Saturday, June 28, 2008

Base Materials

[Photo of The Ring Lord's anodized aluminum colors]

I'm just going to review a couple of base metal materials that I've worked with, how they are to work with, and how they wear as far as long-term life. There are several that I have not worked with, including precious metals, and I suppose I'll get around to them later.

Bright Aluminum
When I'm done working with BA my fingers are black. As a result, I haven't used it for jewelry at all, because I can't imagine it wouldn't do the same to your neck if you wore it as a choker. It washes off easily enough, but a blackened band around your neck doesn't exactly make for oohs and aahs. What I have and will use it for is anything that doesn't touch a lot of skin:
  • dangly earrings
  • belts
  • headdresses
  • decorative items, bags, etc.
Since aluminum is the most plentiful metal on the earth (in fact the most plentiful element after oxygen and silicon), BA is cheap and therefore terrific to work with for learning new weaves. It is also light weight (one third the weight of steel), so it's great for costume maille shirts, coifs, etc. It's not difficult to work with in terms of opening and closing rings at all. TRL claims that there's "little to no noticeable ruboff" from it. I may have to test this. Bonus: it doesn't corrode.

Anodized Aluminum
I love the stuff. No, the colors aren't as vibrant or metallic as niobium, but it's easier to work with, much less expensive, and I actually like some of the colors better (green being an example).
Anodizing apparently triples the price of aluminum, at least at TRL. It's worth it (and still no more expensive than copper). I especially love working with their black, which has a silky finish on it.
I have no ruboff on my fingers when working with it, which I assume means it won't rub off on the wearer, either. There is only one drawback to AA as far as I can tell: how durable is the finish? It can't be cleaned with ultrasonic or harsh chemical cleaners, although I'm not sure how much cleaning it would need since it won't oxidize or corrode. I intend to test the longevity of the anodized finish, as well, by making and using a keychain out of the stuff. More info on that to come.
I have had to throw out a few rings because my pliers popped off a ring and damaged the finish, but I'm using bare pliers (no tool dip or masking tape). Planning on trying out the tool dip.
Verdict: might be my favorite base metal for the cost.

Oh, by the way, check out this nifty studio doing a variety of jewelry and seriously cool mobiles out of AA: HSU Studios

It's supposed to help arthritis, wearing copper jewelry. There's no scientific evidence for this, but hey, it can't hurt, can it?
Copper's major drawback is the fact that it oxidizes quickly. You can tell an old penny from a new penny instantly. Some maille artists use this to their advantage and mix various-aged coppers in the same piece. It looks cool, but will they all look the same eventually?
Copper can oxidize by just darkening, or greening. It will turn some people's skin green, depending on body chemistry.
Since I like to mix metals (copper and some colors of AA are so pretty together), I am conducting an experiment: I dropped BA, AA, and copper rings into a mixture of white vinegar and salt, which I have seen recommended for cleaning copper, and another with lemon juice. Stay tuned for the results. What I am after is something that will clean copper without destroying the anodized finish on the aluminum. Preliminary investigation makes me think it's gonna eat the anodized layer. A rock tumbler will also polish up your copper, but that definitely will eat the aluminum's color. I'm starting to think my mixed metal pieces are going to have to be disassembled for cleaning. Ick.
Copper is, for the record, very easy to work with as far as malleability.

I haven't worked with it yet. You've got options for galvanized steel (affectionately known as "galvy"), stainless, or mild steel. Stainless shouldn't rust, so it may be a nice option for jewelry. "Mild" steel is meant to look "medieval", and it will rust. Quickly, I think, especially exposed to moisture or in this humid Tennessee air. Galvy has a zinc surface layer that will keep it from rusting, but it has a dull finish I don't care much for. More experimentation needed here, as well.

Anodized Niobium
I'm in love with this metal. No pictures do it justice. It anodizes in gorgeous metallic, almost iridescent hues. It's hypoallergenic. It's easy to work with (except, I think maybe, for cutting your own rings, which I haven't tried). Once again the only drawback is the longevity of the anodized layer and propensity to scratches. I'll need to wear it more to talk about this stuff.

Anodized Titanium
Doubt I'll be buying much more of this, though I may try a different supplier. Titanium is stiff and hard to work with, the cuts were not flush (I assume because it is so very difficult to cut), and it's hard to make the rings close back the way you want them to because of its "memory." The plus side is that it anodizes in really pretty muted hues.

Bronze, Brass, Silver and Gold, Inconel, Enameled Copper
Haven't worked with any of these in chainmaille, so stay tuned. I have used some brass findings, and EC wire (impression: lacks strength because of the enamel coating). Since I want to play with Vintaj products a bit, I may make some brass things to match them. And I'm considering winding my own silver rings to save a few dollars. Stay tuned for part 2: Precious Materials.