Welcome to the 7th day of Christmas! I’ve been so enjoying all the lovely projects that have been shared over the last couple of weeks as part of this 12 Days of Christmas series! It’s a great idea to get those creative wheels turning in time for handmade holiday gifts – the best kind of gift there is!
My project is very basic, but it’s a great way to show off a treasured art bead. Sometimes you don’t need much! For anyone with any kind of skill in working with metal, this project will be child’s play – but for those like me who are just starting to learn some basic skills, it’s a great way to take them for a spin!
In my beginners’ silversmithing class, the first thing we tackled was sawing simple shapes out of metal. I’m working on a pair of earrings in my class, but I like the idea of practicing what I’m learning at home too – as much as I can with the tools I have acquired so far.
I do have all the necessities to complete a simple sawing project, so I had the idea to make some copper and brass snowflake ornaments for my family for Christmas. Snowflake patterns – like the ones you make by folding and cutting paper – are perfect for sawing and piercing, because the design elements are all connected.
I’ve been using free snowflake pattern templates that can be readily found all over the internet (a Pinterest search for ‘free paper snowflake patterns’ turns up lots of good stuff!) and enlarging/reducing them on our printer to get just the right size for each design.
I have a pile of ornaments in various stages of completion – most of them cut out, waiting for filing and sanding and some beautiful accents to bring them to life! I have big ideas, of course, and can’t wait to find the perfect finishing touches for each one:
As for finishing touches, there are so many possibilities! This is a great time of year to pick up beautiful trimmings in the shops – I found some lovely red velvet ribbon, and a big ball of sparkly string (for Canadians – at Winners) the other day:
My husband and I frequent the thrift shops around the city at this time of year, adding some new finds to our collection of vintage Christmas decorations and lights, but I always swing by the jewelry section to see if I can dig up any bead treasures.
These vintage lucite beads are going to be amazing dangling from the bottom of some of the snowflakes!
And of course, I have a pretty wide selection of art beads that I’ve been hoarding for just such an occasion – including these really funky beaded beads by Debra Schwartz of DatzKatz Designs that are almost like snowflakes themselves (more awesome vintage finds there too!):
In the middle of the snowflake-a-thon, I realized that a very close friend of mine has a birthday coming up next week, and I wanted to design a special ornament for her, putting all that snowflake sawing practice to good use.
She loves Christmas, and her middle name is ‘Joy’ (perfect, right?) so I designed a cutout to showcase an art bead I bought a few weeks ago with this project in mind – representing Karen’s favorite animal (stay tuned…)
To make an ornament like this, you’ll need some very, very basic metalsmithing equipment:
– a jeweler’s saw frame and blades (I used 3/0)
– a table and bench pin
– small drill bit and drill / rotary tool
– protective eyewear
– pencil and eraser
– adhesive labels (or plain paper and a glue stick)
– sheet metal – I’ve been using 18 ga copper and brass
– small files
– abrasive paper or cloth
– decorative elements – art beads, vintage beads, chain, jump rings, string, ribbon
STEP 1: draw your design and affix it to the metal sheet
To begin, decide on your design, draw it out with nice, clearly defined lines, and transfer to adhesive paper. You can also use plain paper and a glue stick to adhere it to the metal. Place it where you want it, on your sheet:
STEP 2: saw the outside of the design
I won’t get into technical details of sawing and piercing metal – I’m certainly no expert! Plus, it’s much better explained in a video format. If you’ve never used a jeweler’s saw before, there are tons of great videos available on YouTube that start with the VERY basics. I liked this one a lot (by Kate Richbourg for Beaducation.com): Sawing Metal.
It took me a bit of doing in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fun, easy, and relaxing. I could happily saw away for hours and hours, listening to some good Christmas music!
STEP 3: pierce (drill) holes and cut out the interior elements of the design
When you’ve got the outside of your shape cut out, if there is negative space in your design you’ll want to drill a hole in each of those shapes. You’ll thread your saw blade through those to get at the interior shapes you want to cut out.
I used my electric Dremel tool for this – the same one I use to clean the holes in my glass beads (and a 1 mm drill bit). If you have a big block of wood that you can place under the metal as you’re drilling, or you don’t mind drilling into your bench pin, that’s a good idea – I couldn’t do that, so I managed with a couple of scraps of wood and a plastic cutting board. And use two hands, obviously! My other hand was holding the camera.
Don’t forget your protective eyewear!
Once the holes are drilled, you can thread your saw blade through and continue sawing out the pieces of metal that you want to get rid of:
STEP 4: file and sand the edges and flat surfaces
Now that you’ve cut your piece out, the next step is cleaning up the edges. The better your sawing technique, the easier it will be, of course! I used a set of small needle files to file the edges of the design, followed by smoothing with 220 grit abrasive paper. Then, I sanded the flat surfaces, front and back.
In this case, I only used the coarsest emery paper I had (220 grit), since I actually quite like the satiny, scratchy finish it leaves. But if you prefer a smoother, more reflective surface, you can finish the edges and the flat surfaces with progressively finer grits of paper / cloth (ie. 400, 600, 1200), like the smaller squares you see in this photo:
STEP 5: finish and embellish – the fun part!
The possibilities are endless! Use that ribbon and twine, dig through your bead stash, go hunting for vintage treasures… Drill holes for hanging, do some stringing and knotting, wire wrapping, add some jump rings or chain…
This is a great chance to use up bits and bobs. Since it’s not a wearable piece, it’s also fun to use beads you really love, that may not fit your usual ‘style’ of jewelry making. When it comes to holiday ornaments, all bets are off. Do you make tribal, or rustic, or primitive jewelry? Here’s your chance to go for the glitter and google-y eyes. The cuter and sparklier the better!
On my copper ‘Joy’ ornament, I added some chain for hanging (attached with jump rings I threaded through holes drilled at the top of the j and the y), some of that beautiful red velvet ribbon for a bow up top, and as the perfect finishing touch….
An art bead, of course!
My friend has a beloved pet bunny named Wendell, so when I saw this absolutely adorable polymer clay bunny charm by Leah Curtis of Beady Eyed Bunny, that was the ONE!
I love the idea of creating something special as a gift that fits the recipient in a way that only handmade can. And what a perfect showcase for an equally special bead.
Now I just have 8 snowflake ornaments to file and sand and accessorize in the next 7 days.
No problem 😉
I hope your holiday season has been magical so far – and wishing you all good things as we approach the New Year.
Until next time…
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Julie is a glass beadmaker with a passion for building community and inspiring conversation around her writing. Her best work comes from that magical place where nature meets creative flow. She is fascinated by all things weird and wonderful. You will find her hanging out most days in her Uglibeads Facebook group or on Instagram, and you’re invited to join in the adventure by signing up for her weekly email newsletter.