If you've visited my booth at a craft show, I may have told you about my handmade chain. It's a many step process, so I've decided to photograph and tell you about each step of the way, so you can have a better idea of how I do it! The chain style I make most often is called "Loop in Loop" chain. This same style of chain has been found in jewelry from as long as 5000 years ago. Pretty neat, huh?! Here's a photo of a chain I've made:
Here's a photo of a gold Sicilian necklace dating from 2nd-century BC, featuring the same style of chain (photo from the book "7000 Years of Jewelry" by Hugh Tait):
We did a short unit on chain making in the Jewelry Making program at the North Bennet Street School, but I actually taught myself how to make this particular chain, the Loop in Loop, out of a book called "Classical Loop-in-Loop Chains" by Jean Stark.
First, I start with a single wire, made of 100% recycled fine silver. Fine silver is 99.9+% pure silver. It is customary to use fine silver as opposed to sterling silver (92.5% pure silver) because fine silver is softer and better for intricate weaving.
I coil my fine silver wire around a dowel, with the help my of trusty "jump-ringer" tool set. This tool set isn't required, but it helps me to make the links a little more quickly than I otherwise could. The right tool for the right job!
Next I remove the coil of silver from the dowel. I wax the top of the coil (as lubricant to keep the saw blade sharp), and tightly secure the coil in the "jump-ringer" cutting jig. This keeps the coil in one place and allows me to saw through the coil all at once, creating dozens of ring instantly.
I attach the rotary saw blade and guide to my flex-shaft (a must-have tool for jewelers), and carefully align the blade to saw through the coil. Once I'm sure everything is lined up and my fingers are out of the way, I use the foot pedal to start motor that powers the saw blade, and off I go!
And tada, here are my links!
Next, I start the process of closing each link. Because the links were cut from a coil, when you look at an individual link, one side is higher than the other (pictured below on left). These need to be brought into perfect alignment with no gap in between the sides (pictured below on right), in order to be fused together.
Once I've closed the links I can load them onto my small kiln, which I use to evenly preheat the links prior to fusing.
After preheating the links for a few minutes they are ready to be fused. I take my torch and heat each link around the joint so that the silver fuses together. This is the trickiest part of the whole process - a millisecond too long and you've melted the link making it unusable, a millisecond too short and you haven't fused it which means it will come right apart when you try to shape it.
I take each link off the kiln using tweezers and immerse it in water to quench (cool) it. Now it's time to bend the links! Using my round nose pliers, I pull each link into a long oval shape.
Then I use the pliers to pinch the link in to middle, forming a figure eight.
Next I squeeze together one side of the figure eight using the pliers. This will allow me to feed this side through a small hole later on when I am weaving the links together. I do this for every link except for one, which will be my starting link.
Then I curve the link around the pliers giving it a nice round shape.
The steps above of shaping the link are all done in sequence, in a quick rhythm, for each and every link. Next, I take all of my shaped links and put them back on the kiln to "anneal" them. Annealing is a process of heating to allow the "work hardened" metal to soften again. Fine silver is very soft when annealed, but after bending and shaping it, the molecules compress and it becomes quite hard. I anneal the links in preparation for the next step.
Once annealed, I quench each link in water to cool it down. And now the real fun begins: weaving the chain! I take my starting link, and feed the second link into it. Once this second link is in, I use an "awl" (a sharp metal tool) to open up the side that I had squeezed together.
Then I repeat this process, 102 times for a 16" chain, and 116 times for an 18" chain.
Once I have my desired length (which takes into account the length the clasp will add), I anneal the whole chain on the kiln.
Now that the chain has been annealed and the links are more malleable again, I "true" it on my awl, which I've carefully placed pokey side up in my vise. To "true" the chain, I put each link on the awl and gently apply pressure to pull it down on the awl, trying to pull it to the same place every time. By doing this on all four sides of each and every link, I am evening out the links and making the chain look beautifully consistent.
Because the truing process hardens the metal, I again anneal the chain on my kiln.
The next step is taking the trued chain and pulling it through a drawplate (a tool with graduated, narrowing holes which you can use to pull something larger down to a smaller size), another step to give the chain a smooth and consistent look. You'll notice I am using a plastic drawplate, not metal - this is to ensure that the chain is not marred in any way.
Time to reanneal the chain, and then the last step is to true each link again. By truing the chain one last time, it helps loosen the links a bit to give the chain that fabulous feel it has. If you haven't gotten the chance to check out one of my chains in person, I highly recommend it! I just love how they feel.
Once I've completed all the steps for making the chain, I add one of my handmade hook and eye clasps, and there you have it! Here are a couple photos of completed chains.
Congratulations if you've made it all the way through this post! :) I've been told that I must have a lot of patience to do something so "tedious". Is there anything that you love to do that might seem tedious to others? What makes you love doing it so much?