Week in Yogyakarta – part 3: silver smithing

One of the problems with traveling with kids is that, despite how many things you would love to put on your itinerary, you are always going to be limited in what you can do because at the end of the day, kids just don’t:
1) have the same stamina that you do – they tire easily, and they can’t stay awake terribly late
2) have the same interests that you might have. What you think is interesting might (probably will) bore them to death, and
3) have the patience to do an activity that requires repetition, or takes longer than… oh, say 45 minutes.

So all that being said, when the chance to do something very cool like silversmithing came up, S and I drew straws to see who would get to go out with our friend and give our ring-making skills a try, and who would stay in with the kids. I won.

We finished our Bahasa lessons on Wednesday, got some quick dinner, and M and I were on our way to a one-night silversmithing class in which we would make our own ring, all for the ridiculous price of… $12. Yep, a 3-hour class, taught by a silversmith AND that price included the actual silver to make the ring out of. I’m going to have a hard time going back to Canada and buying things at North American prices.

It took us a while to get there, for in classic Indonesian fashion, no houses ever have numbers on them, and no roads ever have roadsigns on them… so when you give your taxi driver an address, you still probably only have a 50/50 shot of getting to wherever it is you want to go (unless the location is popular enough that it’s location is common knowledge). So we drove around… and around… and around. Then our taxi driver got out and asked for directions. Then we drove for a while longer, at which point our driver once again got out to give directions.

We made it to the studio with minutes to spare before our lesson. Along with M and myself, we ended up attending the class with a middle aged Australian woman, and an American couple from California in Yogya for their honeymoon. We met our Guru (teacher), and went at it!

To save time, we didn’t do any of the actual rendering of the metal or anything like that: no smelting, etc. It was a pretty basic course. They had meter-long strips of silver in different widths ready for us to cut and mold into rings. The teacher pulled out a bowl FULL of different styles of rings, and asked us which one we’d want to make. When we decided on a style, he came around and drew a diagram of what exactly we’d need to do. Some of the rings were quite complex: I have a hard time thinking anyone making a ring for the first time would be able to do something so intricate on their first try. In the end, M chose to make a ring with a twisty-pointy face. I chose a wide solid band that I could hammer the bejeezus out of. Clearly, “twisty-pointy” and “wide band hammer receptacle” are technical terms. I’m a silversmith now. You can trust me.

So the first step was to cut the silver, if your ring needed any cutting. Maria needed to cut the ends of her silver in half, but my ring didn’t need any cutting, so it’s clearly not an important step and we should just move on without any explanation of what was involved.

Next up: inscription. If you wanted, you could add an inscription to the inside of the ring. This involved taking giant steel spikes with tiny letters on the end of them, and literally hammering the letters into the silver. If you’ve ever done any leather-work, it’s basically the same thing, except in this case it’s with metal and therefore less wussy. Being a gigantic dork, I chose to go with an inscription that said “+1 CON”. For those of you who aren’t ALSO gigantic dorks, that is a Dungeons and Dragons reference. In the game, Constitution is the stat that measures how healthy your character is, and because of this “+1 CON” is like an inside joke for dorks who have had surgery. Kind of a “good luck” charm, if you will. With my heart surgery history, I thought it was an obvious choice.

After finishing the inscription, we then had to file the outside of the ring. Punching the inscription into the metal left an impression on the outside of the ring as well, so we needed to get rid of that. Polish (no not the country!) the ring afterwards with sandpaper for 20 minutes.

After you’re done all that, you need to light your inscribed, polished strip of silver on fire. YESSS. I’m good at that. After you soften the metal, it’s design-time. I chose to hammer the crap out of my ring to give it a sort of “old-world” look to it. I thought the end result looked like the head of an old nail, in a cool way. Our teacher thought it looked like a crumpled piece of paper… in a cool way.

After finishing with the design, it’s back into the fire, then we hammered it around a giant steel spike to curve the ring into it’s final “ring” shape. Then: you guessed it: BACK INTO THE FIRE. This time to solder it (join the two ends).

After subjecting my ring to a blowtorch for the third time, it was due for a 5 minute acid bath. I have no idea what the acid bath was for, all I know is that for 5 minutes, I got to pretend I was a Bond villain, heartlessly dipping my victim into a vat of acid. Good times. Following the acid bath, we took it out and gave it one more polish, only this time, instead of with sandpaper, we did it with some local fruit juice! It’s a very eco-friendly solution. I was pretty impressed.

We all said our goodbyes (the honeymoon couple seemed to have a great time, though the Australian lady seemed sour), and went on our ways, home with the gift of $12 worth of silver, a fun evening, and great memories!

-B

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