More Expert Metal Jewelry Making Tips From Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Pros Tom & Kay Benham

I had so many great metalsmithing tips from Tom and Kay Benham a few weeks ago, I had to save some to share later. Here are three great soldering and metalworking tips and a clever tutorial for selecting and sorting silver casting grain to use as decorative silver balled accents, like granulation.

how to clean a dirty solder brick

1. Recycling Charcoal Soldering Blocks: You probably know that soldering and fusing on a charcoal block generates a reducing atmosphere that diminishes silver oxidation and produces stronger soldered joints. However, charcoal blocks deteriorate rapidly, so that we are often left with unusable small chunks of charcoal–plus they’re expensive to replace. One solution is rubbing the broken charcoal pieces into the surface of a white firebrick, thus creating the desired reducing atmosphere for soldering. (Editor’s note: You can clean all of the burnt, crusty bits off of a soldering brick like mine, above, by scrubbing it on concrete, asphalt, or with a wire brush.)

2. Lubricating Gravers and Other Small Tools: Oil of wintergreen is an excellent lubricant when cutting with a graver. A very convenient dispenser for the oil can be made from a small empty mint or lozenge tin. Simply drill a 1⁄4″ to 3⁄8″ hole in the center of the lid. Place a cotton ball in the tin, saturate it with oil of wintergreen, and replace the lid. Dip your graver tip into the cotton ball through the hole in the tin often while cutting. When not in use, cover the hole in the lid with masking tape. Caution: Wash your hands often and don’t rub your eyes.

3. Soldering Copper with Minimal Oxidation: We advise using borax paste flux.  You never want to put the tip of your flame directly on the solder as it will cause the solder to oxidize immediately before the metal has been heated to the proper soldering temperature. Watch the flux to see when it becomes glassy and continue to heat until you see the solder begin to flow. Remove the torch as soon as the solder has flowed completely along the joint. Remember, the torch does not melt the solder; the torch heats the metal, which in turn causes the solder flow.

How to Select and Use Silver Casting Grains as Jewelry Decoration

By Tom and Kay Benham, Contributing Editors, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist

We used to make individual sterling silver beads for adorning our jewelry, until one day when we received a new batch of sterling silver casting grains. While pouring them onto a tray to examine them, we were struck by the large percentage of grains that rolled freely and appeared to be spherical.

how to sort casting grain for decorative use

We found it quite easy to separate the spherical grains by panning (i.e., shaking the pan back and forth). The nonround grains stayed where they were and the round ones rolled to the lowest part of the tray where they were easily scooped up. The percentage of spherical beads seems to vary widely from batch to batch, but we just sort through every batch of sterling silver casting grain we buy and end up with a nice assortment of sterling silver balls. The size of the balls varies from about .040″ to .125″ in diameter and can easily be sorted into a systematic series of sizes.

The traditional method for separating materials of various diameters is the sieve which, if purchased, can be expensive. We made our own sieve using a set of pill containers that stack together, which we purchased at a local drugstore. Each pill container has its own cap and also has screw threads on its top and bottom so that multiple units may be screwed together to form a long tube.

We drilled several holes in the bottom of each container to make a graduated sieve (top container drilled using a .125″ drill bit, second a .120″ drill bit, and the remainder at .010″ increments down to .040″). When the unsorted spherical grains are poured into the top container and the entire sieve assembly is shaken, the balls fall through the series of graduated holes until they are sorted into their respective sizes. Then open the sieves and pour the sorted balls into small vials for storage until needed.

This method provides a large assortment of various-sized balls when you need them without the inconvenience and hassle of melting and pickling the metal. —Tom and Kay

How clever is that? I love finding ways to make do with what you have, and I have a bag of casting grain that I can’t wait to sort and use as decorative accents on silver jewelry pieces.

The Benhams are just brilliant! Their many combined years of experience has generated fantastic projects, tips, and technique advice for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine over the years, and now you can get the best of their Ask the Experts columns in one convenient package with the 10 Years of Jewelry-Making Questions, Answers, and Tips: Ask the Experts 2002-2011 eBook. It’s must-have info for jewelry makers of all levels.

P.S. Read on for more great jewelry making tips from the Benhams!

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