Making Mixed-Metal Jewelry, Part 2: Soldering Copper to Silver with Lexi
The ideals behind the Arts & Crafts movement have appealed to me for some time, being that I use little or no electricity in my work. I like the feel of the metal and the file in my hands as I file excess metal and the high polish that the burnisher leaves along the edges of a piece. People tell me my pieces feel good, and I take that to mean my work has my spirit in the piece, not some mechanical finish. I explain all this in my Hand Finishing Jewelry video workshop. (Shameless self-promotion.)
The Arts & Crafts style was an international design style and movement begun during the last part of the 19th Century and motivated by William Morris, who was inspired by the writing of John Ruskin while he was at the University in England, as a rebellion against the mechanized, industrialized and, often, poor quality of the decorative arts. The followers wished to return to the true craftsmanship of work done before the Industrial Revolution. Also, nature was the subject matter of much of the art of the time, insect jewelry in particular. Though not a fan of "bug art," I fell in love with this butterfly in one of the copyright-free Dover publications.
In part one, we etched the butterfly in copper using ferric chloride. Now we will put the pendant together by soldering the butterfly onto a silver back plate and creating bails.
24-gauge sterling silver sheet
20-gauge sterling silver wire
jeweler's saw and #2/0 blades
#2 hand file (and #4, optional)
small drill bit and Dremel or Flex Shaft
wire-wrapping mandrel of your choice
torch and soldering set up with fire brick, etc.
pickle set up
bowl of quenching water
15- and 9-micron 3M micro finishing film
liver of sulfur
green kitchen scrubby
bead strands and clasp of your choice
1. Decide which areas of your etched piece that you'd like to saw out to create an overlay or appliqué technique. Using a center punch, indent several holes in the design where you want to remove metal and then drill through the holes with a small drill bit to make a pilot hole for your saw.
2. Insert a saw blade through one hole, secure it in your saw frame, and cut out each area you want to remove from the butterfly's wings. This is entirely optional, yet it does give a nice depth to the necklace. Saw out random designs, or you may choose to saw out each decoration on your piece. File smooth on the inside with needle files.
3. Draw the outer outline of the copper piece onto a 24-gauge piece of sterling silver sheet and cut around it with a saw.
4. File so that the edges show around the copper piece nicely. This will do two things. First, it keeps the copper from being right up against the wearer's skin and turning their skin green or brown from a chemical reaction. Second, it gives a back plate to the butterfly, which will fill in with patina nicely and give some depth to the necklace.
5. Pickle both pieces to chemically clean them, rinse in water, and then flux the back of the copper butterfly with a white flux. Then sweat solder easy solder onto the back of the butterfly around all edges. Quench in clean water, pickle, and rinse in clean water.
6. Lay the copper butterfly on the silver silhouette of the butterfly, flux the piece on top (fluxing between the piece is not needed), and heat until the solder flows. Watch the edges of the butterfly and look for a bright seam to run all along the outside of the piece.
Note: Take care not to get solder on the top of the butterfly or it must be sanded off and could leave a solder ghost. If you don't get this completely done in one step, you can pickle, clean, and re-solder. When you see the silver seam of solder, turn off the torch and let the piece sit for a minute or two; then quench and pickle. Congratulations! (Pieces always look pretty hopeless right after soldering, but all is good. Really, it is. It's just really hot right now.)
7. Brush the front and the back of the piece under running water with a soft brass brush and Dawn liquid detergent.
8. There are several bail options, but I wanted the piece to have the look of a true Arts & Crafts-style necklace, so I opted for two sets of springs made from 20-gauge sterling silver wire, coiled like you would if you were making jump rings (on a mandrel of your choice) except this time, I didn't cut them apart. Flatten out the bottom with flat-nose pliers and test fit them on each side of the pendant. More bail ideas can be found in my recent video workshop, Artisan Bails. (More shameless self-promotion.) Pickle to clean the coils.
9. Since the back of the pendant has been recently scrubbed, just flux it while the sterling silver wire coils are cleaning in the pickle. Remove the coils from the pickle, rinse, flux, and place evenly on each side of the pendant. Put a few pieces of easy solder under the coils and heat. When the solder flows, quench, pickle, and rinse. Solder loves capillary action, so the coils may fill in with solder. That's even better because it gives them more strength.
10. Brush the entire piece with a brass brush and Dawn detergent. Voila!
11. Mix up some liver of sulfur (LoS, the stinky stuff). I like the gel the best, so mix a small amount in a small jar. Run the pendant under warm water to heat it, because LoS works best when warm. Paint the LoS all over the entire piece, front and back. After the piece turns black, use a green kitchen scrubby and pumice to remove whatever blackening you want to remove. I liked taking most of it off, and leaving a dark black on the silver back plate.
12. Scrub the silver on the back of the piece to an even shine with a brass brush, which will look like gunmetal.
13. String the pendant with beads of your choice, using the coiled springs to hold the wire for two strands of beads, as was popular in the Arts & Crafts period. Finish with an appropriate clasp.
Now you have a very graceful and inspiring necklace, which conjures up memories of romantic, heavily embroidered white silk dresses with short trains and hair piled elegantly upon the head–a time, not so long ago, but somewhat forgotten. I hope you will enjoy it for many years to come. And yes, I am a hopeless romantic!
Enjoy your beautiful new necklace,
P.S. I'd like to thank my apprentice, Melanie Bryant, for her assistance with this piece. She has become the Queen of Etching and did all the etching while I was teaching at BeadFest Santa Fe. Thank you, Melanie, for a job well done.
Learn more about soldering jewelry with Lexi in her popular soldering eBook and video workshops.