Metal Forming
Tuesday | 02 October, 2012 | 10:47 am

Copper couture

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Texturized anticlastic copper cuff

How one artist makes metals modish

October 2012 — Copper, aluminum and bronze are used for a host of heavy-duty applications, from plumbing, piping and electrical wiring to panels bedecking the sides of buildings or fashioned as automotive components. When these materials come to mind, jewelry is not an immediate association. However, in San Francisco, one jewelry maker is using these malleable metals to create classic yet contemporary pieces meant to embellish the wearer’s natural beauty.

Using hammers, rolling mills, oxy-propane torches, acetylene torches and even a band saw, John Brana manipulates flat sheet into refined pieces of jewelry. Brana takes great care when hammering metals to get the desired effect, employing the latest products, including a urethane forming hammer. “One end has a cross-peen face made of extra-hard 95-durometer urethane that tapers to a 32 mm by 10 mm tip,” Brana says. “The other end has a flat face made of 80-durometer urethane. The urethane prevents marring the texture while conforming the metal to the hammering surface.”

When making a more simple design, Brana uses a pneumatic press in combination with contained urethane. “If I’m making a pair of corrugated earrings and want more dimension to them, I put them in the press. The object is placed on top of the contained urethane, which sits on the lower platen, while the forming stake is held by the upper platen,” he explains. “Using contained urethane allows me to have greater control forming a concave leaf without flattening the corrugation. You couldn’t achieve the same results using a traditional dapping block, punch and hammer.”


Fold-formed anticlastic aluminum cuff.

Brana typically uses 18 gauge through 20 gauge copper for cuff bracelets and sometimes 22 gauge copper for double corrugation. He uses 14 gauge aluminum to give more weight to cuffs and bangles, because heavier gauges are harder to cut and form. “I use aluminum, anodized aluminum, bronze, stainless steel, copper, gold and silver,” Brana adds, noting that nothing goes to waste. “I mix scrap copper with tin and cast it as bronze, so I recycle all the metal.” He also works with Nu Gold, which is a blend high in copper and zinc.

Firm hand, delicate touch
When annealing, or joining the ends of two larger pieces of metal as in forming a bangle, Brana uses a plumber’s MAPP torch for its fast heat and wide flame. When doing finer work, which requires a controlled flame, such as attaching findings, soldering seams or joining two ends of smaller pieces like rings, Brana uses a micro oxy-propane torch. “I have an oxygen generator that provides me with not only an endless supply of oxygen, but also mitigates code and safety storage issues.” Brana uses an electric melting furnace in combination with an air-acetylene torch for proper metal flow when lost wax casting copper, bronze, gold or silver.

Brana also employs a number of cutting methods. He has a guillotine shear and mainly uses it when doing production work, such as cuffs or bangles that have relatively straight edges, or cutting thick flat stock for band rings, which are “designs not requiring much edge work,” he says.


Lime anodized aluminum lily pad earrings.

“I normally buy flat stock — aluminum, copper, and Nu Gold — in 12-in. by 36-in. sheets,” he says. “Let’s say, for example, I’m going to make a 2-in.-wide bangle. I’ll need 2-in. by 8-in. blanks.” Brana uses aviation shears to cut an 8-in. by 12-in. piece from the 12 in. by 36 in. sheet, feeds that into the guillotine and shears off every 2 in., leaving him with six 2-in. by 8-in. pieces. “I do this in about 30 seconds,” he says. “This makes a quick job of cutting 14 gauge to 18 gauge blanks and is definitely a lot easier on the hands than using aviation shears.”

When working on a larger design that has outside curves, such as a cuff, bangle or necklace component, Brana mainly uses a band saw. “Again, this makes a quick job of it, especially when you are doing production runs,” he adds. He also uses the band saw to cut thicker sterling, copper and stainless steel flat stock for band rings. It takes about a tenth of the time cutting through 14 gauge as it would using a jeweler’s saw, and using a fence ensures straight consistent cuts. “Jeweler’s blades break very easily, so it’s also much more cost-effective over the long run to let the band saw do the grunt work,” he adds. “It’s also much more ergonomically friendly on your wrist, elbow and shoulder.”

The band saw also is useful when Brana cuts steel blanks from sheet for die making. But it’s back to the jeweler’s saw for detailed work, inner cuts (piercing, blanking dies, pancake dies, silhouette dies) and designs that require greater accuracy and control. FFJ


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