While wandering the night market in Siem Reap I was able to chat with a vendor, who goes by Longleng, and pay for a full day workshop. He had a small space in the back of his home so I got to meet his whole family and it was a very DIY setup. This was my first time to do this, so I was absolutely thrilled. I had done some basic soldering and polishing about 10 years ago when I worked on musical instruments (yes that really happened) and had taken a basic jewelry class in high school, but I had never done anything like this.
So, the process first started with melting the bullets and scrap metal down into a liquid with a torch (there was a tank, motor, compressor and gasoline… I think this might be an HHO Torch?). A powder was used to help lower the melting point, which I believe is some type of flux. Then the molten hot brass is poured into a mold to cast a rectangular piece of metal. The cast must be lined with hot wax to assist in letting the metal easily come out after poured (think greasing the pan when you bake a cake). This raw piece of metal is then set down to cool for a little bit and then the stretching process begins.
The raw piece of brass goes through a press with a hand crank over and over again until it is stretched to the desired thickness. You have to remember to do two sides before further compressing. This is to help retain a proportional shape. You do this about 4-5 times and then heat the piece of metal back up and let it cool before repeating (annealing process). Once it is stretched the length wanted, you can cut it into the desired length that makes a good bracelet (this demonstration’s goal). Then when finished, use a hammer and stamps to decorate it. Along the whole process Longleng assisted me and let me do most of the work. Once the pieces were cut I got to finish my other bracelet myself, including the design I stamped.
When the pattern is fully finished, you take the piece of metal and file the ends down. Then, you begin the polishing process. First, a metal brush is used on the wheel to clean up the jewelry. Second, you use the non-metal coarse brush. Third, you make sure to thoroughly clean the piece with some time of brass cleaner and do some polishing with the soft brush and that white brick thing I forget what it’s called but it’s for polishing. Then, before bending the shape into a bracelet, there is a break where you reheat the metal piece and let it cool (annealing again). We took this opportunity to take a lunch break. I jumped on the back of his scooter and he was kind enough to take me to a local spot where he bought me lunch.
When we got back I checked out my piece of metal and was pleased. We then bent it around a metal cone where it made a horseshoe shape. Then, the sides were hammered down to make more of a circular shape which was fitted for my own wrist. Once shaped, the piece is then cleaned again with brass cleaner, ensuring there are no black spots, and given another final polish with the soft brush. Finally, it is boiled and washed with soap. Once done, relax in a hammock.
My design is the top bracelet and the bottom one is his. He was a great teacher and I’m grateful to have the experience. It feels amazing to make something beautiful by hand like that with some basic tools, knowledge, sweat and discarded bullets. I hope to make more jewelry soon.