Soldering, Metal Jewelry Making, and Singed Bangs

Kristal Wick
Kristal Wick
is the editor of
Beading Daily

Lexi Erickson is no stranger to soldering, melting metals, and burned bangs, but then everybody has to start somewhere! Lexi has been teaching high school and college metals for over twenty-three years and currently teaches jewelry classes at Coyote Creek Studio Arts Foundation in Fairplay, Colorado, where she is the director of the metals program. She is also the past president of the Pennsylvania Society of Goldsmiths and is currently on the board of Colorado Metalsmithing Association, as well as a frequent contributor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Magazine. I recently had a chat with Lexi, and here's a bit about the wonderful world of metals and soldering up close and personal!   

Q: Have you got any exciting soldering news to share?

A: (Laughing here) Soldering isn't usually something that has "exciting" news. It's not terribly earth shattering to most people, except us few solder geeks. But one of the newer things on the market is that Tevel at Allcraft Tools has made a heavy 16-gauge straight wire, 12 inches long, solder that is great to use when soldering from the stick. There is no curvature to it, and it's sturdy, just right for bezels and getting into those hard-to-reach areas. I love it.

Something else fun and exciting is that I'll be teaching "Soldering With Success" at Beadfest in Santa Fe in March of 2011. I'm looking forward to meeting and working with our readers.  Plus, I'll be assisting in Helen Driggs's classes, and she'll be assisting in mine. What fun!     

Q: What are your top soldering tips?

A: Hmmmm . . .

•   Probably the biggest thing is that cleanliness is so important when soldering. Everything must be clean, otherwise the solder will just ball up and never flow. 

•   Knowing the melting points of the metal you are working with verses the melting point of the solder is important. When working with sterling silver wire,  you reach that melting point awfully fast.  It's good to know the indicators of just when that metal is getting ready to collapse or ball up. 

•   It's important to know that if you do make a mistake, you can un-solder pieces and make adjustments. 

•   It all just takes practice. LOTS of practice. My favorite soldering quote is "Doing 1,400 different things doesn't make you a pro.  Doing one thing 1,400 times makes you a pro." 

Q: What's coming up in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine for you?

A: OH, WOW! The most exciting news is that I am doing a monthly series on soldering, taking it from the very basics of "What is solder?" that came out this month, (December, 2010) all the way through advanced soldering, including difficult metals to solder, soldering gold, multiple layer soldering, and soldering jump rings, which has some great tips. Along the way there will be three or four step-by-steps. It's great for beginning students just learning, and even those who have been soldering for years may pick up some new tips.  

Q: Worst soldering experience?

A: Only one? Oh!  I have enough to write a book on what NOT to do!  Let's see . . . there's the time I caught my bangs on fire . . . in class . . . in front of twenty students. But I'm probably not the first to do that. What's fun about being a teacher to so many beginners is that I see all kinds of fun, almost impossible, situations that require soldering. They don't understand the physics of design yet, and they really tax my imagination and creativity as I try to make it happen. I have learned so much by answering my students' questions. But the best story, and worst time, was when I  was teaching at Baum School of Art in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I told a student to put a penny under his multi-level piece to raise it to the level he needed for the final soldering. It was a beautiful piece, and as he heated the piece, the penny just melted and his piece sunk right into the "copper" penny, which of course, is no longer copper but an alloy of much lower melting temperature metals. I still feel bad about that one, but he took it very well, changed his college major to jewelry, graduated with honors, and is an up-and-coming young jeweler on the East Coast.  We still e-mail. Of course, now I just tell students to use the piece of folded copper I carry around in my toolbox for such instances. But I was so embarrassed!     

Q: Favorite gemstone, bead, and cab?

A: Gemstone–without a doubt–padparadscha. I just wish I could afford a 15-carat one! Bead–I'm a sucker for serpentine beads.  I buy them and never part with them. Mine, all mine! (Greedily rubbing my hands together.) Cabochon–petrified palm wood and dino doo-doo!

Q: What do you like about Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine?

A: It's a long history for me. My dad was a geophysicist and subscribed to Lapidary Journal since its inception in 1947. Every night, I took either a Lapidary Journal or a National Geographic to read in bed. Then I became an archaeologist and a jeweler. Never doubt the power of the printed word! When I became a jeweler in the 1980s, my goal was that one day I would get mentioned, just once,  in the magazine. Now I'm a regular contributor and a multiple cover-artist, I just can't believe my good fortune. I'm truly blessed.  I love the rich variety of ideas in LJJA and the inspirations. I love the tips from the Benhams, I devour everything Sharon Elaine Thompson writes on stones, and I laugh through my friend Terri Haag's funny true-life stories. I read it from cover to cover and keep them forever. But the photos and interviews of the artists and cutters who now have become friends are so enlightening.  Most of all, LJJA is a tremendous inspiration with great tips. 

Take a tip from Lexi and give a great holiday gift of inspiration to a buddy or yourself with Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine. Just be sure to pay attention to your hair when soldering!

Come bead with me!


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