“Thurmanite®: What is it and Why Should You Care?”

June 1, 2012

TA 6-12 feature image

Thurmanite® $ Rings (silver, currency)

 

 

James Thurman

As the current Editor for SNAG’s Technical Articles, I have the pleasure of working with so many interesting people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get to know otherwise. I continue to be inspired by the variety of approaches and ideas that authors propose and have the option of contributing one article myself each year.  This is the second article that I’ve been able to write for SNAG News and I hope you enjoy it.  As part of the article, I have also included downloadable PDF versions of handouts that I typically distribute when teaching workshops on Thurmanite®. – James Thurman

Thurmanite® pebbles (various papers)
Thurmanite® Hot & Cool necklace detail (36” long: various papers, sterling silver)

More than ten years ago, I began experimenting with the combination of paper and resin, which would ultimately become the material I have somewhat humorously named “Thurmanite®.” (Previously, I had referred to the material as “mokume-kami” but after numerous misunderstandings about the origin of the process/material, I decided to change it.  In May 2012, the trademark of the material was finally approved!)

Coming from a background in Sculpture, I have always been interested in utilizing a wide range of processes and materials. Even while I worked on my MFA in Metalsmithing at Cranbrook Academy of Art, my final body of work was a series of vessels that incorporated woodturned components and spun metal which continued by explorations in material combinations. After completing my MFA, while sharing a studio with a colleague at Penn State University, we collaborated on a series of trophies for an environmental design symposium. Although these pieces were all assembled with hardware, there was a lot of subsequent brainstorming that started me on this current path of experimentation.

Green Design Awards (12” high: recycled books, hardware)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thurmanite® is a composite material made of layers of thin material bonded together with epoxy resin, and then carved, sanded, and polished to reveal patterning similar to woodgrain. My own explorations have been focused on a few variations of this approach using mostly recycled paper but I have taught numerous workshops and have had many students take it in entirely new directions. For the epoxy resin, I tend to use the West System since it is formulated to work well for layered composite laminations. Please see the following PDF Handout for more specifics about the general lamination process.

Thurmanite® Lamination Handout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although most of my Thurmanite® work has been created with parallel layers of material, I believe there is a lot of potential for laminating the material in so many other ways. Taking inspiration from some of the typical mokume-gane patterning approaches, the following are some initial experiments that I’ve done. However, it is important to remember all deformation of the material needs to occur before the resin cures unlike mokume-gane, where the material can continue to be formed and repatterned.

Expanded metal lamination sample

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metal grate lamination sample
Metal grate lamination sample

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lamination and full curing, the billet of material can be worked in a way similar to wood or plastic. Please remember to use all appropriate safety precautions related to the particulates generated during the sanding and polishing stages. Once finished, Thurmanite® can either be used as a component within a larger piece or as its own completed object. Please see the following PDF Handout for more specifics about shaping and finishing Thurmanite®.

Thurmanite® Shaping Handout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generally I prefer to use recycled paper when creating Thurmanite® since environmental concerns are very important to me both personally and professionally. However, there are some approaches where using recycled paper just isn’t feasible or possible. This is the case when layering a repeated image. For some pieces, I was interested in discovering if a single image would be still be visually recognizable if it was repeated on numerous layers, laminated together, and carved back through. Rather than perfectly registering the images, I allowed a slight amount of shifting between each layer, which resulted in creating an image that seemed encased in the material and slightly dimensional or holographic. The following are two different pieces where this technique was particularly successful.

Portrait Plate: Baudrillard (7” diameter)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SNAG Pins: Bird Girl of Savannah (2.5” high)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to more freeform carving and shaping of Thurmanite®, I’ve found that it is an excellent material for lathe-turning. I have made pieces that were smaller turned spindles and disks as jewelry components as well as larger paper plates (yes, I’m aware that is a very bad pun…). Although I don’t have the space in this article to instruct how to use a woodturning lathe, the American Association of Woodturners (along with its regional guilds) has a tremendous amount of information available for anyone interested. The following images are examples of a couple of different approaches that I’ve used when shaping Thurmanite® on a lathe.

Rotational Necklace (24: long: construction paper, sterling silver)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Rotational Study 08-0630 (5” high: construction paper, sterling silver, CZ)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Tectonic Plate 10-0404 (7.75” diameter: recycled atlas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve always enjoyed various types of cold joining approaches and the associated creative problem-solving needed to design and implement them. Through the years of working with Thurmanite®, I’ve experimented with a variety of different ways of attaching jewelry findings to the material. I believe some of the approaches I’ve developed would also work well with other materials commonly used in jewelry, such as wood and plastic. The following is a PDF handout explaining one finding I’ve developed that uses part of a wood screw as a means of fastening to the material.

Screw Findings Handout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m glad that I’ve had this opportunity to share my discoveries and hope that it inspires further creative explorations. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I encourage anyone who further explores any of the presented materials or techniques to share their results with me. In the future, I would love to facilitate the creation of an exhibition of work incorporating layered and composite materials.

Detail of Visual Audio IV (6.5” diameter: recycled music book)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tectonic Pebble Necklace (30” long: sterling silver, recycled atlas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Tectonic Subdvision 08-0917 (5” diameter: copper, aluminum, recycled atlas)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Thurman is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas’ College of Visual Arts & Design, where he coordinates the 3D Core program as well as teaches in the Metals & Jewelry area. He received his MFA in Metalsmithing from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and his BFA in Sculpture from Carnegie Mellon University. In 2010, he completed a four-year term on the Board of Directors of SNAG and is now currently serving as Editor of Technical Articles for the organization. 

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