I started making jewelry full-time two years ago. I have always been an artist/maker of things…I love Native American beadwork, leather work, leather braiding, saddlery, chap making, …..the list goes on. I’ve tried my hand at many things, and will not stop now! But two years ago, we relocated for hubby’s job, and there were no job opportunities for me. Not one to sit around and twiddle my thumbs, I got busy creating! I picked up my beads, leather, and reclaimed copper wire (thanks dad) and things snowballed from there. I am now passionately in LOVE with metalsmithing/silversmithing! I never soldered a thing before two years ago, and now it’s all I can think about!! Soldering is so much fun, and will open so many new doors for you creatively!
I want to open this up for discussion because there are SO MANY people out there who are WAYYYYY more talented and experienced than myself!! People who we all can learn so much from. This is my little DISCLAIMER: This blog post is a culmination of my opinions, my experience, and written in the hopes of encouraging you to try something new! I do not in any way claim to be a professional on the subject.
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I will try and get back to you!
When I first began researching the process of soldering, I was very overwhelmed. It seemed that there were so many things you needed to purchase, so many wrong ways to proceed that I shied away from giving it a try for quite some time. I began my ‘torch’ journey with Argentium silver. My hubby brought me a great little torch from work – he figured if I didn’t like it, well, no harm done! Well, I still have that torch, haha!! (Ain’t nobody prying it from my hot little hands! 😉 Argentium silver is a breeze to work with – it fuses wonderfully, and was a great way for me to get my feet wet with using a torch, and practicing some fabricating. After a while, I became bored with my limitations…I was ready to jump headlong into soldering. I got some paste solder – syringe style – from Rio Grande, figuring, hey, paste may be messy, but it eliminates the flux step so it’s got to be a great way to start! And for me, yes, it was a great way to start. I love paste for smaller projects especially. A dab of paste, stick your embellishment on, heat to flow, done. Love it! I ended up springing for Rio’s cute little pickle pot, and some of their Rio Pickle, too,which works AWESOME!
My number one frustration and limitation now is the heat/size of my torch. Although it’s about the best butane torch, and is hotter than most, it is still not hot enough for larger projects. It works great for earrings, small pendants, bangles, small rings and bands. I’m ready to upgrade my torch to something with more heat!! I am still in the process of researching possible choices, so ‘Torch Options’ will be another blog title for another day!
I will tell you right now, if you are a beginner, start with a SMALL project. You will encounter less frustration, and be more successful right away, which will encourage you to continue practicing! 😉 Also, although many of us dislike the idea of practicing on silver, (I know, we would rather practice on copper) silver is much easier to solder. Copper is a heat sink, and if you’re just learning what your torch can and can’t handle, copper may be a challenge. If you do start with copper, start SMALL!!! 🙂 The one frustration most beginners have/encounter is that they didn’t get their piece hot enough. Don’t be shy with the torch, friends, your piece needs HEAT! 😉
I most frequently use 24 and 22 gauge sheet metal for my back plates/bases. These gauges work great for small pieces, and especially earrings – the lighter gauge keeps the earrings lightweight, which is always important.
I have a stash of a variety of bezel wire – I like the 26/28 gauge wire best, as it is easier to work with for most projects, but keeping a variety of styles (scalloped edge, serrated edge, etc), gauges, and heights on hand is recommended. You never know what size that next cab you fall in love with will be! 😉
Using a heat reflective base is so very important. I love my soft charcoal blocks personally, but everyone has their preference. A charcoal block is a cost effective way to begin, and you can branch out as you feel more comfortable. I use a charcoal block as my base, then set up a charcoal block at the back and sides to help reflect heat back at the project. If I’m working on a very small piece, the back and side blocks are not necessary.
Soldering a project:
I love paste solder for this – I set up my entire piece using paste solder. I will apply the paste around the bezel, add the embellishments, etc, all at one time, on my charcoal block. When everything is where I want it, I will apply heat gradually, over the entire piece, then increase temperature/flame to flow the solder. This process works for small projects. Larger projects take more steps and different hardness of solders. If you have a multiple step project, start with hard or medium solder, then work your way up to easy. This prevents the first pieces that you soldered from re flowing and falling off of your project! Due to my torch limitations, I limit the size and steps of my projects.
When you see the solder turn liquid and flow, remove the heat. Quench, pickle, neutralize.
I use a titanium solder pick to direct solder flow on my more difficult and stubborn pieces. I heat up the pick at the same time I am heating up my project. Then I use the pick (while in the flame) to push down a bezel, or other bit that I’m trying to get soldered on. The titanium gets super hot, and solder flows towards heat….so, it will flow towards the place you add more heat to, i.e. where I put the pick.
I primarily shop www.riogrande.com. I find that their quality and customer service are exceptional. I enjoy their huge variety of supplies, and can find almost everything I need – one stop shop.
I frequent www.magpiegemstones.com for most of my gemstones, although I’ve been lucky to find several people through facebook who practice lapidary and offer quality, unique cabs!
Well, this has been a ginormous and long post! I hope I haven’t overwhelmed or confused you…my thoughts are more organized in my head, but they don’t translate well to paper. Yikes! Anyhow, Leave me some feedback here, if you have a moment! If you’re trying to get set up for soldering, and have any questions, I would love to help if I can!!
Stay creative, be inspired,
~Heidi @ Azteca Designs Boutique