This is the second piece of jewelry I've ever made, so that shows you anyone can do this. The tree is my third! My wife and I took a metalsmithing class at our local bead shop and she convinced me to go. Fire, metal and chemicals what's not to like! I had some of the tools already because my wife is into metal stamping, but I still had to round out some materials and tools. I mostly wanted to share what I learned at this class. There are several methods and alternative tools you could use to complete this project, but this is how I did it.
Jewelers saw and blades ($20)
Wooden Ring Clamp (optional)
Bench Pin (optional)
Bench Block (optional)
Metal hole punch or small drill bit
Rock tumbler or buffing wheel ($44 from Harbor Freight tools)
Stainless steel shot for tumbler ($20-- hard to find though- I had to order this off e-bay)
Metal snips or scissors
Insulating Fire Brick (or anything you can solder on)
Wood Doming Block (optional)
Chasing/Ball peen hammer (optional)
Small crock pot ($3 at Good Will-I've seen them at Walmart for $10)
Very small paint brush (for the flux)
Emery board (optional)
Stencils (optional but really help)
Sheet of 22 Gauge Copper ($4)
Sheet of 22 Gauge Brass ($4)
Silver Solder (medium) ($9)
Paper Labels ($2)
Flux (use paste form--Handy Flux is what most people use) ($10)
White wine vinegar
Non-sudsy soap (Shine Brite is what I used--$5)
3% Hydrogen Peroxide ($2)
WD 40 (optional)
The new tools cost me about $87, but these are things I will use over and over. The material costs are minimal depending on what starting materials you have. This set me back about $37, but I can probably make about 6 more pieces with the metal and materials I purchased
Step 1: Cutting Out the Pieces
Step 1: Cut out the brass and copper pieces you want to use with a jeweler's saw.
*As always, put on your safety glasses first!* A broken saw blade or metal scrap in the eye is not a good thing! A way to guide yourself on the cuts is to use name labels to draw your design on. Once I designed my pieces, I drew them on the labels and then stuck them onto the metal. Cutting the shapes is easy with a jeweler's saw. The key is to go easy on the blades because they are small and break easily. It's a finesse game. I try to keep the saw as straight up and down as I can and just follow my lines. If you have used a scroll saw before then you get the idea. The bench pin helps to steady the piece as you cut it, but it is not essential. The brass and copper plates I bought at a bead shop that has jewelry supplies. ( I purchased the jeweler's saw, solder, and Shine Brite at the bead shop also)
Once I cut out my pieces, I put them in the ring clamp and filed down down the edges and and burrs that occurred during cutting. An emery board makes a great metal file and is like using a finer grit sand paper. I didn't use one for this project but it is a very useful tool. I used WD 40 to remove the sticky glue from the label. Remember you can always take metal off, but you can't put it back on.
Step 2: Tumbling the Pieces
Step 2: Tumble or polish the pieces.
This was the major purchase of the project. I had to buy a rock tumbler and stainless steel shot. The tumbler I picked up at Harbor Freight Tools for $44, which is a steal compared to the jewelry site I went to. The steel shot was hard to find but it finally came in from an ebay purchase. You could probably use a polishing wheel of some kind for this step, but I like the idea of the tumbler working for me, while I do other things. In the future, I can tumble multiple pieces at once. This step seems non-essential but is subtly important. Firstly, it will clean your pieces so that your soldering will stick. Secondly, it hardens the metal, because it will soften again when you heat it. Lastly, tumbling will polish the edges you won't be able to reach once they are soldered together. Inside the tumbler, I used a non-foaming soap called Shine Brite to a level just above the steel shot. You mix this with water and it makes quite a bit. I used about a quarter of a table spoon with 4 cups of water. Tumbling takes about an hour.
Step 3: Soldering the Metal Together
Step 3: Solder the pieces together
*Again, you will really need safety glasses for this part.* This is the most challenging step for me and I haven't mastered it yet. It is essential to have a a flux paste. Handy Flux is what most people use for silver soldering. I could only find the flux paste in the picture from Michael's and it worked fine. I initially used a flux used for pipes and it burned off too fast before the solder could melt. I was very liberal painting on the flux and I put it on both pieces. The flux helps to absorb oxygen so that when you heat it, scaling does not prevent the solder from flowing. The solder is a medium silver solder. Silver solder comes in easy, medium and and hard. The easy melts at a lower temp. and different types of solder are used to keep one solder from melting when adding a new soldered piece. Fortunately, you only need only one type for this project. I cut the silver solder into small little squares with the metal snips, but scissors would work too.
I evenly spaced silver solder pieces onto the metal and placed them together the way I wanted the final piece to lay out. The solder makes a very tight bond between the two pieces of copper and brass. I heated the pieces slowly with the propane torch, because the flux will bubble and could potentially move your solder out from under your piece. This did happen to me, and resulted in a slightly off centering of the triskel. Once the bubbling stopped I zeroed in on the metal and heated it up until it was glowing. I tried a small butane torch, but it took a long time to get the metal hot enough. Remember too, that solder will tend to follow the heat. In more advanced soldering techniques it will help to be able to solder from above or below. I'm sure I'll be buying more tools before too long!
You can see the metal pieces pull together. Pretty cool! I then picked it up with the tweezers and quenched it in some water. You can see from the picture that you get a lot of black scoring from heating it. Onto the next step!
Step 4: Pickling
Step 4: Pickling
Pickling is a step for removing the black scoring. Most people use a sodium bisulfate pickle. Of course, I didn't have any, so I got online and found a pickle recipe that worked pretty well. I will eventually buy some pickle though because it just works faster. The pickle recipe I used was not very exact. I used about 3 cups white wine vinegar and a couple of tablespoons of sea salt. The crock pot should be set on low and speeds up the chemical reaction. As you can see in the picture, the scoring comes off pretty quickly. The brass also becomes more coppery. The trick I learned in class is how to "re-brassify" your brass. Make a solution of 1 part pickle (from your crockpot, because it has loose ions in it) and 1 part hydrogen peroxide. Put the metal in the solution and the brass will "reappear" (This solution does not need to be warm).
**Make sure to use only plastic in this pickle, any other metal (other than copper) will contaminate it. When using the sodium bisulfate pickle, you will want some copper tweezers. **
A paper towel to dry it and I was done with the hard stuff.
Step 5: Texturing and Finishing
Step 5: Texturing and adding some character.
For me, this is the fun part. At this stage, everything looks pretty rough. The final tumbling will really make a huge difference! From the soldering, the metal is nice and soft (annealed). Using a small ball peen hammer (also called a chasing hammer), I pounded the metal to add texture. Then I used a wood doming block to make it convex. I did a final filing to the outside to make the points fit. There are a lot of options here. You can use different stamps, texturing hammers, punches etc.
I used a metal hole punch to make a hole for the jump ring.
One more round of tumbling (about an hour), added a jump ring and I was done! As you can see, the final tumbling really cleans it up and makes it shine. Also, it will harden the piece and keep it from bending.
The triangle piece was my first and the earrings are my wife's. This class really got my wheels turning and although there is much to learn I am really excited about what I can now create. Have fun!