Many times we set out with an idea of how we expect a project to turn out. In this article Janet Harriman takes you through her plans and what she expected and how she repaired and recovered her piece. Thank you to Cool Tools for sponsoring this project.
I had a young apprentice who insisted that I try silver metal clay. As a metalsmith with a fine arts background, I was a snob. But just for fun I did try the clay, worked with it for years and then I ended up demonstrating at the National PMC conference at Purdue University. Metal clay is a tactile pleasure. It is magic.
CoolTools asked me to test out FS999 fine silver clay. I was honored to be asked and I love a challenge. I decided to construct a vessel pendant with FS999 fine silver clay. What follows next is a step by step how-to explanation of this project.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
FS999 fine silver clay 50g
Cooltools.us mega mold compound
Gemstone (the green tsavorite garnet that I used cannot be fired in the clay)
30 gauge copper sheet metal 2″x 2″ or
Plastic file notebook cover sheet 2″x 2″
Metal clay tools
Dragonfly wood hand roller tool
Fine silver wire 20g
Jewelry file cut #2
400 grit sandpaper
Liver of sulfur
LUXI red polishing compound
Pointed agate burnisher
Mesh metal tea-ball (for texturing the wings)
Step 1: TEST FIRING I ran a test with a small vessel piece first as it contains a wood clay core. Because of that, the firing needed to be exact. I had made some wood clay forms for the cores and dried them for 3 days. A wood clay form was used to build a small vessel pendant with FS999 fine silver clay. I made a cone-shaped vessel with applied flowers as a test piece to fire. I got some firing advice from Gordon K. Uyehara as he had just finished testing FS999 for CoolTools. I fired my test vessel at a slow ramp at 1500 degrees to 1650 degrees hold for two hours. I used vermiculite to support the vessel during firing. The firing was perfect.
Step 2: SEARCH FOR INSPIRATION I decided to make a larger dragonfly design vessel pendant for my project. I did a computer search on Wikimedia.org looking for antique dragonfly drawings. I found some unusual drawings that I could work from.
Step 3: MAKE THE TEMPLATE Make a copper or plastic rough dragonfly template and make molds of the templates with molding compound.
Step 4: METAL CLAY SHAPES
Roll out a sheet of metal clay two cards thick and press it into the dragonfly molds. Dry the rough pressed form. I like to have a rough shape at the start so that I can carve, shape and texture the design. I found FS999 to be a bit brittle. It is best to wait until the dragonfly is attached to the vessel side before refining the wings and small details.
Step 5: CONSTRUCT VESSEL FORM Cover the dry wood clay vessel shape with metal clay. Roll out a piece of metal clay two-cards thick to cover the wood clay. A background design can be rolled or pressed into the clay covering. Cover one side, dry it on a mug warmer, then cover the flip side and dry it. I rolled out a long two-cards thick snake and textured it lightly and added it to all the edges. I mainly used water to bond all my clay joints. I filled in spaces with slip later on as needed.
Step 6: APPLY DRAGONFLY The vessel form should be dry. Decide on the best placement of the dragonfly on the pendant and then apply a small area of distilled water. Add a tiny bit of water to the back of the dragonfly and bond it to the vessel. Hold down the dragonfly gently, for a minute. Dry the vessel with the dragonfly on the cup warmer. If you plan to carve more detail into the dragonfly, the connected piece should be bone dry. FS999 works the best for carving in the dry stage.
Step 7: REVERSE SIDE DECORATIONS I rolled out a sheet of clay two-cards thick. Then using a wooden dragonfly roller, I rolled the clay again. I cut out small dragonflies from the pattern and applied them with a bit of water to the back side of my vessel pendant. I pressed down the small cutout applied pieces for a minute to bond them. I rolled out a two-card thick piece to cover the sides. I drilled out a small hole on top of the vessel to insert a twisted fine silver wire with slip on each side of the top to add jump rings after firing. The vessel needed to dry completely before firing. I placed it in my dehydrator.
Step 8: KILN FIRE THE VESSEL The dry vessel pendant was placed in a fire ceramic dish of vermiculite. I used the same firing schedule as my test firing, a slow ramp at 1500 degrees to 1650 hold for 2 hours. The firing was not successful. The piece caved in on the flat sides and broke apart.
Step 9: BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
It is important to know how to salvage a piece or start again. This was after all a test. Metalsmithing skills can come in handy. I sawed off the bottom section of the pendant so I could try to fix the warps. I placed a flat chasing tool in my vice. This method seemed like the best way to reach the warps. The sides of the vessel were thin, so I carefully inserted the vessel from the bottom and used a plastic mallet to slowly flatten the warps. Then I used a small hammer with a smooth flat face and no sharp edges to further work out the slumped sections. Once I managed to fix the warps, I rolled out a clay snake then rolled it again two-cards thick. This clay piece was to seal and repair the edges of the vessel. I added a thin line of syringe clay on the top edge of either side of the vessel as syringe clay is a bit elastic like calk. I hoped it would keep my repair intact during another firing.
Step 10: FINISHING AND PATINA When the dragonfly vessel cooled, I pickled it in white vinegar and salt to remove any alumina hydrate residue. Next I did some minor filing with a #2 file and sanding with 400 grit paper to even out rough spots. (The pendant was finished for the most part before firing). Then I wired brushed it with a brass brush, Dawn soap, and water. Next I spot buffed the vessel with LUXI red polishing compound to brighten some areas of the silver. For my patina, I mixed up a Q-tip full of liver of sulfur gel with hot tap water. I placed another small container with baking soda and water next to my patina area. It is best to do patinas outside because of the fumes. I dipped the dragonfly vessel into the liver of sulfur mix and pulled it out to oxidize. I kept dipping the piece until a dark blue color emerged. Then I placed the piece in the baking soda and water container and took it in and out a few times waiting for an iridescent blue color. Next I dried the pendant and rubbed the high areas with Flitz paste polish on the end of a Q-tip. As a final touch I burnished the high spots like the wings with an agate burnisher.
ADVICE Since my initial dragonfly firing did not work, I decided to contact another metal clay expert, Thomas Flores, at Rio Grande. He suggested that I fill the repaired vessel with alumina hydrate to keep the sides intact. He also said that I should do the slow ramp at 1500 degrees (as I was adding new unfired clay) then fire to 1650 degrees and hold for 1 hour. I placed the vessel in the ceramic dish standing upright and packed vermiculite around all the edges. The repaired vessel fired fine.
FS999 fine silver clay is a good product. While my dragonfly vessel may have been an ambitious project to use as a test piece, I discovered how to work with this clay. The vessel construction and firing would have been easier with EZ960 sterling silver clay. It was all a learning experience. For a good design I had to struggle with it, make changes, and even make tiny adjustments. The large dragonfly worked fine as a pendant. I might like to enamel FS999 in the future now that I am up to speed.
About the Artist: Janet has been making jewelry and winning awards for over 40 years. She has been working with PMC and BRONZclay for almost 14 years and developing state-of-the-art techniques for using these new materials. She was invited to the National PMC Conference in 2008 and 2010 at Purdue University to demonstrate her methods. An article she wrote about one of her processes was published in the national magazine “Glass on Metal.” Her artwork was included in three “PMC Guild Annual Exceptional Work in Metal Clay” books and “Contemporary Metal Clay Rings” by Hattie Sanderson. Janet sells her work in fine galleries, upscale shops, and craft shows. She teaches jewelry workshops and on metal clays, metalworking, and enameling. She continues to experiment…
Many thanks to Rick Doble the photographer, writer, and kind husband.
~ Cool Tools and Creative Fire are proud to present another project in this series by Gordon K. Uyehara. Gordon’s work is always interesting and his projects are sure to inspire artists from all levels. Having a chance to look over the shoulder of Gordon as he works is a treat for metal clay artists worldwide.
Dino Bracelet by Gordon K. Uyehara
What does one do with two leftover pieces of double-knit Viking weave chain? Dig it out of the drawer after many years and make a bracelet. I envisioned a focal piece and end caps created out of silver metal clay. Although it seemed rather straightforward at first, I encountered some challenges along the way. I detail them below. You may choose to steer around some of them.
I learned how to weave the chain in a workshop many years ago, and unfortunately, I don’t recall how to do it. However, I do recall we used a starter wire shaped like a flower and a wooden dowel to weave around. The chain was pulled through a vinyl drawplate (made out of cutting board) with different size tapered holes. This was for drawing down the diameter of the chain. The source book was, “Great Wire Jewelry” by Irene From Petersen. With a little imagination this project can be modified to work with other types of chain or cord. It is a good idea to peruse the entire project instructions first before proceeding.
Materials and tools FS999 Fine Silver Metal Clay 50g
Crossing needle file, lettering tool, or scribe
Carving tools (optional)
Curved drying form or smooth coffee mug
Sandpaper and sanding paper (400 and 600-grit)
Vermiculite and fireable container or thick fiber blanket
Common metal clay tools
Soldering supplies (optional)
1) Sketch out the design of the main focal piece and for the end caps. Note that end caps for Viking weave chains are usually cones with a hole at the end to pull wire through for looping around clasp findings. I decided to make life more difficult; more on this later.
2) From the sketch, create a template with cardstock. In regards to sizing, remember that the clay will shrink between 10 and 15 percent. I actually scanned my sketch and recreated it in my vector illustration program. If you do this, it is easy to create different sized printouts. If you have a cutting machine, you can create your stencils on that. See below, the template with a modified skull sketch.
3) I used the same template to create a base and then again to create a frame. I placed the 5-card thick base on a curved (oiled) drying form and then joined the 3-card thick frame to it while the pieces were still wet. This requires a gentle touch to avoid marring the pieces. Note that pieces won’t match up exactly because the thickness of the clay is not taken into account when using the same template. I.e., the edges will need to be sanded later to even them out. You can also dry the bottom first and then add the wet frame or paste together after both are dry. Another way to create a similar effect is to roll the inner shape (made out of card stock) onto the clay thereby impressing the middle section and then cutting the frame outline out around it.
4) For the skull, I pasted down a 3-card thick piece of clay in the outline of the fossil. I then sketched in features with a pencil after drying. Gradually I carved out the main shapes first with my crossing needle file. I.e., I worked on the general shapes first and then worked on the smaller and then finer details. I also alternated between the file and sandpaper (often rolled) and toothpicks to achieve the design. The good thing about metal clay is if you remove too much, you can always add clay back in. Since this piece is curved, do not apply a lot downward pressure while scraping away clay; think side to side more and you can avoid cracking your piece. If you don’t feel like carving, you can create a focal design in other easier ways. For example, a molded form could be used instead.
5) I carved some design elements into the frame. Pencil it in and then score it with a sharp pointy tool and then refine the line with toothpicks. Run the edge of a small piece of sandpaper through the line to refine it.
6) Using paste, I painted the areas around the fossil to make it look “earthier”. If, after drying, you see brush strokes you would like to disguise, let some water run off your clean brush on to the surface and gently disturb the brush marks. Wick off excess water with a drier brush tip. Re-dry.
7) Add rings on the back to act as chain guides. One mistake I made was thinking the clay wouldn’t stick to the oiled dowels. This particular clay did. So I remade them 3-cards thick with non-stick (Telfon) worksurface wrapped around the dowel. This made them a little too big, the second mistake. I also should have angled them at opposite angles so the chains would have more tension on them; more on this at the conclusion. They are about 3/16-inch wide. After drying and refining, I pasted the chain guides into place.
8) The end caps are essentially an open-ended box with a tab. Size it according to your chain thickness although later the chain ends can be squashed with pliers for fitting. You may prefer to make or use commercial cone ends because they are easier. The chain is simply secured with a wire, pulled through the cone, and then wrapped around a finding on the other end. What I did requires soldering or perhaps it could have been done with riveting. Use paste if necessary to join the walls of your end caps. Add decorative elements after refining the main shape. I used 3-card thick pieces of clay, except for the side that serves as the clasp catch, that piece is 4-cards thick. The top, tab portion with the hole was dried curved.
9) Since this was my first time using this clay, I fired one end cap first in vermiculite according to the included firing schedule. As a precaution, I put a little fiber blanket into the opening in case of slumping. Looking back, I don’t think that was necessary. After firing, the main focal piece can be brushed but do not brush the end pieces that will be soldered. Brushing closes the surfaces pores that may lead to ugly moisture blisters during soldering. I used a brass brush with a little soap and water.
10) After firing the pieces, determine how long the chain lengths should be and carefully trim them down. Remove any loose wires. Use a small length of sterling wire to secure the ends together.
11) Burnish the interior of the end caps where solder has to flow and hold the chain ends. Check how the chain ends fit into the end caps. Use pliers to compress the ends if necessary. I found it difficult to get enough surface contact for soldering the caps on, so I soldered a small sheet of sterling onto the ends of the chain. Then I flowed some solder onto the sheet where it contacts with the inside of the cap. Remember to flux the sterling parts as normal and only the areas on the fine silver end caps where you want the solder to flow (same area you burnished). I only pickle the parts where flux was applied rather than the whole bracelet. Be careful not to overheat the thin wires.
12) The catch is cut from 24-gauge sterling sheet and shaped with round-nose pilers. Shown below is the general shape of the clasp. Use a file to round out the edges. Adjust the clasp so it doesn’t slip out easily.
13) I used a brass brush and water to shine up the bracelet. Then I applied a liver of sulfur patina. To highlight the detail, I then polished with a Sunshine polishing cloth. For the back side and chain, I used a pro polishing pad to help lighten the darkened areas faster.
The soldering exercises loosened up the stiff chain more than I had anticipated. This was probably due to annealing. As a result, the focal piece moves around more than I’d like. To counter this, I fashioned a slim, removable clip to keep tension on the chains. I created this out of a 24-gauge sterling strip. A drill bit and chain nose pliers helped in shaping the clip. Had I angled the guide rings in the opposite direction, perhaps this wouldn’t have been necessary.
Finally, I am not totally enamored with the clasp. While it works, I think a box clasp would be great. However, that is a much more involved process and something I leave for the future or for you.
Gordon K. Uyehara continues to be a metal clay artist. In Hawaii, he seeks the wondrous in the mundane because he thinks it is there. He shares his findings on social media with the quite unfounded belief it is raising the collective consciousness. Some ideas venture out of his head and eventually manifest themselves as silver, bronze, or copper art. He strongly dislikes doing the dishes.
I have long admired quilling, butI had never tried this wonderful form of art before until I had an opportunity to participate in the Silver Quilling Certification training at the Art Clay Headquarters in Japan, I had zero expectations. I was so lucky to have Ms. Motoko Maggie Nakatani, a renowned quilling artist, as my teacher. She was also the curriculum supervisor of the certification program. (Top Image: Astari’s award winning piece from the Silver Accessories Contest: “DoPositive” combines many metal clay techniques including silver quilling. Click image to enlarge.)
Editor’s note: We orginally published this article in May 2016. But it is a hot topic once again in our community so we are bumping it up on our site for a re-read!
-(especially in children’s use) a person who copies another’s behavior, dress, or ideas
-denoting an action, typically a crime, carried out in imitation of another.
“No one likes a copycat”….in fact I’d rather the word was stronger when it comes to artists stealing ideas from artists. Last week we posted a video on FaceBook that started a lot of conversations. Which is EXCELLENT! What a wonderful use of technology to have artists all over the world talking! But will things really change? Will you stop seeing derivatives of artists’ work? “If you copy someone’s else, that is a derivative work. It doesn’t belong in a gallery or showcase and it should not be published anywhere—this includes your website and all social media.” -Sean McCabe (quote from video)
California artist Harriete Estel Berman has written extensively on the topic of copyrights and copycats on her blog: Ask Harriete. “The issues are serious. By our silence, we in the arts and crafts community are cultivating a climate of copycats. Bringing this issue into the open is not going to be popular, but the undercurrents are eroding our economic, ethical and legal boundaries.”
Here are some links to select articles by Harriete. Be an informed artist!
Until awareness gains traction in every “craft corner”, workshop, retail fair, wholesale show, online forum, manufacturer, retailer, designer, internet site, and becomes a public discussion, the copycat thieves will continue as pirates of our work, our ideas, and our content.In the “Age of the Internet” and digital technologies we can no longer go back to the studio and come up with the next idea fast enough. Ideas and images are stolen at the speed of light.
Are you prepared to protect your work?
Do you understand the concepts of Fair Use under Copyright Law?
A guild member takes a workshop, then comes home to show everyone else the workshop’s techniques, tips and tricks.
Guild members distributing copies of handouts that they did not create or own.
A member demos a skill learned in a magazine tutorial.
A guild hires a copycat workshop instructor instead of hiring the original innovator of a skill or technique.
Ironically, all this sharing is usually rationalized as “helping” each other. But with some reflection, this “feel good” cloak of generosity is concealing ethical, legal and moral issues that, in the long run, have an impact on our community.
Has anyone ever purchased your art or craft work and then started copying the original? I’ve seen this issue discussed online. Or people write to me when they find out about unauthorized copies of their work, especially when other people are profiting from their designs. The situation is frustrating and nearly impossible to stop – once it is out of control.
I find some jewellery items are hard to tag or mark with my studio name, especially necklaces. Years ago I had some very nice sterling silver tags made. They cost a fortune so it was always a debate for me as to what necklace was worth adding a $2 sterling tag. So most of my work has gone out the door without any branding and I still have a pile of tags on my bench. Recently I found an alternative to my sterling tags. Impress Art sells base metal tags that you can stamp and they now make custom stamps. Continue reading…
Every winter many artists in my area fall into a creative funk. The days are short so those with seasonal affective disorder feel the lack of sun first. Then there are those who feel “let down” after the hustle of shows and sales before the winter holidays. Some artists have pushed so hard to create lines and new work and once the shows are over, they are depleted. Starting over is sometimes hard. Others just fall into a creative funk seasonally.
Every February I’d beat myself up for not creating. Spring shows would be coming up and I’d look at empty shelves with no desire to make. One year I was talking to a local potter and he said he once charted his funky moods and found that if he didn’t give into them, he was even less productive. So when they came, he did what he felt like doing–if it was reading–he read. If it was the desire to take a dance class–he did. Eventually he learned that by giving into these “unproductive times” he was ultimately more productive. I think of him every February and wonder what crazy creative thing he is giving into and then I wonder why I’m fighting my own creative funk. This year I feel very, very far from my studio. I’m working a regular teaching gig. A painting teacher at the school invited me to sit in on his class…so I’ve dug out my paint brushes. I haven’t taken a painting class since 1993. It’s good. I’m starting to dream of colour combinations and to look at light and clouds creatively and not just with the sigh of an artist in a funk. Continue reading…
Learning to solder successfully almost every time (nobody’s perfect) is really a matter of learning to control the heat and position of the flame. I’m not an expert by any means. I solder earring posts, jump rings that connect a pendant or clasp to a chain, and jump rings to the work piece itself. I use solder to close bezels and to solder the bezel to a backing plate. I also solder decorative metal clay elements to bezel settings. My work is relatively small in scale, but when I want to solder a larger project, I know a couple of techniques that can help get the job done. And most of all I know my limits. There are just some things that can’t be done with the torch and the skill set I have. (Image: Fabulous finished piece by Lora Hart. “Purple Chalcedony Necklace”)
Sheet or wire solder looks like any other metal sheet or wire. Be sure to mark it when you take it out of the package. (or just use paste solder like I do)
Solder balls up
Gravity sometimes allows the solder ball to fall out of position
Flux boils (which can also cause solder to move out of position)
Solder flows towards heat
Solder will not jump a gap
Solder can fill a small gap
Solder will sink into porous metal clay (and potentially lose the connection)
Solder will not flow on a ‘dirty’ surface (clean metal/solder with fine sandpaper or a wire brush)
THE JOYS OF SOLDERITE BOARD
Solderite is soft enough that you can push T pins in to support work, push elements into the board to support them, and actually dig shallow grooves to ‘bury’ elements that will allow the work piece to lay flat – a hidden bail or brooch findings for instance.
WHAT’S A ‘HEAT SINK’?
A heat ‘sink’ (also called a heat ‘shield’) is a heavier piece of metal used to draw the heat towards it as opposed to a smaller piece that might be in danger of melting. The third hand tweezer acts as a heat sink to protect a thin and delicate earring post when soldering it to the decorative earring piece.
You might use the ‘sink’ as a ‘shield’ when soldering the last jump ring on a chain. Position the shield/tweezers below the last jump ring and it will prevent the previously joined rings from melting.
In order for any solder join to be successful, the two pieces/sides/elements must fit tightly together. This means that you might need to file or otherwise alter the shapes of the elements. Always remember to join flat to flat or convex to concave (this is a helpful tip when joining metal clay parts too).
When closing a jump ring, the wire may be round, but the cut ends should be perfectly flat to fit together properly.
When joining a round jump ring to a flat back of a pendant, file a flat area on the jump ring to create a tight fit.
When joining two jump rings to form a figure 8, file flats on each and solder those areas together.
There may also be times when you want to use a drill or bur to form a divot to hold a spherical shape.
ABOUT JUMP RINGS
Jump rings must be completely closed, with the ends of the wire flush and fitting tightly together in order for the solder to flow from one side of the wire to the other. Even an opening the thickness of a human hair will prevent the join.
Using two sets of flat nosed pliers on either side of the opening, twist and wiggle the jump ring together until you think it’s closed. Now hold the jump ring up to the light to make sure there isn’t even a sliver of light shining through the join.
Now that you’ve closed the jump ring so well it might be difficult to see where the seam is by the time you position it on the soldering board. I like to use black Sharpie to mark each side of the join before closing the ring, so I know where to place the solder and where to aim the flame. The marker will burn away by the time the solder flows.
One of the most important aspects of soldering to get comfortable with is knowing how to set up the objects you want to solder so that their position works for you.
Gravity will encourage a ball of solder to drop away from the join when possible, so I try to position ‘things’ as close to the soldering block as I can.
If you’re making a chain, and want to solder a number of jump rings closed, just lay them flat on the soldering block with the seams facing you and place the solder inside the ring, behind the seam. This way you’re getting two of the fun facts to work on your behalf. There’s nowhere for the solder to drop, and the heat of the flame is pulling solder through the seam in the jump ring to make a very secure join.
CHAIN MAKING TIP: Only solder half the jump rings closed. Then join two closed rings with one open ring (and solder it) to make segments of 3. Join those segments with more open jump rings and solder to complete the chain.
When working with a piece that already has one or more elements soldered to the back side (like a hidden bail or brooch findings) excavate a small cavity in the Solderite board to hold those elements so the piece can lay flat.
If you’re putting a jump ring through the hole in a work-piece to act as a bail, the work-piece is probably going to be more secure laying flat on the soldering board, which means that the jump ring will be in a vertical position. Use tweezers to position the seam of the jump ring as close to the soldering board as possible. This way if the solder balls up and falls, it may fall near the seam and still be in the correct position. Alternately, dig a thin groove just big enough to hold the jump ring upright, positioning the join at the surface of the board.
If you’re connecting the work-piece to chain, try to protect the chain from the heat (and potential meltage) by laying it under the work-piece (which will act as a heat sink) and away from the heat.
You can also lay a sopping wet paper towel over items you don’t want to overheat as you solder. The towel will dry before the edges start to char, and that will give you a bit longer to work on your project.
Use props like coins, T-pins, nests of binding wire, sheets of metal (I use small squares of titanium which cannot be soldered) to position elements and tools into a more beneficial arrangement. I sometimes place my third hand on a box lid or book to raise it into a better position.
WORKING WITH THE FLAME
When connecting a small element to a larger element (a jump ring directly to a workpiece or an earring post to the earring element) direct the heat onto the larger piece only! The heat will eventually travel from the larger item to the smaller one. When the flux starts to burn off and you see the solder begin to melt, simply flick the flame onto the thinner element to complete the connection.
Often I’m connecting jump rings or a clasp to chain, which are all thin, fragile items and prone to rapid melting. In that case I tend to ‘sneak up’ on the solder join by positioning the flame on the corner of the board, or an inch or so in front of the join. The residual heat of the flame will heat the elements enough that the solder begins to flow and ball up. When that happens I aim the flame directly in front of the solder area to complete the join. Sometimes I make a motion that I call ‘hit and run’, whereby I aim the flame on the join and quickly flick it away, then back on the join, then away. In effect I’m heating and cooling and heating and cooling so that I manage to avoid overheating and melting the item.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE When using sheet or wire solder and flux
Liquid flux will start to boil, then go white and a little chalky, then turn glassy when the solder is about to flow. The solder will pull itself into a ball, then start to melt by forming a blob (don’t pull the flame away yet), and it will finally flow, looking like a silver stream.
If using paste flux – the liquid in the paste will start to heat, may steam and boil (potentially throwing the solder chips out of position), then get chalky and glassy like the liquid flux. The rest of the appearance is the same.
Paste solder has the flux built in, so no need to add more unless you’re unsoldering or you just want to protect the work-piece from oxidation (remember fine silver doesn’t oxidize). Paste solder will look a little ‘crispy’, will smoke as the flux evaporates, balls up, starts to melt into a blob, then flows completely.
When the solder flows onto a metal clay item, remove the flame almost immediately. One cannot ‘draw’ the solder to follow the heat when soldering to metal clay.
Because metal clay is more porous than milled metal, it is suggested that makers burnish the solder site well to close the surface pores in hopes that the solder will not sink into the body of the workpiece. I almost never do this and have never had a piece come apart.
HOW MUCH SOLDER
Use the right amount of solder for the job you want it to do.
Closing a jump ring requires a ball of solder only about the size of a poppy seed (think of a bagel)
Using more doesn’t make a better connection. It just makes a sloppy looking join that you’ll want to file and sand into a prettier profile
When soldering a jump ring to the top of a ‘medallion’, using a bit too much solder will allow the excess to fill gaps on either side of the join, creating a ‘fillet’ or corbel shaped support (think of molding in a house), strengthening the join.
Sometimes a piece will shift just as the solder flows, or you may decide you made a mistake adding an element, and would like to disconnect the connection you just made. In this case, position the lighter part in a third hand elevated above the soldering block (the bezel wire in the example we’ve been using). Apply flux to the solder join and heat the heavier piece until the solder re flows and the larger item falls off. Use a titanium pick to poke at the item if it’s not easily dislodged.
Note: the two pieces will separate, but the solder will remain until you sand/file it away.
Allow a fresh solder join sit still for a couple of seconds, don’t move the third hands or other props you may have used. It takes a little while for the solder to cool and ‘set’. I’ve lost a few connections by moving the third hand too soon and pulling the two pieces out of position too quickly.
SOLDERING A LARGE PROJECT WITH A SMALL TORCH
To solder larger items, one would think you would need a torch capable of putting out a larger flame. But the issue is really the amount of heat that is surrounding the item.
Use kiln bricks to build a 3-sided ‘lean-to’ shaped structure to house the soldering board and the item to be soldered. Think of the three-way mirror in a dressing room. Add a ‘roof’ if you have the materials. This will create a kiln-like atmospheres that will hold the heat in a contained area, instead of allowing it to fill the larger room you’re most likely working in.
If you own an Ultra-Lite or other small ‘trinket’ kiln, place the work-piece on it to heat, then use your torch to complete the soldering job. The small kiln will maintain the heat in the entire work-piece, so you’ll only have to concentrate on the solder join.
LORA HART was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to historic Richmond, Virginia in 2012. Lora is the Artistic Advisor and one of twenty Senior Instructors for PMC Connection. A metal clay artist inspired by historic imagery, Lora’s work has been featured in books, magazines, and calendars and her jewels are sold in galleries and online. As a designer, educator, and creativity coach, her passion for the art and business of jewelry making has taken her across the United States to help other makers explore their own passions, develop their craft and expand their skills. www.lorahart.com @lorahart
Metal clay is a marvelous material. It’s been around for about 20 years and we’re still discovering new ways of working with it. It’s so good that sometimes artists think it’s all they need to use when creating and finishing their designs. Sometimes that may be true, but I learned a long time ago that it’s smart to use the tool that’s best for the job at hand. In the jewelry world, that may mean that a solder join is more durable than one made with clay, or that a attaching sterling earring post would be stronger and more appropriate than just firing a piece of fine silver wire in place.Soldering isn’t difficult. It’s like anything else that has a learning curve, you need to practice, make mistakes, have successes, devise your way of doing things, and then do it all again – as many times as is necessary. “Practice Makes Proficient” is a phrase I like to repeat, not only to my students but to myself as well.In terms of the longevity of your work, joins are usually the first to fail. Un-soldered jump rings actually move a bit as they are worn, so that the combination of friction and movement may cause them to open so the jewelry piece will be lost. Fine silver used as earring wire is very soft and will deform and potentially break if bent and straightened too many times (this is called ‘metal fatigue’). Sterling wire fired higher than about 1250ºF becomes brittle and breaks. Learning how to solder earring posts to the back of a stud, or closing the jump rings that attach a chain to the pendant or clasp will be invaluable. In no time at all you’ll move on to soldering a bezel closed, and then soldering that bezel to a backing plate. All of which can be accomplished with a butane torch (depending on how large you’re working). This article will describe the basic tenets of soldering and some processes that I’ve developed which I hope will help your learning curve to straighten out a bit.
NOTE: All safety precautions presume that soldering is intermittent and of short duration. If you solder more than a few minutes at a time, you’ll need to do more research into proper safety and health guidelines.
There are basically two kinds of solder
Soft solder flows at temperatures under 850ºF. An alloy primarily made of copper, tin and lead, soft solder is best left to plumbing, circuit boards, and stained glass windows. Soft solders are not much better than epoxy because they only join the very surface of the material. I even found one article online that proudly described it as “metal glue”! In jewelry making, the color and consistency is also an issue. The lava-like flow of polished soft solder is unattractive and will never be a good color match to silver.
Hard solders flow at temperatures above 1200ºF. The specific alloy of silver solder varies between manufacturers, but is primarily a combination of silver and zinc. The ‘harder’ the solder, the more silver it contains, the better the color match. Hard solders work by capillary action, which means that little ‘roots’ flow into the ‘arteries’ in metal that are formed as it is heated. When the metal sections cool, the solder has created an internal bond and two sections of metal become one.
Hard solders come in their own hardness continuum. Extra easy flows at around 1200ºF, easy flows at 1325ºF, medium at 1360ºF and hard flows at 1450ºF. There’s also something called IT solder that flows at 1490º and is primarily used in enameling (enamel flows between 1300ºF and 1450ºF)
The liquidus (the temperature when solid metals become liquid) of fine silver is 1760ºF. Sterling’s is 1640ºF. But each metal starts to melt much earlier, and the core structure is compromised sooner than you might expect. Some metal clay artists have been thought to successfully fire sterling wire in place because it “still looks like wire” But the inner crystalline structure has started to change, has been weakened, and makers find that their sterling wire element snaps sooner or later. This happened to me once upon a long time ago, when a charm bracelet with sterling, fired-in-place, jump ring elements starting dropping all it’s baubles.
The general rule is that you want to use the hardest solder you can, depending how many soldering operations are going to be done on a single item. So for instance (in traditional metalsmithing) if you were going to solder a bezel to a backing piece, and attach a bail, you’re performing 3 operations. Use hard to close the bezel, medium to solder the bezel to the backing plate, and attach the bail with easy. But what if you also wanted to set a pearl on a peg, or attach pin findings to the back of the piece? You’re out of solder variations, right?
In reality, solder gets a little bit harder each time it is flowed. So you can safely use each level of hard solder at least three times (and sometimes more) before you need to move to the next level. I’d probably just use medium solder for every join in my previous example. You may never have to use hard solder on a project with only 4 solder joins. But you might WANT to. Why? Because hard solder has more silver in it and is a better color match. If you’re using patina, it may not be an issue. If there’s a lot of texture in the piece, it’s probably not an issue either. But hard solder also creates the best solder join possible.
There are also a variety of solder types/shapes you can use.
Metal solder is sold as wire, sheet, and pre-cut pallions. Note: Metal solder looks like…metal! Be sure to mark it with Sharpie to differentiate it from sheet metal, and mark each grade to tell them apart. Something like black for hard, red for medium, and green for easy. Bend the ends of wire solder to mark them. One bend for easy, two bends for medium, three bends for hard.
I prefer paste solder, which is powdered solder blended with flux. Paste solder also comes in easy, medium, and hard. Loaded into a syringe (that’s familiar!), it’s designed to be used with a tiny, metal, syringe tip. Instead of the tip, I just extrude from the syringe, and pick up a small amount of paste solder with a toothpick and place where I need it. Remember to mark paste solder as well! I don’t use hard very often at all, so I don’t do anything but write “hard” with a black Sharpie on the label. I use yellow tape for medium, and masking tape with pink Sharpie for easy. I write the words ‘medium’ and ‘easy’, but still like to color code. You can use whatever markers you have handy, but be consistent throughout your career.
To use solder you also need to use something called flux. Flux is primarily used to keep metal from oxidizing during the soldering process. There are many types of flux, that we don’t have time to get into in this article – but a few popular paste flux’s are “Handy”, “Batterns”, or “Dandix”. Popular liquid flux’s are “Pripps” and “Cupronil”. One of the reasons why soldering on fine silver is so much easier – no oxidation! But you still need flux because the solder can oxidize too. So if you’re using metal solder, brush a little bit of flux at the join and on the actual solder pieces. If you’re using paste solder – it’s built in! No need for additional flux.
Pickle is used for two reasons – to remove oxidation, and to remove excess flux. If you’ve only soldered an earring post, or closed a jump ring – that amount of oxidation can be sanded away. No need for pickle in my opinion. But if you also have glassy, hardened flux – pickling it is much easier than trying to grind, sand, or otherwise file it away. If you’re soldering to fine silver – the base piece will have no oxidation. If you’re soldering to sterling silver, copper or bronze clay, chances are good that you can just use your regular methods of finishing. But if you have stubborn oxidation that isn’t coming off easily you’ll need to pickle.
There are a variety of ‘professional’, chemical, pickle solutions you can buy like PH Down from the pool supply or Sparex from a jewelry supply. I choose not to store chemicals in my studio, so I use one of a number of natural, food grade options instead. Are they as good? Depends on what you mean by good. Do they do the job? Yes. Do they work as fast? No. Will they work better if heated? Often, yes.
Alum (my current favorite) is available in the spice aisle of the grocery store and is used to make pickles from cucumber!
Citric Acid is another cooking additive often used in middle-eastern cooking.
Vinegar and salt is another food grade solution that will dissolve oxidation.
All of these work faster when heated (Beware! Hot vinegar smells horrendous). Dissolve citric acid or alum in water until no more will dissolve. I usually heat a small bowl of water in the microwave with the alum in it, then carry that back to my bench and drop in the metal. You can keep it warm by setting the bowl of hot pickle on your coffee cup warmer. You might also want to invest in a mini crock-pot.
Because metal clay is porous, the pickle (and patina solutions) may get drawn into the body of the metal. To neutralize it, boil in baking soda and water. (I just soak mine in warm water and baking soda – I don’t boil it, but that’s advice I’ve heard before).
Be sure to use either copper or bamboo tweezers to remove work from pickle that you want to use again. Steel will contaminate it and next time you drop in a piece of silver, you’ll take out a copper coated silver piece.
THE SOLDERING STATION
Setting up your first soldering station doesn’t need to be time consuming or expensive.
You already have a fire-proof surface in your home! Know what it is? Your stove of course. Hopefully, your stove has a hood that will vent any smoke and fumes to the outside of the house. If it just blows smoke around instead, don’t use it. Just make sure all the windows are open and you’re wearing a mask. Other types of fire-proof surfaces might be a cookie sheet, ceramic tile, fire bricks, cement board or even a pizza stone.
Ventilation is very important. Breathing fumes of any kind is not healthy – even the fumes from cooking steak on a grill. As stated above, if your stove hood has a fume extractor, you can use that. Open windows may be adequate, but are better if you can insert a box fan to draw fumes outside. If you aren’t able to use either of these methods, you can buy a small, tabletop fume extractor for around $60.00.
Don’t solder directly on the fire-proof surface we were talking about. You also want a soldering board. There are many different kinds of soldering surfaces which have different attributes that aid the soldering process in different ways, but I’m only going talk about a few.
My favorite is a soft Solderite board. Solderite is soft enough that you can stick T-pins into it to hold your work, dig small indentations to accommodate something like a bail so the work lays flat, and it doesn’t fall apart or crack with wear like some fiber firing boards do. (I also use a Solderite board inside the kiln)
Honeycomb is a hard, ceramic material covered with little holes. The holes help to dispel heat, but are also helpful when stabilizing work with T-pins. I’ve only used these in a class long ago, so have no real opinion on them.
Charcoal reflects heat the best, eats up the oxygen and provides a “reducing’ atmosphere for melting metal, granulation, and soldering. I don’t like these because they’re dirty (or maybe they just make my fingers dirty), and break with use. And I just don’t do the kind of work where a charcoal block would come in handy.
My soldering station consists of my Ikea table, a cookie sheet, on top of which I have a rotating pumice pan (I like the Lazy Susan aspect of the pan, and I bought it years ago because I thought it ‘looked professional’), and a couple of Solderite boards that I can stack if I need to for some reason. I also have a table-top fume extractor from Rio (which is great when I remember to turn it on).
I like to sit as I solder, other people prefer to stand. The kind of table you’ll use is dependant on your position. Try both ways to see which you prefer.
When soldering silver the entire piece needs to be up to temperature in order for the solder to flow. You can’t ‘heat the north’ and then try to ‘heat the south’. So you will be limited in size and weight depending on what you’re trying to solder and what torch you’re using. The beauty of doing simple soldering is that you don’t need an expensive, ‘professional’ torch. Any torch you can buy at the hardware store will do the job perfectly.
Butane which burns at around 2500ºF is not only handy for torch firing metal clay, it’s perfectly serviceable when soldering smallish metal elements. The largest item I have soldered without using any other kind of aid was about 2” x 2”. Butane gas canisters can be more expensive to buy than propane or MAPP, especially at the hardware store, and I prefer to buy larger canisters online than I have been able to find at a ‘brick and mortar’ store. ‘Triple Filtered” butane seems to burn cleaner and last longer. I always make sure the torch is full every time I use it. Filtered Butane
Propane/atmosphere (air) burns hotter at about 3596ºF and the disposable canisters are easy to find at any hardware or camping store. The olive green camping canisters are shorter and larger around and seemed more physically stable to me than the taller, narrower, blue ones from the hardware store. Same gas, similar cost – just a different profile.
MAPP (in a yellow canister) is actually a blend of propane plus propylene and burns the hottest at around 3650ºF.
Secure the tall, narrow, bottles of propane or MAPP gas to your table leg with a bungee cord so it doesn’t fall over.
There are any number of butane torch types. My preferences are the Max Flame for a full, bushy flame to solder larger projects and the Blazer GB2001 for a sharper, pointy flame that’s perfect when soldering jump rings and smaller projects.
I suggest a flexible shaft torch head for both MAPP and Propane. If you get a torch that connects directly to the threaded opening of the canisters – you’ll be holding the canister as you solder, which (for me) is awkward and causes hand/arm strain over longer periods. Unfortunately the exact Bernzomatic torch I started with has been discontinued but the Bernzomatic BZ8250HT looks like a good replacement and I’ve heard great things about the EZ/Orca torch.
When you’re ready to switch to a gas/oxygen torch (as opposed to the gas/air versions I’m referencing in this article), you’ll be able to look into even more torch options.
This video describes the process of setting up and using the EZ torch by Janet Alexander. “It is a nice compact torch that attaches to a small propane canister, like you use for a camping stove. The fuel lasts for quite a long time using it with this torch. Since I travel teaching metal smithing I use this torch for my classes. I can pack it in my checked luggage and then after landing buy my fuel. This torch is good for silver soldering, sintering metal clay, torch firing enamel, and melting small amounts of non-ferrous metals for casting.”
Also a good video by Kate Richbourg.
Third Hand – This gadget has a heavy base (so it won’t tip over) and a cross lock tweezer connected by ball bearings so you can position it in many ways. The tweezer can hold small items like earring posts, (which I love because my own hand tends to be unsteady and unable to hold a connection). I have two third hands. Couldn’t live without them.
Enameling trivet to hold work up in case I need to position the flame of the torch underneath the item. I don’t like the large soldering tripods. Too much metal, and too much of a heat sink for what I do. I just place the trivet on my Solderite board when I need to use it.
Titanium picks usually come in packs of three. Solder doesn’t stick to titanium so you can use it to pick up a tiny ball of solder and place it just so, or move a pallion back into place if boiling flux disturbed it, or just push ‘this thing’ closer to ‘that thing’.
Binding wire is another fabulous helper to stabilize and hold two or more parts together during the soldering process. You can buy powder coated steel wire at the hardware store to use as binding wire. First use sandpaper to sand all the powder coating off.
T-pins, coins, small sheets of titanium and other props all come in handy when trying to find the best way to position your work to make soldering easier.
Water based ‘Liquid Paper’ or jeweler’s yellow ochre can be used to stop the flow of previously soldered joins to prevent them unintentionally re-opening.
If you don’t have access to good ventilation in your soldering area, you might want to invest in a Fume Extractor. The inexpensive version sucks the smoke (from burning solder) in and sends it through a charcoal filter.
Water! Always have water nearby in case you get burned (don’t do that) or to quench your hot work. I use a ball jar, so I can lock it down when I’m not using it. Ask me how many bowls of water I’ve spilled in my career…
I keep real vanilla extract in my studio to put on slight burns. After running cool water over the burn, I just spread some extract on the area and let it soak in. The next day there are never blisters, and it doesn’t hurt!
**NOTE** I was taught never to quench a piece of red hot metal for fear that it may shatter like shrapnel or fling droplets of boiling water onto my body. It just takes a few seconds for the color to fade – indicating that the metal has cooled to an appropriate temperature.
Next week we’ll share more soldering project tips and examples by Lora! Stay tuned.
LORA HART was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and moved to historic Richmond, Virginia in 2012. Lora is the Artistic Advisor and one of twenty Senior Instructors for PMC Connection. A metal clay artist inspired by historic imagery, Lora’s work has been featured in books, magazines, and calendars and her jewels are sold in galleries and online. As a designer, educator, and creativity coach, her passion for the art and business of jewelry making has taken her across the United States to help other makers explore their own passions, develop their craft and expand their skills.
I’ve known Jeannette Froese LeBlanc for a number of years, ever since she launched the fabulous Metal Clay Artist Magazine. The Magazine was a great success but sadly closed after five years. (Digital copies are still available.) I still miss it but Jeannette is now running the awesome Creative Fire website. I wrote artist profiles for the magazine and now I’m writing them for Creative Fire. It’s about time I did a profile on her!
(Jeannette’s Necklace on the last cover of Metal Clay Artist Magazine–a promise she kept to her mother to someday put her own work on the cover.)
Given her many talents and the multiple pies she has her fingers in, I asked Jeannette what she considers to be her ‘job title’. “I’d like to say artist, but I think it’s more of a hyphenated job title…artist-writer-editor-mother-teacher.” See what I mean? It’s amazing that although I’ve known Jeannette for a long time, it wasn’t until I interviewed her for this profile that I found out things about her that I didn’t know. Continue reading…