Category Archives: Supplies & Tools

How to Get in Touch with Allcraft Tools

Hello Studio Jewelers–

In my last post, my  promise to you was to answer your questions and help you in any way I can.  Believe it or not, my most requested question is not about techniques, soldering, or stones.  It’s how to find Allcraft Tools. It seems that every time I recommend  my favorite tool supplier,  I am besieged with questions of how to get in touch with them. Some of you think Allcraft is very hard to find any info on.  In fact, one reader even thinks I made them up and they don’t exist.  Believe me, they are very real.

Allcraft Tools is owned by Tevel and Sarah. They are two of the nicest people in the business that you will ever meet. Sarah usually answers the phone and runs the finance part of the business.  Tevel answers your jewelry equipment questions and takes the orders.  Their associate, Sue, pulls and ships the orders, and is very knowledgeable about what they have in stock.  That’s the entire company–one of the largest suppliers in the US–and 3 people run it!  Pretty self-sufficent.  When you call Allcraft, you are speaking with the owners, not an order-taker or someone in customer service.  You get personal service from the owner of the company.  That’s pretty impressive.   Tevel is honest and will ask questions about your choice,  and may give you other options you didn’t know about.  He will tell you, to the best of his knowledge, exactly what tool you need for whatever it is you need to do. and if he does offer an option,  it may be less expensive than one you originally thought you wanted.  With the price of jewelry-making tools, that’s unusual to hear, and very welcome advice.  But enough of a sales pitch for Tevel.  You will learn that on your own. Here’s the info you want.rollingmill

Allcraft Tools is located at 135 W. 29th Street, New York, New York , 10001 if you choose to visit the store.  This is not a wander around the store and look at everything he has (because I sometimes wonder if he knows everything he has!) It’s basically on the 2nd floor, you can walk up or take the “picturesque” elevator, and it’s easy to find on the 2nd floor.  Go to the counter, and see all the boxes stacked floor to ceiling, and you tell him what you want  He can go right to it—usually. (grin)

If you prefer mail order, the phone number is 1-212-279-7077 OR 1-800-645-7124.  This is NOT the biggest secret in the jewelry world, but I get at least one email a day asking how to get in touch with them.   They are working on a web page, and they do not have a catalogue listing everything they have.  Allcraft has been known for their hammers and anvils for several decades, but they have so much more than that.  During the year I will be writing about some of my favorite tools that I purchase from Allcraft.   These tools will make your jewelry making much easier and more fun, and besides, I’m very much a tool person. I usually know of the newest on the market. I’ll share that with you, too.  So if you don’t know exactly what it is you want, but you know I have recommended it, just tell Tevel you want “what Lexi uses”.  I’m sure he hears that several times a week.

So I hope that if you have not tried Allcraft Tools, please do.  I know that you will find what you need, and if they don’t have it, they will lead you to who does. Just remember to tell them “Lexi sent me.”

Have fun with your new tools,

Hugs to you all,

Lexi

What is Pickle?

There has been a lot of panicky talk going around in various circles about “Pickle”.  Lately, on some of the forums,  there has been some very scary and potentially dangerous information given out. I will try to clarify some of the questions which have been sent to me about these statements and also about my ongoing series on soldering which appears in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.

Back in the middle ages, the most widely used solution for removing copper oxides from metal was alum.  This is also what cucumbers are soaking in to make “pickles” like we eat.  It was probably some medieval jeweler, who, as a joke, called the alum solution for removing copper oxides “pickle”, and the joke is still around hundreds of years later.

Later on,  a sulphuric acid /water solution was found to work better.   Unfortunately, not everyone knew how to appropriately use /mix the solution, and there were undoubtably some severe burns and numerous other unfortunate accidents which occurred.  For us modern day jewelers, there are several brand name products which are much safer and produce pretty good to excellent results.  They are a buffered solution of  sulphuric acid.  In chemspeak,  it is NaHSO4, commonly called sodium bisulfate.  This won’t eat your skin off if  accidentally splashed on you, but it will make holes in your clothing which will show up when your clothes are washed. To confuse the issue, sodium bisulfate is also used in food production in soft drinks and salad dressings and in preserving meat. However, more confusion comes when jewelers say they use a dry form of “sulphuric acid” as a pickle. This causes undue panic among some people who don’t understand exactly what sodium bisulfate is.

Some of the safer and more earth friendly pickles are sour salts, used in Eastern European cooking and available from gourmet stores.  You can also use citric acid, or lemon juice with vinegar.  Yes, vinegar is a mild acid.  These tend to take a lot longer to work.  Today we have several dry, granular commercial pickles available, such as RioPickle, available from RioGrande, or one called Citrex which is citric pickle, or Sparex #2.   (Opinion: I don’t like Sparex #2 because of the nasty skin which appears on the water, and it’s hard to see into the pickle pot with the brownish solution.)  I use PHDown, which is available at your local pool supply store and is used to regulate the PH balance  of water in swimming pools and hot tubs.  It’s much cheaper, almost half the price of jewelry store pickle,  and is the same exact thing,  (sodium bisulfate)  as your higher priced commercial pickles.  It will last a long time when stored as dry  granules.  In fact, many jewelry supply stores just sell pickle in white plastic containers with a generic “Pickle”  label, and it’s just PhDown that they buy in a 5 (or more) gallon size and put it in their own containers.

Mixing pickle isn’t exactly rocket science.   In a small crock pot, (I like the 1.5 quart size available at big box stores)  put 4 cups of water, and about 3/4 cup of dry pickle. It doesn’t have to be exact. Always add the pickle to the water.  Mix with copper tongs, and let it sit on the “Low” setting until the  crystals dissolve. Pickle works best when it is warm, but not boiling.  As your pickle gets used, it will turn a beautiful blue green color.  (Think of the verdigris color of outside copper faucets….its about the same color) That means that the pickle is working.   It does not mean it is instantly disintegrating  your silver, nor copper plating your pieces.  (Both of these  statements have been put out on recent forums.)  Your pickle will still work as it turns blue/green.  I change my pickle when it gets too dark to see my jewelry laying on the bottom of the pot.  Sometimes its been 6 months or more between changes.  It still works.  There are some instances which call for new pickle, but for general soldering clean-up, blueish/green pickle works just fine.

Have you ever heard jewelers speak of “superpickle?”  Superpickle is  regular pickle to which you add 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide, H2O2.  It works best with a batch of new pickle.   This will boost the cleaning properties of the sodium bisulfate for about an hour, and then the H2O2 will give up its oxygen atom and become H2O. In no way does it harm your pickle. Continue using the same solution as usual.  You may want superpickle to extra clean sterling before you keum boo, or if you get a copper oxide  (a copper “blush”) on brass due to overheating.

If you accidentally leave your piece in the pickle for a long time, like overnight, it will usually be OK.  Leaving it in for a month or so is not a good thing, and you may find pitted solder joints or pits in your silver.  (If you put silver in nitric acid for a month or so until it dissolves, you will have silver nitrate, which will turn your skin blue, but makes a great pottery glaze!) Always place your pieces into the pickle after quenching in water first, with copper tongs, and retrieve them with copper tongs.  That’s another long chemistry lesson, so just trust me on this one.  You may also use plastic or bamboo tongs.

If you accidently leave your pickle pot on for a long time, all the water will evaporate.  Blue/green crystals appear on the inside of the pot,.   I just start over with new pickle.  The crystalized pickle stuff gets yucky if you just add water.  If  your pickle has evaporated, but still has water and no crystallization has occured,  just add more water.  It’s fine to do that.  To dispose of my pickle, I merely add  4 cups of tap water and water my rose bushes with it.  My acid loving plants love it. It’s like a fertilizer for them.  You can also neutralize it with 1/2 cup of baking soda and pour it down your drain or toilet.

Does this help?  Please email me or reply with any questions.  Don’t panic that pickle is ACID!  There’s been enough panic about this going around recently. Acids are all around us and we use them daily.  Just use some common sense.

 

The Price of Silver

As I starting writing this, today’s price of silver was at $39.33.  It’s gone up 24 cents since I started writing this post.   (I used to have an app that beeped my cell phone every time the price of silver/gold changed.  Well, I quickly got rid of that annoying little pest!)

Silver is quickly headed toward the $40.00 mark. It’s up about 3 dollars from my last silver purchase, about a month ago. Adjusting for inflation, the price has never been this high.  Back between 1973-1979, the Hunt Brothers of Dallas, Texas, (yep, Hunt’s ketchup and tomato sauce–the same Hunts), along with some wealthy Arabian friends,  tried corner the market on silver.  They amassed over 200 million ounces of silver, which was basically half the world’s supply at that time.  Silver had been at $1.95 in ’73, and by the time the Hunts got through with their little shenanigans, around 1979-80, it was peaking around $53 dollars an ounce!  Well, the Federal Reserve got involved and halted the buying.  In one day, March 27th, 1980, the price dropped from $21.62 to $10.80! Countless speculators lost millions, and the Hunt brothers were convicted of conspiring to manipulate the market. When I got into making jewelry back in the 80′s, the price had dropped even more.

We will probably never return to 1973 prices, and if we do, that means the US and global markets are in a severe crisis. The stock market and  global situations continue to control the silver, gold and other precious metals prices much more than the Hunt brothers were able to manipulate. Here in the US, there are more people buying into gold and silver as inflation protection.   This speculation has a great deal to do with pricing, but also the worlds population is growing, and with the astounding price of gold, more people are buying silver and  hoarding it. Even when we think of gold, in the US, we use and wear a lot of 14k gold.  In other parts of the world, in societies where people wear their wealth, their jewelry is 18, 22 and in some cases, even 24k gold.  They consider 14k to be “junk” gold.  So that, along with foreign governments hoarding precious metals as inflation and civil unrest grows, creates more demand and more price increases.  Also, gold and silver are used in many industrial uses, in automobiles, in medical equipment, in so many other aspects. Gold and silver are  historically linked in prices, but in the past year or so, silver prices have risen at a  higher percentage rate than gold.

All this has greatly hurt jewelers, especially the little guy who is not a major buyer of precious metals.  When we buy 2 or 3 6×6 sheets of 20 gauge, while it sets us back quite a bit, that doesn’t constitute much of a purchase in the whole scheme of things.

Several students have asked why the jewelry supply stores charge so much more than the “spot” market price of silver.  ”If I buy two ounces of wire, how come I’m charged $100.00 if the spot market is $37.00.  I should only pay $77.00″, they complain.

Well, the mill (the refiner) must buy  a set amount of raw material–say 5000 ounces of unmilled silver, or other metal.  I’m not sure of the exact amount you have to buy, but at one time it was 5000 ounces. Then that silver must be refined. Copper must be added to silver in the correct percentage, thus making sterling silver.   (925% silver and 75% copper) Then the sterling silver is melted and milled into sheet, wire, tubing or whatever that particular mill makes.  The cheapest way to buy sterling is in casting grain form, but if you want plate or a “milled product”, you are paying for that.  That is called a “mill charge” and it varies from mill to mill. Sheet is one form of a milled product, and if the mill must make wire, that’s one more process, and they charge for that. You want decorative wire, that’s another thing the mill must do to the wire, so they charge a bit more for that.  Oh!  Tubing?  They really charge for that!

Then they ship it to the jewelry supply store.  Well, you can imagine, shipping metals is heavy, and UPS doesn’t do that for free, so there’s an additional charge. Finally your supplier must make a profit, so that’s tacked on.   Jewelry stores do not buy silver and mark it up 100%, or even 50% and sell it.  They make very little profit on metals. Most stores carry metals as a convenience to their customers who come there to buy tools and supplies. (I remember in my innocence as a beginning jeweler, coming from a family who had owned retail shops and galleries, I thought that if I had a tax number, I could buy my silver and tools “wholesale”, 50% off the marked price.  I blush now, thinking about that!)

So if you think the price of silver is high, feel free to go out, find and buy your own raw silver, remove all the dirt, rocks, bugs, roots, etc.  Then melt it, add the copper, and roll it into a sheet.  And let me know how that’s workin’ for you.  You will learn that you just have to bite the bullet and pay the price.

Supply stores are now in a tenuous position.  With the uncertain pricing of metals, what they buy today may be worth more tomorrow, or it may drop and they lose money.  Some supply stores are cutting back on ordering silver from the mill, and you really can’t blame them. What would you do? We think twice now about going to buy $200.00 worth.  What if you had to order $5,000.00+ worth so your customers would have what they need?  So cut the supply houses some slack and don’t growl too much, its not their fault.

Where will this end?  I don’t know.  No one knows.  It’s all just a guess. I love making silver jewelry, so I will continue as long as I can, and I love copper, too, and am making more copper and brass (bronze?) jewelry.  But copper is going up in price, too.   I refuse to make paper jewelry.  It’s a bear to solder!

For more info and to keep tab of the daily changes on all precious metals, go to kitco.com and you can download that annoying little beep for free, or you can just check it several times a day yourself.

Frustratingly yours,

Lexi

The Life of a Jewelry Artist

Hi Everyone–

Here in the Rocky Mountains, the aspen are turning bright gold and some are burgundy.  They are truly magnificent against the turquoise Colorado sky.  But the true mark of autumn is the Denver Gem and Mineral show, which just finished last Sunday.  Though in reality I needed nothing, I cannot help going to see what Mark Lasater at The Clam ShellGary B. Wilson, Greg King-Falk Burger (the duo humorously known as “Burger-King”), Michael Hendrix and many more  have in stock.  They had less in stock after my friend, student and sister, Kathleen Krucoff, my students and I left.  And remarkably, we do not fight over stones.  We all have such different taste in our jewelry and colors that there is always plenty for all of us. Well, truthfully, Kathleen and I do tussle a bit over red jasper, Chinese Writing Stone, and petrified palm wood, but if you follow her blog, you know she is a purple lover, so she buys a lot more purples, while I go for the “earth tones”. (I’m such a child of the 70′s).  As I predicted on my Tucson blog, Mark Lasater had some gorgeous Red Creek Jasper.   Funny thing about names, it’s now called Cherry Creek Jasper, Cherry Creek Valley Jasper and just plain old Red Creek jasper.  That’s the name the owner of the mine calls it, so I’m sticking with that until further notice.  But there was a lot of it at the Denver show.

Fall is also the time for the Castle Rock Art Festival.  The gem show starts the Tuesday after the Castle Rock weekend, so I’m pretty exhausted.  The Castle Rock show was pretty good for me this year, though not even comparable to “The Glory Days” of the 1980-90′s art festivals.   But I had a great time and I always love meeting the other artists.  This year I traded some work with my newest friends,  fabulous wildlife watercolorist Stephen Koury from Lakeland, FL  and metal artist Pamella Goff from Brighton, CO.  Pamella makes diverse art from old spoons, and her pieces are totally delightful.  Her spoon flower hangs in my kitchen.  It reminds me of a delightful and spiritual sister.   Stephen does these unbelievably realistic nature paintings, and my painting features a Harris Hawk and my favorite petroglyph, the “Moab Man”. It is being framed now, and I can’t wait to hang it in my entry hall.  Both of these artists are so outgoing and wonderfully talented that it makes it the whole show experience pretty wonderful.  Plus, the Castle Rock Festival is one of the best run I’ve ever participated in.  They take such good care of their artists.  Kathleen and I have decided that it’s easier to do some shows together so we are  looking forward to doing more shows next year.

Photo of me (on the right) with Kathleen (on the left) at the Castle Rock Festival this year.

A few blogs back I expressed my feelings about galleries and shows, and thought something has to be done about the way we get our work out there, and yet allow us to do more than “break even” on an event.  After some thought, I realized that what we need is a group of sincere artists who come together and present their work at a well-known, but non-gallery,  location and perhaps start a tradition.

Well, I’m very lucky to be on the Board of Colorado Metalsmithing Association (CoMA), so I took my idea to the Board, and they were receptive to trying something totally new.  Previously, CoMA has only shown at galleries.  Now we will have 28 artists, famous, notables, and emerging, those who answered our Call for Artists, and we will be showing and selling our work at the beautiful Denver Botanic Gardens on Oct 16 and 17.

What is so amazing about this venue is that it is timed to take place along with the showing of Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures.   It was Henry Moore who commented “The most powerful artworks are the largest and the smallest”.  I was thrilled to find that quote, and we put it on our postcards.

I would like to thank Kathleen Krucoff of Krucoff Studios for the design of both our poster and postcards.  Everyone has commented on how stunning and professional they are, and it makes them proud to be a part of the show.

Jewelry at the Gardens ~ Post Card

 

28 Artists at the Botanic Gardens ~ The Poster

So what I’m saying, along with please come see us at the show and sale,  is that we, as artists, are creative people. If you are unhappy with shows and galleries, please take this idea and run with it.  It’s nothing new, but it is a first for a great group of metalsmiths in Colorado.

Look for willing locations in your area.  Look for people who will help sponsor a show, and put one together.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, tremendously so. Maybe a later blog will be a step -by-step of how to do this, but I’ve put together many shows in Texas and PA.  All it takes is a spark, and you can ignite a whole group of people’s creative processes.  Helping others get “out there”, in turn energizes me, and  I feel a lot more creative.  I hope you will come to see us.  I can promise you it will be worth your time to see what these artisans have created and maybe you will find that right item and become a collector!

Show dates / times / location: October 16 ad 17,  from 9 AM -5 PM, Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver Co, 80206.

I’m off to create  something for this “New Tradition”– I look forward to meeting you at this new event, “Jewelry at the Gardens”.  Please mention you read about it in my blog as I would love to know.  Thanks.

Lexi