Sawing and Soldering: Make Your Own Sterling Silver Flower Ring
Flowers have always been a source of joy for me. When I was growing up, one of my grandmothers had a garden full of hydrangeas, pansies, irises, roses, and lilacs, and my other grandmother was always surrounded by flowers in her home décor and clothing. They both made quilts laden with flowers using floral fabrics, too, so it’s no surprise that I’ve always associated flowers with comfort, love, and happiness. Naturally, flowers are a favorite motif in my own creative projects, jewelry especially.
So when my friend and metalsmithing teacher Lexi Erickson told me to “cut out a shape, any shape,” a flower was the obvious choice. After some sawing, filing, sanding, hammering, fluxing, soldering, polishing, and buffing, this pretty ring is the result. Lexi guided me through every single step, and here are thorough instructions so you can make one, too.
20-gauge sterling silver sheet
8-gauge half-round sterling silver wire
small silver ball or bead for center
jeweler’s saw and 4/0 saw blades
Burlife or Gemlube
flat-nose pliers and tweezers
medium tooth (#2) file
torch and setup with firing brick
medium solder and pick
flux and brush
pot of hot pickle and copper tongs
bowl of water
1. Draw a small, medium, and large organic shape with a fine felt-tip marker on the sterling silver sheet. Using the jeweler’s saw strung with a lubricated 4/0 saw blade, cut out your petal pieces using a smooth, fluid, up-and-down sawing motion.
2. Hammer the petals to add texture, as desired. I hammered the large and small pieces, leaving the medium piece plain for contrast.
3. File the raw edges and finish (sand, polish, buff) the surfaces of your cutouts.
4. Dome each petal in the dapping block. Punch or hammer a small dimple in the center of the smallest petal piece to help hold the ball in place later. Pickle all three pieces for a couple of minutes to clean them; rinse and dry, being careful not to touch the backs where you’ll be soldering.
5. Using sandpaper or even a kitchen scrubber, sand off the end of your solder to ensure it’s clean and snip off six small pieces, about 1mm each.
6. Place the small and medium pieces next to each other face-down on the firing brick and paint the backs with flux. Use tweezers to carefully place three pieces of solder together (touching) on the back of each piece.
7. Fire up your torch with a quiet (nonhissing) reducing flame. Keeping the flame moving and with the blue cone about 1/4″ from the surface, heat the brick around the pieces and slowly move in on your petal pieces, heating them gradually. Expect your flux to bubble and turn white; that tells you you’re at about 400°F.
8. Heat your pieces a little more directly now, still moving the flame but staying on the piece and keeping the blue cone about 1/4″ away from the surface. Don’t look away; things are about to happen quickly!
9. Watch for the flux to turn clear and glassy. That’s when you know you’re at 1,100°F degrees and your solder is melting and will soon flow. You’ll see a bright silver line appear when the solder flows. Remove the heat immediately when you spot it. You’ve presoldered!
10. Lifting with tweezers or tongs (watch your fingers!), slowly tiptoe each piece into water to quench it and then drop it in the pickle for a couple of minutes. Then rinse and dry.
11. Paint the top of each piece with flux and stack face-up in the appropriate order. Sand the solder end and snip off another small piece, placing it in the dimple you created in the smallest petal piece. Hold the center bead with tweezers while you coat it with flux and then place it directly on the solder in the dimple center. Now it’s time to solder again.
12. This is a multilayer soldering process, so it will require a little extra time. You’re soldering the ball to the smallest petal, but you’re also soldering the medium petal between the other two. Fire up your torch again (to a quiet, reducing flame) and move it around the stack to warm gradually.
13. Watch for the flux to bubble and turn white. Hone in at that point, keeping the blue cone of your flame about 1/4″ away from the surface. Sweep back and forth across the ball in the center and move around the entire piece in a circular motion. As the flux turns clear and glassy, focus on the center ball, watching for the silver line that indicates the flux is flowing. When you see it, aim your flame between the petals and focus on the solder you melted earlier. You can’t see the silver line when that solder flows, so just allow a little extra time to be sure but keep the flame moving. Note the color of the metal; if it glows red, remove the flame immediately.
14. Use tweezers to quench the piece slowly in water and then drop it in the pickle for a couple of minutes. Remove it with copper tongs, rinse and dry it, and test the joins. Hopefully, all the layers joined; if not, reflux and resolder until all the layers feel secure.
15. Use a slip of paper to measure your finger size and mark that length on the half-round wire. Cut off the amount you need using your jeweler’s saw, not wire cutters, to achieve the appropriate shape on the cut ends. Use pliers to curl the wire into a partial ring shape and test fit it on your finger or ring mandrel.
16. Because the back of the ring is domed from the dapping, careful filing will be required to get angled ends that will fit the curved back of the flower pieces snugly. Place the flower piece face-down on the firing brick and test the ring until it can stand upright on its own on the back of the ring.
17. When the ends are filed correctly, sand the end of your solder and snip off two more small 1mm pieces. Paint the back of the flower and the ring wire in flux.
18. Place a piece of solder on the flower where each end of the ring wire touches it and solder in place using the same gradual technique as for the previous pieces.
19. Warm the ring wire separately (until the flux melts) before using tweezers to move it onto the flower piece. Watch for the flux to bubble and turn white, then clear and glassy, and then for the shiny silver line when the solder flows. Quench slowly with tweezers, pickle, and voila!
You can see that my ring is a whitish matte silver. The prolonged heat required to complete the multilayer soldering burned off some of the metals alloyed in the sterling silver sheet, resulting in an exterior layer of fine (pure) silver. I liked the look of it, so I left it that way. You can, too, or you can polish yours to a high shine, give it some color with liver of sulfur, or apply any patina you prefer.
Sawing, hammering, soldering–it sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It was, and I’m anxious to fire up my torch again. If you want more help learning to master soldering and metal jewelry making, get our special soldering magazine, How to Solder Jewelry, packed with detailed soldering articles, advice and instructions from Lexi, as well as projects from other jewelry-making artists and experts. You can also learn to solder from Lexi, just like I did, in one of her two five-star-rated how to solder videos.
Do you love soldering and silversmithing as much as I do? Tell me about it in the comments below!