had so many great metalsmithing tips from Tom and Kay Benham a few weeks ago, I
had to save some to share later. Here are three great soldering and metalworking tips and a clever
tutorial for selecting and sorting silver casting grain to use as decorative silver
balled accents, like granulation.
Charcoal Soldering Blocks: You
probably know that soldering and fusing on a charcoal block generates a
reducing atmosphere that diminishes silver oxidation and produces stronger
soldered joints. However, charcoal blocks deteriorate rapidly, so that we are
often left with unusable small chunks of charcoal--plus they're expensive to
replace. One solution is rubbing the broken charcoal pieces into the surface of
a white firebrick, thus creating the desired reducing atmosphere for soldering.
Gravers and Other Small Tools: Oil of
wintergreen is an excellent lubricant when cutting with a graver. A very
convenient dispenser for the oil can be made from a small empty mint or lozenge
tin. Simply drill a 1⁄4" to 3⁄8" hole in the center of the lid. Place
a cotton ball in the tin, saturate it with oil of wintergreen, and replace the
lid. Dip your graver tip into the cotton ball through the hole in the tin often
while cutting. When not in use, cover the hole in the lid with masking tape.
Caution: Wash your hands often and don't rub your eyes.
3. Soldering Copper
with Minimal Oxidation: We advise
using borax paste flux. You never want
to put the tip of your flame directly on the solder as it will cause the solder
to oxidize immediately before the metal has been heated to the proper soldering
temperature. Watch the flux to see when it becomes glassy and continue to heat until
you see the solder begin to flow. Remove the torch as soon as the solder has
flowed completely along the joint. Remember, the torch does not melt the solder;
the torch heats the metal, which in turn causes the solder flow.
How to Select and Use Silver Casting Grains as Jewelry
By Tom and Kay Benham, Contributing
Editors, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist
We used to make individual sterling
silver beads for adorning our jewelry, until one day when we received a new batch
of sterling silver casting grains. While pouring them onto a tray to examine
them, we were struck by the large percentage of grains that rolled freely and
appeared to be spherical.
We found it quite easy to separate
the spherical grains by panning (i.e., shaking the pan back and forth). The nonround
grains stayed where they were and the round ones rolled to the lowest part of
the tray where they were easily scooped up. The percentage of spherical beads
seems to vary widely from batch to batch, but we just sort through every batch
of sterling silver casting grain we buy and end up with a nice assortment of
sterling silver balls. The size of the balls varies from about .040" to
.125" in diameter and can easily be sorted into a systematic series of
The traditional method for
separating materials of various diameters is the sieve which, if purchased, can
be expensive. We made our own sieve using a set of pill containers that stack
together, which we purchased at a local drugstore. Each pill container has its
own cap and also has screw threads on its top and bottom so that multiple units
may be screwed together to form a long tube.
We drilled several holes in the
bottom of each container to make a graduated sieve (top container drilled using
a .125" drill bit, second a .120" drill bit, and the remainder at
.010" increments down to .040"). When the unsorted spherical grains
are poured into the top container and the entire sieve assembly is shaken, the balls
fall through the series of graduated holes until they are sorted into their
respective sizes. Then open the sieves and pour the sorted balls into small
vials for storage until needed.
This method provides a large
assortment of various-sized balls when you need them without the inconvenience
and hassle of melting and pickling the metal. --Tom and Kay
clever is that? I love finding ways to make do with what you have, and I have a
bag of casting grain that I can't wait to sort and use as decorative accents on
silver jewelry pieces.
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