Penchant for Pendants - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Penchant for Pendants

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

One of the benefits of working full time at the Rhode Island School of Design was that you and your family got to take classes in the Continuing Education Department for free. You only needed to pay the lab fee, if there was one. Computer class never had a lab fee, but you might need to pay a few bucks for materials that the class provides to the student. RISD also gave this benefit to those who taught classes in CE.

Over the years, my family took advantage of that benefit, and we were grateful for it. My kids took classes during school breaks or on Saturday mornings for many years. I taught woodworking classes on Saturday mornings, so I would drop them off before heading over to the woodshop.

The classes I really enjoyed taking were in the jewelry department. They were usually taught during the week in the evening. I took all of the beginning classes, where you learn the basics, such as filing and soldering, making hollow vessels and an enameling class. The instructors were usually RISD graduates and they were really generous with their time and energy.

Similar to woodworking, you gain a new appreciation for handmade jewelry once you’ve been in a class and you realize how much time and effort goes into making a piece of jewelry. Sometimes, when I am buying a handmade piece of jewelry, I wonder how the maker can charge so little.

The pieces I enjoyed making the most were pendants. Usually, I would work out a design in copper or brass, and when I had all of the problems solved with the design, I would make it in silver. I do the same thing with wood. I’m a firm believer of making prototypes in an inexpensive material first.

This pendant was a happy accident, and it didn’t take any time at all to make. I was in the shop yesterday morning working on my bench. I sliced the end off an old fir timber when I noticed the beautiful design at the center of a knot. I popped it out, sanded it to follow the natural growth rings with a bevel on the back, and drilled a hole for the jump ring. I wiped it down with some denatured alcohol then added a coat of boiled linseed oil for the picture. I still need to experiment with a final coat that will really make the colors pop. Maybe something glossy. I’m open to suggestions.

I made a few others in a matter of minutes. One piece I cut to about 1/32, so it is translucent, but I suspect I will need to protect it with bezel wire, as the wood is too thin and weak to hold the jump ring.

— Ajax Alexandre

I just checked out Glen D. Huey’s DVD, “Finishes That Pop,” and it is currently on sale at

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Showing 5 comments
  • Milford

    A few of the small mallets at Hida Tool Co. in Berkeley, CA also have had a small central star. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about tree biology to understand how these come about, but a few slices of my mallet are reserved for some decorative service, not just beating on other tools. A requirement for the star, of course, is that the piece must include the original center of the tree trunk or branch. The knot that Ajax discovered is the inner part of a branch that has become surrounded by the growth of additional layers of the trunk wood (growth rings) as the tree continues to grow, and thus its expansion is limited, so its growth is more compact than the outer part of the branch.

  • djfilmore

    PS. The star in the center of your piece reminds me of the crystalline structure of corundum, does it you? jt

  • Ajax Alexandre

    Great stuff, Jeff. It was fun to see the Popular Woodworking magazine in a few of the photos. Do you continue to make jewelry?

    • djfilmore

      Yes,I still fabricate but only in Platinum or high karat Gold. I mix my own colors and karats and I’m sure you know that it takes at least an ounce of material to start a project. So, at these prices, who can afford to inventory an ounce or two of material and wait for a customer that wants something special. And now you know one of the reasons that I work wood. Six dollar a foot Mahogany can make some mighty nice furniture. jt

  • djfilmore

    Ajax, I’m a semi retired jeweler of 35 years and I too have taught class at the Revere Academy in San Francisco along with numerous apprentices in my business in Carmel. Now, for 15 years or so I have been working with wood. I finally have a web site @ Check it out as I am trying to improve, maybe you can help! Jeff Thompson

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