How to Make Easy Metal Jewelry: 34 Projects and 5 Reasons to Tackle the Torch

This inspiring, informative excerpt is from an article by Ronna Sarvas Weltman, published in Easy Metal Jewelry. I hope it's encouraging and tempting to those of you who want to tackle the torch–even if just for fusing and creating heat patinas. Baby steps!

There are at least five fun things you can do with a micro torch other than soldering. Once you've used a torch repeatedly for these fun and simple tasks, your comfort level will grow and you'll be ready to solder complex jewelry pieces in no time. And then we can say, as we do down here in the South, "Well ain't you somethin'?" —Tammy

Copper Fold Formed Shield earrings by Susan Dilger  

Copper Fold Formed Shields by Susan Dilger.
Photo: Margot Geist, Geistlight Photography.

Excerpts from "Playing With Fire"
By Ronna Sarvas Weltman

I am a pyromaniac. There, I've said it. I love watching flames, I love watching things burn and change with fire–so how can I help but be completely enamored of techniques that let me use a torch and emerge with a fabulous creation?

My usual approach to wireworking is to use cold connections. Cold connection is a jewelers' term to describe methods of attaching the different elements of a design to each other without soldering. It is low tech, uses fewer tools and materials than soldering, and of course eliminates the learning curve needed in soldering. But just because it is my usual approach does not make it my only approach. There are plenty of designs where I get better aesthetic and structural results by soldering. Every serious metal jewelry artist needs to become comfortable with soldering. Otherwise, you find yourself designing jewelry around your limited capabilities rather than your design sensibilities.

One of the barriers to soldering for many jewelry makers is the need to have a source for fire in soldering. If you want to learn how to solder but are reluctant to work with a large torch, a small butane micro torch or even a crème brûlée torch that you can buy at a kitchen store will work with sterling silver wire up to 14-gauge or sterling silver sheet up to 24-gauge.

Soldering aside, here are five fun things you can do with even a small torch.

  fuse fine silver loops with a micro torch

1.  Fuse Fine Silver: One of the most attractive assets of fusing fine silver is how easy it is. Along with fusing being an easily-acquired skill, the equipment needed is minimal. You need a torch, some inexpensive pliers and tweezers that you don't mind getting hot, a work surface such as an extra-large tile or a pizza stone, a solderite or charcoal block to work on, and a quenching bowl for water.

"The basic thing," says Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine editor and author of the DVD Metalwork: Wire Fusing and Other Micro-Torch Techniques Denise Peck, "is how cool it is that you don't need huge tanks of oxygen and gas and you don't have to play around with messy solder and pickle. That's really appealing."

make your own head pins with a micro torch  

2. Make Your Own Head Pins: Perhaps you've heard the term "drawing a bead" on wire. That is the process where you put the tip of a piece of wire into a flame. As it melts, it beads up into a round shape. Most often the technique is used to create head pins with round tips. Different metals behave differently. I like to draw beads on fine silver wire, since it doesn't create firescale and therefore saves me the step of having to either pickle it or buff it off with steel wool. Sometimes I hammer the round ball into a flat circle–it's a nice little effect.

  make your own chain with a micro torch

3. Make Your Own Chain: To make your own chain you can just cut up small pieces of fine silver wire and solder one into a ring and put another around it and solder that and you instantly have your handmade chain. The most efficient way is to do it on a soldering block that you can carve into. That enables you to keep the already soldered ring upright and away from your next ring so you don't accidentally fuse them together.

Abbi Berta's fold formed Battered Heart bracelet  
Abbi Berta's Battered Heart bracelet

4. Anneal Metal:  Any time you apply heat to a metal it anneals it, which means it softens it. The metal then needs to be work-hardened again to hold its shape. Work hardening can be achieved by bending the wire, by banging it with a hammer as you texture it, or by putting it into a tumbler to harden it back up. If your design is flat, you can also place it between two rubber or nylon blocks and hammer it to work-harden it without affecting the shape or texture.

(Editor's note: Annealing metal is an essential part of fold forming, which is how Abbi Berta's Battered Heart bracelet on the left was made.)

  create heat patina with a micro torch

5. Create Heat Patina: I'm crazy about the color effect that heat and fire have on copper. The effect is unpredictable–temperature, the minute disparities in the metal, how clean the surface is–these all affect the heat patina you can achieve on copper.

Taos, New Mexico-based artist Susan Dilger (SusanDilger.com) uses heat patina on copper to capture the beautiful colors she sees in her desert environment. "I really like the variations that you get," she explains. "It's unpredictable. You play with it, you get cool colors. I like the natural look, and it's very organic." Dilger plays around with different effects, such as sometimes using ice water to get interesting colors.  

Since each heat patina yields different results, she approaches each piece differently. "I've had amazing results just using flux," Dilger explains. "I put on flux as if I'm going to solder and the flux will give you great colors. Initially I thought I'd clean it up, but it looked great, so I just take steel wool and gently clean it up. I say leave well enough alone when you've got it. If it looks great and gnarly, stick with it. You're going to have lots of experiences when you're making art. The real key is knowing what to keep and what to get rid of."

RSW

Ronna's full article, along with other informative articles and 34 easy and beautiful metal jewelry projects, can be found in Easy Metal Jewelry. In it you can learn to master metalworking techniques like heat patina, fold forming, metal stamping, riveting and other cold connections, wirework, and more! Whether you use a torch every day or never intend to touch one, you'll enjoy the projects in this magazine. And psst, there's a practically unlimited coupon on page 91, so order or download yours now!

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