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Anybody Really Good with Overlay?


Hello, I am still relatively new to jewelry making. I’ve discovered
I really enjoy saw work. And I’ve discovered its going to take a
ton of practice to get good at soldering an overlay bracelet
together (just a top to a bottom piece). I am making pieces in
copper for casting later. Typically the bottom piece is 18 gauge
and the top 20 gauge. I live in Tucson. Anybody here who can
solder a few pieces here and there for me over time? I realize many
jewelers wouldn’t be interested in such small jobs, they certainly
don’t bring in the big bucks. If interested, you can contact me off
line at @Desert_Canyon_Jewelr . And if no one in Tucson is
available, I’m open to piece work via the mail.

Thank you


Hello. I’m up here in Phoenix, and would not mind some small piece
work every now and then. I’ve spent the last 4 months soldering my
production line, so I have some pretty heavy solder experience. I
work full-time at a jeweler’s studio in town.

Let me know if sending piece work to Phoenix is something you are
interested in.



Hi, Diana, This is not what you asked for (I don’t have somebody to
do piecework for you) but as a teacher of many beginning (and other)
students, I want to encourage you to persist until you learn to do
this well. What you have is called “sweat soldering”, when you
solder one piece flat onto another, pierced or not. It is one of the
basic skills. You may want to practice on things that don’t have
hours of work in them, but it is not all that hard. Generally, I
recommend placing bits of solder generously on the back of the
smaller piece, after fluxing. Heat the piece until the solder runs,
and use a solder pick as necessary to spread the solder all over,
especially into corners and edges. Pickle it, then flux that and
your backing piece, put them together, and heat until the solder
flows again. If you concentrate your heat on the heavier piece,
especially by heating from the back, the pieces will solder
together. If the solder doesn’t appear as a silver line all around
the edge, gentle pressure with the side, not point, of your pick
while keeping the solder fluid with the torch may help the solder
run to those areas. The main problems that come up aRe:

  1. too little solder. It takes quite a bit. If you have used too
    little, it is not easy to add more, once the piece is partly stuck

1a) too much solder-- it runs all over the place. This shows a lot
on copper, but if the piece is to be cast, that may not matter. (If
you want to cast it, you could do the whole business in wax sheet!)

  1. too small a flame-- you must get the whole piece hot enough
    fairly quickly. This is especially important with copper, because
    taking too long will allow the copper to oxidize, and the solder
    will actually draw back into droplets (bead up) and refuse to
    spread. On the other hand, you are quite unlikely to melt your
    copper-- it has a much higher melting point than silver-- so go
    ahead and blast it. It’s fun.

  2. Bad fit. The pieces have to be nice and flat so that they have
    good contact, or the solder wont be drawn to all parts, or parts
    sticking up may melt. I gotta think that if you try this several
    times on scraps, you’ll be ready to do this work for yourself. No
    guts, no glory! Good luck!


 Its going to take a ton of practice to get good at soldering an
overlay bracelet. 


I too struggled with overlay soldering for years! It never turned
out right…either too much solder flooded the seam or not enough
left gaps. That is, until I discovered the secret to perfect sweat
soldering. Now I get it right every single time, no matter how small
or large the job.

The trick is to prepare the back of the top plate to receive the
perfect amount of solder. It is included in my upcoming book, due
out in a few months. Here is a sneak preview from 101 Bench Tips for
Jewelers, which will be published later this year by AJM Magazine.
To reserve a copy, contact Shawna Kulpa at 1-800-444-6572, ext.
3038, or e-mail Pre-publication price of $29.95
is 30% off the scheduled price.

The answer to your question comes from tip #68

No Sweat Sweat Soldering

Use a pair of dividers to trace the outline on the back of the top
piece, leaving an inscribed border about 0.5 mm inside the edge. Use
a ball bur to carve away the surface about 0.2 mm deep, leaving the
border intact. Flow solder into the recessed area and then file the
surface, so that the solder and the surrounding edge are perfectly
flat. Place the item in position on the clean backing and trace it
with a pencil. Flux within the traced outline, then flux and
position the monogram. Heat from below=E2=80=94and watch with delight =
the top plate settles gently into place, with a perfectly even seam
all around.


Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts, Inc.
760 Market Street
Suite 900
San Francisco, California 94102
tel: 415-391-4179
fax: 415-391-7570

    I am still relatively new to jewelry making.  I've discovered I
really enjoy saw work.  And I've discovered its going to take a ton
of practice to get good at soldering an overlay bracelet together
(just a top to a bottom piece). 

The easiest way to sweat solder is the Native American way. Start by
filing sheet solder and collecting the resulting powder. Run a strong
magnet through the filings to trap any stray iron particles and
remove them. Make a thinned out paste of Handi-Flux or cut liquid
flux 50% with water. Dip the piece that is to be sweated to the base
into the thinned flux, tap gently to remove excess liquid, then
immediately dip in the solder filings (I find putting the solder
filings on a paper plate keeps it contained and is easy to roll up in
a funnel to transfer to a container when finished), and tap gently to
remove excess solder. Place the two pieces together and heat from the
bottom. Be even with the flame, going from side to side, up and
down, center to outside. When you see the bright flash at the
outside, you’re done. Quench and pickle. The result is a seamless
join, with all areas stuck down and not too much solder in the areas
you don’t need. Things don’t slide around because there’s too much
solder, you don’t have fill in with solder when sweating very thin
pierced pieces, and it’s impossible to tell where the seam is between
the two pieces of metal.

Or if you have more money than time, you can buy powdered solder.


Hi Allen.

That’s a great tip.

If the piece were larger, it might be possible to have a
non-soldered pocket toward the interior with a potential for
exploding during a later heating. I might suggest an additional line
of solder toward the interior of a larger overlay as insurance.

An additional tip for overlay I credit to Andy Cooperman: File a very
slight chamfer around the back of the top piece before soldering -
neatly keeps any excess solder from flooding the surrounding area.

Pam Chott

    Or if you have more money than time, you can buy powdered

I’ve been taught that you have to scrape the solder clean before you
use it, which would be impossible with powdered solder. Is it a
non-issue with powder?

    I've been taught that you have to scrape the solder clean
before you use it, which would be impossible with powdered solder. 
Is it a non-issue with powder? 

I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue. I just keep
the powdered solder in a glass bottle that’s closed with a rubber
stopper when I’m not using it. In the Southwest, they keep it in a
little tin container that has a ribbed spout on it, no stopper. I
also use Battern’s almost exclusively, as it’s a self-pickling flux.


Powdered solder

Hi, Beth! I bought one each of your powdered solders at SNAG. I
haven’t tested them much yet, but did wonder how thick the
application needs to be. Is it really necessary to premelt the
solder? I was hoping to just sandwich the whole thing together
before heating and eliminate a step. Also, I’m wondering what I could
mix the powder with if I need a little paste solder. Maybe you could
sell me a jar of the paste (without solder in it) that you use to
make your paste solders? That would make the powders doubly useful! I
enjoyed meeting you at the conference. What a blast! Noel


Using powder solder saves lots of time. Time, in a jewelers world,
is money. Do not think of it as an expense, but rather a better
tool to get the job done more efficiently and proficiently. When
using a commercially produced powder solder, there are no impurities
that you might encounter had you ground or filed your own. When you
file from a block of self produced solder, keep in mind that
something might fall off a file, and little metal particles can
contaminate whatever you are trying to solder together. Powder
solder is best used with a paste flux that will hold up to
temperatures and work to get the solder to flow correctly. Powder
has a big advantage when sweat soldering in that it will not form
lumps if dusted evenly (read wear mask when working with this
technique) over the flux that has already been applied to the back
of the piece you wish to sweat solder. Pallions can form lumps
where not completely melted. The particles are so small in the
paste solder, that the likelihood of the lumps forming is very
remote. As for scraping the solder clean before use, this is for
sheet and wire solder, so it is a non-issue with paste solder. Good
on using powder solder is found my the web site. Beth