Rings are my favorite piece of jewelry to collect, wear, and make. Fortunately, the ring design possibilities are endless when you combine sterling silver wire with texturing tools such as hammers and files. (I prefer standard 8-gauge half-round, but you could use 6- to 10-gauge round, half-round, flat, or square wire as well.) Branch out to alternative metals such as copper, and you've multiplied your ring jewelry-making options even further. And then there are patinas you can add with products such as liver of sulfur. . . . endless! Here's how to make simple textured sterling silver stack rings.
3-4" piece of narrow paper, scissors
8-gauge half-round sterling silver wire
jeweler's saw, 4/0 saw blades
medium tooth (#2) file
torch setup with firing brick
medium solder, solder pick
flux and brush
Burlife or Gemlube
pot of hot pickle and tongs or tweezers
bowl of water
rawhide mallet, steel ring mandrel
texturing tools: hammer(s), file(s), etc.
1. Measure and Cut: Wrap the slip of paper around the lucky finger and mark where the end overlaps. Use this as a guide to mark the length on your wire. Mark off as many as you'd like to cut.
2. Using the jeweler's saw strung with a lubricated 4/0 saw blade, saw on the marks using a smooth, fluid sawing motion. Don't use wire cutters, because they'll pinch the ends into points instead of cutting them evenly and straight; then you'll have to file more, wasting metal.
3. File and Pre-form: File the ends flawlessly even so they will match up perfectly and your ring(s) will be seamless. Then file off a tiny bit of the flat, interior side of the wire as shown.
4. Use your fingers and flat-nose pliers to curve the wire into an oval ring. Don't bother with a mandrel and don't worry about the shape being perfectly round or even, but do be sure that the ends meet up perfectly (in a butt joint). There should be absolutely no light passing between the two ends. Making the joint side a little flat will help the ends meet perfectly. Note: If you intend to keep your ring polished rather than add texture, use coated pliers or take care not to scratch or mar the wire.
5. Try on the ring to make sure it fits. If it's too large, file and test again; if it's too small, start deciding who you'll give it to!
6. Pickle: Drop the ring(s) into hot pickle to clean it for a couple of minutes. Sand the end of your solder wire to make sure it's clean, too; then snip off a small (about 1mm) piece for each ring and use tweezers or a solder pick (not fingers) to place the solder on your firing brick. Lift out the ring(s) with copper tongs, rinse, and dry. Avoid touching with your fingers.
7. Flux: Holding the ring(s) in tweezers, paint them one at a time with flux and place each one on your firing brick so that each seam/joint is facing you and directly on a piece of solder wire. Note: If you're making multiple rings all at once–yay you!–but only heat/solder one at a time.
8. Solder: Fire up your torch with a quiet (nonhissing) reducing flame. Keeping the flame moving and with the blue cone about 1/4" from the surface, heat the brick around the ring, from back (away from the solder bit) to the front (near the solder), heating it gradually. Slowly move closer to the ring, passing over it more frequently as you go.
9. Watch for the flux to bubble and turn white; that tells you you're at about 400°F. Heat your ring more directly now, still moving the flame but staying on the piece, keeping the blue cone about 1/4" away from the surface. Pass near the solder more frequently now and watch closely!
10. Look for the flux to turn clear and glassy. Then you know you're at 1,100°F and your solder is melting. It will soon flow. When it does, you'll see a bright silver line appear, and the solder will seem to slide up into the seam/joint, almost instantly. Remove the flame immediately.
11. Use tweezers to move the HOT ring to the cup of water; tiptoe it in slowly to quench it before dropping it in the pickle pot. Repeat Steps 4 through 10 to solder your other rings.
12. After all your rings have been soldered, quenched, and bathed in the pickle for at least a few minutes, pull them out with copper tongs, rinse, and dry them. Test the joints and resolder if necessary. If your rings are secure, it's time to round them.
13. Form: Drop one ring at a time onto a steel ring mandrel and hammer it repeatedly with the rawhide mallet. A little bit of magic happens here; the ring spins a bit on the mandrel as you hammer it, and soon you will have hammered all the way around and it has become round. Be careful not to hammer downward (from the smaller end toward larger end of the mandrel) or you'll stretch your ring.
14. Texture: I used a planishing hammer to add some texture to one of my rings and filed one in two directions with a checkering file to create a Florentine finish. I decided to leave the third ring smooth and shiny. Add whatever texture(s) you like or even mix textures on one ring. Add patina and darken the metal with liver of sulfur if you like.
15. Finish, polish, and buff: Use a Dremel, rotary tool of your choice, and/or buffing wheel to polish and buff your rings as desired.
Now you've got the basics down for making a collection of stack rings with simple silversmithing techniques like soldering, sawing, filing, and texturing. For more fun and easy silver jewelry-making projects, as well as tons of information about artisan jewelry and jewelers, new and favorite jewelry-making tools, gemstone and lapidary information, and industry news, subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.
Thanks to Lexi Erickson for teaching me this project and allowing me to share my experience at it with Jewelry Making Daily readers! Lexi wrote an entire soldering series that has been running in recent Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazines. She's a regular contributor to LJJA–which is another great reason to subscribe!