Silver Jewelry-Making, Simplified

know you have hesitations about picking up a new hobby like silver soldering; I had them too.
I pictured myself somehow setting the house on fire. I researched blowtorch reviews and read dozens of tutorials. I've spent hours watching videos in search of the clearest instructions.

After a little experimentation and trial and error, I've distilled everything I learned into an easy and inexpensive step-by-step guide to silver jewelry-making. Below, I've explained the different tools I selected for their ease of use, longevity and multipurposeness. I only spent about $80 to get started, so if you're looking for a step by step introduction to metalwork, this guide is for you.

You can start at any of the stages. If you're braver than I am, start at step three!

*A note on safety:
You'll want to have safety glasses on, and (ideally) a fire extinguisher nearby. Like your mom always says, DON'T BURN THE HOUSE DOWN Better safe than sorry!



Step One: Hammered Silver Wire Earrings

Hammered silver jewelry is a great way to explore whether working with fine metals is something you enjoy. To start out, you can find excellent prices on silver-filled wire. My favorite supply shop is Rio Grande.

Tools & materials:
- 20-22 gauge wire; both are a good thickness for a standard ear piercing, but 20 gauge will flatten out a bit more for bolder hammered shapes. You can choose to use brass, which is hard and very inexpensive, or silver-filled wire. Sterling silver is not necessary for this project.
double-horned jewelers anvil
ball pein hammer and/or plastic rubber hammer
needle nose pliers
round nose pliers
side cutters

Optional:
metal jeweler's files (you can get by with a cheap emery board for this project)

Shape your wire into whatever shape you want. Make sure you keep about 1/2 an inch for the hook and 1/2 an inch to make a loop hook closure if needed. File the ends of your wire smooth.

I chose to form my earrings into a simple hexagon shape.

Once your shape is formed, make any final adjustments before you start hammering, which will flatten and harden the wire. Carefully hammer the wire with the flat part of your ball pein hammer against the flat part of your anvil. If you want the dimpled look, use the ball end of your hammer.

That's it!

Step Two: Fused Silver Rings

Fusing silver is a great way to start getting comfortable with a torch, and requires fewer supplies than the many complex options that are available with silver solder.

The blowtorch posed the biggest questions for me. What size and temperature do I need? (The melting point of silver is 1763°F, and the Blazer Stingray reaches up to 2500°F.) Can I use a soldering iron? (Definitely not! Solder for electronics flows at 420°F; this is not going to hold your fine metals.) Why not propane? (Propane torches are generally large and not needed to handle these small jewelry projects.)

I selected the Blazer Stingray Butane Torch because it's highly rated for long-term use and safety, and has the right temperature rating for working with metal. Also, it's blue and adorable.

There are 4 main types of silver: silver-filled, which contains 5-10% sterling silver on the outside with a core of brass or copper; sterling silver, which is a homogenous alloy that contains 92.5% silver; argentium silver, which is 93.5% silver and better at resisting firescale than sterling silver; and fine silver wire, which is 99.9% silver. This near purity makes it a bit more expensive, but with two advantages: One, it doesn't get any fire scale, so you don't need to pickle; and two, it fuses to itself when torched properly. Amazing, right!?

Tools & Materials:
butane microtorch
- triple/quintuple refined butane to prevent clogging (I use Vector quintuple refined butane)
soldering block (this one will absorb the intense heat of your torch and protect your work surface)
double-horned jewelers anvil (this style is the only one I have; it's the most useful all around)
ball pein hammer
needle nose pliers, round nose pliers, and side cutters
jeweler's metal files
- metal cup with water for quenching
- fine silver wire (I like 16 gauge for a delicate ring, or 14 gauge for a thicker ring)
- this guide to metal length and corresponding ring sizes

Optional:
rubber hammering block (for hardening metal without shaping or marking it)
plastic mandrel & sizers (sizing) -OR- steel mandrel & sizers (sizing/hammering)

Instructions:

1.  Shape your silver into a shape that will lie flat on your torching block.
2.  File your edges and make sure they fit together.  It's important that your seams are properly aligned in order to get a good fuse. (If you plan to use your ball pein hammer, make the ring smaller than needed; metal on metal hammering will harden your silver and enlarge the final size.)
3. Ignite your torch and adjust to medium strength. Begin to move the flame around your shape, heating it up evenly and at a medium fast speed. (If you leave your flame too long in one spot, your silver will start to flow unevenly!) The whole piece should start to glow orange, and will flash silver just when it fuses. When you see the silver flash, turn off your flame. Pick it up carefully with your needle nose pliers and quench it in your metal cup of water.
4. Hammer your ring to harden the shape. Use plastic rubber to strengthen the silver, or use your ball pein hammer to flatten, facet, and polish your silver.

Step Three: Silver Soldering

Soldering seems really complicated at first; there's flux, soldering chips, soldering wire, soldering sheet, soldering paste, pickle! You have to choose the right metal, and clean up firescale, and prevent burning your metal. In an attempt to take the mystery out of soldering, I've selected the easiest and most cost-effective methods below.

Tools & Materials:
butane microtorch
quintuple-refined butane
soldering block (this one will absorb the intense heat of your torch and protect your work surface)
- fine silver or sterling silver wire (I like 14 gauge for this project, but 16 gauge will do nicely, too)
extra easy or easy silver solder paste (I would have never gotten started soldering if it weren't for these small tubes of all-in-one flux and solder paste from FDJtool.com)
- practically free & chemical-free "pickle": baking soda, aluminum foil, salt, boiling water

Optional:
rubber hammering block and plastic mallet (for hardening metal without shaping it)
plastic mandrel & sizers (sizing only) -OR- ungrooved steel mandrel & sizers (sizing/hammering)
metal jeweler's files

Instructions:
1. Shape your sterling silver. File the ends so that your seams are aligned and lie flush.
2. Use a dot about the size of a medium pinhead of extra easy or easy silver solder paste.
3. Ignite your torch and adjust to medium strength. Move your flame evenly around your silver piece and solder paste. (The paste may light up in a little flame, but that's fine; keep going.) The binding agents in the solder paste will start to burn away, it will flash silver when it flows.
4. Carefully pick up your piece with your needle-nose pliers and quench it in the metal cup with water.
5. To remove any fire scale, use the following chemical-free "pickle" method (also great for cleaning tarnished silver!)
    - Line your metal cup with aluminum foil.
    - Add 1 tsp baking soda and a dash of table salt. Place your silver piece into the cup.
    - Pour boiling water to cover your piece. Add more baking soda if needed.
    - If additional cleaning is needed, polish your silver with a paste of baking soda & water.
6. File and hammer your final piece.

It wasn't that hard after all, right?

YAY!

Comments

  1. Very thorough explanation of the different levels of making jewelry. Makes me want to fly up and make jewelry with youuuuu (+Zelda) ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous10:51 PM

      Thanks, friend! Come up any time!!

      Delete
  2. Great and easy-to-follow tutorial! I had no idea there was this so much involved with making jewelry. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous1:33 AM

      Thank you! Let's plan a craft skill share day! I'll bring the silver, you bring the food? :)

      Delete

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