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Silver solder is a silver alloy with just a little zinc to lower the melting point. Some jewelers even make their own solder so that they can control the color and melting temperature. The reason soldering works is that when the metal crystals in the silver (or other metal) separate with the heat from the torch, the slightly lower melting point of the solder enables it to fill the gaps between the crystals in the sterling. Once the joint cools, the 2 pieces of metal and the solder will have all fused together.

A Ring of Silver

 


A selection of sterling
patterned wires

Materials
Patterned Sterling Silver Wire
Hard Silver Solder
Flux for Silver Soldering
400 Grit Polishing Paper
400 Grit Sandpaper
Polishing Tools (your preference)
Scratch Paper
Pickle Solution
Polishing Compound
Tools:
Soldering Torch (oxy/propane and air/acetylene are two popular choices)
Fireproof Surface
Flatnose Pliers
Flush Cutters
Flatnose Pliers with Nylon Jaws
3rd Hand
Magnification (such as an OptiVisor)
Soldering Pick (titanium)
Pickle Pot Full of Hot Pickle
Copper or Plastic Tongs
Dish of Water for Quenching
Flat Hand File
Ring Clamp (hand vise)
Ring Mandrel
Rawhide Mallet
Bench Pin
Charcoal Block
Flex Shaft (optional)

Technique

Start by choosing a sterling silver patterned wire, available from jewelry supply houses. For your first silver ring, start with wire that is a fairly light gauge and not very wide so that itís easy to manipulate. Wider and heavier gauge wires are significantly harder to work with and require additional annealing and filing. They should be saved for after you have more experience.


Patterned wire and paper size template

Cut a piece of scratch paper to roughly the width of your wire and about 3Ē long. Wrap the paper around your finger and mark the spot at which the 2 ends of the paper overlap. Cut the paper to the length of the mark, and then use the paper as a guide to cut a piece of wire. Cut the wire using good quality flush cutters. As you can make a ring bigger after soldering by stretching it on a mandrel, Iíd rather have it too small than too big. The only way to make a ring smaller is to cut a section out and re-solder it. Knowing this, I try to err to the small side while making a ring.
Anneal the silver by placing the strip so that itís standing up on a fireproof surface and itís leaning against a charcoal block (to radiate the heat back toward the silver). Light your torch and hold it so that the silver is just beyond the bright blue cone inside the flame. Steadily move the flame so that you donít overheat one section of the silver. Heat the entire piece to a dull glowing red. Metal is annealed when itís 2/3 its melting point. Itís useful to remember that when you are wondering if you got the silver hot enough. Quench the silver strip in water to cool.


Annealing the wire to make it more malleable

File and sand the ends of the wire so that they are perfectly smooth and meet up evenly.


Soldering the seam with a torch and a titanium pick

Form the silver strip into an oval shape with the 2 sides of the seam touching. The joint should be in the center of one of the long sides of the oval.
Line up both sides of the butt joint perfectly and adjust with a flat file so that edges touch along 100% of joint. The finished quality of your ring will depend on this step as much as any other. Take your time and make sure that you canít see any light between the two ends of the metal.

Use a pair of flatnose pliers to carefully true up the point at which the two ends of silver meet. This little step flattens everything up and makes everything sort of ďseat.Ē  If you have a set of those soft jawed flatnose pliers use those. If you donít own a pair, simply wrap masking tape around the jaws of a pair of flatnose pliers. You donít want to leave tool marks on the silver.

At your soldering station, place the ring in a 3rd hand tool so that the seam is at the bottom. Flux the joint, on the top and on the bottom of the seam. Lay a tiny chip (about 1/16Ē of an inch square) of hard solder on the inside of the ringís seam.

Heat the ring so that entire piece comes to temperature at the same time. While heating, have a heatproof soldering pick in your hand and ready for action. I like to hold my torch in my left (passive) hand and my soldering pick in my right (dominant) hand. Even though you are working with and concentrating on your torch, the pick needs to be ready if the solder needs a little help with direction or flow. Pickle and rinse the ring.

Place the ring on a steel ring mandrel and shape it using a rawhide mallet.


Reshaping the ring to round


Smoothing the inside of the ring with a flex shaft machine and polishing papers

On a piece of 400 grit sandpaper thatís been taped to something very flat (a tabletop, piece of acrylic, etc.), sand the edges of the ring so that they are smooth and flat. Pay particular attention to the seam area.

To clean up, smooth and shape the inside of your ring, place the ring in the ring clamp and use either 400 grit polishing paper on a split mandrel on your flex shaft or a piece of 400 grit sandpaper wrapped around a round dowel. When you are done polishing up the inside of the ring, the solder seam should be invisible. If not, keep working on it. If you really made a mess with your solder, you may need to use coarser sandpaper or a 1/2 round file. I like to round the inside edges a little so that the ring doesnít feel sharp when wearing it.

Bring the silver to a high polish using a flex shaft tool or polishing lathe and a felt wheel charged with polishing compound. Wash the ring with hot soapy water to remove the remaining polishing compound and wear your ring with pride!


Buffing the outside of the ring with a felt wheel and polishing compound


The finished, oxidized ring


Issue # 18

Christine Cox was a regular contributor to ARTitude Zine. This article originally appeared there and is reprinted here with permission. Unfortunately ARTitude is no longer published.

Christine Cox teaches metalsmithing and bookbinding classes in our Studio in Volcano, CA.