I love bangle bracelets. I love the way they look stacked up on my arm, and the way they make a silvery tinkle when I move my arm. Over the years I’ve collected many of them; mostly silver. I often wondered how hard it would be to make bangles, so I recently took a Saturday course in making them.
It was BIG FUN. It felt like the kind of fun I used to have when I climbed trees everyday, when I found the first mayflower in spring, when I found a new book to read, and so on. There were eight of us, and our teacher was encouraging and patient with us. The idea was to make a bangle bracelet out of heavy gauge copper, although the teacher did bring along some sterling silver if we wanted to buy it from her. (I did.)
The process of making the bangle was fascinating. Years ago I used to make stained glass (not very well), and was comfortable with using a small soldering iron, but in this class, we used regular blowtorches. I think I speak for us all when I say that we were just a bit intimidated by the whoosh and pop of the torch, but we got used to it during the day. I really enjoyed the process of turning a straight piece of heavy gauge wire into a bracelet. Here’s how we did it:
- We measured the length of the wire for our wrist, cut off the piece, and then filed the ends with a flat file (see below) so that they were flat (to make a clean join). You hold the wire steady against a surface, and stroke the end pieces going one way only until the edges are flat.
- We bent the wire to make kind of a soft triangle, getting the flat ends to meet together to make a join. This is where we solder to close the join.
- Next, we put our ‘soft triangle’ on the fire block and brushed the join with the flux solution, then turned the torch on.
- By heating the metal with the torch (keeping the flame about an inch or two above the metal), we *annealed the wire.
- When the piece was hot enough, we focused the torch on the join with one hand, then with the other hand, used tweezers to pick up the tiny length of silver solder. Carefully, we touched the silver solder to the join so that it would melt into place, sealing the join. (If the join has rough edges, it’s fixable.)
- Once we were finished, we turned off the torch, then put the now-soldered piece into cold water, where it popped when heat met water.
- Next, we dropped the piece into the **pickle pot for a few minutes to get rid of the oxidation and flux.
- We took the piece out of the pickle pot, then dropped it into plain water.
- At that point, we put the piece on a mandrel (shown below), which can either be round or oval, depending on how you want your bangle.
- Placing the triangle-soon-to-be a bangle on the top of the mandrel, you force it down to form a round or oval. Using a hammer with nylon or rawhide ends (see below), hammer all around the bangle to make it follow the round or oval shape. When you take the bangle off the mandrel, place it on the table to make sure that the bangle has the shape you want. If part of the bangle isn’t touching the table, gently hammer it so that it lies flat. At that point, you can now address any rough edges on the join.
- Using the flat file, gently remove any rough spots (burrs) on the outer side of the bangle. Use a rounded file to clean up the inside of the bangle. Again, just file in one direction.
- Once the join is cleaned up, you can either leave the bangle plain or you can add some interest to it by texturing. If you choose the latter, put the bangle back on the mandrel. Choose a hammer to make the texturing:
- Once you’ve chosen the hammer, you can go to town pounding on it. (Honestly, when we all got to the texturing stage, it sounded like “***The Anvil Chorus”!) I particularly liked a small hammer with a thin straight edge; I used it to make straight vertical lines all around the bangle, then turned it and made horizontal lines over the straight ones. The effect was amazing; it looked like twinkling diamonds.
- Lastly, we used a small brass bristle brush soaked with dish-washing liquid and burnished the bangle (and cleaned it). Once rinsed, and dried off, the effect is beautiful. Copper especially comes out looking exactly like rose gold.
That was my day of making bangles. It was a fabulous class, and I learned so much. I ended up with one sterling bangle, and three copper bangles:
Not bad for a beginner!
*Annealing is when you apply heat (via the torch) to the piece of metal, and then slowly cool in order to make it stronger.
**Basically, a pickle is simply an acidic solution that removes oxidation and flux from a piece of soldered metal. Commercial jewelry pickles are available, and I also found out that there is an easy DIY formula as well.
***The Anvil Chorus is the English name for the Coro di zingari (Italian for “Gypsy chorus”), a chorus from Act 2, Scene 1 of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera Il Trovatore. It depicts Spanish Gypsies striking their anvils at dawn – hence its English name – and singing the praises of hard work, good wine, and Gypsy women.