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Alternative metals


#1

Hello,

My name is Jay and I live in South Jordan, Utah. I have been
grinding cabochons for about eight years, but up until now have
never mounted them because I didn’t like the commercial settings.
I’m now taking a silversmithing class and have completed about two
rings, and a few pendants for my wife. My eleven year old son has
been grinding stones for about a year now and is showing interest in
learning silversmithing. I want to encourage him to do this, but I
don’t think I want him to work with silver, at least for a while. I
think brass would be a good alternative, and a lot more cost
effective. My question is where do I purchase brass sheet, wire,
etc., and what color brass to use? Which color would give the best
impression of gold? I’ve heard of something called OK Gold, but
don’t know what it looks like or where to purchase it. Any help
would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Jay


#2
I've heard of something called OK Gold, but don't know what it
looks like or where to purchase it.  Any help would be greatly
appreciated. 

Hi Jay: I originally bought OK Gold from the now no-longer Swest
but I notice that Rio has some Merlin’s Gold which I think
essentially is the same thing. I personally found the OK Gold more
difficult to work with than Sterling but that may have just been my
inexperience at working with brass. I certainly didn’t like the OK
gold solder - so I used silver solder but had to bezel edges of the
top piece for anything that I sweat soldered. I primarily used it
when I was learning married metals technique and though it was very
attractive when polished, I found it tarnished more rapidly than the
silver and once tarnished was a pain to clean. I would think if you
have lots of sterling scraps around, you could teach your 11 year old
to solder simple forms together - even learning to butt solder two
rectangles is challenging to someone who has never done it before.
He should be old enough to handle a torch with you around to watch
and learning to solder is probably the single most important thing he
needs to learn. He could practice sawing, filing and soldering using
small pieces of scrap. Once he had mastered these techniques, he
could learn to make a bezel and set a simple round cabachon and then
he’d probably be ready to design a simple pendant. Your son should be
so lucky he has his Dad around to teach him. Enjoy it and don’t
forget to have some fun along the way.

Kay


#3

Jay,

I think copper would be your best choice. It is a pure metal and it
works very similarly to sterling silver. You can buy copper at
Allcraft or Metilliferous (both in NY).

Brass is a mixture of 2 metals and although you are looking for the
color it is not as easy to work with.

Jennifer Friedman
enamelist, jewelry artisan, ceremonial silver


#4

Jay,

I have taught several kids your son’s age to make jewelry using
silver. I think it is a little easier for them than working in brass,
and more rewarding, since they can clearly see that they are making
"real" jewelry. At his age, it’s not about his motor skills being up
to par, but his interest and dedication level. Since you are also
taking a silversmithing class, it would be a bonus for you both to
share materials, tools, and knowledge.

Have fun!
Doug Zaruba


#5

Hello Jay,

You say, “My eleven year old son has been grinding stones for about
a year now and is showing interest in learning silversmithing. I
want to encourage him to do this, but I don’t think I want him to
work with silver, at least for a while. I think brass would be a
good alternative, and a lot more cost effective.”

I’m speaking both as a “learn-it-yourselfer” and as a teacher. If
you want your son to become proficient in any skill, don’t start him
off on materials of lesser quality or with different
characteristics. You want him to have the best chance to experience
success, and be encouraged to stay with it. Would you want to learn
to play piano on an instrument out of tune and missing some notes??
Pay a little more for him to learn on silver. While brass, copper,
tin, etc. are less expensive, there would be additional solders to
buy, or if using silver solders on the other metals, the final
result might not be attractive.

Silver does not have to be expensive… a rolling mill will convert
old silver coins into sheet. Pawn shops sometimes sell old damaged
flatware that can be cut up and used for bracelet links, earrings,
rings, etc. I hope your silversmithing class has a mill - use it.
If not, save up and buy one… I’d suggest considering one of those
modestly priced mini-mills.

Finally, each metal has its own melting point. If he becomes
accustomed to soldering on a metal with a higher melting point than
sterling, it will be more difficult for him to adjust “down”. Let
him melt a few pieces - a good way to learn. Go ahead and get him
started on sterling.

Judy in Kansas, where we should experience the first real freeze of
the season tonight. Good night for chili.


#6

Like Doug I’ve taught kids to make rings and things using silver.
It’s certainly easier to use than a copper-based alloy, I get them to
do some practice (stamping designs, folding) in copper and allow them
to play (experiment) and make mistakes, but really soldering is way
easier in sil than copper. Have fun. Then, get him helping you on
some parts of your jewelelry and earning a little!

Brian
B r i a n A d a m
e y e g l a s s e s j e w e l l e r y
Auckland NEW ZEALAND
www.adam.co.nz


#7

I agree with Doug Zaruba. It is much easier for children to learn to
make jewelry using silver. Brass is hard and stiff and difficult to
saw. Copper is o.k. to work with, but your child will get much more
satisfaction out of making something with silver. Best of all,
scraps, and any projects that are botched can be sold as scrap, or
melted down for other projects, so there is no waste. Glad you are
encouraging your son to try his hand at jewelry making.

Alma


#8

In response to the question from Utah about finding brass, I have
used this company: www.metalliferous.com They sell all sorts of
brass to fuel the imagination, and their “red brass” looks more like
gold. I haven’t ordered from them in quite a while since I stocked
up, so you might ask them what other metals they might carry now
that would look like gold, as there are tons of names for faux gold,
such as nu-gold, for one. I have always found this company to be a
dependable and reasonably priced source. Good luck on your venture!

Christen Douglass


#9

I sent an e-mail directly to Jay, recommending the use of copper,
brass, and nickel-silver. But I was disappointed in some of the
on-line responses recommending silver instead. For example,

more rewarding, since they can clearly see that they are making
"real" jewelry. 

Gee, Doug, and all these years I have been making and selling
base-metal jewelry, I thought it was “real” (and so do my many
customers). It may not be expensive, but it is so much fun to
experiment with and to wear. Brass is not gold, but on the other
hand, I don’t have to keep my jewelry (or my raw materials) locked
away.

Brass is a mixture of 2 metals and although you are looking for
the color it is not as easy to work with. 

To the contrary, I find brass as easy to work with as sterling
silver, and it is much simpler to anneal than sterling. I don’t
have the fire-scale problem, either. Nor do I have to collect my
filings.

I certainly didn't like the OK gold solder ...I found [brass]
tarnished more rapidly than the silver and once tarnished was a
pain to clean. 

The solder color is a problem. I’ve commented on this issue many
times already on Orchid (ditto, on the matter of keeping base
metals clean) and won’t repeat things here. Silver solders work
nicely on brass, but they do show up in the finished piece, as Kay
observed.

Nickel-silver is definitely a little harder to work with than either
brass or sterling, since it is intrinsically stiffer. It looks
reasonably nice when polished, but in the end does not have that
wonderful “glow” that sterling has. On the other hand, a 20-gauge
bracelet blank (1.5 x 6") @ 16=A2 per square inch costs $1.44 in
nickel-silver (less, in either brass or copper), whereas the same
in sterling would be somewhere in vicinity of $17 (if my math is
correct, and more, when you include postage, etc. This is one of
the reasons I start my students off using base metal and, once they
have acquired the basic skills, they can decide when/whether they
want to switch to silver or gold. Tiny pieces of jewelry in silver
are not expensive, but if you like larger things (as I do), the
cost difference becomes much more significant.

I still recommend starting with brass and copper.

Peace,
Judy Bjorkman


#10

Hi Judy:

   To the contrary, I find brass as easy  to work with  as
sterling silver, and it is much simpler to anneal than sterling.  I
don't have the fire-scale problem, either.  Nor do I have to 
collect my filings. 

Since you work a lot with brass, have you torch textured it? and if
so are there any shortcuts I don’t know about. It just seems to
take a hellacious amount of heat and an unbelievably long time
before any results show.

Also, is there anything in particular you use to keep your
brass/mixed metal pieces polished? Or do you let it tarnish or give
it a brushed finish?

Thanks,
Kay


#11
I still recommend starting with brass and copper. 

Hello Judy and Group,

I enthusiastically second this. Brass and nickel silver are how I got
started making jewellery and I still enjoy working with them. My
reasons for starting with them was purely economics but in the process
I discovered that I actually like the way they age and wear. I’ve
since added copper and stainless steel to my metals palette for many
of the same reasons.

For instance, nothing beats the look of an old brass buckle or a nice
heavy copper money clip. Chains are another great use for base
metals, such as pocket watch or billfold chains. In many of these
applications the base metals would be my first choice for all the
reasons that they would not be in other designs. The precious metals
are great but the base metals are “part of the family” too. The other
thing I learned by starting with base metals is that the torch and
polish skills you learn on the base metals make the move to precious
metal work a breeze. Since the base metals are a lot “dirtier” when
heated they force you to be conscious of and develop good work
habits. And the contrasty look of silver solder on brass certainly
made me aware of the difference between a good solder job and the bad
ones. All of this served me very well when I moved into the precious
metals.

Cheers,
Trevor F.


#12
Since you work a lot with brass, have you torch textured it? and
if so are there any shortcuts I don't know about.  It just seems to
take a hellacious amount of heat and an unbelievably long time
before any results show. 
Also, is there anything in particular you use to keep your
brass/mixed metal pieces polished?  Or do you let it tarnish or
give it a brushed finish? 

Kay, I wish I could say I have torch-textured brass (I assume you
refer to reticulation). I want to, and it’s on my list of many
things to try! However, I have been collecting tips on how to do
it. There are some things from Ganoksin Bench Tips (“Reticulation -
Ridges and Ripples,” by Sharon Elaine Thompson and Hoover & Strong; a
1997 article by Charles Lewton-Brain, “Reticulation Notes”-- these
are both about silver, but have some useful tips)

From an earlier Orchid message (I don’t have the year, but the
heading is “Nugold reticulation”) Scott Thomson tells how he got
great results reticulating Nugold (red brass). The older jewelry
book by Chuck Evans, on page 94, says that Nugold and nickel-silver
reticulate very well and require no preparation (he has other
suggestions, too). In Tim McCreight’s 1979 book, p. 65, he says the
same thing and recommends pre-heating the underlying soldering pad.
Both suggest using an oxy-acetylene torch. Since both of these base
metals melt at higher temperatures than does sterling, it does
require a lot of heat. I’d suggest looking in the Orchid Archives
for more on reticulation.

As for polishing, I feel like a broken record on this subject, but
for most of my mixed metal pieces I use Jax-Black or any patina
solution for base metal which contains selenious acid. I rub off the
excess black with a pumice slurry and one of those leather fingers.
It leaves the recessed areas with nice shadows and then the
jewelry piece needs only the occasional rub with something like a
Sunshine cloth. This process also prevents rings and bracelets from
leaving those green areas on your skin (or, at least, on my
skin!). When I don’t patina my jewelry, I use a quick dip in
Tarn-X, rinse, and dry, followed by a brisk rub with a Sunshine (or
other silver polishing) cloth, if necessary. For a matte finish, I
tumble the jewelry in abrasive ceramic or plastic media.

Hope this helps!
Thanks to Trevor for his remarks, too!

Peace,
Judy Bjorkman


#13
   Both suggest using an oxy-acetylene torch. Since both of these
base metals melt  at higher temperatures than does sterling, it 
does require a lot of  heat. I'd suggest looking in the Orchid
Archives for more on reticulation. 

It has worked fine on small pieces with an air/acetylene torch for
me. One of them, I think the fickle silver, will reticulate into a
grid like pattern.

marilyn