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Silver Palette Necklace Tutorial – Part 2

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Now we get to the part where we unleash our inner pyromaniac!

The two pieces of silver that make up the artist’s palette need to be joined together permanently using solder.  I’ve used a ‘hard’ form silver solder that fires at a high temperature.  If there is more than one joint to be made in a piece, use hard solder first, then medium, then easy, which fire at ascending temperatures.  This means that heating up each subsequent joint does not undo the first.  In our piece there is only one joint so we don’t need to worry.

Using a pair of tin snips, cut into the end of the solder strip (beflow left).  Then, to create tiny pieces, or ‘pallions’ of silver, cut across the solder strip.  The solder pallions will be very tiny.



The strange thing in the photo above right is a borax cone, which is used as a ‘flux’.  Flux helps the solder to flow, prevents oxidisation and keeps the pallions in place.  You can also buy borax in a powdered form.  Simply place water in the tray at the bottom and grind the borax cone until you get a white paste.  To speed things up I usually take a file to the borax cone and shave some off.



There are some important notes to make about soldering.  The two pieces of metal to be joined should be clean and flat, so again I used files to remove any metal sticking out that would otherwise create a gap.

Using a paint brush I painted some borax flux paste onto one of the pieces, and used tweezers to place some of the hard silver solder pallions onto it (below left).



The next part is very tricky.  Cookson Gold sell some very useful reverse action tweezers with insulated grips which are perfect for holding pieces together whilst soldering.  Being very careful, align the two pieces together and use the tweezers to hold them in place (above right).  It’s a little difficult because the solder is liable to pop off or a piece of silver can move out of place.  It took me three attempts to get it right!



My husband very kindly made me a little soldering tray.  It’s basically two old baking trays that we had lying around the house.  He put them together and screwed a wooden leg on each corner.  This keeps the tray off whatever surface it’s on to prevent damage.  Just for safety’s sake, I put the tray on a concrete floor and had a bucket of water nearby (below left).  Make sure you have no distractions or pets or children running around the house while you do this.



The photo above right shows me soldering the piece together using a gas torch, which looks scary but is quite easy.  I apologise as it’s not the best photo in the world!

The method I use is to heat the piece evenly with the end of the orange flame for about 30 seconds, then gradually heat it with the tip of the blue flame (the part where the blue flame meets the orange flame is the hottest).  I move the flame around over the whole piece.  It won’t take long until you see the solder run and then the two parts are bonded together.  You can remove the heat immediately and quench it in water.  It will hiss and spit but this is normal.



As an aside, I’m also going to tell you how to heat a piece to anneal it.  Annealing is basically softening a metal so it is easier to work with.  You may also need to anneal a piece after it has been ‘work-hardened’ through shaping and bending metal.  Luckily the fine silver we are using stays pretty flexible and rarely needs to be annealed.

The annealing point of silver is 1110-1200°F (600-700°C) and its melting point which is 1635°F (890°C).  You can ‘see’ the tempertaure of the piece by watching for changes in colour.  Silver should be heated to a dull pink colour when annealing.

  • Visibly red 900°F (482°C)
  • Dull pink-red 1200°F (648°C)
  • Deep cherry colour 1400°F (760°C)
  • Bright orange/red 1600°F (871°C)

Try to keep the piece at that colour for about 30 seconds by drawing the heat away from and towards the piece, avoiding overheating it.



When you have soldered the palette together and it has cooled it should look something like the photo below left.  The silver will look white.



Now comes the part I’m not sure anyone really likes, or is it just me?  I find sanding a little boring, but there are ways to make it easier and the result is worth the effort.  For a small piece like this I stick it it to an old tile using double-sided tape which means you don’t have to try and hold it.  I do the back first, and then the front, with small squares of sandpaper cut from larger sheets (below left).

Use progressively finer grades of wet and dry sandpaper – the higher the number, the finer it is.  I keep a small bowl of water to dip the sandpaper in (above right).  For final polishing, I go from 200-2500 grit sandpaper in about 8 stages, but depending on how marked your metal is you can probably get away with less at this point.  Every time you change from one grade of sandpaper to the next, change the direction you sand in.  This way you can tell if you’ve missed a bit.  By sticking it to the tile rather than your desk you can just move the tile to do this.



The photo above right shows the residue left by the sandpaper on the double-sided tape.  You can remove the tape from your tile with detergent and water.



Unfortunately we’re not finished with sanding and polishing yet, but we’ll take a break and do something fun next time – making miniature paintbrushes!



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