Copper Solder Test II: Electric Boogaloo

23 Apr

After my unsatisfactory results with copper solder last week, I looked around the internet for some advice.  Turns out a couple people who reviewed Rio Grande’s product had some things to say. (Note: as far as I know, none of the solder I tested came from Rio Grande.) Apparently, the thing to do is make your join, pickle it, polish it up a bit, and then slowly heat it up again to make the copper color happen.  Really?  Had to try it.

Here’s what I had after a little polishing last week. Note the crappy gray color:


And here’s what I have now, since I heated the test pieces up again Monday:


Well! That is much better, especially where the solder is thinnest. I guess there’s hope, although you really should be careful about application. I’ll keep practicing with what I have–I’ve got an entire tube of it, after all.

Of course, you can still just copper plate silver solder. And then throw it in the tumbler to polish it.  Like this!


It’s all waxed to preserve the shiny-shiny, but I’ll be interested to see how long it takes to darken. At that time I think I’ll just polish up the highlights. (Translation: dear God, I do not want to use liver of sulfur in the house again.)

So with that out of the way, and with my reputation as an experimenter sealed, I moved on to something I really want to do for my own satisfaction.  Remember this pendant I made at the end of beginners’ class, nearly a year ago?


I still have the other green aventurine from the two-pack I bought. I’d always hoped I could do the project again someday when I was more experienced and get it right.  Now is that time. Here’s what I have so far:

take2My husband says it looks better already.  I’m not sure, although it only took me two tries to get the bezel soldered down all the way around (this is a bigger piece than I’m used to making, and it’s hard to judge what I need.) I cut and tried to form a piece of square wire to go around the bezel (to be stamped later) but, unfortunately, had cut it just a bit too short. Not to fear: I can always use it for something else. Like a better bail, for instance. So, I’ll keep at this as class time allows. We seem to keep running low on gas at one solder station or the other, so while I’m waiting for a torch, there’s time for . . .

. . . more fold forming! This week’s lesson: hammering steel wire into copper, annealing, and bending into interesting shapes. Of course, I learned this when I was working on my copper suitcase (really gotta finish that someday), but some new possibilities were suggested to me with these basic shapes:

ffandwireI haven’t taken the time to make these dramatic yet, but more shaping and even hammering/texturing along the creases could get interesting.  First, I want to soak these in the vinegar/ammonia/wood solution I still have to get all the oxide off. It’s annoying when that stuff flakes off all over your tools.

I even got around to making another “pillow” pendant.  I thought I could make one just like last week’s, only a little neater, but it ended up quite different.  Fold-forming is like that, full of surprises! I used a smaller dapping punch and made more dimples, which probably counted for a lot. Also, my piece was probably a more perfectly square shape to begin with.  And the heat patina . . . wow! Didn’t see this coming.


Last week’s on left, this week’s on right.

Here’s the back.  The ends of the new one were short enough that I could just hammer them down reasonably neatly and safely.  I bet if I polished it up, the new one would be a great reversible pendant!


One last thing. (Damn, I was busy this week, wasn’t I?) Remember this texture I made with a claw hammer last year and really liked?


I decided that had to be a cuff bracelet, so I cut off a strip of my 20 gauge copper and got to work. After all the hammering, annealing, sanding, and buffing, here’s what I’ve got now:

clawbraceletIt’s still dirty with buffing compound, and has a few rough spots to be finished, but I think it’s working out! I’d planned to roll back the ends to make loops for a heavy square wire clasp (attached on one side, hooked on the other; squeeze to release.) Maybe I’ll leave it as-is . . . although I’d definitely have to take down those uncomfortable ends . . . something to think about!



Ammonia Blue and Other Small Things

17 Apr

So, last week I mentioned I was trying out a patina recipe to get green on copper.  It involved putting sawdust in a plastic cup and adding a mixture of vinegar and ammonia (1:3 ratio). You bury your piece under the sawdust and let it sit for one hour to one day.  Well, three days later, I gave up because nothing happened (except the heat patina from annealing came off).  My guess is, either the red oak sawdust I used was the wrong kind of wood, or the “janitorial strength” ammonia was either too strong or not strong enough for the ratio. I do know this: fuming a piece over ammonia will get you a blue color very quickly, and this mixture stank of ammonia (I had a cut on my finger that would actually burn every time I took the lid off to check it.) So I used a bit of plastic netting from a bag of onions to suspend this leaf over the mixture, covered it, et voila! Blue. Then I sealed it was spray automotive enamel and now I’m done.


Still wish it was green, though.

I’ll be on the lookout for more recipes.  Meanwhile, I’m still practicing wire wrapping.  This cheap, repro Roman coin (which my husband was going to get rid of!) doesn’t look terribly bad in this picture . . .


. . . but there’s some wonk to the wrapping wires.  I guess pressing them against an uneven coin is going to produce an uneven result (who’d have thought? Ha.) Lesson learned:  I need some dowels in larger sizes than what I have.  Maybe I’ll hunt around the house for some things. Also, next time I try this particular wrap, I’ll bind the sides. I’m not going to finish this piece . . . no, wait.  I’ll save it in case I have a new bail idea and I want to do a practice run first.

And finally, here’s something I fold-formed in class this week:


I didn’t get too into this, because I learned about t-folds and their variations last summer, and I had other projects I wanted to do.  But . . . I learned that if you wrap a dowel in the middle of bit of sheet metal, clamp the ends of the sheet into a vise, remove the dowel, and then gently use a mallet to make a “pillow”, you can decorate said pillow by dimpling it with dapping punches. What you see here is the reverse side, which has a strange, alien-intestine look to it. I was thinking of making a pendant with this–not unlike a bolo tie, with a cord on each side, but maybe I’ll wait and make a better one next week. I just pulled back the edges and wrapped them toward the back to see what it would look like; now that I’ve got an idea, surely I could do better.

And finally, I may have learned something about copper solder that will make it look better!  I’ll try it Monday and post results.

Copper Solder Test

16 Apr

In class this week, I gave my new copper solder a go. My usual trick is to simply use silver solder, and then disguise any lingering traces after sanding by adding a little steel wool to a small amount of pickle, putting the soldered item in, and watching it copper-plate.  It works, but what if you could just make your join coppery in the first place?

So here we go.  I ended up doing three tests, because my friend Jane had some copper wire solder she never liked and was willing to let me try.  Similarly, my teacher had some copper solder she didn’t like either, also in wire form, but very thick. Here are my initial thoughts on using these.

Paste–so, so hard to squeeze from the tube . . . but you can get tiny amounts out, and that’s good.

Wire–if you’re in the habit of covering the end of your wire with a fingertip when you snip with cutters (and you should be), you might want to protect said finger with a rag or something; this stuff is hard and can be sharp. You might get cut.

Heavy wire–oh good Lord. This is . . . what, 14 gauge maybe? How are you going to cut a tiny piece of that off with flush cutters? I thought I could hammer the end down to make it easier to snip off a small bit, but it actually crumbled under hammering. Also, when that happened, it was obvious that the product is metallic on the outside and . . . not on the inside. At this point I gave up and stopped trying to get a tiny piece, which is why the join in test subject M below is especially blorpy.

These are the test pieces, after pickling, before polishing:

mm6 Top to bottom:  heavy wire solder, thin wire solder, paste solder

And here they are after I shined them up a bit:


On tests W and P, I strove to use tiny amounts to reduce solder blorps.  On test M, I didn’t (also, there’s a chunk of soldering board stuck in the corner that I didn’t pick off.) Perhaps if I’d been a bit stingy with the flux, there might not have been so much crazy flow. But flow or no, the color is not a good match, rendering copper solder pointless as far as I can see. But what do I know? If anyone has tips on making it work better, I’d be willing to hear them and try again.

I did rather like using the paste on this foldover wire prong project I’ve got going on, if only because it won’t show once the stone is set:


And finally, here is the project that got me thinking about copper solder in the first place.  This is a bracelet straight out of Contemporary Copper Jewelry, which I’ve been working on for wire-work practice and because it’s super pretty. My only beef with the instructions involve the link with the hook on it. You’re supposed to just leave the wire end sitting there at the base of the hook, which strikes me as uncomfortable, and a little amateurish. (I’m guessing the book’s author, Sharilyn Miller, knows this very well, but advising the reader to solder something down in a craft book strictly about wire techniques would go beyond the scope of what the publisher wants.*)

All this is to say that I soldered the end of the wire to the outside of the spiral with silver solder, pickled it, and copper plated it just before the end of class.  So, next week, I’ll assemble and polish it.  But for now, here’s what I have:


Eh, it worked.


*Or maybe I’ve just picked up my teacher’s prejudices.  I’ve reached a point where I can’t even believe how many jewelry books are published with projects featuring jump rings that haven’t been soldered shut.  Seriously, if you have the means, take care of that!

Meanwhile . . .

13 Apr

I was hoping by now to be able to show the results of a patina experiment I tried at home with one of the copper “leaves” I made in class, but so far . . . nothing.  It’s been a couple days and all that’s happened so far is the flame patina has come off, leaving the copper as orange and shiny as what I started with. (This is not a bad thing, and probably an easy way to get that result, if I want it in future.) I’m hoping for a green color, and perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but there does seem to be a slight tinge growing, so I’ll keep waiting.

Meanwhile . . . I tried out my new wire and ended up with a caged bead that looks fair enough on either side.  Kinda like one of those double-A-side singles The Beatles used to release back in the day:



I’ll let you decide which is “Penny Lane” and which is “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Naturally, this copper wire is way softer than the gold-filled stuff I’d tried (it has a brass core). This is good because it’s so much easier to shape, but it’s also problematic because it’s super-easy to screw up, and the finished piece isn’t all that sturdy (maybe a run in the tumbler will work-harden it up, though.) This piece took about an hour and half; most of that time was spent fixing mistakes and mis-alignments.  I suppose in time I’ll get better at avoiding trouble in the first place.

Tomorrow I have class again, and I’m looking forward to trying something new: copper solder!  I’ve heard that it’s a decent color match as long as you don’t go crazy and overheat it.  We’ll see!


Fold Forming Madness

9 Apr

Class started Monday!  We learned how to make leaves, and ruffly edges, and a little thing called a Heistad cup.  This involves a lot of clamping, folding, annealing, and whanging.  And earplugs.  Don’t forget the earplugs.  I think the stained glass group in the next room hated our guts that night.

Anyway, here’s what I managed to do with some hardware store copper sheet:




Bunch of cups + chain = neat rain chain.  Just throwing that out there for future reference.

Note the wild colors!  I didn’t do anything special here; this is the flame patina I got after torching (and a little brass brush work to get the scale off). Next week we’ll be doing some patina experiments (and, apparently, some homework involving household chemicals), so we’ll see what else I can do.

Meanwhile, I’m a bit more excited about some wire work I’m doing at home.  I’ve got a project going on from Contemporary Copper Jewelry, just for the shaping and forging practice, which is going well.  I’m also reading up on wire wrapping stones, and I’ve found some ways that are . . . well . . . much better than what my teacher showed us.  Less likely to pinch and scuff, that’s for sure. And I finally managed to order some square and half-round copper wire in appropriate gauges, so I can save my gold-filled for when I’m better at this.


Wire Wraps . . . and Another Mystery Project

6 Apr

Here was my work bench last night, with a couple things in progress:


I’m on the verge of ordering some square and half-round copper wire, but I wanted to get in some cab-wrapping practice with my cheap, hardware store wire first.  That big boy on the right is done up in 16 and 24 gauge copper; tough to wrap straight, and very difficult to bend over the stone without leaving gouges from your pliers. (Maybe I can smooth those out with a Mizzy wheel soon?) When it was done, I had this:


I’d have a liked more tendril-y look to all the ends, but I cut them to a length that was neither long enough or short enough to be interesting, so I clipped them down quite close and made small loops.  Meh.  I also made a mistake with the bail wires; for security, the best thing to do is shape them first and have other wires going around the base in back.  Mine just end in curlicues in the back.  The weaving probably makes it heavy enough that it couldn’t be broken or distorted with a quick tug, but it’s not ideal (and not as good looking as it might have been.)  Well, that’s why one practices with cheap stuff first, right?

The other thing I finished was the copper slide pendant I played around with a few weeks ago (beneath the purple-handled pliers in the top picture):

copperteardropI don’t know what stone this is; I believe it came in one of those fun grab bags you can get from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads for ten bucks.  It has a nice translucency that’s hard to capture with a camera.  It’s simple, but I really like this piece.  I think I’ll string it up on a cord tonight and wear it to class tomorrow.  Because yes:  the next session starts again tomorrow.  And there will be forming and shaping and hammering, my favorite things.

One last thing:  I’ve been neglecting my knitting, but that’s good.  It’s lower priority these days (especially since I have three jewelry commissions to work on!) and I’m actually enjoying knitting at a snail’s pace instead of trying to finish this and use up that and get this started and do it all while watching t.v. and gaining weight . . . Anyway, it’s a mystery project! Can you guess what this mess might be?

kitt1It involves a lot of short rows, which means I have to remember how to pick up wraps when I wrap and turn.  I believe the book’s instructions are incorrect, and although I watched some good videos on YouTube, I keep forgetting how to do it so it doesn’t show.  Should probably review that again.


What to Do with All Those Domes

30 Mar

Well, I finally got around to making a project from the Oct-Nov 2011 issue of Step by Step Wire Jewelry.  It’s a pendant called Disco Darling by Keirsten Giles.  Hers is a stunner; mine is just a practice version with a few questionable aesthetic choices.

Here’s what I had during the playing-around-with-discs-and-beads stage:

copper clusters progress

I’d just put a patina on the copper and rinsed, hence the water drops.  The discs were made from various scraps in my classroom; unfortunately, most were patterned so thinly that their designs were all but lost in the process of doming. (I should really get myself a set of stamps if I’m going to pursue this kind of thing.) I made 20 gauge headpins in class a couple weeks ago, at which time my teacher took one look at the article and said yeah, you’re going to enjoy doing those, in a voice that implied anything but.  I forgot all about it until I got started wiring said headpins.

Whew!  It’s hard to keep the discs in place where you want them, and wrap that heavy wire tight enough that they stay on.  Eventually I figured out: (1) always wrap toward the open side of the squiggly wire frame; and (2) use your pliers as you go to tighten and snug up your wire loops.  Also, you can always adjust your frame a little when you’re done to move your domes/beads closer together.

This is what I ended up with:

copper clustersNot bad, as first tries go.

I should also mention that I drilled these and a bunch more discs/domes with my Dremel, a wooden block, and lots of masking tape.  This was all so irritating (tiny discs get hot fast, melt the adhesive, and end up spinning–a potentially dangerous situation–that I went out this weekend and bought a hole punch tool.  It has a 1.5mm side and a 2.0 mm side, and I sliced my finger the very first time I used it.  This is my own fault, of course; it would have been better to hold down a disc with pliers than with my fingers, because the discs will turn a bit.  You also have to be careful about not getting annoying, circular scuff marks around your hole.  But, I’m glad I bought this thing, and hope I can put it to use on my copper suitcase, and soon.

Next time:  adventures in wire wrapping. I hope.  There’s a specific project I really want to try.



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