Basic silversmithing…would you like to see how it’s done?
Come, I’ll show you then.
This Saturday I took the best course from a great teacher: Walt. The course was very small, only five students, so loads of personal help. The object of the course was work with sterling silver, to learn to cut, solder, shape and polish rings and to solder holders for bezel stones onto those rings, to fit the stones and then to actually make an odd shaped holder for an odd shaped stone from scratch.
There don’t seem to be a lot of tools involved, just some basic tools and, if you’ve ever done anything like stained glass or even used a kitchen torch on your creme brulee, then you’ll be able to handle silversmithing, but I’d advise to take a course, (if you’re in the Lower Mainland, I’d really recommend Walt’s course for personal assistance, friendliness, camaraderie and general good time.)
Silver seems to come in these lengths, like wire. Some are plain and some are patterned. Some are flat and some are rounded. Chose the one you like. I chose a plain one for my first ring, but later found out that the patterned ones were infinitely easier to bend.
To make a ring, first twist the wire around a tool called a mandrel. It is a long metal ring form which tapers smaller and has ring sizes printed on it.
Then the piece of silver, which will be your ring, is cut from the length using a small jeweller’s saw. The saw needs to be fitted with a blade and the blade needs to be so tight that it sings a note when twinged. This is easy to do. It’s also easy to break the blade…as I found out almost right away…you don’t need to put pressure on the saw at all because the blade will simply cut thru the silver without much force. The rule of thumb is if you’d like a size 7 ring, cut the silver at about one size smaller, so at the size 6 for a size 7 ring, because you always end up cutting a larger piece because it’s impossible to shape it exactly at the size you want. Below a size 5 ring subtract only 1/2 a size instead of a whole size. (Trust me, my first ring, which should have fit my middle finger is too big for my thumb!)
What you have now is a round of silver with crooked ends. Use parallel pliers and bend the ends apart. Use a fine file…we used #4 and #2 files…to file the ends so that they meet perfectly in the middle.
This is best done in this kind of a holder because it’s not easy to hold the silver in your hand while filing.
When the ends are smooth and even, bend the ring so that the ends overlap and gently bring them back together keeping a slight tension on them, as though they want to be overlapped but are forced up against each other.
Now place your ring on a fireproof brick and get ready to solder.
Solder seems to come in four wires. They range from hard to extra easy. Walt advised that you cut yourself a small length but stick a tape on it immediately identifying the wire because it will be impossible to tell the wires apart without the label.
The rule is that you start with the hard wire but if you want to add anything else on your ring, like a bezel and a gem, then the next soldering will be with the medium and then the easy and finally the extra easy.
Now comes the fun stuff…the soldering. drip a drop of flux on the joint and also a little all along the length of the ring. Carefully turn on the torch and heat the ring up. Here is my fellow student getting the ring to the correct rosy gold temperature. When your ring is so rosy, focus the torch on the seam and touch the solder wire to the inside of the seam and the heat will draw it thru to the outside.
Then plunge your ring into cold water using small pliers to pick it off the brick, and put it into a warm “pickle” in a crock pot. That’s a very weak acidic solution and cleans the ring. After fifteen minutes, lift the ring out, rinse and fit it back on the ring mandrel. Hit it sharply with the rawhide hammer until the ring is round and sits nicely on the mandrel. Do not hit it in a downward motion because the silver will stretch and your ring might be too big. Now you have a lovely round ring and you’re ready to polish. Polishing can be done with your dremel tool and some polishing wax.
Here are the first few rings I made. The first ring took me an hour! But the subsequent rings took me much less time.
The next type of ring I made was a round band with a bezel and a stone set in it.
The ring started out the same way for the band.
When the band was finished and pickled, there was no need to polish it. I chose the joint to solder the stone to and so filed a smooth, flat surface there for the bezel to fit.
There is a nifty tool for holding the band upside down on the bezel on the brick to solder the two together, but mostly the tool heats up and gets in the way. If the flat part is truly flat it balances on the bezel easily.
So now it is important to remember that the band was soldered with the hard wire and so the bezel needs to be soldered with the medium wire.
The the same process of pickling and polishing has to be done before the stone is fitted into the bezel and a burnishing tool is used to gently bend the sides over the stone to keep the stone in place.
And that’s how I made these!
I used iron pyrite and a rose quartz for my stones. I made some tiny rings for Chloe’s tiny fingers, I made us matching rings, I made pinky rings, stacking rings…well, I had so much fun. 😀 I can’t wait to buy some supplies and try again. 😀
And I absolutely plan to be a repeat offender in Walt’s class at least one more time this spring.