Do You Know All 6 Pickling Steps for Soldering Jewelry?
It’s practically axiomatic: first you solder, then you pickle. Actually, you solder, quench, pickle, rinse. Or is that pickle, quench, rinse? Or is that . . . Not too sure myself about all the ins and outs here, I turned to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist’s long-time Contributing Editors Tom and Kay Benham and asked them to explain pickling and more. Here’s the real scoop on this important set of jewelry soldering steps.
Quench, Pickle, Rinse, and Dry!
By Tom and Kay Benham
The instructions for most metalsmithing projects that involve the use of a torch for soldering or annealing include this cryptic phrase: quench, pickle, rinse, dry. But do we all really know the why of this phrase?
Cooling the metal eliminates the chance of a burn and insures the metal is annealed to its softest state. We have found, though, that quenching sterling silver at too high a temperature, say at red heat, most likely will cause the metal to crack and shatter. The result is a ruined piece, as you can see here. We have not encountered this problem working with copper and brass, but suggest you let sterling silver air-cool for at least 10 seconds before quenching.
Then it’s safe to plunge your metal into cold quench water.
The story is that medieval metalsmiths used a solution of alum and water to clean their metal after soldering and annealing. Alum was and still is used in cooking and converting cucumbers into pickles —thus ”pickling” the metal.
Even today, some metalsmiths continue to use alum to pickle their metal, while others use a variety of other solutions. These include dilute sulfuric acid solution, a citric acid solution, the jewelry industry product Sparex, and less expensive swimming pool chemicals such as pH Minus or pH Down. Many use their pickle solution hot, conveniently heating it in an inexpensive crock pot with a glass lid or cover. Covering helps control the evaporation of the solution.
Do not make a practice of quenching hot metal directly in hot pickle — for several reasons. Doing so will splatter droplets of hot pickle all around the work area and generate a fine mist of pickle solution that will permeate the air. As this is the same air you breathe, the mist makes that air harmful to the lungs. Both the splattered droplets and mist also rust and corrode your expensive, shiny tools. Both also cause small pinholes in your clothing, and create the danger of causing chemical burns to your eyes, hands, and arms.
That is why we recommend you always quench in fresh water first. Then place the metal into the pickle.
A Note About Tongs
It’s fine to use copper, plastic, or wood tongs to place the metal in and out of the pickling solution, but never iron or steel tongs. Iron and steel will cause a galvanic action that results in a thin layer of copper plating onto your metal. If this plating should occur, just add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to the pickle pot and the resulting “super pickle” will quickly remove that plating. The hydrogen peroxide will not harm your solution, as it quickly reverts back to plain water.
Rinsing in clear water removes most of the pickle solution from the metal, but not necessarily all. Any residual pickle will still cause rust and corrosion of your nice, shiny, expensive tools, such as the rollers of your rolling mill — and there’s nothing worse than that! To avoid pickling your tools, after pickling your metal but before rinsing it, give it a quick dip in a neutralizing solution of water and baking soda.
Now rinse in clear water.
Finally, dry with paper towels.
After over 20 years of service, our roll mill is still as shiny as the day it came from the factory, in part because we follow these six steps when pickling. So maybe that cryptic phrase should read: air-cool, quench, pickle, neutralize, rinse, and dry — just to be sure!
“Quench, Pickle, Rinse, Dry!” by Tom and Kay Benham originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist’s special publication, Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry, Winter 2014.
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
That’s Pickling, Now About Soldering . . .
If you’d like to learn the basics of jewelry soldering or improve your skills, check out Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry, Making Soldered Jewelry, and all the other resources that Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Interweave have to offer on the subject. Find answers to questions about solder itself, the tools to use, the steps to take, and which join is best for each connection. Figure out what’s the best torch for you and learn to set it up. Want to read about soldering? Study soldering photos and illustrations? Make soldered jewelry projects? Watch videos of soldering in action? All that and more are at the ready, just waiting for you at Interweave Jewelry.
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