I have a long way to go in the metalsmithing department. This week I have been learning about polishing and finishing. Lexi Erickson has a good video filled with useful information on finishing jewelry by hand called (not surprisingly) Hand Finishing Jewelry. But not everyone wants to finish their jewelry the old fashioned way.
If you want to learn about the myriad of rotary tools and flex shaft attachments available to put a shine on your jewelry, I can recommend two free on-line videos.
The first one is from Nancy Hamilton and the second one is from Beaducation. For someone like me who did not even know what all the tools were called much less how to use them, these videos were a key to the mysterious world of tripoli, radial brushes, microns, their seemingly endless varieties, and what attachment to use use for what. I learned what a pin polisher is, what those brushy attachments that 3m makes are called (bristle disc or brush discs), what the different colors mean (I found this handy information on the Contenti site) and lots of other tips including safely precautions. And Nancy Hamilton has a page on her web site which is chock-a-block with information on how to make your jewelry shine.
Now all I have to do is practice, practice practice my fabrication skills (which I have time to do now that I am retired.) All the finishing in the world won’t cover up poor fabrication. But one step at a time, right?
This is a story of how I designed a new bracelet that are intended to be gifts. I love bangles and sizing is always an issue. I know that the intended recipients are relatively small women but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to guess their hand sizes and make conventional bangles. I decided to make something that could accommodate different sizes.
I started out with thick brass wire forms that I purchased at Wolf Myrow a few years ago. I had originally thought they were tubes. In fact, they were solid wire maybe 8 gauge. I like the look of square wire so I annealed them and squared the wire in my rolling mill.
This picture shows the same wire in three stages. The top shows how it started out, the middle is after bending and the bottom is after a few passes in the rolling mill. The wire gets thinner and longer. You have to be careful not to reduce it too fast or you will distort the edges. And you also have to make sure the wire is properly annealed. Brass wire is hard.
After I squared the wire, I annealed it again and shaped it around a bracelet mandrel. I hadn’t yet decided what to do with the ends. I ended up sawing off a few inches,
Here are three bracelets with the ends sawed off.
I was considering soldering some bronze metal clay medallions that I had made earlier onto one of the ends or the middle of the bracelets, but I thought it would look wonky. Plus if the medallion was in the middle of the bracelet, the solder would get wear from the bracelet flexing when it was put on and taken off. So why not try making a dangle from a medallion? The brass is so hard that I made a mock up in copper to see how I liked the idea.
I drilled a hole in a copper bracelet and fashioned a dangle from a copper metal clay medallion. I like the bracelet and the medallion-just not together. For one thing, the dangle didn’t move the way I liked. I was limited in the side of the jump rings I could use because the hole in the bracelet could only accommodate 20 gauge wire. And the medallion only had one interesting side. That would work for a pendant, but not for a focal dangle on this bracelet.
Speaking of hole drilling, did I mention that brass is a hard metal? Still I was able to drill a hole in each bangle pretty easily, with patience, the right tools, and some safety precautions.
When you drill a piece of metal, you need to tape it securely to a sturdy piece of wood with masking tape. As you drill, the metal and drill bit get so hot that the wood smokes. See the dark spots? Those are burn marks from prior drillings. You remove metal when you drill and it scatters like dust. I like to wear safety glasses and a dust mask when I drill like this.
I finally settled on dangles made from brass shapes I originally made for a necklace clasp I designed. I drilled holes in them, added porcelain beads I made many years ago, and attached then to the bracelet with a jump ring that I soldered for added security.
The bangles have enough give to open wider when you put them on and you can close them a bit when they are around the wrist. I rounded off the ends with a file and sanded them smooth to make the putting on and taking off as comfortable as possible.
By the time you read this, I will be on my way to deliver them to the recipients. Of course, I had to make one for myself, too!
Here’s a pair of earrings I made this Summer. First I etched some copper sheet with a Japanese wave pattern and then I cut out four 1 1/2 inch circles to make disks.
I filed the edges of disks so they were all even, put holes in the center of each one with hole punch pliers and dapped a gentle curve into the disks with a wood dapping block.
I sanded the bottom of each disk in preparation for soldering. The edges had to meet all the way around with no gaps.
Getting a bottom half ready for soldering. I have pickled and fluxed the discs and am using medium solder. I like to flash my flux with the flame to dry it out before laying the solder because then the solder doesn’t skitter around because the flux is bubbling.
A lentil bead ready for soldering. You notice that I’m bit using binding wire. I’ve never had much luck with it anyway. Lexi Erickson (see below) suggests pinning the bead to the firebrick through the holes. This worked beautifully for me.
After soldering before pickling and cleaning
I am learning to use less solder. It means less cleanup!
I patinated both sides of the lentil beads with a butane torch.
I finished the earrings with brass washers that I dapped to conform to the curve of the lentil beads, and decided to use carbon steel wire to attach the earrings to the ear wires. I like the look of mixed metals.
I recommend both of Lexi Erickson’s soldering DVDs. They are packed with useful information and common sense tips. You can order them from Interweave’s Jewelry Making Daily Shop.
I have a friend who’s been a goldsmith for more than forty years. She told me told me that she learned how to solder jewelry by working with a plumbers torch over a pumice tray and crying a lot. Hey, soldering can be frustrating to learn. You can’t ignore the laws of chemistry. Metals do not all have the same properties. Different varieties of solder flow at different temperatures and the flame must be hot enough to do the job. So, sometimes a micro torch will work and sometimes it’s just not hot enough. But the size of what you’re soldering affects things too. If you are connecting one small wire to another, a micro torch might be fine, but if you are soldering a bezel and need to heat a larger metal mass, the micro torch might not be sufficient. Or you might have to use two micro torches at once. (Press here for a description of this technique.) Solder flows towards heat which means that if you point the flame at the join, the solder will go everywhere but the join. Solder will not fill gaps; the items you are connecting must sit as flush as possible. And fire can be scary; you must respect it and take the appropriate measures to work with it safely.
I have been practicing my soldering. As you can see from the bezels above, I’m a little heavy handed with the solder. I am still working on getting my bezel soldering mojo and hope to improve on that in time. Until then, it’s lots of cleanup. But even with my limited experience, I have a few tips.
- Take a class. You, need to learn about lighting a torch and basic safety, but there is another important reason: you can read about soldering all you want but until you witness the difference stages of soldering from the initial heating to when the solder starts to flow, it won’t make sense. It helps when you see what color the metal should be, what the solder looks like right before it flows and how long it takes to flow.
- Does your carefully laid out solder skitter as soon as you hit the metal with the flame because the flux starts bubbling? Pass the flame over the flux to dry it before you place the solder. No more skittering.
- If you try binder wires, clips and tweezers to hold everything in place, they will act as heat sinks and draw heat away from where it needs to go to get a sturdy solder join. Charles Lewton-Brain wrote an article on soldering tips and tricks for Ganoksin where he gives instructions for making a thingy to weigh down pieces you are trying to solder together.
Here is an idea for another thingy from the Etsy Metal Blog
Yet another soldering thingy.
You can purchase this one from Wholelottawhimsey.
And finally, you need to check out Lexi Erickson‘s videos on soldering. I met Lexi when she was a guest speaker at the Main Line Bead Society and gave an entertaining and illuminating presentation on creativity. I thought she might be an academic but I was only half right because the next thing I knew, she had moved to Colorado and was blogging, making jewelry, teaching and writing great articles for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
She drew on her years of experience as a goldsmith and university level metalsmithing teacher to put together two videos on soldering that are full of practical information, including an explanation of the various types of torches used in soldering, tools, solders, and several soldering techniques. The videos are well filmed which is vital in a video about soldering. You really need to see how the materials look during each step of the process before you understand what is supposed to happen when you are soldering properly. You can buy the videos from Interweave.
Lexi’s videos are extremely helpful, she would tell you that you still have to practice, practice, practice. Like throwing pots and making lampworked beads, the more you make, the more skilled you will become. As Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
My friend Sherman claims to be bezel challenged. That got me thinking. Who hasn’t had a cool stone or glass cab that would look great in a metal setting? And while you can always wire wrap or make a tab setting (here’s a link to a great tutorial from Jewelry Making Daily on making tab settings) maybe you are ready for something a little more advanced’
So, here is a setting idea for the bezel challenged. Are you listening Sherman?.
I took 14 gauge copper wire, cleaned it and made a shape. I filed the wire ends flat for a butt join and soldered the join with medium solder.
After pickling and rinsing, I laid three 18 gauge wires with balls on both ends on top of the shape and soldered them on, again with medium solder. I also soldered the bail on during this step. (It has a little tab of metal I slipped under the 14 gauge wire and gravity held everything in place). You might prefer to solder on the bail in a different step. The beauty here is that you don’t have to worry about fit because the wires you’re soldering together already touch each other. The soldering goes very quickly. If you solder in three stages you might consider using easy solder for the last step.
Here I am making a bail from a strip of 18 gauge copper and bail making pliers.
Here’s another shape cleaned up. You can see that I was too generous with the solder on one of the wires. But there is an easy solution. Toss a steel nail and your copper piece back in the pickle. I don’t heat my pickle so I leave it for maybe five hours. The steel makes the copper that is floating around in the pickle coat the copper piece. If you have any silver or brass pieces in the pickle, they will become copper coated too, so leave them out. At the end of the period, fish out the nail and it will be slimy with copper (and your pickle will be cleaner!) The silver solder on the copper piece will no longer be visible. You can still sand and file it off, so don’t be any more vigorous than you have to be with the finishing. And yes, it is durable.
The final step is to bend the prongs front and back to hold the cab in place. You can also use your pliers to make interesting shapes with the prongs. You can make the prongs long and coil them into spirals if you like. You need to make at least three prongs to hold the cab securely.
With this technique, you don’t have to measure your stone or cab as accurately as you need to when you make a bezel. I just eyeballed the pieces in this post. Another advantage of this technique is that you can see both sides of the item you are setting unlike a bezel where you only see the front. The backs of fused cabs are usually not that interesting but stones are another story.
This technique lends itself to playing with the metal too. For the piece below, I soldered a bunch of copper rings together and then added a smaller circle with the soldered prongs.
If you are using a micro torch, be sure it’s hot enough; not all micro torches are created equal. A good choice is the Blazer GB2100. Also, you need a soldering surface that will work with you and not against you. I prefer a refractory block. A Solderite soldering board is another option.
I am not sure how I am going to use this yet. If I had to do over, I would have balled the wire that holds the cab from the back. It doesn’t look bad the way it is, but it could have looked better.
Even though I “discovered” this technique while playing around, I am sure it’s been around for years because it’s so intuitive. I am interested in seeing what other people have made with it. If you know about anything, send it my way.