Stainless steel wiRe: if you haven’t tried it it’s worth a look. I
was getting unusually persistent yellow stains on my sterling silver
work --they seemed to penetrate the surface quite deeply-- from using
traditional soft iron binding wire. Admittedly this staining may be
caused by the somewhat exotic flux I’m using
http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/archive/200309/msg00444.htm but I like
my flux so I was looking for binding wire alternatives.
I’d seen stainless steel wire in the Rio Grande catalogue but it
looked kind of pricey and I had no idea whether it would do the
trick or not. If you can find stainless wire in the hardware store it
is often pricey too and it’s at least half-hard to boot. While
browsing through the same hardware store one afternoon I noticed
stainless steel cable was a little over a buck a meter. On a return
trip I brought my micrometer, measured the individual strands and
found they were about .010", exactly the same as the standard binding
wire I was using.
I bought a meter of the cable, pulled it apart a little and found
there were six bundles of 12 strands each. So for little more than
$1 I had 72 meters of the stuff to try out. The trick was to get it
softer than it came, otherwise it would be a bear to work with.
You might think that heating and slow cooling would be the recipe
for annealing, as with carbon steels, but it ain’t so. That leaves
the stainless half-hard at best. A little research and I learned that
hot quenching was the suggested procedure and that worked great. I
heat one of the bundles to a nice cherry red, let it darken until the
red is almost gone and quench in cold water. The result is near
dead-soft stainless wire with a small amount of heat discoloration.
I use the stainless wire as I would use regular binding wiRe: double
it over and run a twist in it for strength. Of course this work
hardens it a bit but it doesn’t seem too bad.
Used in the soldering process the stainless wire is a dream. No
stains on the work piece; it doesn’t take the solder the way regular
binding wire sometimes does; and there is very little degradation in
the wire through the soldering process so you can use it over again
if you like. I find that useful if I’m doing a number of pieces where
I’ll repeat the same soldering setup. Apparently you can also toss
stainless straight into the pickle without worrying about pickle
contamination. This might be useful if you use pickle as your
post-solder quench (I don’t).
The only downside to using cable as the source is that it takes a
couple hours to undo all the strands. I’d separate the bundles,
anneal them, then undo each bundle into the strands. Rather time
Another limitation in using cable as your source for wire is the
limited selection of strand sizes. I’ve found .008", .010", and
.012". Although this has been fine for my uses it is something to
keep in mind since standard binding wire is usually available in a
much wider range.
While my cable tests have been quite satisfactory I do expect that
my next order with Rio will include some of their stainless binding
wire (p. 334). Their’s is about twice the price per meter of the
stainless cable strands but it comes dead soft and you don’t have to
spend hours prepping it for use.
One final note: some stainless steel cable comes coated. I have no
idea what the coating is but I don’t think I want to be burning it
off in my studio. It’s easy enough to avoid though as non-coated
cable is widely available.