Metalsmith: Breaking the Rules

As a silversmithing instructor, I spend a lot of time explaining to students how to get the perfect solder join. “Clean the metal. Use flux. The join must be perfect. Solder must touch both sides of seam. Both sides of seam must reach soldering temperature at the same time. Capillary action. Supports are heat sinks. Solder follows heat. Blah, blah, blah!”

On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed a scrap piece of metal to do a quick demo for a student, explaining all the while that my solder might not flow because the metal isn’t clean or the joint isn’t aligned or whatever, only to have the little dear solder perfectly.

The rules are there to help us achieve success, to set up the most likely scenario for the solder to flow. The rules keep the frustration levels down and the success rate high, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be broken.

Recently, I ran into a dilemma and I have to be honest, this is one of those “cheats” that I didn’t expect to work, but work it did, and it was a life-saver.

I had a large, springy flower shape made from fine silver bezel wire. It took quite a while to form to the exact shape of the enamel it was meant to cradle. T-pins held the shape together, but I needed them to be perfectly aligned and the bezel wire was just too light and springy. A smaller shape made from thicker wire would have had the tension necessary to hold the 2 ends together for soldering, but this didn’t. What to do?

I reached into my drawer of doo dads (a technical term), pulled out a 2″ x 4″ x 1/8″ piece of scrap steel and slapped that puppy down onto my flower shape. Voila! Instant tension.

But, what about the “large supports are a heat sink” rule? What about the “you must bring the whole piece up to temperature at the same time” rule?

As you can see from my setup in the accompanying photo, I placed the steel back from the soldering point and it created no problem at all. Since the wire was so light and thin (28 gauge), I didn’t need to heat the whole thing. I was able to just heat the portion visible in the photo.

I still follow the rules for the best success at soldering, but it’s liberating to know that sometimes success lies in breaking them.

April 2, 2018
muse - metalsmith - breaking the rules
muse - metalsmith - breaking the rules