An update from Diana Pops, on the the candlestick she is crafting for us. For a bit more on the project, simply click here.
I hope your holidays were merry and bright! I’ve started the phase of the altar candlestick where I get to cut some metal (yay!) . This has been a long time coming so I was pretty excited this morning when I could get started.
I’m going to do this update as a “making of” post, so you can all see the steps that go into making just one small piece of this candlestick.
It was always my plan to start with the sparrows that will be swooping around the top of the candlestick. To begin the day, I sat in prayer for a few minutes. I prayed that my hands would be guided in this good work, and for the project over all, that it would speak to many. Though I am doing much of the labour in this project as a gift, really, I feel that this process is a gift to me. What does “prayerful craft” mean? Well, I hope to find out first hand, and to share my musings and observations with you as this project comes together.
Over to the bench. I printed out my master design onto label paper, cut out the sparrow, and placed that sticker on a piece of fine (.999) silver sheet. This gives me very crisp guidelines to follow when I begin to saw out the sparrow.
If I was a medieval-era silver smith (or really any era in which label paper wasn’t invented…so…most eras) I would draw my design, free-hand, and then use a natural glue to adhere my master design to the silver. I did consider that for this project…but then I regained my sanity.
To cut the bird out, I use a teeny-tiny blade in a jeweller’s saw. How teeny-tiny? Well, this particular blade has 3 teeth to a millimetre.
After you have your design cut out, it’s time to burn off the paper and any dirt or dust that is on the surface of the metal.
At this point the sparrow gets a light sanding on all it’s edges…but no one wants to see that. If you NEED a visual, just imagine me sitting silently and sanding for 20 minutes.
When that little guy is all sanded, it’s on to a process called Keum Boo. Keum Boo is an ancient Korean gilding technique that is used to apply thin sheets of gold to silver. I won’t go into all of the details, but, through heat and pressure you diffusion bond the gold to the silver and the gold becomes a permanent part of the silver. Below is a photo of the silver sparrow with the gold foil sitting on top of it. It’s on a hot plate and that stone that is looming in the foreground is a piece of agate. The agate is used to press the gold to the silver without tearing the foil. That pressing is called “burnishing” and you really want to put some elbow grease into it to ensure a good bond. Note: Do not get so excited about this process that you touch your knuckles to the hot plate. Then, do not do it again 5 minutes later.
The next step is to begin engraving the feathers. Every feather counts in this project. The more detailed the engraving, the better the play of light on the piece. Because this sparrow is a part of a candlestick…this is of utmost importance! I use a sharpened steel blade called a graver for this process. Every cut is a push of the wrist. Engraving by hand is becoming rarer and rarer these days, mostly because it is quite taxing on your hands and wrists. Most jewellers use a laser engraver, or a machine-assisted engraver which pushes the blade along, while you direct the movement.
I love the feel of engraving by hand and I deeply respect the tradition of this technique that is rapidly becoming obsolete. I always feel a connectedness to “the history of silver smithing” when I engrave. It makes me feel like a part of the story of this mysterious, ancient craft that I love so much.
Fine silver is a softer metal which makes engraving it an absolute dream.
Above, the little sparrow all engraved, before getting a nice, bright polish. I spent a couple minutes bending his little wings to give him a little more “life”.
The final step is to drill 1 millimetre holes in the body of the sparrow, which fit the 1 millimetre sterling silver nails that I am making to attach the silver elements to the wooden core of the candlestick. Make two extremely small nails, slip them through the holes, and we are ready for a polish.
After a polish, here it is, the first of many. I’m holding it so you can see the scale of the details. This tiny beauty is going to shine bright. From start to finish, sparrow #1 took three hours to complete. That means I have around 20 more “sparrow hours” to go for the flock to come together.
I can’t wait to show you more as this candlestick comes into being. Honestly, this was the best work day I’ve had in ages.
My very best,