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[Book] Sacred Goldsmiths


Hi I’m Manuel. My area of study is sacred vessels, chalices,
monstrances, reliquaries etc.(I’ve been studying technique since my
early teens but I’ve only just started actual smithing). I am
looking to contact those involved with sacred goldsmithing and find
if there are any books related to sacred vessels. There is not a lot
of vessel fabrication in the States(there seems to be a whole lot
more spinning being done).

Also I read much about the use of a flame and blowpipe in
goldsmithings past. Seeing the masterpieces that have resulted from
these “rustic” techniques I wonder if there are any modern artist who
have acheived much using a blowpipe.



Manuel- I make Eclesiastical jewelry for several Bishops, here in the
United States. Over the years i’ve accumulated a small library of
literature on the subject. Most of the material was provided by the
’Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths’ in London, England. Their Guild
research library probably contains the greatest source of research
material. The books provide local craftsmen with hundreds of years of
accumulated photographs, technical studies and historical data.

A fellow goldsmith and friend, Abrasha (at religiously
uses a blowpipe. Makes Judaica as well.

Good luck. Kim.

 Also I read much about the use of a flame and blowpipe in
goldsmithings past.  Seeing the masterpieces that have resulted
from these "rustic" techniques I wonder if there are any modern
artist who have acheived much using a blowpipe. 

Modern fuel/air or fuel/oxygen torches are more convenient to use,
but they are not really all that much more capable of good work than
blowpipe or similar more “rustic” tools, when those latter tools are
in the hands of people who know them well and use them. While the
classic blowpipe, used just to blow a stream of air through a flame,
such as an alcohol or oil lamp, is somewhat limited in size, and thus
perhaps not widely used, the type of torch which uses a fuel line
(usually natural gas or propane), with just a mouth tube for air
feed, is still used, and sometimes preferred, by those who’ve learned
to control their breath well enough to use it. Such a torch actually
can give great control over the heat, since without requiring any hand
or finger manipulations of torch valves, you have instant control
between a broad soft flame and a sharp oxidizing one or anywhere in
between. In the mid '70s, I visited a number of commercial jewelry
manufacturers in London (David Webb, for example, as well as others.)
At that time, I noted that many, if not most, of the shops used this
type of mouth/gas torch, and the workers at that time were even a bit
derisive of us American students who’d not learned to use such an
obviously superior tool…

In the intervening years, I’ve gotton quite good with my oxygen fed
torches, and am used to them. But I did also learn to use a mouth
blown blowpipe torch, just to try it. Works well enough. In some
uses, works better. As I said, I’m used to our “modern” torches, and
use them. But those older types are no less servicable.

Soldering with just the mouth blowpipe in a flame lamp also works,
but you need an extra hand and well honed coordination between all
your hands and your mouth and the rest of your body. Pain in the butt
to do. but it works well enough, and you’ve spent only a couple
dollars on the blowpipe, and thats if you even bothered to buy one
instead of making one. And you need no fancy fuel gasses. You can use
an alcohol lamp, an oil lamp, or even a candle to do small solder
joints, once you master the mouth blowpipe. Not so good for larger
work though.

when these tools were the norm, larger items were often soldered not
with a torch, but by setting the work up with placed solder paillons
and everything supported or wired together well enough so the work was
done simply by placing the work in a furnace or on a hearth fire.
Nowadays, if you wish to experiment, you can come close with just an
ordinary kiln, set to the flow point of your solder. The hearth
(charcoal/coke, whatever, fueled fire, instead of electric kiln) type
of setup has the advantage of a fairly reducing atmosphere, while most
electric kilns are oxidzing atmospheres. So your flux is more
important. Soldering this way is more of a bother, and take a lot of
careful planning. But then the actual soldering operation is simpler.
And if your control of the heat source (the kiln or hearth is good,
then you can very precisely protect yourself from accidentally melting
the wrong things. Furnace soldering like this is actually sometimes a
quite preferrable way to go, when there are big differences in the
weight of the various parts, making even heating difficult. Instead
of trying to control it with a torch, it becomes very much like firing

And for what it’s worth, furnace soldering is very widely used in the
industry, where much assembly of jewelry or findings or the like is
done on conveyer belt furnaces that use a controlled reducing
atmosphere, meaning no fire scale protection is needed, as well as
minimal amounts of flux. Such methods are only modern automated
adaptations of the same way the Roman and Greek jewelers of antiquity
soldered their wares…

Peter Rowe


There are very probably far more jewelers using the flame and
blowpipe method than our modern torches if you take into account
their prevalence in the developing countries of the world ! I have
recently witnessed their use in various African countries…the
very delicate silver filigree produced by the Asante in Ghana is done
almost exclusivly using this ancient technique. There, the common
method is to use a large brass lamp fueled by coconut oil…a
procedure which is often done out of doors because of the sootiness
of the oil flame! Ron at Mills Gem, Los Osos, CA.


I was brought up on the mouth blow torch in England and have a great
fondness for them. You have great control over the flame especially
when you have mastered continuous breathing. Later though I always had
oxygen/propane or a hydrox torch as well. Since moving to NZ (16 years
ago) I have not used a mouth blow torch. On occasions I miss it. When
they changed from town gas (coal gas) to natural gas I know a lot of
the older jewellers did not take kindly to it. They all said natural
gas did not have the same properties, the heat or control of town gas.
Whether this was true I don’t know as I started around this time ( may
be someone could comment ?). Saying all this I can not imagine doing
large objects such as chalices etc with it when there is
Gas/compressed air or Gas/oxygen to use.



Manuel: I used to use an alcohol lamp and a small blowpipe to make
jewelry. It helped to use a charcoal block as that reflected heat
instead of absorbing it. I used this setup to solder very delicate
scrollwork earrings, pins and pendants. The small flame worked well to
pinpoint the heat where it was needed. At the time I worked with a
very modest assortment of hand tools and did not have the funds for a

I enjoyed the challenge of learning to do circular breathing and at
the same time watch and use my hands to guide the flame where it was
needed. Circular breathing is necessary as the solder joint will cool
off if the flame is not kept constant. Learning to solder with a
blowpipe helped me to understand how our trade evolved and to
appreciate the skills necessary to make the simplest things in the

I now have several torches to choose from and also a not so modest
collection of tools and equipment, however, my appreciation of what I
do today came from working metal in a very intimate way with just a
handful of tools on a coffee table no less.

Ken Gastineau


Hi, In-furnace soldering is a technique often used in dentistry to
join all-cast gold work (teeth) to high-heat gold which has the
finished porcelain veneering already on it. Torch soldering in this
situation requires a great deal of skill. A form of the alcohol
blowpipe, the alcohol torch by Hanau Mfg. Co., has been and is a
mainstay in dentistry. Denture techs use it to ‘flame’ their
wax-ups, orthodontic techs use it to solder their wire retainers etc.
and I learned to do gold fabrication work with it. The torch has a
trigger which you pump and it builds up a supply of air in a
reservoir. The flame is pinpoint and hot. I use it to repair
chains. Dentists are all required to buy them for dental school and
then hardly if ever use them again. Ask your family dentist if
he/she has one and if they don’t use it, ask to borrow it to try it
out. Who knows, they may give it to you or sell it very
reasonably. Regards, Skip

Skip Meister
Orchid Jewelry Listserve Member
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