The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Bryan "Fence" Freund

Added to museum 8/28/13

A Jewelry Craftsman with a Love for Harley Engines in Miniature

Bryan Freund at work in his shop. (Click on either photo to view a larger image.)

Clearly, mistakes are a key to learning anything worthwhile, but try to make the STUPID one's as a rookie. They are easier to digest when you have a good excuse.” —Bryan Freund

Introduction

Back in the early 1990's Harley Davidson had a precious metals contract with Stamper Black Hills Gold. They marketed a series of the very small pins representing Harley engines designed by Bryan. Larger versions were tried but were not practical for production. The cooling fins worked too efficiently and could not be cast.

Bryan's wife Rusty was extremely skilled at business and negotiation and managed to get us an order for a 3D Panhead replica from the flat Sportster engine and the much smaller pin size as samples of our work. So they continued to learn every aspect of jewelry manufacturing and bought their friend and neighbor’s house next door that was zoned for business in 1994. Freund Jewelers was born. Before that we had been known as Fence’s Custom Jewelry, using my old nickname (Fence*) as a trademark.

*“Fence” is Bryan's road name. Many of his friends only know him by that name.

Recently, Bryan cast the last piece for the newer Evo (Harley’s newer “Evolution” model) engine and also built a “micro” version, his newest all new piece. Being retired now due to a rare brain cancer, he has no desire to continue manufacturing items for sale. He still works on the little Harley engines though. Bryan notes, “Most of my work has not been motorcycle art actually, but most folks find the little engines quite impressive. I never had any schooling in the arts. In fact, I was a garbage man for 20 years. I taught myself through perseverance and practice in my spare time.” He does note that he would like to thank Tim McCreight for his most excellent book The Complete Metalsmith. Bryan credits what he learned there with making him into a jeweler. He referenced that book often for over 20 years. Following is his story in his own words and some photos of his work.

One of Bryan's tiny Harley Davidson vintage Panhead engines made from silver. Not just a single casting, they are assembled from hundreds of individual parts. (Click on photo to view larger image.)

From a love metal working to a thriving side business

By Bryan Freund

I was born in 1961 in a family of craftsmen and woodworkers. I loved to draw, but was always drawn to metalworking, then anything that flew and motorcycles. (We had an Indian Motorcycle dealer down the street from our rented farmhouse.) As a kid I built a lot of plastic models, but the wooden Guillow’s model airplane kits really were a favorite, in spite of the fact that rubber power never worked very well for me.

On my 18th birthday I found myself in boot camp in the US Air Force, wanting to build real aircraft and get to the mountains and grow up. After basic training I began my only formal metalworking training—3 or 4 months at Chanute AFB in airframe repair. Then I got assigned to Williams AFB in Arizona, which had the distinction of the having the lowest re-enlistment rate of the entire Air Force. I learned that much later on, but it was in the mountains of Arizona, so I was delighted. I got into trouble fast and ended up permanently stationed there. My artistic abilities couldn’t be bottled up, so I began making knifes and other artistic pieces hidden under the bench. I really loved the martial arts and made dozens of throwing stars.

As good as my metal working skills were, my attitude was equally bad, so in 3 years I was honorably discharged a year early. I held down a lousy job in Arizona for a while before moving back to Illinois. After returning, I drove a truck for a family friend’s business. Then another trucking job led up to a career in the trash industry. I became a garbage man.

In my spare time and with my new knowledge of metalworking I built a decent polishing machine. I saved any silver tableware I found and hammered it into sheets. With crude hand tools I began making earrings and rings. I bought a jeweler’s saw at an estate sale and then my most treasured book, The Complete Metalsmith.

After a few years I met my wife of 28 years, Rusty and set up a desk studio where I set out to learn to solder. Knifes were my goal at first. I wanted to create custom knifes but mistakenly bought jewelers equipment thinking it was what I needed. Wrong!

We moved again and I learned to solder silver thanks to Mr. McCreight’s book. Then, in 1986 I cast my first pieces via a hot plate flower pot. The next week we were at a jewelry supply store buying a burnout oven, polishing lathe, etc. I was hooked and began making all kinds of assorted pieces that were sold at low prices. I learned to set in bezels and bought inexpensive (at that time) “jelly opals.” I scoured every page of Tim's book and practiced every chance I could get every technique in it. Engraving and bead setting fascinated me. I collected carbon steel knifes to make into gravers and saved rhinestones to bead set into silver, reasoning they must be difficult to set being glass. They were perfect practice stones and found for free in the garbage.

In a few years I fabricated my first miniature motorcycle engines for friends. A Harley Davidsons 1911 single cylinder engine was the first one and then a later model Knucklehead V-twin. I continued to buy and collect tools of the jewelry trade and improve my skills. The flex shaft was a God-send to me and really speeded things up. My work soon became somewhat popular among friends. I experimented with rubber molds soon after and began to create a line of biker pins and rings that my wife and I sold at swap meets from a wooden case. I also began to tinker with gold occasionally, albeit rarely at that time. By 1990 my work was pretty good in silver, and practice is what I did. I feel that I benefited greatly from having no formal training, as that let me master bead setting first, which I loved and always will.

My methods were almost entirely fabrication at first, and bead setting became my signature style so to speak. Having been a Harley fanatic since buying my first Harley at 21, my Sportster engine was my first really detailed engine-related piece. It was made just for kicks, but Rusty took it to Harley Davidson and they ordered a Panhead. Of course, I was thrilled to make it, and in a few months completed that model and a couple much smaller versions.

Starting out with simple tools

My shop’s tools started very crudely: a homemade polishing motor without a filter, hand files, all kinds of pliers and any useful tool found, every hammer I could get, a desk for a bench, and plumber’s torches and anvils. After that first casting, we got a Newcraft burnout oven, a Pro Craft vacuum casting table and my engraving block. Files have always been my primary tools, compared to all other jewelers I'd met. I find they transfer directly to the metal through feeling, so I can control them with great ease. #6 cuts are even common on my bench. After going into business all kinds of other tools were needed and like any repair or bench jeweler, the collection of small tools grew. Gravers also became my must-have tools. Engraving is an art I admire greatly and only really have the most basic ability with compared to a master engraver. However, being necessary to bead setting, the style of setting I consider superior to all others, my abilities with them improved over the years, though are in no way complete. The fanciest tool I have is probably the Smith torch, which I had wanted for years, only to find that I don’t like it at all.

 

Back in the day. Fence and Rusty. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Tricks of the Trade

One of my “tricks” is to visualize everything I work on as being much, much larger in my imagination. I also utilize my imagination as much as possible to rehearse my next steps, usually a couple steps in advance. I would love to share my techniques with any students. I don’t believe in keeping any techniques secret. We all were beginners once, and we all continue to make occasional mistakes. Mastery is the ability to cover them up as if they never existed. This is something I learned from years of repairs.

Quality work and imagination combined

Quality has always been # 1 in my pieces, even at the expense of sometimes being rather heavy. I build things to last for a lifetime and adhere to the motto, “Quality isn’t cheap, it's priceless,” although our prices were always modest. The art is an endless journey of learning for me, constantly learning new tricks or finding a new and better way that was somehow simply overlooked. Surely I will continue to create new pieces of metal art as long as the Lord allows me. I believe it is a God-given gift, and my job is merely to practice and learn to use it.

A diamond bead set in gold on a ring.

Thoughts on bead setting

Bead setting is somewhat rare in today’s market. It is always one-of-a-kind by nature, time consuming and for many jewelers aggravating at best. It is very unusual to learn stone setting starting with the most difficult of traditional methods, from what I've been told at least. It is like learning to fly a jet before logging hours in a Cessna 150 maybe. If you tried hard enough and were crash proof, in theory at least, you could do it. From my experience, though, I don't think that's a major exaggeration. So, even compared to my engines, I think beadsetting is equally demanding in craftsmanship.

From Silver to Gold

Almost overnight gold became my primary metal. While focused on one-of-a-kind items at first, we soon had a thriving business including repairs and diamond sales. We focused on teaching our customers about quality and what to look for and then let them decide where to buy. The old line of biker jewelry became second fiddle at best.

Gold, I soon discovered, was a lot different than silver, and I soon became familiar with it in a “trial by fire” manner, having no actual choice. Repairs were an important part of our business, though I really despised doing them, as it was never my work and very often not of high quality. However, it was priceless to the owner, so even the least valuable repair was treated with all my craftsmanship as if it were a custom piece that I had made.

A brain tumor means major life changes

For a decade we had a nice family style business. This kept us both extremely busy—Rusty running the store, orders, inventory and all paperwork, and me handling the mechanical end of things and repairs after work. That went on until 2005 when I woke up in a hospital bed . The last thing I remembered was driving the roll-off (garbage) truck. Then I discovered that, like our neighbor and friend Kurt who sold us our home/business, I also had what was soon confirmed a brain tumor. To say this caused problems would be a major understatement, but after six months I did return to driving. For just short of a year I kept my old job but soon was let go and then went on a long round of chemotherapy.  Afterwards, I could not manage to do what I had before and we soon had to also close our store. Just before that another neighbor who moved to Arizona visited the store and told Rusty her husband Frank died from a brain tumor. That made both neighbors victims of this terrible disease. We contacted a lawyer and began a lawsuit as our only neighbor a mile to the north was a chemical plant. Within a year over 20 others with tumors were part of the suit that eventually grew to over 30 victims in a neighborhood of 500 homes and part of another across the lake. After a short while I was forced into retirement and disability, collecting a pension from the garbage company.

From a hobby to a business and back to a hobby

Then I resumed my metal working as it had begun— a loved hobby. The store was very busy and a Godsend for my wife, as with a bad heart she had to be able to have a very flexible operation. So every weekend I made myself available to evaluate any tricky repairs or answers to questions on any custom orders. My old work, engines included, stayed tucked in a drawer, rarely seen by anyone. The reactions to it were very mixed, as most people had no idea the amount of work required to fabricate them.

Eventually, one of the two chemical plants settled with us out of court so we were able to save our home, but the business was over. Soon I bought a computer and began to share pictures of my old work on Facebook. Only then did I realize they were perhaps exceptional, and an old friend suggested I send some pictures to your incredible museum. Now I am able to tinker with my equipment and ideas like a hobby as it all began whenever I am feeling well enough, and again I LOVE to work my projects.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." —Albert Einstein

The above quote is particularly true for me. Visualization is a big key to how my things are created, since I began  my metal working with rather crude tools and equipment, at first at least. I even started out setting diamonds with no more than a pin vice and homemade gravers, although the need required many more tools in short order. My shop by today’s standards is very simple…just the basics really. It’s what is in our heads and hands that really matters in my opinion. All my more intricate work is built many times in my imagination before my hands get involved. I feel and often say, “Art is born of pain, if none other than the idea trying to express itself.” For me it's entirely true.

—Bryan Freund

For those interested in Bryan's work, you can see more on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FENCESTER or you can e-mail him at bfencester@gmail.com. His production is now limited, but he still enjoys the creative process and making use of his skills.

Here are several examples of Bryan Freund's work:

(Click any photo for a larger image.)

Harley Engine Pin Projects

An early single-cylinder 1911 Harley Davidson single-cylinder engine is seen modeled in silver on the right.

1) Shown here are a couple of the special Harley engine pins Bryan created. The newer Harley Evolution engine is on the left and an older style Panhead engine is on the right. A smaller Evo is in the bottom left corner. A US Quarter and a copper scale provide a size reference.

2) A carburetor is being attached to the larger Evo engine. Note also the tiny Evo engine and the one-eyed skull pin to the left.

1) A larger silver “Panhead” engine is seen displayed on the cooling fins of an old Harley cylinder head. Hundreds of individual parts are put together to make an engine like this. Bryan estimates more than 350 parts went into this one.

2) Two smaller Panhead engine pins with different air cleaner covers can be seen next to an Indian head penny for size comparison.

A special “Flying Panhead” engine ring created by Bryan
A tiny "Shovelhead" Harley Davidson engine is under construction here. Two of the pushrod tubes have been inserted to being the super-detailing of the basic castings.
1) Two different size “Evo” engines can be seen under construction. You can see how many detailed parts have to be made up to create the engine, particularly on the larger versions. The larger engine sits atop a US Nickel coin for size reference.

2) A tiny Evo engine sits on a dime for size comparison.

Harley “Sportsters” were always a favorite of Bryan. Here is a small Sportster engine shown against the cooling fins of an old Harley head.
Harley “Evolution” engines in various sizes modeled in silver by Bryan. The second photo shows each tiny engine is made up of many sub-assemblies. Each of these sub-assemblies are made up of many more individual parts.
The Evo engine is seen being held and also displayed on a rock. This engine required as many as 400 individual pieces at Bryan's last count.
A side view of the Evo engine shows the cases are actually cast in two halves. The second photo shows the Evo under construction, yet to be separated from the excess metal poured to minimize porosity in the casting.
1) The back side of the Sportster engine as it sits on the drawing Bryan made to work from.

2) Details of the Sportster engine can be seen in this angled view.

A small Evo engine on a quarter and a tiny Panhead engine on a dime. A tiny silver skull can be seen on the upper 25-cent coin.
A winged Harley engine with a number “1” on the air cleaner adorns Bryan's well-worn leather rider's cap.
1) A small silver Panhead engine is displayed on a Harley cylinder head.

2) a larger Panhead shows the additional detail added to the larger engine recreations.

The motorcycle engine theme has also been applied to rings. Bryan says these rings have stood up to 20+ years of abuse since he made them.
Skulls, knives and a Harley engine...kind of a modern version of the "skull and crossbones" theme.

Tools and Shop

Bryan's custom made gravers are ground from old knives.
Bryan's first casting setup was a crude affair made from a jar lid.
1) Instructions from Mr. McReight’s book show how to make a kiln using a flower pot. Bryan had to start somewhere...

2) The ProCraft oven was a big improvement. His first oven is seen inside the newer one.

Every shop collects a certain amount of leftover pieces and parts from past projects. Bryan's "junk drawer" contains some pretty interesting stuff.

Other Art and Jewelry Pieces

"Lone Wolf," an early drawing done by Bryan at age 16. His artwork has been popular with customers as well as his jewelry.
This silver cross is the first piece Bryan cast in production from a rubber mold. It was one of a limited edition of 30 pieces. Although he still gets requests to make more, he won't go back on his promise to the original limited edition customers.

A knife and ring made while Bryan was still in the Air Force. Note also the tiny silver knives below the big knife. A couple of small Harley engines and engine parts can be seen in the upper left.

1) The first piece of jewelry Bryan cast in gold.

2) Another of Bryan's early settings was this opal.

1) A tiny wrench pin—popular with bikers who prefer to work on their own ride rather than pay a mechanic to do it for them. “Riding and Wrenching” are part of the lifestyle.

2) Among riders, skulls are also a popular theme, reminding us of our mortality.

Shown here are some of Bryan’s first rings, including a snake ring.

Silver flame rings, one with a bead set stone are also popular.

1) Silver flame rings, one with a bead set stone

2) The second photo shows both closed and open flame designs. Like skulls, flames are a popular theme in the hotrod culture as well as with riders.

A silver Fire Department pin is shown next to a Harley engine under construction.

A tiger tooth makes an impressive necklace when crowned with gold. Rubies are bead set below the crown and diamonds on the other side. On top is a star of India.

1 Karat of diamonds bead set into a gold ring with white gold. Bryan's challenge was to make a “masculine” looking ring from these stones and materials.

Silver feather zipper pulls make it easier to open zippers with gloves on...plus they look great!
Some handsome necklace eagles under construction. The two bottom ones don't yet have their claws applied, while the top one does. Bryan notes, "Don't hug someone when wearing this sculpture, the super-realistic claws tend to grab the other person's clothing."
Another bit of fantasy and about as far as you can get from an eagle. As they say, "When pigs fly." Well, this one at least has wings, so who knows?
A silver Victorian house with a porch attached. There are probably not many subjects that have not come Bryan's way over the years. Each offers its own challenge. The porch of this house was modified to create a teahouse to commemorate another client's home restoration.
A girl's prayer club ring was built up from several layers of parts applied one over the other.
These silver pieces were sent by Bryan for display in the Craftsmanship Museum. Included are a tiny wrench pin, several vintage Harley crankcases and a Harley "panhead" pin plus two tiny knives. He is working on other pieces for display as well.
In December, 2013 Bryan sent additional items for display. In the upper left corner is now a tiny skull. In the upper right corner is an eagle's head with aquamarine blue eye. In the center at the bottom is an eagle with spread wings. The original all silver panhead engine in the lower left corner is now flanked by a black and silver shovelhead engine in the lower right corner. The black engine fins make the polished pushrod tubes stand out even more and give the engine a more realistic look.

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