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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Adventures in Electroforming: My Workbench

I am so freaking lucky that we have a good-sized shed in our yard that the last owners decked out to function like a wood working studio.  We have been using it for storage, a spot to do small house projects, my photography studio in one corner and the home of my dubia colony. Since we moved in almost a decade ago, it has really not been used for more than that.  Which is ridiculous because this thing is insulated, has it's own electric circuits, is lined with pegboard and has waist-height counters all around with storage underneath.  It is a dream workshop that I have now taken over more than half to become my metalsmithing shop -woowoo!

I have been collecting gear to get this hobby started for about 3 weeks now.  I had to buy most of it, but had a fair amount of tools, wire and other ephemera from my beading hobbies already.  Three weeks into starting this whole thing my workshop is set up as below.  You have to have a good amount of starting equipment to get going, but I have already started adding 'extras' as I have been figuring out the process.  Truth be told, I was trying to be cautious (in case I didn't end up liking the process) and cheap.  Tip #1 for other beginners - don't be cheap.  If you are gonna do this, do it right.  The results are so much better.

Here is my bath setup.  I was using just a plastic red bin, but this weekend I already replaced it with a clear plastic bin that is taller.  I wanted to be able to look in and see what was happening!  My anodes are just copper pipes from the hardware store.  I tried several ways of wiring them together or to the sides of the tank and it ended up being a mess and hard to replace.  Luckily, the hubs had some extra wires with alligator clips so I was able to link them together (to effectively have a single anode) that way.

I was using several pipes since I had read that having your anode only in 1 area would plate heavier in the direction of the source of the copper.  I ended up getting a magnetic stirrer anyway due to the weird striations that appears on one of my pieces that I didn't like:

I picked up a simple soldering station kit and a mini-torch to help with making rings and the like.  In this shot, I am using it as a curing station on my first batch of pendants.  Having lots of extra polymer clay around has turned out to be quite helpful as I use it to help prop stuff up!

The pegboard walls have proven to be amazing for shelf units for my supplies leaving me with lots of table space to work.  I opted for a 3 volt rectifier, and I regret it.  I could have 2 baths going at once if I had gotten a bigger one.  If I end up going into production, I suppose I'll just have to get another one down the line.

Here is a (crummy) shot of all the things I tried in my first batch.  A few rings and some polymer pieces.  What I learned from these mainly is that you have to leave stuff in the electrobath for a much longer time that what I had read online and 2) it is a really thin coating of metal: the texture underneath is really what you can expect to show up on the surface.  I was mystified by the blorpy stuff I was seeing online.  But I shall leave that for another entry.

Since taking these shots 2 weekends ago, I have added a rock tumbler to the set up (which I think is a must have), changed out the container for the bath, and added some more metal-smithing tools to aid in constructing my base pieces.

If you have any questions about the equipment here, I am happy to answer with what I know and what I tried out!

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