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Monday, September 20th 2010

12:42 PM

How To Get the Best Tools


Hello Everyone!

Recently I was thumbing through a tool catalog looking for a new pair of flat nose pliers when I realized just how many different tools there are out there. I couldn’t believe that I was faced with a ton of questions just to purchase a tool. All I wanted was a pair of flat nose pliers that had a thin tip. Now I had to figure out how long I wanted them, how thin the tips should be, what type of handle would be best, how much money was I willing to part with, etc, etc, etc. I’m sure that many of you have been faced with the same dilemma. Here are a few things I like to keep in mind when purchasing tools.


This is usually my first concern. With the economy as it is today loosening up the extra cash to purchase new tools has become an interesting trick using smoke and mirrors. So you might want to consider how much of your budget you can sacrifice for a good quality tool. Then, start searching for the best tool that will fit your budget.


Wouldn’t it be horrible to purchase a new tool only to find out that it was too big to fit properly in your hand? Or maybe it didn’t have enough padding in the handle to make using it on a regular basis virtually impossible. So it’s good to think about these things before you make a purchase. Determine what comforts are important to you. Once you have figured out what you are looking for in a tool be sure to read the description carefully. Most catalog descriptions will give measurements of the tool, you might want to pull out a ruler and see if that length or width will work for you.



Last Week of our Summer Sale 


Be sure to stop by and take advantage of our Summer Sale before it's too late. Just visit -  http://www.macjewels.com/tutorials.html


We'll See You There!



Before you purchase any new tools be sure it’s the right one for the job. For example, if you are doing really fine, intricate work you would want to purchase pliers that may have a thin tip. So again, it’s a good idea to read the tool description carefully. How often you would be using the tools is also something to keep in mind. If I was only using that tool occasionally I might not spend as much money on it. A decision like that could have a big effect on your budget.   


All of us want to get the best quality product that we can for the money. Many feel that the more expensive the tool the higher the quality. That isn’t always the case. I have know many artists who have purchased high dollar tools thinking that it must be the best only to have them break in a short period of time. Granted, most of those high dollar tools come with a guarantee, but the hassle can really drive you nuts. So how can you measure quality? I think that the best thing to look at is reputation. There’s a lot of buzz on the internet, in magazines, and at jewelry supply shops on different tool makers. So that means that you may need to do a bit of research before you buy. As you do your research you’ll quickly come to realize what tools are good and which ones to avoid.

One Last Thing

Something else that you might want to do is ask around. Since money is so tight these days it might be a good idea to ask others what they use and why. There are a lot of jewelry groups on the internet where you can post questions and get great answers. Artists are usually willing to tell you what they think about certain tools that are available. So don’t hesitate to ask around.   

These are only a few things to keep in mind when purchasing tools. I’m sure that each one of you has certain criteria when it comes to choosing your tools. These are only the things that I look for when I’m spending my hard earned dollars.

‘til next week!

Jim McIntosh

Mackintosh Jewelry Studio

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Monday, September 13th 2010

10:03 AM

Use the Old to Make the New


Hello Eveyone!

As artists we’re always looking for new ways to create and design. However, at times our inspiration wells dry up and we need to find a new muse to pump life into our work. In last weeks blog I pointed to the designs that surround us in our everyday lives – nature, architecture, non-jewelry designs, etc. – that can help jumpstart new work. This week I want to take that idea a step further.

Consider this idea – Imagine creating new work by looking old work. (Think about it for a moment before you pass judgment…I haven’t lost my mind…yet) What does that mean? Sometimes we can find new inspiration by looking at what others did in the past. I love to visit my local library and spend a bit of time thumbing through books on antique jewelry. I look at the shape of the pieces, the stones used, the detail in the metal, and then translate that into something new. I’ll draw various design elements in my sketchbook then use this to come up with a new piece of jewelry.  

As you study jewelry from the past think of ways that you can use certain design elements in your work. Think about putting your spin on a piece from the art deco era or modernizing a piece from ancient Rome. By melding the old with the new you give people a familiar design with a unique modern look.  

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating copying someone else’s work. That’s a huge “no-no” with me. What I am saying is use these old designs as your muse to create something fresh and unique. Find a way to creatively blend various looks to your work.

As wire artist though, using elements from traditionally made jewelry can be rather difficult, if not, impossible. So what can we do? Develop new ways to use wire to mimic a traditional design element. That’s exactly how I came up with the idea of Wiresmithing. I was thumbing through a book on the history of Native American Jewelry and was inspired to design a cuff bracelet using silver and turquoise. I wanted it to have elements of a Native American cuff. Using traditional Wirewrapping techniques, however, wouldn’t give me the look that I wanted. I had to find a new way to mimic traditional metalsmithing using wirewrap techniques. In a short period of time I designed a whole new way to create jewelry made from wire without the use of solder. All of this came about from looking at old designs.

 Native American Inspired Cuff Bracelet

Click Here to Learn How to Wiresmith


So never underestimate the value of looking at the past. By studying what others have done your well of inspiration will never run dry.

‘til next time,

Jim McIntosh


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Monday, September 6th 2010

10:13 AM

We are Surrounded by Design


Hello Everyone!


The September 2010 issue of Jewelry Artist magazine had a wonderful article on Cartier. I love learning about other designers and how they found success. The article focused not only on the history of Cartier, it also gave a glimpse into their design theory. The article told of an incident between Jacques Cartier and a young designer by the name of James Gardener. As Gardener was designing a piece for Mr. Cartier, Cartier showed him a picture of a table leg taken from a book on Chinese furniture. Mr. Cartier pointed out some of the design aspects of the table leg to inspire Gardener to create jewelry using similar forms.

Mr. Gardener’s experience really struck a chord with me. Over the years I had used a similar technique to create some of my own work. I’ve spent many hours pouring over books on antique jewelry to get a better idea of design. Looking at what others did in the past helped me better understand how a piece should flow.  After reading this article however, I realize that I was limiting my design inspirations.

If you think about it we’re surrounded by design. Take nature for instance. Walking through your backyard garden or a local park you’re inundated with design ideas. Something as simple as a flower can provide you with endless design possibilities. Look at the shape of the petals, the curve of the stem, the color variations, all of these elements can be used to design jewelry. Am I saying make jewelry that looks like flowers? That’s up to you. If looking at flowers inspires you to design a line of flower jewelry, then by all means do it. However, my point is far more abstract then that. The various design elements found within nature can give birth to new and exciting work.

Here’s an example of a design inspired by nature. This Feather Brooch has many elements that are based on a literal feather; the center rib, stem, and basic shape. But that’s where the similarities end. The overall piece lacks some of the fine detail that would make it look like a literal feather. There are just enough details to give the viewer the illusion of a feather. By using some of the feathers elements I was able to create something that was familiar but different at the same time. This design intrigued the person who eventually purchased it. They loved the overall shape and familiarity of the design.


Feather Brooch Tutorial Available at -

But don’t limit your design inspirations to nature. As I said, design is all around us. I remember an evening when my wife and I were walking around the downtown area of our little town, Paducah Kentucky. As we sat on a bench in front of a store we began to look at some of the architecture. The old buildings had wonderful design elements, beautiful facades, stunning brick work, and wonderful window frames. After studying the building in front of us I became fixated on its windows. I thought, “That would be a wonderful pendant”. I pointed out to my wife how the various design elements could be used in creating the piece and she agreed. So I pulled out my camera phone and snapped a picture of the window so I could use it as inspiration later.

This is just another example of how design inspiration can be taken from anything. Look at the curves on a sports car, paintings found in an art museum, sculpture, or even a table leg from a book on Chinese furniture. All of these can inspire you to create new and interesting jewelry. Studying these design elements can help you progress as an artist. They can also help cure creative blocks in your inspiration and pull you out of design ruts.  

After reading the article on Cartier I am more determined than ever to look for design inspiration around me. I plan to start collecting books and magazines on nature, architecture, furniture design, as well as jewelry. I hope that by expanding my design horizons that my work will take on a whole new look.

You too can find inspiration in your surroundings. I hope that I was able to inspire you to look around you and see design.

Until Next Time,

Jim McIntosh      

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Friday, September 3rd 2010

2:34 PM

"Where Have You Been?"


Lately a lot of people have been emailing me and asking where I’ve been? That’s a pretty good question considering that I haven’t been writing on my blog much in the last several months.  To set your minds at ease I can assure you that I am alive and well.

However the question remains, what have I been doing? Those of you that know me or have followed my blog you know that I am constantly exploring new methods to create jewelry. I love to learn and experiment. So for the past few months I have been playing with metalsmithing techniques. Why? Inside of my head I have a lot of interesting designs that are just fighting to come out. Many of these designs can’t be created using Wirewrapping or wiresmithing techniques. So to satisfy my creative cravings I have been teaching myself how to make jewelry using metalsmithing techniques.

It’s been a rather unique and wonderful experience. I’ve had the opportunity to let my inner pyromaniac come out and play as I melt solder and the occasional half completed project. It’s also allowed me to explore new designs that have really been challenging.

Does that mean that I am abandoning wirewrap? Of course not! I love working with wire to create a unique piece of jewelry. What this does mean is more ways to create. To keep my Wirewrapping work and my metalsmithing work separate I had to create an alter ego. All of my metalsmithing work will be listed under my new “Jimi Mac” brand. You can check it out here - http://www.artfire.com/users/jim4143. Let me know what you think about my new work.


So now what? Well, now that I have some of this exploring out of my system I plan to get back to work teaching wirewrap and wiresmithing. That means more blogging, more tutorials, and some new instructional videos. That’s right! In the coming months my first wirewrap DVD will be ready. Disc 1 will contain 4 to 6 wirewrap pendant projects that you’ll just love. If disc 1 has relative success we plan to make a disc 2.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, I have added a “Tutorials A la cart” section to the website. This gives you the opportunity to download individual projects that you can create. There are even a couple FREE tutorials that are really helpful. Check it out - http://www.macjewels.com/TutorialsAlacart.html.

So until next time

Jim McIntosh

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Monday, March 8th 2010

11:44 AM

The Future Looks Very Bright


Hello Everyone!



As you may already know my NEW Book “More Wirewrapping: The Basics and Beyond” has been completed and is available for purchase. It has taken me a few months to get it finished and I am exhausted. So the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is…what’s next? And that is a good question. So here’s what’s next.

Believe it or not I have 3 more books in the works. All three are new concepts on wire art. The next book that will be made available is entitled “Wirewrapping with Polymer Clay”. I am collaborating on this project with my daughter in law Bianca. She’s a fantastic artist and has a great eye for polymer clay. This book doesn’t focus on Wirewrapping cabochons made from polymer clay. We’ll be focusing on using wire settings, polymer clay, and natural stone cabochons to create unique contemporary pieces of jewelry. So far all of the experiments and sketches that we have done have been amazing! We hope to get this project done and available by the end of April 2010.

After that book is complete I will be working on another Wiresmithing book. This time I will be focusing on incorporating faceted stones into wiresmithed pieces. Do any of you remember the solitaire ring? That’s only the beginning. Imagine that ring but with 2 additional stones. How about 2 faceted stones surrounding a beautiful pearl. The plan is to show just how easy it is to use traditional metalsmithing techniques in wire jewelry.


The last book is “Top Secret”. My wife doesn’t even know what it is and I tell her everything. I have been developing this idea for a couple of years and have just recently figured out the final concept. Let me just say that this new technique will really change the way that everyone looks at how they create with wire.

These are only a few of the things that I have planned. But you know me…I’m always thinking and sketching new ideas.

‘til next time,

Jim McIntosh


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Monday, February 1st 2010

2:12 PM

I Do...Do You?


Hello Everyone!

A few weeks ago I wrote about some ways that can we survive our current economic situation. If you think about it, it’s a very important subject. If things keep going the way they are now none of us would be able to survive unless we tighten our belts. With that in mind I thought that it would be a good idea to talk a little more on the subject.

When I first began wirewrapping I had no idea what to do with my scrap metal. When I was finished making a piece I would take all of the scrap from the project and brush it into a garbage can. Each and every time that I did this all I could hear is money being flushed down the toilet. I did this for several years. Then I read online something that would change the way that I dealt with my scraps forever….recycling.  

Were you aware that you can sell your scrap metal? Obviously I wasn’t. However it’s true. All of the small scraps of wire that you end up with after you have finished a project can all be sold to either the company that you purchased it from, or a dealer who deals in recycling precious metals. The process is very simple and extremely rewarding. Here’s how.

I purchase my metal from Rio Grande (http://www.riogrande.com). As I am working on a piece I keep a separate container for all of my scraps. That’s extremely important. You don’t want to waste a lot of time separating all of your scrap before you send it off. Take my word for it, Rio won’t do it for you.  As I clip off wire I place it into the receptacle. When I get a few ounces I package it up and send it off to Rio. They make it really easy to return your scrap metal. They have a separate department that handles the entire transaction. When they receive it they process it and give me either a credit on my account or a check. In my case I always have them give me a credit because I earn more on deal. I think of it as a savings account for future projects.

Rio Grande is only one company that will accept scrap metal. If you do a little research on the internet you’ll find many companies that will take your scraps. Before you send any of your metal to one of the online recyclers make sure that you fully understand what you are getting into…read the fine print. There are a lot of “shady” people allowed to run around in this world and all of them are looking to steal a buck off of you.

This is just one way to recoup some of the costs involved in making jewelry. If you have a great tip that you would like to pass along on how you are saving in this bad economy please let us know. Email your tip to jim.mcintosh@macjewels.com and we’ll pass it along.

‘til next time,

Jim McIntosh  


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Monday, January 25th 2010

1:44 PM

Forward for the NEW Book


Hello Everyone!

This week I thought that it would be a good idea to give you a sneak peek into the NEW Book that I've been working on. Let me know what you think. Here it is -


 Ask most wire artists who C.G. Oxley, Jim and Mavis Llewellyn, and Tom Phalen are and you’ll probably get a blank stare. Few today have any idea who these pioneering wire artists are. Yet they’re familiar with their work. Have you ever heard of the Common ring also known as the Pharaohs ring? That design was created and patented by Tom Phalen. Since then it has appeared in numerous books and magazines and is made by wire artists around the world.

Most wire artists forget that a majority of the techniques and patterns used in wire wrapping began in the early 20th century. C.G. Oxley is the Henry Ford of the Wirewrapping world. While he didn’t invent the art, he did revolutionize its production and popularity. Around World War I wire art was used as therapy for soldiers. Mr. Oxley saw the potential of the art and employed teams of artists to create wire art for department stores in England. The designs were simple strands of wire embellished with glass beads or faux pearls. One of the more popular designs was wire pins that spelled out a sweethearts name or simply said Mother.  Today wire name jewelry designs are making a huge comeback.

Jim Llewellyn admired the work being produced by Oxley. Eager to create his own wire jewelry he purchased wire and instructions from Oxley 1935. In no time he had taught himself to create wonderful pieces of jewelry. In 1959, after many years of perfecting his craft, he and his wife Mavis immigrated to Canada. Unable to find employment that he preferred, Jim and Mavis opened The Amulet.  The shop highlighted the wire designs Jim had perfected over the years.  Soon his wife Mavis began to create her own pieces of wire art. In the early 1960’s Mavis joined a local gem club and began cutting and polishing stones. Eager to find a way to incorporate these stones into her wirework, she devised a way to wrap wire around cabochons to make pendants. Over the years Jim wrote 3 books on making wire jewelry. These books are still available from The Amulet (www.theamulet.ca). Many of today’s Wirewrapping techniques can be traced back to designs created by Jim and Mavis Llewellyn.

Another key figure in modern wire art is Tom Phalen. Not much is known about Tom. He was a wire artist who traveled to various art shows throughout the United States and Canada during the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s obvious though, that his contribution to wire art is significant. The Common ring, patented in 1948, is more popular today than it ever was. At a show that my wife and I did we came across a gentleman wearing one of Phalens Common Ring designs created by his brother in 1965. The ring was well worn but in perfect shape, the true hallmark of a masterful design.

People like Mr. Oxley, the Llewellyn’s and Tom Phalen along with many other pioneering artists created many of the wirewrap designs being used today. As the years have passed and new artists have emerged, the proper credit for these designs has died. Many credit their mentor for the design. Others credit books, magazines, and videos that have featured these wonderful creations. Sad to say many jewelry instructors have passed these creative designs off as their own creation. In reality those teachers are simply passing on designs that have already been created.

This book is dedicated to those pioneering artists. We’ll be using their wonderful techniques to create modern jewelry designs.  It is our hope and desire that you take these designs and techniques and use them in such a way as to create new works and designs of your own.

So that's it! What do you think...

'til Next Time

Jim McIntosh


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Monday, January 11th 2010

3:27 PM

How to Survive the Economy


Hello Everyone!


As I was sitting here trying to think of today’s blog topic my thoughts started drifting to the news. It seems like everyday we hear about how bad the economy is. If the economy improves .001 percent it becomes front page news. I then began thinking about my own situation. I thought about changes that we could make in the next few months that will propel us forward for 2010. Here are a few of my thoughts.

As an artist, it’s important to have the things needed to create our art. In a bad economy where things are tight we have to spend more time planning out how we’ll use materials with as little waste as possible. That means creating a budget. Take a little time and look at your sales from the past year (I know, I know it’s heartbreaking to look at. But trust me it will get better). Calculate how many of each jewelry type that you sold. Look at the price that you sold it for and the cost it took to create the piece. Also look at the inventory that you still have on hand. Finally, look at the shows that you have scheduled for the coming season. Using this information figure out the amount of materials you’ll need to purchase for each show. Doing this will give you a better idea as to how much it is going to cost you to produce pieces for your upcoming shows. This will help you build a budget that you can survive with.

Along with the above calculation, try and figure out how much inventory that you would like to have for each show. Keep in mind that some shows might require that you need a little more than others.

Another way to survive through this economy is to downsize. Looking at various shows throughout the years I’ve noticed that many booths are filled with hundreds of pieces. The idea is to provide a huge variety of pieces that will appeal to a large audience. In past years that may have been a good approach, however in our current economic situation this approach might work. Consider cutting down your inventory for this next show season. Less inventory means less expense in materials. This could help you survive this economic downturn.

A few words of caution when downsizing your inventory. Avoid falling into the trap of using “cheap”, inferior grade materials in your work. Think about it, do you really want to build a reputation of being an artist who makes junk jewelry and tries to pass it off as high end pieces? Of course you don’t.  You’d end up losing a lot more customers than it’s worth. Another caution is to not supplement your handmade inventory with cheap pieces that you purchased from an overseas supplier. This approach could kill any sales that you may have hoped for. Remember, people are buying your work because it is a unique and handmade. They can purchase mass produced jewelry from Wal-Mart.

In past years I used to offer a lot of pieces in gold filled. When the price of gold began to rise I quit creating work that featured this precious metal. Today, the price of gold is still on the rise. Because of this many artists have begun to work with other metals like Argentium Sterling Silver, Sterling Silver, Copper, and Brass. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Actually it’s a great way to create jewelry with a fresh look. But this doesn’t mean that we have to abandon using gold. Why not consider using gold filled wire as an accent. One thing I like to do is use 21 gauge half round gold filled wire for my wraps. Announce of 21 gauge half round gold filled wire will go a line way. This makes adding a touch of gold to a piece a lot more economical. Plus, gold and silver look wonderful together. In this weak economy many of your customers may appreciate the opportunity to own pieces of your work that sport a bi-metal look.

Something else you may want to consider is shows that are closer to home. Many of us have to travel many hours away from our home to get to regional art shows that attract a lot of art customers. However, you may have noticed that many of these shows haven’t been attracting the numbers that they once did. Does it seem reasonable to put out hundreds of dollars for booth space fees, hotel, gas, and food to do a big regional show that has low numbers? Why not plan to do a few regional art shows and supplement the rest of your schedule with smaller shows near your home. You’ll save on booth space fees, hotel fees, and car gas.

The last thing that you might want to consider is diversify. If you are a bead artist, diversify your work by learning to create wire wrapped jewelry (http://www.macjewels.com). If you are a wire artist consider learning to create wiresmithed jewelry (http://www.wiresmithing.com). By offering your customers new and interesting works of art you’ll capture their attention and hopefully pry the last remaining dollar that they have in their tightly clinched fist.  

You may have heard people say that the only living thing that will survive a nuclear war are cockroaches. Ever wonder why they say that? Cockroaches are very resilient. That’s what each and every one of us artists need to be. Now I’m not calling anyone a cockroach. I just want you to understand how to survive this economy. We need to look at this as an opportunity to come out on top of the art world. Think of all of the artists who are putting their craft aside and or even leaving it behind. Their absence gives the rest of us the opportunity to step in and fill their place. When the economy improves, we’ll be the ones who survive.

These are just some of my thoughts. I hope they help.

‘til next time,

Jim McIntosh


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Monday, January 4th 2010

9:20 AM

Something NEW for 2010


Hello Everyone!

It’s a new year and that means new projects.

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog. I recently had to travel to Florida to take care of my Mother who was a little under the weather. While I was there, I had some time to think of new projects for 2010. I want to do something new and big this year. As I thought I began to sketch. These sketches lead me to something new. What is it, you ask? Keep reading.

Here’s our BIG ANNOUNCEMENT….On March 1st, 2010 we’ll begin publishing a new book, “More Wirewrapping: The Basics and Beyond”. This wonderful new book will contain 14 new basic wirewrap designs. These designs have never been published in any of our current books. These designs will give you  a whole new perspective on Wirewrapping.

This spring and early summer we’ll also produce several DVD’s that will be available for purchase. DVD 1 will contain pendant and earring designs. Future DVD’s will have bracelet and ring designs.

We are also working on a few NEW FREE videos. We’ll tackle subjects like how to properly tumble your finished work, buying the right flat nose pliers, how to decide which wire is the best for the job, annealing, and many, many more interesting subjects. If you have a subject that you would like us to cover please email us at jim.mcintosh@macjewels.com.

These are only a few things that we have planned for 2010. We have several other projects that we are actively exploring. We hope to announce these projects as the year progresses.

‘til Next Time,

Jim McIntosh
Mackintosh Jewelry Studios
email: jim.mcintosh@macjewels.com

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Monday, November 23rd 2009

12:09 PM

eMails, eMails, emails....I Love 'em


Hello Everyone!

Each day I receive a lot of emails from people from all over the world. Most of the letters that I receive are from people who need help solving a specific problem that they have encountered. I really enjoy these emails, they give me the opportunity to help a fellow artist out of a jam.

However, I recently received a surprising email. Peter Johns, the inventor of Argentium Sterling Silver (www.argentium.com), emailed to comment on my YouTube video on hardening Argentium. He had some interesting things to say about it. “I came across your You Tube movie on hardening Argentium.  Your presentation is excellent and I had a good chuckle watching it.  Everybody thought I was mad when I wanted to be able to harden Argentium in a domestic oven, but as you aptly demonstrate, it is perfectly possible.” What a thrill! The inventor of Argentium enjoyed my presentation.

Since Mr. Johns took the time to write me I thought that I would take this opportunity to ask him a question or two. I was curious to see if all of the information that I presented was 100% correct. Here’s what he had to say, “I think you gave the information on hardening Argentium very well in your video.  My only feeling is that three hours may be a little longer than necessary for hardening at 500°F.   When I tested in my own oven with a maximum temperature of 460°F, I found it hardened in two hours.  I presume 500°F is the maximum in you oven?  Slow cooling after hardening is an important part of the process.  I would not quench because it will detract from the hardness.  Leave the piece to cool on the support that was used in the oven and do not touch it until it has reached room temperature. Argentium does not lose hardness because the heating cycle is longer than necessary.  It just reaches a high point and stays there.  Three hours will certainly make sure the piece is hardened but I think you may be burning more energy than necessary.”  There you have it folks, straight from the horses mouth. Two hours of heating in a conventional oven at 460 degrees F or higher is more than sufficient for hardening Argentium.

Mr. Johns also informed me that he will be at “Rio Grande’s Catalog in Motion” at the 2010 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February (here’s the link - http://cataloginmotion.com/cim_seminars.html). If you plan to be there take the opportunity to introduce yourself to Mr. Johns. Be sure to let him know how glad you are that he came up with this fabulous material.

If you missed my Hardening Argentium Video here it is-



‘til next time,

 Jim McIntosh

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