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.

Detail of Roger Halas’s Halley’s Comet Pendant, with patterned welded steel, sterling silver, and blue star sapphire, includes a soldered bezel. It originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2017; photo: Jim Lawson

Detail of Roger Halas’s Halley’s Comet Pendant, with patterned welded steel, sterling silver, and blue star sapphire, includes a soldered bezel. It originally appeared in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist December 2017; photo: Jim Lawson

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?

After every soldering operation, Tom and Kay Benham pickled the metal in these gold and opal earrings, which appear in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

After every soldering operation, Tom and Kay Benham pickled the metal in these gold and opal earrings, which appear in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

1 Air-Cool


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.

2 Quench

Then it’s safe to plunge your metal into cold quench water.

Next to her torch and ready and waiting for a newly soldered join: a crock pot with pickle and a dish of quenching water in Lexi Erickson’s studio; photo: Lexi Erickson

Next to her torch and ready and waiting for a newly soldered join: a crock pot with pickle and a dish of quenching water in Lexi Erickson’s studio; photo: Lexi Erickson

3 Pickle

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.

This ocean jasper pin by Noël Yovovich appears in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry, a special publication of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

This ocean jasper pin by Noël Yovovich appears in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry, a special publication of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist; photo: Jim Lawson

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.

Lexi Erickson’s chain necklace, from Making Soldered Jewelry, is an exercise in soldering as well as a fun piece to wear; photo: Jim Lawson

Lexi Erickson’s chain necklace, from Making Soldered Jewelry, is an exercise in soldering as well as a fun piece to wear; photo: Jim Lawson

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.

Tube set peridot and ruby add a flash of color to Belle Brooke Barer’s silver earrings, in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

Tube set peridot and ruby add a flash of color to Belle Brooke Barer’s silver earrings, in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

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.

Todd Reed’s diamond bead and silver pin appeared in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

Todd Reed’s diamond bead and silver pin appeared in Everyone’s Guide to How to Solder Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

4 Neutralize

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.

This spinner ring by Lexi Erickson appeared in Making Soldered Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

This spinner ring by Lexi Erickson appeared in Making Soldered Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

5 Rinse

Now rinse in clear water.

6 Dry

Finally, dry with paper towels.

Helen Driggs’s hammered silver beads appeared in Making Soldered Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

Helen Driggs’s hammered silver beads appeared in Making Soldered Jewelry; photo: Jim Lawson

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.

Subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

Find inspiring jewelry artists and sound advice on metalsmithing and lapidary materials, techniques, demos, and projects in every issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.


Learn or improve your soldering with these resources!

Post a Comment