Project Wilbur

Once upon a time, this jewelry artist, silversmith, metalsmith, jewelry designer, handmade artisan jewelry designer SHE WHO LOVES HAMMERS, METALS & gets to work play with tools chick got a commission.

A commission, in case you don’t know…is where someone approaches you and says “I want you to make this for me.”

And pays you for it.

I never thought any of my work would be “good enough” for someone to actually ASK me to make them something!

This mission, should I choose it, would be a journey into the world of all things Vegan, animal abuse, ethical slaughtering of our food stuff and how to make metal obey. It would be fraught with wresting with food choices, honoring animals and being horrified by how some people treat animals.

AND all things metal. Well, almost.

Somewhere along the line, I dubbed it “Project Wilbur.”

Awhile back, my customer had seen a pig being horribly abused before or during slaughter. After that, became a devout vegan and an animal rights activist of sorts. I got quite the education about animals being slaughtered horribly. She wanted something to honor this piglet- a pendant with hand made chain.

It screwed around big time with my eating meat during this project – and since then as well. I’ve become more conscious of my food choices and now, out of respect, say “thanks” to whatever, whoever? meat I’m eating.

It’s taken me back to generations ago of Native Americans on the Oklahoma Territory lands, honoring the food that the Creator provided. It’s made me mindful that life sustains us…

And that’s enough of the back story, I’ll talk forever if you let me. But, seriously, there was a LOT involved in this project besides a pendant!

Here’s the original sketch they sent me – I didn’t know I’d be writing a blog so I didn’t take detailed process photos.

They’re out of order, some of them don’t match the descriptions…just try to follow along 🙂


This photo shows the sketch of the pendant and the etching that I started after we set out finding the perfect piglet face to etch.

I used copper sheet and used pnp paper in ferric chloride in a plastic tub. This is 18 g copper and the sheet was in the ferric chloride mix for about 1-2 hours. For more info on etching, google is your friend. There’s also a bunch of facebook groups…super sweet people there!

I used up over 3′ of copper that was about 6″ wide. I made a TON of mistakes. Actually, it was about 3-4 lbs. That’s a lot of copper sheet for one project. That’s ONE YARD, THIRTY SIX INCHES long…by SIX INCHES WIDE. (yes I went back and weighed the 3 sheets of copper lol)

A. Lot. Of. Copper…

I let her know up front that I didn’t have the skills or some of the supplies/tools/materials for this project and that it would take awhile.

She was fine with it.

I, on the other hand was…incredulous. Seriously commissioning me for something I didn’t know how to do? I didn’t believe in myself. At all.

Since I knew I would be etching…

I joined a group on Facebook called…wait for it…

“Etchers Anonymous.”

THEY were super helpful and it was truly a “learn as you go” project. Thank God for my customers patience, it took me awhile to find all the stuff I needed. Then, with the mistakes I made, having to order more…and more. lol

First, I we fiddled until we found a piglet face. It had to be a happy piglet. Once we found the face, I named him “Wilbur” … do I need to tell you the story? (google “Charlotte’s Web)

…because this blog post is going to be longggg enough! 😉


PNP paper is a great paper for etching. Some of it is blue, some yellow. I only have used blue. You can also use glossy photo paper. If you’re into freestyle, you can draw on your designs by hand.

I don’t have photos to show you the cleaning, placing of the pnp paper, ironing the image on etc… I’ll try to be as descriptive as possible 🙂

Clean the metal really good. I wore surgical gloves, used a green scrub pad, barkeepers friend mixed with dawn dish soap and hot water. I scrubbed until the water came off in sheets instead of little pools on the metal. Google…is….your….friend. If you’re visual like me, you can google “etching copper, cleaning metal, ferric chloride” and click on IMAGES.

Anyone who has success with etching loves clean metal. Otherwise the toner or whatever you’re using, won’t stick to the metal and your etch will look like monkey butt. Whatever that looks like.

Dry it off with a paper towel.

Place the image on the metal with the toner facing next to the metal, I wrapped it up in aluminum foil so it wouldn’t slide around under the iron…and placed the whole “sandwich” on the hot plate.

Using the iron (the kind gramma had on “COTTON” setting – the hotter and heavier the better) and a wood stick to keep it in place, slowly iron over the whole image, the heat will release the toner OFF the paper and ONTO the metal. This takes about 5 minutes and I had to wear an oven mitt. Just be patient and be thorough!

Gently pull up an edge to see if the toner has released and when it does, carefully pull the whole pnp paper off the metal.

You should have a clean transfer of the printed image, if not, then do it again (now you see why I wasted so much toner, pnp paper, copper and time)

I wasted a whole 12″ sheet of copper by printing Wilbur backwards. I learned the hard way to flip the image so that it faced the opposite way it printed – that way when I ironed the image onto the metal, it would be facing the way I wanted it.

Two words; “Mirror Image”

Mirror Image is a function on your computer you should really become familiar with.

This is really important if you use words or letters or symbols or anything.

“Mirror image” is your friend. I’ve made the mistakes for you, you’re welcome. It will look backwards and wrong but trust me, do it. You’ll thank me later. Send chocolates instead of flowers as a “thanks BoBinda for saving me all that trouble!” Or coffee, I love coffee. Send coffee!

So, here’s Wilbur in a circle. Backwards. It’s a great etch, but …facing the wrong way. I cried when I saw it, but…lesson learned, right? Nope, I’ll go on to do it a few more times.


Here he is, facing the right way. Yay!

Fall down 99 times, get up 100!

IMG_8751See the wavy marks on the edge? That’s where the etchant slid down as it ate away at the metal. It’s a cool effect. If you don’t like it, be sure to swish the solution as you go. I set a timer. Every 5-10 minutes I’d swish it, do a little shimmy shake and reset the timer.

You can also use a feather to push away the used copper particles.

Cute little piggy, if I do say so myself!

It’s important to use a printer that uses TONER, not ink. The toner has to stick to the paper, transfer to the metal using an iron or acetone (fingernail polish remover) and then the toner stays on the metal and acts as a “resist.”

IMG_8706Here’s what the metal looks like fresh out of the etchant bath. I neutralized it with baking soda, rinsed it in a bucket til it was clean, I used a scrubby, a fine steel wool and elbow grease.

Don’t breathe it in. I don’t know what it is but it’s some kind of weirdness. I wear gloves when I scrub it off.

It should look clean, like this (yes, I used the same Wilbur)  IMG_8751

Resist is what the etchant (also called “Mordant”) leaves alone. Ferric Chloride eats metal. Anything that sticks to the metal, is called “resist.”

Resist is important. I used a toner printer here from a Samsung printer I found on Amazon.  Inkjets will not work. Repeat after me…”INKJETS WILL NOT WORK” – the ink won’t adhere to the sheet or falls off in the etchant bath…something fancy like that.

You can also use: Sharpie pen, a permanent marker from Staedtler (red is the best or so they say), fingernail polish, stickers, cricut machine cutouts, tape, hot glue etc etc etc Anything and everything possible…have fun!

I used a circle template to cut out the Wilbur face to kinda sorta center it on to the backplate.


Here you can see the various “guessing” of the size of Wilbur heads lol


Soooo many Wilbur heads, with and without circles. Computer programs do not obey…I’ll never admit operator error…err…ignorance 😉

IMG_8737Maybe…hmmmm, is this the one?


The Wilbur face had to fit onto a 2″ or so backplate.

Now, I hate math and I hate computer programs that won’t let me make a circle inside a circle with a piglet face. I wasted another 18″ messing around with ratios and almost gave up many times, cried, slammed my studio door and apologized profusely to the customer over my lack of skills.

But I kept going. I had come too far to stop now.

I refused to have a drawer full of Wilbur heads staring at me saying “you quit on us?”

I finally did it! Once I got everything to mesh size wise, I went to work filing the edges of all the pieces. Filing in one direction…file…file…file… zzzzzz

Filing is boring, Pandora is your friend!

IMG_8746Here’s the file I used. The white stuff on the handle is Jet Sett. Awesome stuff. Made my file custom, which was great for many reasons.

Once I filed it all smooth to the shape I wanted, I used sandpaper sticks all the way to 400 grit. More sanding, more music on Pandora and more coffee.

Talk about hand made!

Next, I etched some heart bails (the part the chain was going to go through) It had to be artisan, match the rest of the design and have some personality…to match Wilbur. At this point, Wilbur was looking more like “Wilburina”



IMG_8767Brass heart on copper cut out heart with curved copper bail.

Copper heart with curly cut outs on copper bail

More bails…you can see the sterling silver bail with copper hand sawed cut outs

The tiny cutouts are “piercing” you drill a hole, put the saw blade through the hole and saw out from the inside. I suck at it…wanted to quit, but kept going!


Rubber stamp I used for etching design. These etched like crap. Monkey’s butt.

Fall down 99, get up 100. Rinse, repeat.

I cried making these bails. It tested my sawing skills, my soldering skills and my etching skills. We won’t talk about my math skills 😉

Lexi Erickson has some great info on bails, those saved me. Thank You Lexi 🙂

Google her, her work is amazing. What a sweet person and great artist. I love learning from her! I have a ways to go before I can catch up to her skill level, but we all gotta start somewhere, right? 😉

scroll wilbur

Awful bail. My soldering of a curly wire failed miserably!!


What happens when you aren’t careful using a jewelry saw!


After trying to make swirls by hand on the back of the backplate

(another sheet of copper wasted lol)

I gave up trying to make the swirls and drove to about 6 different craft stores in search of a swirl design to etch onto the back of the backplate.

Note: when you etch, be sure to use resist on the edges of the designs and the edges of the metal so the ferric chloride doesn’t eat through it. 😉 You’re welcome.

After fiddling with backwards upside down reverse printing, thinking outside the box and 3 days later or some craziness, I finally made the bail simple, with a tiny piggy I hand sawed to fold over onto the back… a tiny design piece I’m proud of. Thank You Lexi for having so many photos, I’m a visual learner and those photos I saw along the way are great!!

I sawed out and etched this as one piece. It finally “clicked” and it looks pretty cute.


I made the edges of the backplate organic by sawing them so they were wavy, to match the swirls.

Isn’t that little piggy adorable??? 😀

letter placement wilbur

Here I start losing track of my progress. I’m in “the zone” and things are clipping along quickly. This blog post is out of order because the photos aren’t organized…and, apparently, neither is my brain.

My customer wanted stuff added as we went along. It was great working with her. I sent her soooo many photos, asking if this piggy head was okay, if she like this bail or that bail and which swirl she liked more.

The stamps just sort of evolved out of the design process.

I knew she wanted “Vegan, for the animals” stamped on the front, along the edges of the front piglet face at 10 and 2 o’clock. So I had to hand write that out for reference points.

Hearts and names and other stuffage just sprang up as we went along. She has some cats, so we incorporated their names into the front, along with some hearts and other stamps.

Then she wanted stones set in bezels. When I saw this request I was like “oh hellllll noooooooooooooo, I’m not good at this!” “She thinks I must know what the $@#$! I’m doing!” I protested, I whined and slammed the studio door. I felt worthless and stupid.

I tried talking her out of it.

Was. Not. Happening.

“I’ll wait” she said.

“You can do this” she said.

arggghhhhh really?


I ordered the bezels and stones, add another week or so to the project. I read up on vegan~ism and learned things that broke my heart. She gave me recipes for meatless meals and I ate meat anyway. I was raised on Southern cooking so meat wasn’t going anywhere. I did eat more vegetables though, then found out that plants feel pain. The whole food thing drove me crazy. I felt compassion for the animals though… I had no idea! Sorry Wilbur 😦

I turned to Oreos… no oreos suffered, right? Sigh…anyway.

I got really ocd on bezels, soldering, metallurgy and overdosed on many hours of reading and videos.

Bezels are not my strong suit. I melted a bunch.

Seriously, I have a tiny graveyard of silver and copper bezels.

For those of you that don’t know, gauge is how thick metal is. 18 g is thick and the bezels were probably 30 g. Tiny and thin.

Two 18 g copper pieces were hard enough to solder together (picture me with TWO micro torches, full blast with my husband holding the pieces together, pushing them down with a soldering pick) It was fun, no, really.

(This is how the backplate came to have a bail built in.)

I cussed at this point. My husband gave me permission to quit. To just eat the cost of the sheets of copper, the ferric chloride, the gemstones, the bezels. To let it all go and refund the money. It was okay…to …just…let…go. Walk away.

But I took that as a challenge. I’m a Gemini, that is how I roll. Tell me I can’t do something and all of a sudden a switch gets flipped and this little dude in my head wakes up, waves a club around (he’s dressed like Fred Flintstone and has long black hair…pretty feral looking if you ask me) and says “OH HELLLLLL NO!”

So Fred woke up and I kept going.

The whole “thermodynamic solder flows at certain temperatures and your torch has to be hot and and and”

…the science behind it is called “metallurgy” …google is your friend. Look it up. read it and get back to me. I’ll send you coffee. Thanks. If you can make sense of it and educate me on a simple level I’ll love you forever. Seriously.

When you solder metal to metal, the thicker metal has to be heated up gently and evenly so the solder will flow and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember right now …long story short, I practiced with the failed Wilburs making the bezels fit more than I care to admit. I had TWO finalists for the pendant and I was NOT going to screw up at this point!!

Success! I was able to do it on practice runs and without melting the bezels, soldered them to the areas she wanted her stones set.

I. Held. My. Breath.

And soldered…the bezels to the piglet face.

I want you to imagine…me…jumping…up…and…down…screaming…


I danced, I jigged, I did these wild shimmy shakes. I ran through the house. I hugged my husband. I hugged my dogs. I yelled…happy things.

And I cried. All those times I thought I wasn’t enough and wanted to quit. I did it. Not perfect, but I did it.

I’m telling ya, this took a long time to make. I just didn’t have the skill set and it was truly a “as you go” type of project.

So she chose her stones, the areas she wanted to put the stones and I did that. wilburpurplefaint2

One green stone, one purple stone. “Vegan for the animals” in one of my metal stamping fonts. Add in some heart stamps, Butterfly stamp. Infinity stamp. Oh, and we added a curly collar necklace for Wilburina.


I wire wrapped chain together to the length she wanted and added hand fabricated clasps.

chain I can make

I stamped her cats names ~ “Theo” “Zoe” and “Lucy” onto small sterling pieces and soldered THOSE to the front of another backplate. I think this is another font but I can’t remember.

Again, I etched a curly necklace along with the Wilburina face. Remember all those failures? See why?


At some point I told her that I had all these pieces left over and didn’t want them to go to waste. She gave me creative license and the floodgates opened.

I had a great time from here on out. Freestyle time, whootwhoot!


“Namaste” holds a place in both our hearts…so I incorporated it



I just played with,  stamped, sawed out more stuff and …played… 😀


IMG_9245Up close on some details

I used a sharpie to fill in the stamps to show them better. I used mag lens to make sure I stayed inside the stamped area… and wiped off the surrounding areas with super fine polishing cloth.

IMG_9246Amethysts set in copper bezels

IMG_9247More details (stamped first, then sawed out)

IMG_9253Wilburina knows she is loved… 🙂

IMG_9256“Namaste” surrounded by infinity stamps

Just ignore the solder mess. It flowed where I didn’t want it to flow. Pffft

“Namaste” is a deeply spiritual greeting between people. It has a place of honor, peace and high respect in its energy… It means “I bow to you” or “The Divine in me, bows to the Divine in you” … I use it all the time with people who I know “get it”…those that don’t or who I know will make fun of it…I just say “Hi” 🙂 Either way ya get a hug!


Sweet green Peridot cabochon. This one is 3 mm. Tiny tiny cabochons!

IMG_9267Lucy, Zoe and Theo. Your mommy loves you!


The final package. I wish I could have taken the best out of each piece and had it all be successful in ONE place, but that’s not the case here. I’m not that talented…but I’ll keep working on it. I’ll persevere and learn and keep reading and watching videos and asking questions and practicing.

Hand made has value in our world. It means someone took the time to learn a skill, used their creativity, their hands and heart. There’s room for imperfection in artisan work. There’s room for humility in hand made. There’s a ton of room for heart and authenticity in handmade.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, or stretching your skill set. Etching is fun. Stamping is fun. Cutting out metal, hammering metal is fun. Soldering is fun. Making bails, fun. Math is fun useful (mkay, I lied…it’s ahem…”helpful” but not fun). Setting gemstones, placement of design elements…all fun. Working with customers…FUN!

There’s a quote that says “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I love my job!!

I can say I had a hard time with this project and whine about how hard it was. I’d rather use the word “challenging.”

Someone believed in me enough to trust me to come up with this pendant…so I kept going.

I found some pig stickers and packaged everything up, tied ribbons to the boxes. It’s just my customer service and what I believe in doing.

IMG_9281Be personal. Have a touch of whimsy 🙂

People don’t want just a piece of jewelry. There’s enough machine made crap out there for the masses that want it. Mass produced…welcome to a vanilla world of boring jewelry!

Some people, when it comes to hand made and artisan jewelry and art…want “meaning” – you can create a relationship as you go. You try to get into your customers heads and extrapolate what ideas they have and find a way to make it work. Get creative, be bold and communicate…a lot.

You can take shortcuts, take an order like a fast food restaurant and flip the burger, slap a bun on it and wrap it and call it a day. But where’s the heart in that? Where’s the soul?

Or you can extend your artisan skills further, into customer service.

Not all customers are “great” but they’re still your customers.    🙂 I’m a lucky girl, I have great customers 99.9% of the time. The others, I wouldn’t have been able to please no matter what.

I counted the convos regarding Wilburina on Etsy and all the emails. Over 500 back and forth snippets of information, ideas, photos and “I can’t do this, I don’t know how” as well as “Keep going! I trust you! Take your time! You can do this!!”

At the end of the day, I gave her all the pendants and promised her I’d make her a piglet windchime or mobile with the leftover piglet faces. When I find a pic, I’ll add it 🙂

I’m not 100% happy with the etching of the faces, the stamps aren’t perfect and I know it’s not all perfect.

But my customer loves it. And that’s what matters!

I learned a lot and most of all. I persevered, took my time and didn’t give up.

Wait, most of all, I made a friend…and that my dear peeps…is priceless 🙂

Proof that it does get better if you keep at it. This is a horse pendant I made shortly after I shipped Wilbur off.

horse pendant finishedThe front. Sterling backplate with a brass horse &  copper moon.

Dove and horse saw jewelry

First I etched a few things and cut out the horse. Sometimes projects, bits and pieces just hang out on the bench til they have something to say…if you listen, you’ll hear them talk to you. That’s what happened here.

etched and sawed shapes

They’re all talking…and I’m listening and playing around with what I have on my bench.



Just like Wilburina, I made the bail part of the backplate and made a tiny horseshoe.

If you have ever sawed out tiny shapes, you’ll know I was glad when it was over! I added some divots and dots to add character.


Here’s the back inside an old horse shoe that hung on my garage growing up. I love the patina. Old school farm barn stuff is way cool!!

You can see the chain I made. LOTS of work went into making this chain. It’s intricate and work intensive. Lots of yummy layers and textures and multi metal 🙂


On the bail I cut out accent pieces. Using that skill called “piercing” 🙂 You can tell I practiced 😉


I cut out a tiny moon and added a peridot in a tiny cabochon. Thanks Wilburina, I learned a lot from you 🙂


This piece is about 2″. The backplate is 18 g sterling silver.


Close up of the horseshoe and back of bail.


I textured and oxidized the entire piece.


Peridot… a stone that purports to “lessen stress, increase prosperity and increase the frequency of love as well as happiness” I don’t know about all that. I just know it’s pretty!


Here I textured the heck out of the moon.


Remember those lines I told you about that happen during etching?

This is a “happy accident” ~ it looks like wind in the horses hair. It creates movement that I really dig.


I signed the back of this piece.


Close up of the chain. This took hours. I made jump rings of all sizes, twisted all gauges of wires of both metals, created “beads” out of wire and made the pattern even on both sides. All while making sure the chain would slide through the bail. The clasp is hand made as well. The chain was tumbled for 2 days, No way was I going to polish those by hand. No. Way.

You can buy this horse pendant in my Etsy shop here


I hope this blog post helps you with some aspect of your adventures in working playing with metal. It’s always hard to share the “real” stuff. It’s so much easier to share the perfect, the pretty and the awesome. Thanks to those of you out in www’ville that shared your work, your imperfections and yourselves on all skill levels. It’s given me the courage to do the same.

If you’re into metals etc and want to join up with some of us on Facebook and www’ville, look up Aspiring Metalsmiths, Etchers Anonymous and many others. A word to the wise, we love newbies but it wears a bit thin if you just ask questions and take off. It’s really nice to have an interaction of sorts. Give back some and let us get to know you. Google is your friend, use it. Personally, when I was brand new, I was like a baby bird. I just opened my mouth and kept begging for scraps. It took me a long time to realize that it is selfish to just ask questions all the time. I took advantage of free advice and information. Today I know better and wish someone had said “BoBinda, you’re being selfish, questions are great but do get off your butt and go learn some stuff on your own.” Be sure to buy some tutorials, get some books, watch the videos, sign up for some blogs. This blog is MY way of giving back. I hope you find yours. The metalsmith and artisan community is a big hearted generous one. Really. So be nice and be gentle with yourself and each other. We’re all learning.  Have fun!!

Have fun, keep it real…and as always



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