Introduction: A Simple Sterling Silver Band Ring

About: I've been making jewellery for 22 years and teaching jewellery making classes for 13 years. Recently I've started an online jewellery magazine packed full of free tutorials and interviews with jewellery artist…

The first piece of solder constructed jewellery I made was a simple sterling silver band ring in college. It is also the first project I give to my beginner students. It touches on most of the basics of solder constructed jewellery making: shaping, filing, sawing, fitting joints, soldering and finishing. Making a band ring will also introduce beginner students to basic tools and their use. Although there are few steps, go slow and be patient with them; eventually you will get it. My advice to students is always do your best and don't lower your standards, but be kind to yourself; you are learning and to expect perfection is unrealistic. If you do something enough times, with care and the intention of improving, you will eventually get very good at it; finish one piece then move on to the next that is how you get better.

Step 1: Picking the Stock

A band ring can be made with sheet or wire. The benefit of using wire is it gives instant shape, for example: half round wire or square wire. The benefit of using sheet is it is much easer to work with than wire. If this is your first band ring, I would recommend using 18 gauge (1 mm) or 16 gauge (1.3 mm) sheet. I have noticed over the years that anything over 10 mm wide, will frustrate most beginners. For the purpose of this Tutorial, I am using 18 gauge sterling silver sheet which is 7 mm wide.

Step 2: Cutting the Ring Blank

Using a slide gauge or dividers score a cut line (image 1).

A Guillotine or Long arm metal shear, can speed up the process of cutting the ring blank off of the larger sheet; however if you don't have one, a jewellers hand saw will do the job and give you a chance to improve your sawing skills. At this point, don't worry if the cut job is not perfectly straight or parallel, it can be easily fixed at a later point in the construction process.

To learn more about how to use measuring tools click here to read Nanz Aalunds Tutorial "Measure Twice" or turn to page 42 in the July, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery. Creating Linus Jewellery is a free online magazine packed full of jewellery making tutorials, interviews and articles.

To learn more about how to use a jewellers hand saw  turn to page 62 in the September, 2012 issue of CLJ.

Step 3: Straitening the Ring Blank

The down side of using a long arm metal shear is it will always put a curve in the ring blank which will need to be straitened out (image 2). The plus side of using a jewellers hand saw, is the metal will remain flat and the next step can be skipped.

Anneal the sterling silver. A steel block and a rawhide hammer (image 3) will be needed. However anytime a steel tool is used, stop and ask the question "what could I damage". Steel is harder than sterling silver and can damage it very easily. As my teacher used to say "if you don't want to take it out, don't put it in". Any dents in the steel will transfer into the sterling silver, use a piece of stiff cardboard in between the steel and sterling silver to prevent this (image 4). Straitening a piece of metal can be tricky, too much force will actually cause it to curl, so be observant; if the sterling silver does not move, then hit harder, but if it curls hit lighter. I call this the "Goldilocks Syndrome", not too light, not too hard, just right (image 5)

To learn more about how to anneal sterling silver click here to read my tutorial or turn to page 46 in the July, 2012 issue

Step 4: Filing the First Side of the Joint

One of the most important tools a goldsmith has is the "V" board. The "V" board is designed to help support you while you work. Modifying the "V" board with groves can offer further support. The first thing I do with a new "V" board is put a deep grove in the left hand side "prong"; this is most helpful to hold sheet metal while filing. Since the ring blank is longer than needed, one end will be cut off and the other will become part of the joint. File one end 90 degrees to the long edge. There are many ways to hold a piece against the "V" board, my preferred method is illustrated in image 6. Using a hand file, file one of the short ends 90 degrees to one of the long ends. This will be one edge of the joint.

To learn more about files and filing turn to page 66 in the September, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Step 5: Measuring the Ring Blank

There are many ways to accurately measure a ring blank. I am using a ring blank chart found in Author Bruce G. Knuth's book: "Jeweler’s Resource: A Reference of Gems, Metals, Formulas and Terminology for Jewelers". Place the filed end at the "start" point. Notice the ring blank guide has more than one chart. When bending a flat piece of metal into a circle, the inside and outside surfaces will stretch and compact at different rates for different gauges. To make a ring the same size with 12 gauge (2 mm thick) as with 18 gauge (1 mm thick) a longer ring blank in 12 gauge is required then in 18 gauge. I am using 18 gauge Sterling Silver so I am using the 18 gauge ring guide. Mark the metal with a sharpie felt marker at the appropriate ring size (image 7).

Step 6: Cutting and Filing the Second Side of the Joint

Use a jewellers hand saw to cut the ring blank down to the size required (image 8). Repeat step 4. Both sides of the joint should now be filed at a 90 degree angle to the long edges and the ring blank should be the correct length as indicated by the ring blank chart (image 9).

Step 7: Bringing the Joint Together

When bending and shaping metal the first tools I reach for are my hands. Hands unlike pliers will not leave dent marks. Using hands bend the ring blank into first a wide "U" (image 10) then into a wide "teardrop" shape (image 11). If your hands are not strong enough use soft tipped pliers. Using a Rawhide or soft hammer and a steal block (don't forget the cardboard) hammer straight down on the ring blank (image 12) until it resembles the shape of a Hershey's kisses chocolate (image 13). If the joints pull apart, tilt the ring blank slightly forward and using the edge of the rawhide hammer bring the two joints back together (image 14 - work one side then the other ). Continue hitting straight down on the joint (image 15) until both ends of the joint are laying flat with little or no gap between (image 16 is not quite flat enough, image 17 is what you are looking for).

During this process the metal might "behave" or not. If the metal behaves, it will do everything as described. Most likely the metal will shift and twist and not do as it's told. When learning something new, one starts to build a "library" of information. Hit the metal and see what it does, hit it again and continue to observe, this is how you will learn. There is very little you can do at this point that is not fixable, so don't be afraid to try things. The best way to advance quickly is to do something and see what happens. At the very least you will learn what does not work, which is just as important as learning what does. Use the hammer, your fingers and if needed soft tipped pliers to align the two joints. If the metal starts to get work hardened and you find it difficult to move it, re-anneal the metal and continue.

This method of lining up a ring joint is a very good technique to learn. For thin gauged metals using pliers and simply bending the two joints until they line up will work, but with heavy gauge metal pliers will not be enough to move the metal. Once you have mastered this technique you will find it has many applications, not just rings.

Step 8: Tip

Unless you are an alien, chances are there will be a gap between the joint (image 18). There will be points where the edges touch and points where they do not. Bad practice is "filling" joints with solder.

Solder when it melts liquefies, imagine trying to fill a gap with water. If you do manage to fill the gap with solder, once the ring starts to tarnish the solder seam will change a completely different colour than the rest of the ring. This is because solder is not Sterling Silver. Solder starts its life as pure silver, other metals such as: Copper, Zinc and Cadmium are added to lower the melting temperature.
There are 4 different kinds of Silver Solders: Hard, Medium, Easy and Extra Easy. The major differences between them are the melting temperatures. Hard Solder has the least of these other metals so has the highest melting temperature and the best (not perfect) colour match to Sterling Silver; where as Extra Easy Solder has the most and therefore the lowest melting temperature and the worst colour match.

The purpose of the different melting temperatures is to allow for multiple joints; when soldering more than one joint there is always a risk of opening the previous joints. Some strategy is required when many solder joints are necessary; the first joint should be made with hard solder, successive joints with lower melting ones.

Step 9: Making the Perfect Joint

There are many methods to improve a Joint. My preferred method is using a jewellers hand saw to cut down the middle of the joint. Placement on the "V" board is very important. Make sure the back side of the ring is past the end of the cut out on the "V" board (image 19); if not (image 20) once through the seam, the saw will hit the ring instead of the "V" board, resulting in a nick. Hold the ring firmly so as not to allow movement (if your fingers do not hurt, you are not holding hard enough). Hold the saw frame at a slight angle (not straight up and down) and cut through the seam (image 21). Do not aim for one side or the other, cut right down the middle, removing a little material from both sides. This will take practice. It may require more than one pass to remove enough material to close the gap (images 22 and 23).

As in all things, it may get worse before it gets better. If you cut on an angle a wedge will be cut out resulting in a bigger gap, if this happens the two joint edges will need to be moved back together before attempting to cut through with the saw again. It may take once or 20 times to get this right. The more times you go through the seam the smaller the ring will become; don't worry about this, we will be hammer texturing the ring which will stretch it back up to the correct size. It is best to end up with a ring too small but with no gap. This is your first ring and it will take a few tries to perfect it. Be patient and you will succeed.

Step 10: A Talk About Soldering

I like to think of solder as a living breathing creature with things he likes and things he does not. The 3 things you need to remember about solder is: he likes it where it is clean, is always attracted to the hottest point and is kind of a lazy dumb fellow who does not follow complex directions very well.

When metal is heated it oxidizes, that's dirty, so the metal needs to be kept clean while heating it. To keep the metal clean flux is always applied to the seam. The flux will act as a temporary barrier between the metal and oxygen. My preferred flux is a brand called Handy Flux, which I am using in this Tutorial.

When heating metal the big mistake would be to place the heat directly on the solder seam. Metal is a good conductor of heat. While you are heating up the seam, the rest of the metal is sucking heat away from the seam creating heat fluctuations. To control where solder goes the heat must first be controlled. To begin with evenly heat the metal. Handy Flux is a good indicator of heat. First the flux will boil (flux is water based), then will turn white and finally go clear. When flux is clear it is sitting around 600 degrees Celsius which is a good time to place the solder.

This is where "Solder is a lazy dumb fellow who does not follow complex directions" comes into play. Always place solder at the beginning of a seam. If you place the solder in the middle of the seam, solder will have to travel in multiple directions; it won't want to. By placing the solder at the beginning of the seam all you have to do is tell it to go in one direction through the seam; this is done by controlling the heat. Evenly heat the entire piece of metal until a good overall heat is achieved (visually a dull red). At this point move the torch flame in for the "kill" by directing the cone of the flame at the spot where you want the solder to come to, for just a second this point on the metal will be the hottest spot on the piece and the solder will be attracted to it; this is called "drawing the solder". Allow the metal to cool so it is no longer glowing red then Pickle for 8 minutes.

To learn more about Pickle click here to read my tutorial or turn to page 48 in the July, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Step 11: Soldering the Ring

Using a paint brush apply liberal amounts of flux all the round the seam (image 24). Solder comes in sheet or wire form (image 25). I prefer wire as it is easier to cut than sheet. When soldering it is best to use as little solder as possible; experience will teach you how much you need. It is easier to go back and add in solder than to try and remove solder once it has flooded into detailed areas. Because solder is not sterling silver every little bit of extra solder will need to be filed or emeried off, so don't use too much.

I always cut multiple small pieces (about 2 or 3 mm long) rather than one big one (image 26). How big of a flame will you need? Again experience will teach you. For a small piece such as the band ring a medium sized flame will do (image 27). Hold the flame above the ring and heat evenly in a circular motion (image 28). First the flux will boil (image 29), then go chalky white (image 30), then clear (image 31). At this point place the solder.

Ball up the solder by placing the torch directly over the solder (image 32). Use a titanium pick to move the solder around with. Place the pick behind a ball of solder, move the flame over the solder and gently "scoop" the solder up (images 33).
You will note my pick is "dirty", a new titanium pick needs to be "treated" by dipping it in flux and heating it until the flux turns clear. Now once the flux on the pick is warmed it will become sticky like honey; this will allow you to pick up the solder and move it around (image 34).

Place the solder on the top edge of the seam (image 35), then bring the heat in and gently "brush" the solder off the pick (image 36). If the solder is not in the middle of the seam give the ring a little heat while nudging the solder into place with the pick. Learning to use the pick will take some practice; the gentler you are the easier it will be to move the solder around.
Heat the ring evenly until there is a slight red glow (image 37) then go in for the "kill" by moving the flame to the bottom inside seam (image 38). Pickle for 8 minutes.

Step 12: Tip

It is important to be patient with the pickle and allow the metal to be fully cleaned. If the solder did not go all the way through the seam, simply repeat the process. But if the seam comes out of the pickle dirty the solder will not flow through it. I have actually sean solder flow down a seam, encounter dirt, come out of the seam and go back into the seam where it is clean. If after pickling the seam is not completely clean, flux the seam and heat only until the flux is clear and pickle for 8 to 10 minutes. This will help clean the seam; repeat this until the seam is completely clean.

Step 13: Cleaning the Solder Seam of Excess Solder

The first thing you should do after soldering is make sure you have indeed soldered. The solder should have flowed all around and through the seam (image 39) The next big step is to shape the ring on a steel ring mandrel with a soft hammer. Steel is much harder than sterling silver so remember to stop and ask "what can I damage". There will be extra solder on the seam. If the extra solder on the inside of the ring is not removed before shaping, the extra solder will be driven into the sterling silver by the steel ring mandrel and will be very difficult to remove later, without also removing a layer of sterling silver. Using a flat needle file remove the extra solder before shaping (image 40). Be careful not to thin the edges of the ring while removing the extra solder, go slow and check often (image 41). Image 42 illustrates the completed filing.

Step 14: Shaping the Ring Round

To begin with the ring will not fit on the ring mandrel (image 43). On a steel block give the ring a "whack" with a soft hammer (image 44); this will spread the ring enough to slide onto the ring mandrel (image 45). This will also test the solder seam.

If the seam is weak it will snap open; better now then once all of the finishing is done. If the seam opens go back to step 7. If the seam starts to crack but does not open, lightly tap it down with a soft hammer until the joint is flat and re solder it.

Pull or snug the ring as far down the ring mandrel as you can (image 46). While sitting, hold the ring mandrel at the top and brace the handle against your hip (image 47). Hammer hard with a soft hammer. The mandrel is tapered and it is possible to shape the ring that way, to avoid this remove the ring and flip its position on the ring mandrel every once and a while. When finished the ring should not have any "wobbles" (image 48), but should be smooth and round (image 49).

Step 15: The Clean Up: Outside Surface of Ring

The clean up is the first stage of the finish. Use emery sticks to emery the outside of the ring. Now that we are working on the clean up, careful handling of the metal is important; don't put in more scratches and dents. If the ring is held against the "V" board, the board will scratch the ring; instead hold the ring scissored between two fingers raised off the board (image 50).

While emerying don't fixate on one spot trying to remove a dent, scratch or extra solder this will result in thinning that section of the ring. Pick a number - could be 5 or 6 and count off strokes rotating the ring and counting off again. Travel as much of the length of the ring as possible with a bending wrist (images 51 and 52); this will give you more results for your actions; compared to keeping your wrist locked which will only cover a short flat area of the ring. Go through 220 and 400 grits.

To read more about emerying turn to page 72 in the September, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Step 16: The Clean Up: Ring Edge

Use emery sticks (220 and 400 grits) to smooth and even the edges of the ring (image 53).

If one of the edges is higher than the other (image 54) follow these steps:

Smooth the even side with emery sticks. Using a pair of dividers score a parallel line to the even side by setting the dividers to the same width as the narrowest point on the ring and running one of the divider prongs along the even edge of the ring, scoring a line on the uneven edge as you go around the ring (image 55).

Don't try to score a deep mark on the first pass of the ring; this will likely result in the dividers slipping and making big scratches. Instead go over the score mark several times to deepen it.

If you find it difficult to see the score line, use a felt marker to darken the ring surface (image 56). Then go over the score line with the dividers once more.

Using a flat hand file, file the edge down to the score mark (image 57). Once the edge is filed parallel, use emery sticks to smooth it. When finished the edge should look even and smooth (image 58).

Step 17: Polishing the Outside and Edges of the Ring

A hammer texture on a ring is done with the ring on a steel mandrel; this will slightly damage the inside of the ring. There is no point in doing something twice; emerying and polishing the inside of the ring should be done only once the ring is hammer textured.
Polish the outside and edges of the ring using a polishing lathe or alternative rotary tool.

To learn more about polishing turn to page 76 in the September, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Remember: scratches, dents or firescale can not be hidden with a texture and once the texture in there the only way to remove the scratches, dents or firescale, that is now under the texture, is to remove the texture and re-polishing the metal. The Polish should be bright and clear before hammer texturing the ring (image 59).

To learn more about Firescale turn to page 82 in the September issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Step 18: Hammer Texturing the Ring

There are many textures that can be achieved with hammers, to read more about hammer textures turn to page 84 in the September, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

For this Tutorial I'm using a large rounded hammer to make a "planished" texture. Place the ring back on the steel ring mandrel, hold the mandrel against your hip and the top of the mandrel with one hand, strike the ring with the hammer (image 60).

Hammering the metal in this fashion will cause it to stretch and thin. Just how much depends on many factors: the type of hammer, how hard the blows are and how dense or sparse the hammer marks are. Experience will teach you what to expect - here is a chance to add more information to you library of knowledge; hammer away and observe the results. I like deep dense hammer marks (image 61)

Step 19: Emerying and Polishing the Inside of the Ring

Emery the inside of the ring using 220 and 400 grits wrapped around a piece of wood doweling. Just as the outside of the ring, pick a number and count off strokes. Always emery in the longest stroke possible. For the inside of a ring this is accomplished by rotating the wrist while emerying (images 62 and 63). Be sure to remove all dents, scratches, extra solder and firescale from the inside with 220 emery before moving to 400 and on to polishing. Image 64 needs more 220 emery. Image 65 is finished with 220 emery. Image 66 is finished with 400 emery.

Use a polishing lathe or alternative rotary tool to polish the inside to a bright finish. Image 67 illustrates not enough polishing whereas Image 68 is finished to a bright polish.

To learn more about polishing turn to page 76 in the September, 2012 issue of Creating Linus Jewellery.

Often I hear my students say "but it's only the inside". This is a bad way to think about your work. Jewellery is a three dimensional sculpture which will be felt and seen from all angles. The difference between a mass produced cheap piece of jewellery and a handcrafted piece lovingly made by a craftsperson is in the level of the finish. The inside of the ring is the most important surface to finish well, as it will be touching skin. If the inside of the ring is left with emery marks and not given a bright polish it will likely cause irritation and not be comfortable to wear. There are times when artistic vision should overrule technical concerns, but in my opinion this is not one of them.