To those of you wandering onto this site wondering, “What does cellular biology have to do with jewellery making and stone setting, what the heck?” I apologize. For the rest of you, I will now get down to business. Protoplast has made its way into my regular useful tool rotation along with chopsticks. All of this will soon make sense in the pictures below, I promise.
This is protoplast! When it’s brand spanking new it comes in little pellets. To use them simply heat some water, pour it into a container and immerse them. Usually a small handful suffices.
When placed in hot water the protoplast “melts” together into a blob. As you can see, the one on the left is completely clear, it is ready for use. The one on the right is still opaque in the center, so it needs a bit more time in the water. To remove the protoplast remember to use tongs – the water will still be hot!
As you can see, the protoplast becomes very soft and malleable. You can use it to encompass and anchor your piece in place to start setting.
I quickly molded the protoplast inside and around the shank of a ring cradling the top (so that it cannot move around at all). This is going to help protect the polished surface and serve as my anchor to hold the ring in place.
I placed the ring into a clamp & squeezed it a bit so that the protoplast conforms to the shape. I waited a minute for the protoplast to cool completely. When this happens it becomes a hard plastic. If you try to push into the surface it holds it shape. At this point it’s time to get ‘er done!
For setting I have become accustomed to using a chasing hammer along with a bezel pusher made from a chopstick (for more on that see below).
Here I am doing my thang! tappa tappa…
After you have completed setting to remove the protoplast you simply place the piece into hot water. Once it
has become clear you can remove it from the piece – remember to be careful, it gets hot!
When I remove the protoplast I make sure to form the blob into a pancake shape. This way the next time I want to use it, it will become malleable really quickly.
To create my bezel pusher I used a section of a plastic chopstick and sanded the tip into the shape that is shown in my drawing. It is similar to the toothbrush bezel pusher that Tim McCreight suggests in The Complete Metalsmith. I find it very useful as a setting tool because it reduces the risk of chipping or scratching a soft stone and is especially great when I am setting enamel components.
For flat pieces – pendants, earrings, brooches, etc. I use the protoplast along with a used up wooden block. I place the soft protoplast on top of the block squishing it into the drilled holes and then placing whatever piece I am working on top squishing the protoplast around it to anchor it into place. The block can than be held in a vise to keep everything stationary. After you have finished setting you can remove the protoplast by sliding a screwdriver underneath it to pop it off the wood block so that you can once again place it into hot water to remove your piece. As you can see in this photo, after a little while your protoplast will start to look dirty.