Now that my “canvas” is completed, it’s time to turn my efforts to the design phase of the project. I’ve spent an awful lot of time making the knife, and I’m concerned about inlaying the gold ants in the shibuichi. I’ve inlaid one in nickel before, but not shibuichi, so, in keeping with my policy of “graceful degradation” I’m going to employ a little risk reduction strategy. In short, I’m going to practice with the offcut leftover piece of shibuichi from the handle scales, and rather than just doing a practice plate, I’ll take a small risk with my time and make a pendant with an inlaid 24karat gold ant.
Above is the process I often use in designing my artwork.
1) On the left, I start with a scan of the leftover shibuichi offcut.
2) Next, tracing the edges, I print out the outline and sketch in the design, scanning it in again.
3) Using Adobe Photoshop, I “cut out” the pieces and arrange them on the screen, then add/subtract/adjust as required.
4) Finally, I produce a full scale pattern (the image on the right), and print it out.
Above is that paper pattern rubber cemented onto the shibuichi. Did I mention that this piece of shibuichi is a little more than an inch on a side?
While everything is still in a convenient size and easily handled, I drill the holes I will need.
Here, I’ve begun sawing out the two pieces with a jeweler’s saw and tiny 2/0 blade. I employ a little strategy here, by cutting out the small pieces around the edges first, and have partially cut the top portion away. I do it this way trying to keep everything together as long as I can to avoid handling tiny pieces. They tend to fly away and land in the nearest pile of sawdust or other assorted crud…no reason to make this harder than it needs to be!
Note here I cut away the tiny and convoluted top piece first. The larger piece is still fairly easy to handle, but if there were other chunks needing to be removed from the small piece, it would be difficult to handle.
And, above, all the pieces have been cut away, along with my jeweler’s saw. These tiny blades are amazing, they seem to be able to cut just about anything!
Above are the sawn pieces. Note the edges are still pretty rough. I’ll be filing with jeweler’s files to clean up everything, as well as also using my NSK micromotor grinder and carbide burrs. Whatever it takes…
Here is the pendant all cleaned and trimmed up. Since shibuichi is a copper/silver alloy, being against someone’s skin will cause the metal to corrode. To prevent that, I’m going to solder a silver sheet on the back. Here I’ve marked the general outline of the pendant on a piece of 28 gauge silver sheet, and will cut it out with some metal shears.
Ov course, when I cut the silver sheet with the metal shears, it will deform the metal, bending it as I cut. Above, I’m flattening the cut bit of sheet between two thick aluminum blocks in my big blacksmith’s vise. Just one big squeeze will do the trick!
Above, I’ve spread a silver-bearing easy solder paste onto the silver sheet and two shibuichi pieces, lying on a heat-resistant soldering pad. I previously cleaned all three surfaces VERY well with my Foredom flex shaft grinder and a ScotchBrite™ pad.
Here I’m getting ready to melt the solder. Note my two little soldering helpers holding the shibuichi pieces in close contact with the silver sheet on the bottom. These things are really marvelous for soldering.
These little helpers are really simple. Nothing but two pieces of wood, and two thick, bent copper wires filed to a not-very-sharp point, with lead blocks to provide variable amounts of weight.
And above, the first image is before melting the solder, and the second image is after. I heat the piece slowly, waiting for the water in the paste solder to boil SLOWLY and GENTLY away. Heating it too fast will cause the water to boil too violently, moving the pieces out of alignment. Once the water is gone, I heat faster until the solder flashes to molten silver around ALL the edges.
After soldering, I wait unto the solder solidifies (usually just a few seconds), then into the Sparex pickle to dissolve the dark oxide crust that heating produces. I keep my Sparex hot in a small crockpot from the thrift store.
Here is the pendant after pickling and cleaning a bit with the ScotchBrite™ pad.
Here is the pendant after sawing around the shibuichi with the jeweler’s saw, then cleaned up with files and the Foredom ScotchBrite™ pad. The silver back is the image on the left, and the shibuichi side on the right. Since the silver is just 28 gauge sheet, the sawing and filing go pretty fast.
Thanks for demonstrating your beautiful shibuichi pendant work. I have just found the metal and love it. Got some questions for you: 1) Do you feel it is necessary to seal the shibuichi after the piece is completed so that it won’t tarnish as silver and copper both tarnish? 2) What should I expect when I try to solder the shibuichi earring fronts to a silver back? They are square and domed and rather thin gauged, so I don’t want to melt them when I solder them to the silver backings. I stressed and textured my shibuichi and the results were beautiful pink-silver-goldish iridescent tones. It is hard to see what the exact coloration you pendant is in the photo. Thank you for any response.
Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the pendant.
IN answer to your questions:
1) Shibuichi tarnishes VERY rapidly, so I never try to keep that lovely pinky bronze color. When I’m working “fresh” shibuichi, I notice the color change just from one side of the piece to the other in the short amount of time I’m working. In fact, this tarnishing property is exactly why the ancient Japanese artisans used shibuichi in their colored metal art works. With that in mind, I plan the piece to be the color of aged shibuichi from the very beginning, so the client won’t have an ugly surprise once she gets it home. Also, I’ve never found a varnish that I like, since they all quickly begin to peel away, and then you get an even worse mottled appearance.
2) I’ve had no trouble silver soldering shibuichi and silver together using “easy” silver solder. I don’t know what might happen using medium or hard. The silver solder won’t match with the silver color, so I make certain I can hide the silver line that will be left in the design. In the case of this pendant, the silver backing is only meant to provide a barrier between the skin and the shibuichi, so I trimmed the silver backing flush at the sides.
I hope these answers help and are of use to you. Good luck!