Soft soldering, like most jewelry-making techniques, takes the right tools, the right materials, and some know how. It also takes practice to perfect the finished look. Soft soldering holds a special place in my heart as it’s part of what led me to where I am today.
In the Beginning
I’ll spare you (most of) the details, but the story goes like this…
In 1994 I found polymer clay. Through polymer clay I found jewelry making. Since I wasn’t actively selling my work, I needed to find reasons to continue creating and learning and making so, I made gifts. One day, I decided I needed to make a kaleidoscope pendant for my mother-in-law. I found a kit available through mail order (no online shopping in those days) then started working on figuring out how to apply polymer to the brass tubing and how to get all the parts to fit together.
I was close to perfecting the technique. Wait! WHAT? I have to solder the eyepiece and solder a wire (the wire to hold the marble) onto the brass tube? How did I miss this small detail? I had been making such good progress, too! So what’s a girl to do? Yup. Called my dad. He came right over soldering gun, solder, gel flux, and grungy flux brush in hand. We set up shop in my little kitchen and got to work.
We managed to get one piece assembled that first night and I was then able to finish and present the gift to my mother-in-law. Dad saved the day and opened the floodgates!
From this humble beginning I was soft soldering everything I could. I upped my tools and was now using a soldering iron, solder, liquid flux, copper foil, and other materials more suited to the art of stained glass. Not giving up my love of jewelry making, I integrated lead-free solder so I could also create wearable pieces of glass art.
Soft Soldering Opens Doors
1997, enter my new job at Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.
We relocated and I was now working in the business department of Lapidary Journal. I was beside myself with amazement! Me, working at Lapidary Journal?! How was that even possible? A dream come true. Amazing!
We were a tight-knit group and the editorial team knew I made jewelry and was actively teaching jewelry making. One day, the projects editor asked if I could custom make a winter-themed design using soft solder and something wintery etched into glass. “Me? Of course I can!” Then, on my way home, I stopped at the local stained-glass shop to make sure I knew exactly what I needed to for etching and I picked up some wintry stencils. I found what I needed, hit my first assignment deadline, and soon after had my first published project!
Wow! This still feels really special.
Soft Soldering Explorations
I then tested the limits of the techniques on gemstones and Swarovski crystals.
Swarovski crystals work great as long as they don’t have special coatings. Gemstones work too as long as they’re not composite. This technique requires heat so choose your materials with that in mind.
Soft Soldering with Laura Beth Love
I love all this technique offers and the options and directions you can go in. And I love how Laura Beth Love takes these techniques and shares all she’s learned as she’s pursued this art form. Here’s a bit of her story and where this book will lead you:
“My passion for soft-solder jewelry making began many years ago, with the birth of my broken china jewelry business, Dishfunctional Designs. I’ve used copper foil along with solder to create thousands of pieces of jewelry. Over years of perfecting my craft, I have learned through trial and error the idiosyncrasies of soft soldering. When you work with a particular material for so long, you get to know it the way you would a close friend.
Through much experimentation and jewelry play, I found that by combining two common jewelry techniques — wire wrapping and soft soldering — something magical happens. When combined, wire and soft solder create an entirely new jewelry technique, the end result of which has an alluring look and feel unlike any other, hence the alchemy. In the past, soft solder has been seen and used predominantly as a supporting material that surrounds or encases other materials, such as when it is used to form a bezel around a piece of china or glass. With this book, my goal is to show you that soft solder is not just for bezels; it is an artistic material within itself and a star in its own right.”
Inside Soldered Alchemy
Laura Beth covers all the tools and materials you’ll need for her techniques along with how to use them — key, if these are new tools for your studio. And even if you have experience, her perspective is helpful as she brings so much knowledge to the table.
Also helpful, Laura includes safety tips, the basics of tinning with solder, how to add patina, 3 dimensional drops of solder, and the basics of using copper foil.
Laura also covers working with wire, how to create wire findings, and how to apply solder to the wire. Brilliant!
Let’s not forget the projects! There are 24 unique designs to work from.
A few of my favorites:
Made only with wire and solder, the My Open Heart Pendant is one I know I’d enjoy making over and over again as I each one would be a little different. That makes this design perfect (in my book).
Something you’ll make to wear with many of your designs — soft soldered or otherwise — is this great Soldered Link Chain Necklace.
The Ancient Relic pendant covers techniques you can apply to any piece of pottery, glass, rock, or other found object you have (that you know can tolerate the heat).
This lovely shawl pin is a a design you’ll want to wear yourself or maybe gift along with a handmade scarf or shawl.
One last design to share is the Space Fruit Drop Earrings. This design is perfect as outlined but this design also lends itself to interpretation. So no matter the shape earring you like to wear, you can make a design following Laura’s detailed instructions.
Read How to Choose the Right Shape Earrings for Your Face Shape for help on what shape works for you.
Also from Laura
Laura breaks down some of her designs from Soldered Alchemy in video (download or DVD) format. If you want to see Laura in action, including watching how she uses a saw and grinder to shape pottery, be sure to check out Soldered Alchemy: Open Heart Pendant Using Soft Solder & Wire Technique and Make Vintage & Upcycled Jewelry: Dishfuntional Plate Necklace. One other great soft soldering resource is Laura’s BoHo Chic Jewelry book. If soft soldering is a technique you’ve been looking to explore or take further, Laura is your go-to instructor. Or, if you’ve hung up your soldering iron with your last stained-glass panel, these designs just might get you soldering again!
Do you have soft soldered designs to share or experiences and tips to offer? Please leave a comment below.
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Interweave Bead & Jewelry Group
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