Joe Silvera, of the Silvera Jewelry School, was here at Rio Grande in August to teach a class on soldering gold-and silver-filled metals for our Summer Workshop Series. As a marketing writer at Rio, I occasionally get the chance to sit in on a class when there’s an open seat at the bench (talk about perks of the job!), and I had the pleasure of joining Joe’s two-day class. Before the class, I had done some very basic assembly and metal clay work but had never soldered and was admittedly a little nervous about joining the class. I shouldn’t have been. Joe was a generous teacher, and the small class size ensured everyone got plenty of personal instruction. Two weeks after taking the class I bought a torch and set up a small bench my backyard, which I think is a testament to Joe’s fine teaching skills. He started the class off with a simple ring project using an unusual type of fabrication metal—faceted round wire.
The project was so simple and the results so outstanding, I thought I would share it here. We worked with sterling wire, but the faceted round wire is also available in silver-filled, gold-filled, and rose gold-filled, to give you lots of options to work with.
Materials You’ll Need:
- 16 gauge sterling silver (or another variety) faceted round wire
- Sterling silver easy solder
- Various metal forming and soldering tools
Measure the correct length of wire for the ring size you would like to make. You can figure out how much you need with a ring length calculator. Use flush cutters to cut the wire to the appropriate length.
File each end of the wire flat using a large file. Joe is demonstrating this step to the class in the photo above. It may seem like a small step, but he emphasized the importance of taking your time with it. When you solder the ring closed, you will need the ends of the wire to fit together snugly.
Use a ring mandrel to form the ring into a basic circle. Don’t worry about getting it perfect or even making sure it’s entirely closed; we’ll fix that later. You can use a rawhide mallet or non-marring hammer (such as the Bonny Doon urethane hammer, pictured below) to help you accomplish this.
Using half-round pliers, gently pull the ends of the wire closed. Overlap the ends slightly and them pull them apart gently so there is some tension holding the ring together.
Your ring should come together as tightly as possible.
Place the ring in a ring clamp, with the seam facing up.
Using a jeweler’s saw with a size 2/0 blade inserted, saw through the seam of the ring. Remove the ring from the ring clamp and hold it up to the light. If you can see any light shining through, place it back in the ring clamp and saw through it again. You want the two edges to fit together as seamlessly as possible. And yup, you’re going to saw right into the ring clamp. Don’t worry; it adds character!
When there is no light showing through the seam of your ring, you are ready to solder the joint closed.
Cut a small piece of sterling silver easy solder. We used wire solder, hammered flat, but you can also use sheet or chip solder. Whichever you choose, use as small a piece as you can to prevent flooding the joint and having to file it clean later on.
This is a point Joe emphasized throughout the class: cut the amount of solder you think you need; now cut that in half. That’s how much solder you should be using. He wasn’t joking. Using tiny amounts of solder now will save you finishing time in the future.
Turn on your torch. Slowly head the ring until a white crust forms over the entire surface of the ring. Flip the ring over and heat the other side until the crust forms. This white crust is your indicator that the metal is protected and you are ready to solder.
Focus your flame on the piece of solder you cut until it forms a ball. Using a solder pick, place the solder on the joint in your ring. Focus the hottest part of the flame—just inside the blue cone—on the ring until the solder flows into the joint.
Using tweezers, drop the hot ring into a glass beaker of water. Then, using copper tongs, drop it in a warm pickle solution to clean it.
Place the ring on a mandrel and, using a rawhide mallet or a non-marring hammer, gently shape it into a circle.
You can now choose how to finish the ring. Some students in the class simply used a polishing buff attached to a flex shaft to bring a high shine to the surface, which beautifully emphasized the facets. Others used liver of sulfur or Black Max to oxidize the ring, which offered great contrast.
The finished rings look great stacked. Try creating multiple rings in different metal colors and with different finishes and then let your customers mix and match their favorites. Need a little more soldering guidance? Check out our soldering video series for all the help you need. Still not sure about something, dial 1.800.545.6566 and ask for the Tech Team!