- 1 How to work with silver plate: soldering plate, riveting and other options.
- 1.1 Can I use electrical-grade copper wire for inlay and do I have to anneal it?
- 1.2 What Metal Has Similar Soldering Characteristics to Sterling Silver
- 1.3 Etching a design on brass, fill etch with electroless nickel
- 1.4 Basic shopping list (wire, sheet goods, etc.) for a startup jeweler
- 1.5 Working with Copper
- 1.6 Replicating A Ring Of Mixed Metals
- 1.7 How to Remove Copper Flashing
- 1.8 Why does my brass or bronze turn copper colored after soldering and how to remove it?
- 1.9 How to Work With Gold
- 1.10 Where can I find Rose/Pink Gold and what solder to use?
- 1.11 Do you have any ideas about what to do with my metal scrap?
- 1.12 Solutions for Working with Gold Filled or Gold Plate
- 2 Related Videos
- 3 Related Web Pages
How to work with silver plate: soldering plate, riveting and other options.
Last updated: 12/11/19, 9/20/17
Can I use electrical-grade copper wire for inlay and do I have to anneal it?
Sure, you can use an electrical grade. Most copper is 99.9% pure. Just be sure that there isn’t a plastic coating on the wire before hitting it with a torch. It should be great for inlay. As far as annealing, that you will have to experiment with. My guess is that the wire will be pretty work-hardened and difficult to move but, then again, if it is very thin, then maybe it doesn’t matter. The main reason for annealing is that you want very clean metal if you are soldering. So, by annealing you not only get clean metal but, you also get soft metal. Pickling and rinsing are imperative too. Try not to handle it too much and if you do, have very clean hands. Other than that, you should be golden! Good luck!
The first thing to know when working with silver plate i.e.: coffee pots, trays, silverware, etc. is that when you roll the metal, in the rolling mill, the plating will, probably crack or peel off.
The second thing to know is that the plating will either burn off or absorb into the base metal if soldering. Read on!!!
With silver plate, the first thing you must do is determine what the base metal is.
Sometimes, steel is the base metal, in which case, to roll it through the mill, you will need to protect the mill with sufficiently large sheets of brass, made into a brass sandwich, with the plated material in the middle, to protect the rollers. Any unprotected steel, rolled through the mill will damage that very expensive piece of equipment and the mill is rendered useless. Another concern, if you roll out the metal, and it has lead soldered seams, and you don’t cut out these solder seams, you can contaminate your metal via the rolling process.
Any soldering done with silver plate, with a steel core, will not be able to be pickled (see my page on pickle) as the steel will copperplate all the metal as a result of a reaction between the pickle and the steel.
If the core is stainless steel it will not be solderable.
Often, pewter is the base metal. If this is true, you’ll melt it if hard soldering. It melts at
563°F and an acetylene/air torch reaches temperatures of 4532°F. Butane runs around 3578°F. If lead solder was used to hold the piece together, realize that lead melts at 625.5°F. A torch with over 4000 degrees of heating power will turn your metal into soup if it contains lead and/or pewter!
Another possibility for the core metal is nickel silver – which is not silver! Nickel causes allergic reactions in some people. But, nickel can be soldered like copper, brass, and bronze. Nickel is a very difficult metal to bend and cut.
To determine if the underlying metal is pewter or one of the base metals (brass, bronze, zinc, aluminum or copper, etc.) you need to hammer or push (hard) into the metal with a nail or other sharp steel implement. If it goes in easily or dents easily, it’s probably pewter. If difficult, it’s not! You can check for steel with a magnet but, not stainless. To determine if it’s copper, brass, and bronze, you can sand off an area to see the metal color. Nickel will be dull looking next to the silver. Do your testing in an inconspicuous place.
Hard soldering or brazing silver plate is not often done because the heat likes to burn off the plate or melt it into the base metal, revealing whatever base metal is used underneath. If the core metal is a base metal, you may see colors showing through the burned off plate – depending on the metal.
Another issue with soldering plate is, if you don’t sand down to the core metal, the solder join will be extremely weak because it is joining two very, very thin layers – not the core metal. Any stress placed on the join will tear off the plating and separate from the core material. You can sand off the plate and solder the exposed core metals together. But, remember that the surrounding plating will be damaged by the high heat. Any finishing: sanding or filing, will further remove the plating.
If the area of the metal being soldered is small enough and thin enough, you should be able to use butane – of course, a lot depends on the base metal being able to withstand the heat. But, for larger pieces, such as bowls or big chunky cuffs, you’ll need to use acetylene and air or propane and oxygen. But, once again, say goodbye to the plating – not to mention the core metal itself.
Sometimes too, soldering plate with an unknown core metal can be dangerous as you don’t know what is in the core. Older pieces may be more dangerous due to the lack of health regulations, at the time the piece was created. There may be lead or cadmium present in the metal or the old solder used, which, when handled and/or heated pose a health threat.
If you choose hard soldering (soldering at high temperatures usually, propane, butane, acetylene, hydrogen and mixed with air or oxygen), use medium solder and cover the piece in Prip’s Flux. Here’s a recipe from my site. Also, see my soldering information. See all the additional soldering links to videos and my web pages, at the top of the web page. Ventilate very well!
I have seen plate soldered using soft soldering – employing a soldering iron, flux, and solder, designed for soft soldering. IF you need to solder the plate, this is the best method – especially with a pewter base. But, there is a great chance that you can melt the pewter or any lead solder seams. Soft soldering, although much cooler than hard soldering, can reach temperatures in the 800°F range – which is above pewter’s melting temperature.
To use a soldering iron, the plate needs to be sanded off, cleaned and the two bare areas are soldered. This works for base metals and steel. But, since the solder, with soft soldering, is more like glue, than the molecular bond that we see with hard soldering, the joins will be nowhere near as strong and will be incapable of dealing with great stresses like those experienced by bracelets and rings.
Another option is to use rivets, tabs, screws or bolts. Micro-Mark carries a variety of these connectors as does Metalliferous. These methods of connection, don’t involve heat and preserves your plating – although the plating can still chip.
What Metal Has Similar Soldering Characteristics to Sterling Silver
“Is there something I can use that has similar soldering characteristics to sterling silver? I have some things I want to try but I don’t want to waste that much sterling. The bracelet that I am thinking about making is pretty big and there is quite a bit of soldering I need to do on it. Could you suggest a cheaper metal that I could practice with?”
Have you tried nickel silver as a practice metal? (The name is a misnomer as there is no silver in it). Nickel is an alloy of nickel (20% approx.), copper (60%approx.) and zinc (20% approx.) and is a common material for creating mockups and models for casting.
Some people have allergic reactions to nickel but, it is a great practice material and you are not going to be wearing it.
I also use copper, brass, and bronze for model making, run-throughs and practice. Each responds a little differently to heat:
- copper puts off tons of oxides and needs to be well fluxed. Copper is the softest metal to work with and is one of my favorites for chasing and repoussé.
- brass and bronze turn copper colored with heat but, that is quickly remedied with a dunk in a mixture of 75 – 50% pickle, 25 – 50% hydrogen peroxide (the stuff from the drugstore). Don’t leave the metal in too long or it will etch.
All the above metals work with silver solders and are great for practice. Try each one and see what you think. If you have a metal junkyard nearby, see if you can pick up some scrap copper, brass or bronze. Might be unlikely that they’d have nickel silver though. You can also source your metal at one of the following suppliers:
Etching a design on brass, fill etch with electroless nickel
“Etching a design on brass, fill etch with electroless nickel, have you done this?”
There are nickel plating kits available for small scale use. One of these is Pepe Tool’s Digital Pen Plating System (at Amazon). Micro-Mark sells the Plug N’ Plate. Here are instructions on home plating from Instructables. Finishing.com (a great site, filled with information on many subjects), has information on “How to Set up a Simple Home Electroplating System“.Wikipedia info on Electroless Nickel Plating. Watch out for those chemicals – they are pretty dangerous. Get great, great fume ventilation. Follow directions (sorry – must say these things) and all safety precautions. Please see my webpage on: Ventilation. How you proceed, will depend on what you want to do and how often you will be using it.
Basic shopping list (wire, sheet goods, etc.) for a startup jeweler
“I am a newbie jeweler and have a healthy budget to buy materials, but I don’t want to purchase a lot of materials that I won’t use. I’m thinking of starting with silver and starting with rings. Any thoughts on a basic shopping list? (wire, what gauge, sheet goods…what for? etc…) I’ve also got a collection of jewelry that I have been hoarding for years until a time when I can make them out of gold….any thoughts or tips on working with gold filled material?”
Those are big questions that require a lot of space to cover. But, I will give you the abbreviated version of my answer. As far as metals go, practicing is usually done with brass and or copper because it is less expensive than silver. Copper is also easier to work with yet, a bit more difficult to solder. I generally buy all of my metals in 22 and 24 gauges with a piece or two in 20 gauge. It all depends on what you are making. (Fine) Silver ring shanks are best with 20 gauge as fine silver is very malleable and 22 or 24 g can get bent out of shape. Sterling is stronger and more capable of handling stress. Argentium Silver is my new favorite silver – it has the strength of sterling, doesn’t tarnish and fuses like butter. Love it. Here is my page on metals – arranged alphabetically by metal type – (which is in progress and therefore, not complete)! Copper should be thicker as it is also very malleable. So, go up a gauge with it. Brass is very strong and you can get away with 22 or even 24 gauge. Golds (not gold filled) can be thinner yet as gold (except for 24 gauge) is pretty tough stuff. White gold is very strong.
So, if you are making earrings, you want the metal light: 22/24/26 gauge. Bracelets 18/20/22, Rings (for bands) 22/20/18 etc. Rings and bracelets receive the most stress, then necklaces, brooches and finally, earrings. Ear wires are generally 20, 21 or 22 gauge. I use 21 g. Jump rings – unsoldered for bracelets (I believe) should be either 16 gauge (doubled – meaning, use two) or 14 gauge (single). Anything smaller in gauge should be soldered shut. Bracelets receive a lot of abuse: people get them stuck on things, they fall off, they rub on tables, etc. So, to protect your work, use large gauge wire or solder them closed. Necklaces: single 16g is fine. Some use 18g but, I don’t like getting my work returned to close a jump ring so, I use 16g. What gauge of metal to buy and how much, depends on how many layers of metal in your design, how much negative space there is, the stresses placed on it, etc. Basically – the requirements of the design will dictate how much metal to buy. You can make patterns for your design and measure how much space you will need to create it. Use grid paper and draw out a 6″ by 6″ square and place your pattern in the square. Measure to determine how much to order. Of course, take into account mistakes and making more jewelry down the road so, buy what you can afford, start out slow and add on as needed. I keep three containers for of each type of silver: One box is for large pieces of uncut and or relatively large, uniformly shaped pieces. Another box is usable scrap and the final is refinable scrap. Keep the different types of silver separate (fine, sterling, argentium) (if possible) it makes it easier to sort for refining down the road. I also save my copper and brass scrap. Haven’t found a refiner yet but, then again, I haven’t looked very hard.
Copper sheet, from Rio Grande, comes 2 to a pack for 22 and 24 gauges. One to a pack for 20g (don’t forget about bronze – it’s a great material too and cheaper than silver). So buy a pack and when you get low, buy more. You don’t need a huge stockpile unless you live in the middle of the jungle or on the edge of the polar cap. With silver, you either buy by the inch or the ounce. I usually purchase 2X6 or 3X6 sheets – depending on how rich I feel and the current silver prices. A 6X3 of 24 gauge runs about 45-46 (now!) and the 22 of the same size is about 57-58. I was paying way more last year when prices were really high. Fine silver is more expensive than sterling because it is all silver wherein the sterling is partially copper – less silver and cheaper. Argentium is the priciest with a 22 gauge, 6×3″ sheet at about 65.00 to 66.00. I always buy my metal: dead soft as that saves me having to anneal it. It’ s really easy to work harden the metal – just work with it!
On gold filled material: often, you’ll see the copper or silver filling on the edges – the thinner the gauge, the less visible it is. So, design where the edges don’t show too much. Buy the best you can afford. Rio sells a good type – 14/20 and also has solder for it. When soldering gold-filled be careful to not overheat it as the gold can melt into the metal beneath. Double clad means that there is gold on both sides – the best for making rings.
Links that may be of assistance:
Here’s a link to my website page that has information on the different types of gold/plated/filled, etc.
Metal Studio Workshop on working with gold-filled
This quote from Rio Grande Jewelry (under the tab: More Info)
“How To Protect Your Gold-Filled Material”
Handling your gold-filled properly is essential to maintaining its good looks and its bright finish. Made with a substantial layer of gold bonded to a base metal core, gold-filled requires some special care to keep the gold layer intact and unmarred for your designs.
- If handled properly, gold-filled should require only buffing. If you cut it, be careful not to damage the gold layer, particularly on corners and edges.
- Gold-filled stock should be stored in a dry place. Tarnishing elements act very slowly in the absence of moisture.
- Use tissue paper between stock to protect it against scratches.
- Use a clean flannel cloth while working on gold-filled material.
- Maintaining the condition of your tools is important. Keep cutters sharp; bending tools should be smooth.
- Use a firescale retardant such as Stop-Ox II™ when soldering.
- Clean the metal thoroughly.
On wire: purchase what you need: if you are making earrings, get a few feet. If you are wire wrapping, same deal. You can always order more. Rio has great two day shipping prices (not as cheap as ground but, I’m always in a hurry). If you are always wire wrapping and know you will use it, buy an ounce or more. Making jump rings – 1/2 an ounce should do for a ton of jump rings. Tubing – hold off on until you have a design that requires it. Are you making a tube setting or a hinge – then order to size. Tubing can get pricey. I have a coffee can full of tubing that I wonder if I’ll ever use. A waste of money and space but, I wanted it all now when I first started. Back to Table of Contents
Working with Copper
“I love working with copper but copper sheet is so expensive. I can get roofing copper from the recycle very cheap but it’s too thin for the men’s cuff bracelets. I’m told that it doesn’t melt down to be re-poured well. I have folded it to make twice as thick but that leaves the edges to open up over time even after being in a press. Do you have any ideas on how to thicken this up?”
A warning: Don’t try to refine copper especially if you are unsure of the original refining process. There could be cadmium in it which is toxic. Not all copper is pure copper. Ditto for brass and bronze. It is a pain in the butt too, to refine it!
To answer your question:
- you could fold one end over the other and rivet it along the edge.
- You can pattern it to work harden it
- Rivet it to aluminum cuffs
- Pierce it and rivet it to aluminum
- You can also use corrugation to create thickness. Here’s a blog that uses it for a pair of earrings.
- You can learn fold forming – if you don’t know it already.
Do you have a metal recycler nearby? I didn’t know if when you said “recycler”, you meant a metal recycler or not. I get a 3 foot by 2 foot sheet of copper (22g) for 30.00 from mine – it lasts about a year. You can make a lot of different things with 22g copper. Which is about .03 cents a square inch.
Have you checked out Rio Grande’s prices or Metalliferous? Rio Grande sells 2 sheets that are 6″ x 12″ (144 square inches) for $18.00. Metalliferous sells 6″ x 6″ sheets (22g again) for $4.55. These suppliers cost about .13 cents a square inch. You can make a bunch of stuff with a 6″ X 6″ sheet. The heavier gauges run a little more or you get less.
Rivet patterned or pierced copper to old leather belts to make cuffs.
Try Aluminum. Online metals is another great place to purchase metal. Here’s the link for 20 gauge Aluminum.
Also, below, is a cuff I made from 20 gauge aluminum. The patterned cuff part is the aluminum and the fancy stuff is pre-made pieces from vintage jewelry supply – all riveted together – including the bezel. The “Stone” is a piece of faceted glass.
More Copper Information
- Metal Corrugation book.
- Jewelry Making Journal’s blog on: Cheap or Free Supplies for Jewelry Making.
- Also from JMJB: Make Friends with your Electrician.
Replicating A Ring Of Mixed Metals
This is similar to what I’m wanting.
what in particular are you having a hard time with? Is it with soldering the copper to the silver? The image you presented doesn’t appear to be inlay, it looks more like the metals were layered. Here’s a video on metal inlay from Susan Rezac on YouTube. Perhaps, though, a channel was cut in the copper and the brass (cut slightly wider than the groove and beveled on one edge) was hammered into the channel. It’s hard to tell just from the photo.
Susan Rezac Inlay
How to Remove Copper Flashing
Why does my brass or bronze turn copper colored after soldering and how to remove it?
How to Work With Gold
“I just got engaged!! and with all materials and supplies, it makes no sense for us to buy our bands, right? Way more fun and special if I was to make it.
Now, I’ve never worked with gold before, our band would be a first. My fiance and I were wanting somewhat of a statement ring, just a big band, like 2 gauge, but no one sells gold wire that thick.
Also, I don’t have a casting machine, so not really an option.
Is soldering gold much different than silver?
Do you think I could just buy the gold and melt it down, then hammer it into shape? Or maybe I can solder two wires, that are not so thick, side by side?”
What the heck, go ahead and make your own. Hoover and Strong carry thick gold. Here’s the link to 1/2 round stock. You didn’t state what shape you wanted. So, here’s the link to their wire page. If they can’t help you, I bet if you called them that they could steer you into the right direction.
Rio Grande sells 6 gauge 1/2 round gold wire. Here’s their rectangular stock. I wouldn’t bother with melting it down and making an ingot – that’s a lot of work but, can be done! Here’s a video that I found on this subject. Here’s a video on making wire.
Where can I find Rose/Pink Gold and what solder to use?
I really enjoyed the ‘3 Ways to Tube Set a Stone’ tutorial. I am
definitely a beginner but your video gave me some confidence to try
setting stones! As of yet, I’ve mostly just done copper electroformed
jewelry and I’m obsessed – addicted, even. 🙂
I would really like to try this technique with rose gold (of course I will
practice with sterling silver first!!) but I cannot find rose gold bezel
setting tube ANYWHERE. Is there a reason for this and do you happen to
have any insight to where I might find it? I was also wondering if you
have any recommendations for rose gold solder. I’ve read that it can be
difficult to match the color of the solder to the metal.
I’m assuming that you are in the USA? Supplier links are for the States.
Stuller has two types of rose gold settings but, you need a wholesale account. Rio Grande make a 2mm rose gold plate tube bead – don’t know if this would work and its small size could drive you crazy. Rio has a pink gold sheet for making your own tubing. Otto Frei has a solder they recommend for pink gold. Precious Metals West has pink solder and other pink gold metals like sheet and wire.
Do you have any ideas about what to do with my metal scrap?
I am in the habit of trying to be as economical as possible with my materials, so I was wondering if you can do anything with the little bits of metal that you cut off the prongs or other scrap? Can those be melted down and rolled back into wire. Of course, I am eager to one day be good enough to work with gold… so that can get expensive… Thank you!
You can make balls to attach to pieces by melting the scrap, in relatively equal piles, to have matched sets. You can weigh the metal if you want to be exact. You could make small granules for granulation. Here’s a link to my video, Creating Consistently Sized Spheres.
You could also, save all your scrap (I save all my filing and sawing dust too) and send it to a place like Rio Grande Jewelry (when you’ve collected an ounce or so) and sell it to them. They will pay you or give you credit.
You can melt a pile of it and run the flattened, melted blob through the rolling mill to create new sheet metal.
Metalsmith. (Graphite Ingot Mold). (Wire mold) Or you could either carve a groove in charcoal or use a wire mold, make a wire ingot, and then draw the ingot through a draw plate or roll it through a rolling mill to make new wire. Here’s a video called: Making Silver Wire by Hand Engraving on YouTube.
I have a video called: Fusing silver and reticulation on copper.
(Water-cast ring). And finally a link to my video on Water Casting.
As you can see, there are many things to do with your scrap.
Solutions for Working with Gold Filled or Gold Plate
“I was wondering if you had any opinions on attempting to prong-set or tube-set a ring in with gold filled/plated metal. Is that totally out of the question due to not having sufficient layers of plated gold on the butt ends of the prongs and on the face of the tube setting?”
You can make settings from gold filled/plated material although, the filing required for shaping prongs and shaping the setting would remove some of the gold. I’ve heard of people melting gold solder over areas that become exposed (i.e.: the silver shows). I’d wait until you felt very comfortable making the settings before moving onto gold.
You can mix your golds. Make a tube setting with prongs where the tubing is plated and the prongs are real gold. 14k is a very strong metal so, you can use a thinner gauge than you normally would. It’s all about experimenting and discovering what works for you.
Any wasted gold can be refined and you will at least get some of your money back.
You could also look into getting a pen plating system and plate the areas that are exposed. Pepe Tools (and other companies) make these systems. Here’s a link to one at Contenti.
There is also a paint-on-gold that is fired in the kiln at 850 degrees F. – cool enough to not melt solder. One brand is Aura 22. Don’t do this with the stone in place unless it’s a diamond, a CZ or other heat-safe stone. You can also use a torch to adhere the gold but, you need to watch your temperatures as it will fuse with the silver. First, though, you need to depletion guild the sterling or use fine silver for the construction. Rio Grande has more information on Aura 22 (don’t forget to check out the “more information” tab. Good luck!
- Annealing Wire
- How to Anneal Silver Sheet
- Creating Consistently Sized Spheres
- How to Clean Metal
- Sanding Metal
- Flat Square Edges on Sheet Metal
- Fancy Wire
- Straightening Wire
- Vermeil, Gold plate and Gold-filled
- Wire and Sheet Metal
Related Web Pages
- Chart of Annealing Temperatures, Melting Points: Annealing Information from Aluminum to Tin (PDF)Wire and Sheet Metal – among many other things, lists metal suppliers in the USA and outside the USA.
- How to Finish Gold Q & A
- How to remove Firescale and Surface Oxidation
- Measuring Wire and Sheet Metal
- Recipes for Metalsmiths
- Vermeil, Gold Plate and Gold-Filled