Metalsmithing with a Pro: 5 Expert Metal Forming and Soldering Tips from Bill Fretz

You guys know how much I love a good tip! So every time I watch a jewelry-making video or read a good book or eBook, I keep a little document of good tips. I just noticed how many great ones I have from master metalsmith and jewelry tool designer extraordinaire Bill Fretz–nearly a whole page!–so it’s time to share.

1.       Do you mark lines for cutting or sawing metal using a Sharpie marker? Or do you scribe a line to mark your spot? Consider this: “A marker makes a line that is too wide for an accurate cut, while a simple scribed line is accurate but can be hard to see on shiny metal,” says Bill. Simple, but true, right? Here’s the fix. “The solution is to scribe a line on top of the marker line: the shiny scribed line will show up easily through the black marker line and make cutting easy and accurate because of the contrast. Another solution is to paint the entire surface with Chinese white water-based paint, and scribe through the matte white surface. Shear or cut the excess metal along the drawn lines.”

create blue patina on brass while warm

2.       Do you use heat when you’re applying patina, wax, or sealant? I keep hearing about applying them while a piece is still warm. There must be something to it! Time for a little experimenting. To make a gorgeous blue-green patina on brass, Bill says: “Brass is easily patinated. Here is a version of the pendant that was colored with a patina of cupric nitrate powder mixed with water to a royal blue color, then dabbed on while heating with a torch. Good ventilation and a respirator–not a dust mask!–are essential when using this method. The patina is sealed with a coat of Butcher’s Wax applied with a paper towel while the piece is still hot, then buffed to a soft sheen.”

support pieces during soldering on steel V shapes

3.       If you do torch enameling on a tripod with one of those little three-pronged stands on the screen, you might have thought of this one already: a similar method is also super handy for soldering. “An easy solution to even heating of bezel and back plate is to make 1⁄2″ thick V-shaped units from sheared steel and place the base on at least three of the V units. The torch heat can then be bounced off the soldering board to heat the whole unit evenly,” Bill says. I think one x-shaped piece could also do the trick.

make a concave bangle bracelet with hammers and stakes

4.       There’s more of a science behind what kinds of hammers create which kinds of effects than many of us might realize. Here’s a reminder list from Bill about what effect various hammers can have on metal: “Rounded raising or cross-peen hammers make it possible to form curved, concave lines. Dimple shapes are produced with different sized embossing hammers. Flat areas need a light planishing hammer. Like a chasing tool, a rounded raising hammer makes a good tracing tool to mark the edges of a design or to form ridge lines while working metal from both sides of the line. You can also hammer curved, concave, fluted shapes. Picking the size of the hammer depends on the width of the flutes being formed and how noticeable the hammer marks are meant to be. A broader, rounded raising hammer will leave the metal smoother, while the narrow rounded hammer will leave a sharper mark. Use embossing hammers to push domed areas into concaves. A small planishing hammer will create the fewest marks on convex areas.” As if I wasn’t already dreaming enough about owning a big set of Fretz hammers . . .

use firebricks to support solder pieces

5.       Here’s another soldering tip from Bill, this one about using firebricks to support a piece during soldering. This tip specifically refers to a bracelet, but it could apply to other large pieces as well. “Place the seam of the bracelet so it faces up, between two firebricks, on a bed of pumice in a rotating soldering pan. The bricks’ corners will keep the seam tight as the solder flows–without acting as a heat sink or allowing the metal to ‘dance’ as it is heated.”

If you’d like to learn more from the master metalsmith behind these smart tips, check out all of Bill’s popular metal-forming instructional videos!

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