Making jewelry by hand: DIY ring-making at Parksville’s Metal Art Studio

Emily Vance, feeling like an alchemist as she prepares to anneal the sterling silver ring shape with a torch. (Francois Lavigne photo)
Ashley DeFrane chooses to etch her own pattern into her ring using a chisel and a hammer. (Emily Vance photo)
The finished product: a meditation or “spinner” ring! The Metal Art Studio provides a lightbox for students to photograph their final products. (Emily Vance)
The first phases of the ring-making process. Clockwise from left: Valerie Harty cuts a piece of sterling silver to size; the silver before patterning; and the silver after a pattern is hammered in. (Emily Vance photo)
Valerie Harty chooses the tiny pieces of soldering that will bind the ring into a circular shape. (Emily Vance photo)

Nestled in the ground floor of the McMillan Arts Centre is the Oceanside Community MakerSpace, home to a variety of programs and DIY endeavours, including the Metal Art Studio.

The studio offers the opportunity for current or aspiring jewelry makers to hone their craft and make all kinds of wearable trinkets and treasures. Surrounded by makers of all kinds, the creativity within the building is palpable.

Valerie Harty runs the Metal Art Studio, and is also the president of the Metal Arts Guild of Vancouver Island. After retiring from a career as a financial planner, she took a left turn to study metal jewelry design at North Island College. In the creative world, Harty is very much in her element with her mix of patience and curiousity.

Sitting in on the ring-making class was my first-ever experience creating anything of this nature, and I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. Friendly, kind and decked out in silver jewlery she’s made herself, Harty was a fitting guide on this ring-making journey.

We started out with some light chatter as Harty walked us through the process. There were two other women in the class, one of whom was a returning student, Ashley DeFrane. As Harty talked, DeFrane spun the wire around on the meditation (or “spinner”) ring she’d made previously – the one I was about to embark on.

We started off by sizing our fingers, and cutting out a strip of silver for the ring. There were a number of examples to look at of different styles, sizes and patterns to choose from.

After the silver cutting came one of my favourite parts – a process called annealing, or softening the metal. It felt a little bit like alchemy as we used a hand-held torch to soften the metal, and then place it in a solution called the “pickling pot.”

After that, we hammered in our pattern of choice. I went with a pattern block that I most connected with, and DeFrane decided to freestyle it and hammer in an abstract pattern using a chisel. They all turned out well.

Next up was shaping the ring into a circle and soldering it. Soldering was definitely the most challenging part – I struggled with getting my metal to line up perfectly. Luckily my inexperience was tempered by Harty’s patience, and we managed to make it work in the end. The soldering was amazing to watch – after slowly going over the area with a torch, the metal suddenly started to run through the cracks like water. To my inexperienced eye, it looked like magic.

After that came the delicate process of curving the top and bottom of the ring. Since the meditation ring requires two strands of wire to be able to spin around it, the ring needs to be curved to stay on. We used a tool with a sphere on the end and hammered down, holding our breath. The soldering cracked the first time (I’m a little heavy-handed, it turns out), but the second time it worked.

After a bit of polishing, I was now the owner of a shiny piece of silver jewelry that I had made by hand.

Overall, the process was incredibly satisfying. It gave me a deep appreciation for just how time-consuming it is to make jewelry by hand, and how precise the process needs to be.

After completing one class, students are free to attend drop-in nights to use tools, purchase materials and work in a collaborative environment. When I dropped in, three of us had the run of the place, and the use of a wide variety of tools. Harty and another collaborator flipped through a jewelry-making book, talking about potential projects and swapping techniques. After realizing that making my own jewelry is a possibility, I’m filled with plans for the future!

Information about Harty’s classes can be found by heading to the Metal Art Studio’s Facebook page. In addition to the meditation ring, students can take classes in gem stone setting, metal etching, bracelet making and much more.

Those interested in contacting Harty directly can email her at vharty@live.ca. MakerSpace is located at 133 McMillan St. in Parksville.

Arts and cultureParksville

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