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Balling up 18k gold wire

I apologize if the answer to this question has been posted, but
darned if I could find it!

I am new to working with 18k gold, and I have the simplest of dufus
questions. If I want to ball up 18k gold wire to make my own
headpins, do I need to flux and pickle? And if so, what type of
flux & pickle?

Thanks in advance to all of you knowledgeable folks,

Barbara Lee
Gemella Contemporary Jewelry

I hate to sound condescending, and that isn’t my intent. But might I
point out that in the time you spent searching, and then asking this
question, you could have grabbed a spare inch or so of 18K gold wire
and simply tried it several ways. With flux, or without. See what the
differences are. Any problems. Try different torch flame settings and
see what that gives you. Etc. Etc. And just how many types of pickle
do you have available anyway? Of them all, what, exactly are they
doing that differs from one to the other? (hint. Every one of them,
if it’s a pickle, is there to remove oxides. mostly copper oxides,
to clean off fire scale and discoloration. And any of the available
pickles will work with 18K. The only differences are in speed and how
aggressively they work, although some are better at also removing
other oxides, like nickle oxides, that form on some alloys).

Think about it. Try it out. Experiment. Most of the people on this
list, and in the world in general, who are truly knowledgeable about
their subject didn’t get that way by asking for instructions on every
detail. Explore the medium, and above all, make mistakes. This is how
you learn this stuff. If everything you do is done exactly according
to the instructions you got from somewhere, then chances are, even if
you’re doing the stuff, you’ll have no idea why you’re doing it that
way, or whether other ways work, or why it works at all. Please. Be
at least a little bit curious and adventurous. Be willing to scrap a
few small bits of metal now and then in the interest of learning (you
get most of the cash back anyway when you refine the scrap) Thinking
through a problem and then trying things and having them work is a
great teacher, better than following instructions and having it go as
described. Trying things and finding they don’t work is an even
better teacher than that, as you learn not only what not to do, but
also more about how and why the material and process works. You can
never really memorize all the details and procedures. But if you
learn to understand the metal and it’s properties, and the hows and
whys of the way we work it, then you’ll not need to memorize much at
all. Common sense will then show you the most logical ways to do a
thing, even if it’s some operation you’ve never exactly done before.

Yes, orchid is a great resource. Use it when there’s a lot at stake
(please ask for advice before trying something that, if it goes
wrong, could cause injury or cost you a lot of money, for example),
or you’ve run into a brick wall and don’t know where else to turn, or
are truly so new to a thing you’ve no idea where to start. But being
afraid to simply try even the simple things is not in your best

Apparently you already know something about balling up a wire made
of something else, perhaps silver, or 14K. I’m curious why you’re
afraid to simply try the 18K. What’s to loose? Please don’t be so
timid around your metal.

But in the end, to answer your question now that you’ve put up with
my annoying preaching, you can ball up 18K gold wire the same as
you’d do with sterling or lower karat golds. A sharper but still
slightly reducing flame will give you the cleanest results in terms
of a nicely shaped ball. Flux or boric acid/alcohol fire coat will
let the metal stay clean and somewhat brighter and smoother. Without
flux or fire coat, the ball may be rougher, and will need pickling
in any reasonable acid pickle (sparex, or others, for example) in
order to remove the black oxide that will form. One way to get very
uniform balls is to drill a hole the size of your wire into a
charcoal block, and burr a small round depression slightly into the
end of the hole. Your wire can be inserted in the hole, and the
protruding end melted down to the block. The depression on the block
will keep the ball centered perfectly on the block, while the block
itself will help to keep the metal clean and bright. The length of
the protruding end also can be precisely controlled, so you get the
same size ball each time.

Peter Rowe

My $0.02 worth.

While I agree with your philosophy and think it is most effective in
the long run, it does run against both economic and cultural fears.

With the current price of gold many of us are afraid of messing up.
Yes, I know we can always… but it still inhibits experimentation.
In addition, a number of us grew up being taught not to experiment
while learning things but seek instruction first. To some extent this
is gender biased. Too much experimentation with basic food and other
household items leads to hunger and overruns of household budgets.
Experimentation was a last resort and generally meant that things
were going awry in the first place, or that we had reached "master"
level and could experiment without much risk of truly adverse


Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I am nothing if not a great experimenter, being an autodidact.
However, I just bought my first torch and I own neither flux nor
pickle of any kind. 3 years ago, I took a simple metalsmithing class
so I know a little something about using a torch with sterling
silver, but that’s all.

So in the interest of economy, I asked the question not so much
because I want step-by-step instruction, but simply to avoid having
to purchase a supply I might not need.

By the way, I did discover that I can’t ball up 18k gold wire using
my gas range.



Your reply has me wanting to comment! I have never read any better
statements than you have presented here.

I have been a metalsmith for 35 years, and can’t imagine how I have
changed some of the methods I use. Experimentation! Curiosity!
Accidents! My beginning instructor, I decided the other day, was
truly a great teacher - I bled his brain! Now it really pays off -
but I am expanding on the ways he did things - but the basics still
present themselves.

Thanks for your down to earth lecture!
Rose Marie Christison

Peter - thanks for saying what I’ve been wanting to post for ever so

My rant (not to Peter) - I am truly happy to answer arcane
questions, but I really do not have any interest or patience in
answering questions that would be evident with 10 minutes at the
bench or a few queries to the orchid archives or one of the net
search engines.

The beauty of our work is that there are literally hundreds of
solutions to almost any problem. Simply by trying, you can discover a
few. You will remember the ones you tried.

And if it is all too new, find a class. Read a book. Talk to your
local jeweler. It is your responsibility to get to first base.

Judy Hoch

Peter you’re exactly right!

And your response is not just for the original poster but for
everyone. The only time one learns is when one makes a mistake. And
where’s the sense of adventure; and what’s the worst that can happen?


I am delighted that Judy and Peter and others have both infinite
time to experiment, and infinite funds to pay for the materials to
experiment with.

Many of us don’t have either, so asking before doing is like looking
before leaping - a good idea! Unfortunately, even things that have
been covered in earlier posts are not always easy to find. Simply
browsing the Internet is a bit of an iffy proposition, as anyone can
post anything, and it need not necessarily be accurate. At least
when a question is posted here, one can have some confidence in the
accuracy of the responses!

Nor do we all live in big cities with workshops and practicing
jewelers, or libraries with decent books on jewelry. (or public
transport to touch briefly on an earlier topic). Please do not
assume that because something is clear to you, or affordable for you,
or accessible to you, that is for everyone. It is not.

Yes, it is our responsibility to get to first base - and sometimes
that leads us to Orchid. Please be gracious when this happens.

I’m not the one who posted the original question, but I thought it
was an interesting question, as I currently don’t work in gold, only
silver. Therefore I really am not familiar with where they are
similar, and where they differ. I have learned a lot from some of
those kind enough to respond, and filed the posts for future use as
I hope to move into using gold soon.

One of the beauties of Orchid for me is just that - reading
questions that I had not thought of, or needed, but that inform me
for the future.

Thanks to all who post graciously in response to queries, whether
they seem incredibly basic to you or not. And a special thanks to
Hanuman for organizing this wonderfully informative source!

Beth in SC

I have to jump in on this one, I agree time saved is wonderful, but
even with directions the first time is still going to be an
experiment, almost everything I know is from making mistakes the
first time. When it comes to infinite funds, most of us do not have
infinite funds but you have to look at the big picture. Gold is scary
at $900.00 an ounce, but lets figure 1 foot of 18ga wire weighs about
2.45 dwt which is.20 dwt per inch. If you make a big ball on the end
and use 1/4 inch that would be.05 dwt, and at $37.00 a dwt. equals
$1.85. So even if you mess up you don’t loose that much, I bet most
people have more silver mistakes sitting on their bench that that.
Let’s keep things in perspective. Also it really is not waste, just
stick it on a silver piece as a gold ball accent and add $20 to the
piece because it has gold on it, not bad for a $1.85 screw up.

Bill Wismar

So even if you mess up you don't loose that much, I bet most people
have more silver mistakes sitting on their bench that that. Let's
keep things in perspective. Also it really is not waste, just stick
it on a silver piece as a gold ball accent and add $20 to the piece
because it has gold on it, not bad for a $1.85 screw up. 

Bill you are correct on that. I just sent to have refined over 200 oz
of mistakes and fowl-ups in silver. Made for a tidy sum I’ll say. We
all have to experiment as all metals react differently.


Peter’s point is well taken, as is Bill’s: Don’t be so afraid to
experiment, and it’s not as expensive as you think.

But personally, I must agree most heartily with Beth. We aren’t all
as experienced as you are, and at $900/oz, sorry, this is daunting!!
I paid $45 for an 3 INCHES of 18K wire for a project, and I don’t
have any more. Just experimenting freely with it puts me off,
especially if someone can tell me how to do a better job in only 5
minutes. It’s too silly NOT to ask. Idid not raise the question, but
I turned to this thread with interest, in case I could learn
something I will need to know about gold work.

It must get tiresome answering the same questions time and again,
but your patience helps us all move along in the right direction.
And as I’ve learned from some recent posts here, the info I get in
my classes, while well-intentioned, is not always the best out
there. Some of the info here is. The wealth of experience and
you all provide, and the willingness with which you all
share is a resource just too good to pass up.

So, rant away whenever necessary, we understand. Then, answer
anyway, as you did. Some of us are chastened, and may try an
experiment or two, but we have a better starting place!

Keep smiling!
Lisa W.

From the other side of the budget: OK, so the pennyweight of gold
that is ‘wasted’ in an experiment is less than $2, remember that you
can’t just buy $2 of gold to experiment on. There are minimum lengths
to purchase, and you have to add shipping/handling, and there’s just
no way to see what happens to 1" of wire unless you have more than 1"
of wire to experiment on. There’s a certain amount of waste built in
to every single action you take. Also, not everyone has the skills or
capacity to ‘just add’ the 18k decorations lying around to unfinished

This sort of experimentation assumes the financial ability to pay up
to $20 per experiment (18k, this includes shipping). Two months ago I
could absorb this cost, but since I was laid off, $100 for me is the
difference between negative and positive cash flow PER MONTH. Do you
think I’m going to spend that money on gold or necessities? What if
my cat gets sick? Or I need tires? Or I get sick?

Hmm, I need to see what happens when I solder some gold, but it
costs $60 for a dwt of solder (not including shipping). Suppose I can
only afford one dwt. Should I gamble on getting easy or medium or
hard solder, or should I ask the Orchid community for a
recommendation first? (After all, you can’t just order one or two
pallions of solder.)

You can bet I will ask a question on Orchid before I spend any
money! And I expect to get a helpful answer, not a lecture. (Internet
research is not the joy it’s cracked up to be.) If you are inclined
to lecture based on your 30+ years of gold experience, please stay
off the keyboard for the next 24 hours. At $900+/ozt, that’s more
than a week’s pay, when I was an engineer.

A $20 experiment is only 2.2% of a troy ounce, but it is now 15% of
my weekly income. Sorry, ain’t going to happen without good cause.
And that possiblity won’t exist unless I believe the result (sellable
or not) has bearable costs. And that bearable cost…well, it reminds
me of a place I used to work where I was treated like an idiot if I
had to ask a question.

Kelley Dragon
who is now walking in the other person’s shoes.


First of all I said nothing about questions on orchid, my post was
intended to show the real cost of material vs the perceived $900.00
an oz. cost. Second it is just as easy or easier to add a piece of
18k than it is to add a piece of silver to silver, and with the
added value the gold adds to the piece you will make more money and
it will most likely sell faster which in turn gets you more money.
Bottom line is just because you read it on orchid does not mean you
can do it, so it will be an experiment anyway. Everytime I make a
piece it is an experiment, I have many pieces, gold and silver that
did not work, that just the way it is. If you can’t afford $22.00 for
some gold you can’t afford silver either. Go add up your silver scrap
sitting around and see what you have in dollar value. Most of the
time the minimums for silver are far more than gold so if you need
3" of silver you can’t buy just 3 inches like you can gold, so your
experimentation cost for silver is more. Personally I think my
response was a helpful answer, if you take is as a lecture that’s
your problem. If no one out there got an insight into the real cost
of gold wire in a small amount, I apologize for the post. I am truly
sorry you were laid off, but don’t take it out on me. What would this
forum be if all of us with experience quit posting because we get
dumped on for expressing an opinion? Maybe you are right and I should
quit posting and keep my 36 years experience to myself.

Bill Wismar

From the other side of the budget: OK, so the pennyweight of gold
that is 'wasted' in an experiment is less than $2,' 'Hmm, I need to
see what happens when I solder some gold, but it costs $60 for a
dwt of solder (not including shipping)." 

Pennyweight (DWT) of gold solder is about$40. DWT (pennyweight) of
18kt gold is about the same. DWT is pennyweight.

I was surprised at Peter’s answer, it sounded more like one of my
posts, only longer.

If you are having financial hard times, unless you have an order to
fill, and you have the knowledge and skill to pull off the job, be
safe and work in sterling and practice, practice, practice. That is
what I think we all have done.

Advice on Orchid does not make the learning curve shorter. It just
makes you aware of what you might come up against.

When I started out, materials and tools were not as expensive as they
are today, but I was poor, poor, poor.

My determination and desire to create trumped my lack of money.
Making jewelry was a black hole money got poured into. Ruined
projects were my forte.

My first paying jewelry job I traveled 45 minutes by bus, walked 10
minutes (uphill both ways) to the job. It was part time, 20 hours a
week, and I made $2.60 per hour. When I experiment or practice I
calculate what the lost might be, and I figure out if that loss is
acceptable. P.S. the advise on this forum is free…

Richard Hart

Most of the time the minimums for silver are far more than gold so
if you need 3" of silver you can't buy just 3 inches like you can
gold, so your experimentation cost for silver is more. 

Bill is right about gold and silver costs. I worked purely in
sterling silver for a long time, convinced that I’d never be able to
work in gold, but I got an idea for a design in sterling with gold
accents and decided to bite the bullet and buy a small amount of
gold. I spend about 50 UKP on silver almost every month but on that
occasion, I bought less silver and ordered a few inches of gold wire
for accents too. The gold only cost me 15 UKP and I’ve still got
some more than half of it left for other projects.

It’s also comforting to know that even the experts on this forum are
still experimenting after many years in the business. We never stop
learning and experimenting is what enables us to come up with
something new and different from everyone else.


I expect to get a helpful answer, not a lecture.

I read Bill’s post to this thread and was mystified so I had to go
back and read all the the thread. I saw nothing but good advice from
every one including Bill. I saw no lectures only sound advise for
experimentation, bench procedure and basic economics of the business.
I have been a bench jeweler for over 33 years and have been posting
on orchid for well over 10 years. Perhaps if you find the resposes on
orchid less that what you expect or to harsh, or to much like a
lecture perhaps you should look for advise somewhere more attuned to
your needs. Orchid is an open forum and as such is regulated by the
folks that run it. (and they do a very fine job) {Had to put in my
two cents here} I have found Orchid to be a source of on
all aspects of the business and will continue to do so as long as it
is around. It is a world based forum for jewelry and jewelry related
that I just do not want to do without, so even if this
seems like a lecture I think I will not stay off the keyboard (as per
your non-jewelry related advise).

Frank Goss

It's also comforting to know that even the experts on this forum
are still experimenting after many years in the business. 

I would go so far as to say that’s (at least in oart) what makes them
experts. If you don’t experiment, you can never figure out something
others have not, so how can you be an expert?


Experimenting is wonderful! One of the best ways to learn.

And I’m glad several people provided evidence of their supply prices
for solder…let me know where you get it and I’ll be glad to pay
less for solder.Also, if you have to buy 10’ (an EXAMPLE) of silver
wire, lose 3" to an experiment, you still have a lot left over to

For this past week & the next I have the joy of being an apprentice
to a goldsmith. His advice to me, after showing me the way he does a
thing, is: "Go for it. If you mess up, there’s nothing I can’t fix…"
Belive me, I have learned a lot. His gold, his torch, his knowledge,
my discovery.

In the near future, I must live with minimal income. That 2 inches
of 16g 18k wire doesn’t go far. Dare I experiment? NO, I’d better
know what I’m doing before I commit it to the torch.

But might I point out that in the time you spent searching, and
then asking this question, you could have grabbed a spare inch or
so of 18K gold wire...

I haven’t got enough to spare. And I’m not going to experiment on
someone else’s without his permission.

When I ask, please tell me what happens when YOU grab that spare
inch and see what it does.Then when I have the opportunity, I ll tell
you what I have found out. That’s what I expect from Orchid.

Best regards,
Kelley Dragon