spice up my jewelry-making, I decided to try if hard wood could be a good material for small D.I.Y. jewels, like pendants, earrings and bracelets… In the second half of 2013 I did some experiments, and this is the first of some post in which I’ll show the results of my experiments.

To cut wood more easily and more precisely, and to expand my slow-growing arsenal of tools, I’ve bought a scroll saw. I was considering buying a band saw, instead, but I really love having ten (complete) fingers, so I decided for the less dangerous one in the pair. The good news is that this tool will be also useful when working with the other materials I use, like bone and vegetable ivory.

shields_small

The simplest idea I had was to build up simple shapes, using different kind of hardwood glued together. I found in a local craft store some hardwood pieces, 5-6 mm in thickness around 6cm in width and veeery long (>2m). These pieces were not really cheap (5-10 euros apiece) but after a lot of experiments, different failures, at least 6 completed pendants and some earrings, I’ve used up less than a third of the material…

glued_smallThe process for these composite wood pendants was simple: starting from small pieces of hardwood, I cut matching curves and built up a “sandwich” of alternating hardwood. It may be as simple as a half-and-half piece, it may have a curved strip of one wood, surrounded by matching parts of another one, or it may be a zebra-like pattern of two woods (straight, wavy or zig-zag). I do not like the idea of a rainbow-like pattern with many colored wood, but may be good, depending on the project. The sandwich was then assembled using wood glue and clamped overnight. Be careful to smooth the matching surfaces, since the better they match, the better the glue will hold. Be generous with glue, the overflow can be later on removed without problems. once the glue is applied, it is necessary to keep the pieces tightly attached together, using woodcrafting clamps; leave the pieces clamped at least 4-6 hours  (but it is better leave them be until the following day) for a perfect setting.

Wood glue is amazing, once it is set, if you try to separate the glued pieces, you will probably end up breaking the wood elsewhere but NOT on the glued spot. While not optimal from the point of view of the gluing strength, it is a good idea to orient the fibers differently; in this way the two parts will reflect the light differently, giving the piece a lot more depth. Ideally, gluing an end-grain piece to an across-grain one is a very bad idea, but in this case we are working with small, extremely lightweight pendants, not building a piece of furniture (or a boat), and it is really not a problem! In this specific case, since I had a “curved strip” of one wood surrounded by a different kind of wood, I tried to match the orientation of the fibers surrounding the strip (above ad below), while having the strip orthogonal to that orientation.

Once the sandwich was ready, I sketched the shape on it and cut it with the scroll-saw.I decided that a simple “curvy” irregular quadrilateral would be a good shape for the “curved band” sandwiches. The result somehow looked like a shield (although, a quite irregular one). Using the belt sander, I then smoothed up the sides, also slightly correcting the curves to better suit my taste. I also flattened the backside and gave the front side a domed shape. Using sandpaper of smaller and smaller grit, and then abrasive pads, I smoothed the surface. To keep the veins visible and protect the wood, while keeping a natural finish, I used lineseed oil. This finish does require multiple applications, and lot of time is lost in waiting the previous layer to dry, but it is worth the time, both for the way the fibers are brought out and the extra-smooth way it feels when touched; the perfect choice for wooden jewelry.

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To mount them on a string, I cut a couple of metal jump rings, and glued the ends on holes drilled with a small hand-drill point. In this way the string will have two points of anchorage, preventing the piece to swing from one side to the other when worn.

The two best specimen of this design are shown here in this post: the reddish wood is mahogany, the very dark one is walnut, and the last one is oak (rovere). As I said, arranging the layers such that the fibers are oriented orthogonally can produce amazing optical effects; this is clearly visible in the image below, where just by tilting the piece in front of a lamp, the two different hardwoods radically changes their appearance.

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