Archive | Metal Working

Day 9 Annealing Silver (Metalwork)

Heat 2

If you have done much silver work, then work hardening the silver is something you are probably familiar with. Work hardening is when you have beat, bent, stretched, folded, etc the silver so much that it has lost its flexibility or workability. One example I will give here is I have a piece of shanking material that is too thick, I could solder it as is, but then I would spend a lot of time filing and grinding the metal to size, so in this instance, I roll the piece through my rolling mill to thin the metal to the size I want.

Rolling 1

Great! Now I have the shank to the size I want, but for some reason it is very stiff and hard to work. What I have just done is “Work Hardened the metal. Here is a quick science lesson….. What has happened to the metal is the molecules in the silver, which used to be uniform (and happy), have now been flattened and deformed (and stressed). What must be done now is a process called annealing. Annealing is heat treating the metal and rearranging the molecules in a way that makes them less stressed and happy again. (ok, so I am not real scientific).

Here is quick illustration of what I am describing.

Happy Molecules:


Stressed Molecules:


Happy Once Again:


So here is a quick way to anneal your stressed metal

Use a nice “bushy” flame. (Smith Mini Torch)

Bushy Flame1

You will want to turn off your bench light so you can see the metal change colors better. Apply your nice bushy flame to the silver and watch it. Do not get it too hot too fast. Move your flame back and forth and watch the metal for changing color. You want to try to get the silver to change to a very dull pink color. Try to keep that color for 30 seconds or so by moving the heat away and brushing the flame over again. DO NOT get the silver to a glowing red color. If you do this, quench the silver in water and start the process over again.

Heat 1 Heat 2

Now quench your silver in your pickling solution.

Pickle 1

Leave it in your pickling solution (I use Sparex) for a few minutes, remove with Copper Tongs (or plastic tongs). Never use steel tools to remove metal from pickle, it will destroy the solution and you will notice your silver will start to turn pink….. the solution will start to react with the copper alloy in the sterling, turning your silver pink. If this starts to happen, change your pickling solution.

Copper Tongs 1

After a few minutes, remove the silver from the solution, and dip in a mixture of water and baking soda( available at your local grocery store. (approx 1 oz. (shot glass) to 2 cups of water)

Soda Water

The baking soda will neutralize the acid from the pickle and keep from getting on your hand, tools, bench, etc. Always use baking soda/water after your pickle. After that, then dip in clean water.

Finished Happy

Now you have happy silver again.

Now, have a “Happy” Day and go make some “Happy Jewelry”!


Day 8 Pre-Polishing Tips (Finishing)

               rubber wheel

Today we will touch on a couple of pre-polishing tips. A few technical details in your pre-polishing will make a huge difference in the quality of your finished jewelry. Polishing “Prep” will make your finishing job easier always. spending a few extra minutes with attention to detail will save time later, and give you a much better product. Depending on what your piece is like to begin with will decide how you approach this. If you do not take time to prep your pieces before polishing, you will polish harder and more aggressive than you need to, and lose most or all of your detail, making your pieces look overworked and washed away.

First, tumbling, if you are working with a casted piece, you will have a casting surface that is a little rough. If you have a Vibratory Tumbler, I would recommend a 2 stage tumbling process, the first stage I usually tumble in a Ceramic Media overnight for 8 – 12 hours. I have my tumbler hooked up to a timer, set it up overnight and get it in the morning. This will remove the casting surface and give you a consistent surface. Then I place the pieces in the same vibratory tumbler with STAINLESS STEEL MEDIA MIXED SHOT for 1-2 hours.


media ceramic media steel

What the Steel does is “burnish” the surface and give you a shiny finish in those hard to get to places. A Magnetic Pin Tumbler also works great for this operation, and will do the job much quicker. Magnetic tumbler media is a lot “finer” and will get into those hard to reach places, like between prongs and fine detail, much better. If you are not dealing with casted products and the surface is a little better to begin with, you can go right to the steel shot or magnetic pin tumbler.

Tumbler2 media pin

If you do not have a tumbler, then work in “stages”. If your piece has scratches in it, you will have to remove the scratches before you start polishing. depending on the size and depth of the scratches will determine how aggressive you will work the piece. if you have deeper scratches, start with a file. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my favorite go-to file is a #4 cut Barrette Needle File, it has a good cut to it, it has “safe sides” meaning you can place the edge or side of the file against en edge of the piece, and it won’t leave a mark. If you get one of these files, I suggest you modify the sides of your file. The teeth of the file do hang over the side a little bit, so I rub it on a wetstone to remove the burs or teeth that hang over, then polish it on a piece of paper with Yellow Rouge on it, the same way I polish my graver blades. (see day 3 lesson)

Filing File sandpaper

File sandpaper2

file prep file prep2

After I file the scratches or defects out, I cut a small piece of sandpaper (400-600 grit) and wrap it around the end of the same file and sand over the area I filed. You can also attack the areas with Sanding Abrasive Discs. These discs come in different grit and work wonderful. They snap on and off quickly. I would suggest a variety of these as well. The aluminum oxide ones do a great job as well. Also rubber wheels and knife edge Cratex Wheels. You can also get these in different grits.

sandpaper hand sandpaper dics rubber wheel

One thing I am trying to show you is there are different ways to go about getting the same results. you will develop your favorite processes, I am giving you some ideas to go about it, but if you skip the preping process, you work might suffer. Use some or all of these processes to prep your pieces before polishing and you will have a much better polishing experience, and a better looking piece in the end. I will go over some polishing tips soon, so stay tuned.

Now have a Great Day!


Day 6 Fixtures (Details)

Being a jewelry model maker for years, the majority of the pieces I work on are pieces that are going to be molded and reproduced many times over, so if there is a pit, mark, scratch, etc. that flaw will be visible in every piece that comes out of the mold. So extra time and patience is needed to make sure that the model is as flaw-free as possible, which will save time over and over from cleaning waxes or castings on reproduced pieces. When working on small pieces, sometimes it is difficult to hold onto the piece to get the scratches and marks out. So today, here is a quick tip to hold onto small pieces for cleanup.


One of the things I have always done is kept a large portion of my old used up burs and mandrels from wheels. I have a pile of them and am constantly grinding them into tools, shapes, burnishers, etc. In the future I will show some of the ways I make cutters, burnishers, grinders, and pit-beaters, but today I will show you a quick jewelry holding fixture.

If you have ever used mounted rubber cratex wheels, when you are done, instead of tossing it in the garbage, remove the last bits of rubber or abrasive cratex and you will find in most cases an end that is perfect for holding a small bit of Dop Wax.

Pic1 Pic2

There are many types of materials that will hold a piece of jewelry, JETT-set, pine tar, loading wax, but I prefer Dop Wax. Dop Wax is used for holding stones for grinding and faceting, but I find it works best for holding small and large pieces. It melts about 160 degrees, and cleans away after a soaking in alcohol. (Faster in a container in an ultrasonic).  Just heat the piece up, not too much, (you will get the hang of it) and hold it in place with tweezers for a few seconds until it is cool enough to set firm. this also works good for setting stones in small pieces. Sometimes you might have to load the wax on a larger fixture. I have many different sizes of wooden dowels and fixtures with Dop Wax on them for different sizes of jewelry. I even use it on one of my fixtures on my GRS BENCHMATE .

Pic3 Pic4

Pic 7

 1j Locket Earrings 08

Now go make it a Great Day!


Day 4 Soldering (sizing)

Today we will look at a few tips on soldering and for the example, I will size a silver ring. First, figure out what size the ring is, and what size you need it to be. For each size difference is approx 2.4mm.

Sizing 1

In this example, I will size a ring down, so I marked the ring and cut the ring using a 3/0 saw blade and supporting the ring with a ring jig.

Sizing 2

I cut just inside the marks I made to allow room for filing. I use an Equalling Escapement File to file the inside of the shank, what this file does is makes sure the two ends are parallel to one another so there are no gaps in the soldering process. Gaps usually means pits in your solder joint.

Sizing 3 Sizing 4 Sizing 5

Next, I make sure the two ends are touching with no gaps, if the top of the ring is strong enough, I will twist the shank a bit and bend the ring past center, to compensate for the “spring” in the metal. You want to make sure the two ends match very close.

Sizing 6

Now, clean the solder joint very well, if you have an ultrasonic cleaner and a steamer, that would do the job well, but if not, soap, water, and a soft tooth brush will work. Protect the ring’s finish by dipping and “swirling” the ring in a mixture of Denatured Alcohol and Powdered Boric Acid. I always keep this mixture around and dip everything in it before soldering. I keep it mixed, about 1-2 tablespoons of boric acid to 1 oz. of alcohol. I keep it in an old baby food jar. works great on both gold and silver. Let air dry before soldering, you will notice it will turn your jewelry “white”, this is good, it is a thin coating of protective boric acid which will help keep fire scale down.

Sizing 7

Next, I add flux and solder. I use Handy Flux, a brazing flux that works great, especially on silver, but I use it on gold as well. I also keep this in a baby food jar, along with a silver wire to apply the flux. Coat the solder joint well. Heat the piece until the flux just stops “bubbling”, then add a small piece of solder with a soldering pick. I use a TITANIUM SOLDER PICK, the solder doesn’t melt to the titanium like it will to steel. I just barely dip the tip into the jar of flux and pick up the piece of solder with the pick, then apply it to the top of the solder joint. I used medium SILVER SHEET SOLDER and I cut it as needed. You will be tempted to want to use a bunch, but you don’t need a lot. See how much I used for this application.

 Sizing 9 Sizing 8

Now comes the FIRE!! I use a Smith Mini Torch and have used one for years. The gas I use is propane and oxygen, but you can use Acetylene or Natural Gas. I like the propane because it is easy to get, and it is a much cleaner gas to use. Acetylene produces black smoke and “floaties”. I use the #5 tip that comes with the torch, in fact I drill it out a bit to give me more heat on larger projects. I use the same regulator on the propane that I used to use on acetylene. You will want to get a flame that is not too “bushy” and not too “sharp and pointy”. The flame in the image is what you want to aim for.

Sizing 10

I mentioned that you wanted to apply the solder to the top, this is because we will be applying the heat to the bottom of the solder joint. One of the biggest mistakes many jewelers make is applying the heat to the solder, this is a NO-NO. You always want to apply the torch heat to the opposite side of the solder joint because solder is drawn to heat, like a moth to a flame. When you do this, you “draw” the solder THROUGH the solder joint, making a stronger joint with less pits. Also if you melt the solder first, you “boil” the solder, changing the characteristics of the alloys in the solder, making it flow less and more brittle.

Sizing 11 Sizing 12

Sizing 13 Sizing 14

After soldering, place piece in a pickling solution. I use Sparex which will help remove fire scale as well. I use a very small CERAMIC LINED CROCK POT to heat the pickling solution. Heating the solution makes it work a lot quicker.

We will get a lot deeper into soldering in the future, I hope this helps.

Take Care


Day2 Design

1a Locket 01

I guess the first subject to talk about at this point is starting a design. The great thing about designing jewelry is that you have a blank page, if you are making jewelry for yourself, there is no right or wrong design, it is an expression of yourself, and the only limitations are your skills, and that is what we are here to do, hone our skills. If you are making jewelry for others or for the market, then you have to take their likes and desires into consideration.

               There are a number of ways to start to create jewelry, from finding an existing media and turning it into jewelry, to Computer Aided Design (CAD), wax carving, metal fabrication, Precious Metal Clays (PMC), etc. We will touch on all of these things in the future. For the first step let’s look at metal fabrication. I found a design on an antique locket that I would like as an earring. If I could draw, I would but alas, I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I found a way to scan the design and get it on a piece of paper. In this instance I used a CAD program, but you can use the original picture, scaled to the size you want, and then I cut and taped it to a flat sheet of sterling silver. I took a very sharp metal scribe and traced around the outside of the picture with a series of small points, just hard enough to make a mark, but not too deep.

1e Locket Earrings 01       1f Locket Earrings 02

After I traced around the design completely, I removed the paper and I have an outline on the silver. (this works on wax as well) I now pierced the silver with a hole large enough to get a saw blade through. I usually use a 3/0 blade, but you can use smaller if you like, I tend to break smaller ones a lot more. after I have the piece completely cut out, I smooth the edges with small “escapement” files and sandpaper, then polish. At a later date we will get into detail on how to best file, sand, and finish pieces, but I figured we would start with an easy way to get your ideas onto metal or wax.  On this piece, I also used gravers and a foredom to give the piece more of a rounded look, but that is what I wanted and that is the cool thing about jewelry making, it is an expression of one’s self as well as a craft.

1g Locket Earrings 03 1j Locket Earrings 08

Finished Amethyst

Thanks for stopping by, I will keep these posts short and to the point in the future, I know we all have busy lives and I would like to give quick tips as opposed to long lessons.

Take care