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Chains - sterling or fine silver


#1

For those of you who make chains, would you recommend sterling
silver or fine silver for a loop in loop chain? We’ve bought my
daughter a solid sterling silver, double hunter skeleton pocket watch
for her eighteenth birthday - something she’s wanted since she was a
little girl. She wants to wear it as a pendant, so I’m making a chain
for it to hang from. Obviously it’s quite a big, heavy piece and so I
need to make a substantial chain which will bear the weight. It will
probably get fairly regular usage and so needs to stand up to such
wear. I’m either going to make a 20" double or two-way double loop
in loop chain, but I think the double is my favourite at the moment.

I have Jean Reist Stark’s book on loop in loop chains, and she uses
fine silver. I was wondering about sterling. The only drawback I can
see would be the solder joints on each link, making it not as easy
to form the loops as it might be by fusing fine silver. Tarnishing is
not a problem as I’ll just deal with it as and when the need arises.
Ooh, I guess I could use Argentium as that fuses beautifully.

I’m really in two minds as to which to use. Will fine silver stand
up to heavy wear? I’ve only used it once and I wasn’t happy with how
soft it was in both fabrication and wear. Any and all opinions
welcome, thanks.

Helen Hill
UK


#2
For those of you who make chains, would you recommend sterling
silver or fine silver for a loop in loop chain? 

In my (albeit limited) experience, fine silver seems to hold up well
enough to daily wear (I’ve been wearing it fairly regularly for a few
years). Of course the piece I’m thinking of was made using the
through-two (probably called doubled) method.

I used ~0.75mm wire (0.03"), the rings were 1/2" inner diameter.
Made a decent thickness chain, and was rather easy to assemble. 0.65mm
(0.025") wire with a ring inner diameter of 3/8" also works well for
a lighter chain. I think either thickness would be sturdy enough for
years of wear.

Mark Wells
www.makeyourmarkmetalwork.ca


#3

Sterling. Helen check out John Fetvedt’s site

http://www.bijoux-de-terre.com

John has lots of good info on chain making. I really think for the
weight and wear you are talking that fine silver is going to be too
soft.

Do you NEED to solder each link? When my daughter does her chain
maille she doesn’t solder at all… I solder the clasps I make for
her chains, but the chains are designed so they don’t need soldering
for strength. I’m not a chain maille person myself, but it seems that
most of the ones I see do not solder each link.

Good luck with it!

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


#4

i use almost exclusively fine silver except for clasps. I have never
had a single return from structural or material failure in years and
years of making jewelry. I avoid the copper (and nickel) in white
metals so there is a greatly reduced potential for allergenic and
body chemistry reactions. In heavier mm wire for jump rings the
strength is even less an issue- work hardening (tumbling a bit extra
long even!) increases strength. With fine silver the refinning value
is also higher than sterling- as a final pro!.. No reason not to use
it whatsoever. rer


#5

Hi Helen,

I’ve made several loop in loop chains & have used fine silver for
all of them. Fine silver is easier to work with than sterling & the
joints in fused links are stronger than soldered joints.

All of the links were fused. Then after the links are fused I formed
the round links into into oblong rings using a snap ring pliers used
by mechanics.

Then after the chain is assembled & before the ends are installed
the chain is pulled thru a chain drawplate to give it a consistent
diameter. I lubricate the chain with liquid dish washing detergent
prior to pulling it through the draw plate. A chain drawplate can be
made by drilling a series of progressively smaller holes in a piece
of fine grained hardwood.

Depending on the chain pattern (two way, three way, double or triple
two or three way) loop in loop chains are usually pretty strong
chains & wear well.

Dave


#6

I use fine silver (or 22K gold) for all my chains. No soldering
equals no clean up! Shaping and weaving the links work hardens the
metal enough that the structure is quite strong.

The only catch (no pun intended) is when making 1-directional single
weave chains, the most open and basic of all the loop in loop
varieties, it’s important to create either smaller links or use
heavier gauge wire so the links don’t become squished (technical
term). For example, a 19mm or 3/4" diameter link out of 22 gauge
wire could get misshapen rather quickly, but the same size link in 18
gauge can hold up quite well in my experience. I always use sterling
or 18k for the clasps.

Victoria
Victoria Lansford
http://www.victorialansford.com


#7
I guess I could use Argentium as that fuses beautifully. 

I think you just answered your own question. Since fine silver is
softer and does wear through sooner, and Argentium fuses well, why
not use that?

M’lou


#8

Try .950 as opposed to sterling OR fine. It tarnishes less, but still
tarnishes…


#9

Hey Helen, I’ve made several double two way loop in loop chains
using 20g a sterling and they are very strong. Tarnish isn’t an issue
if you have an ionic cleaner. Just bend the loop with the solder
joint in the middle so it’s hidden inside the chain. I built a simple
wooden slider with a couple of pins to stretch the rings.

Have a good one,
Jim Doherty


#10

In my opinion the solder may not be able to take the stress of
forming the loop in loop rings. I’ve only used fine silver mid you
but with fine silver I first fuse, then anneal then polish the rings
then form the loops, then draw the chain. In sterling assuming the
joints held it seems to me it would be a more difficult process.
Considering the style of chain I don’t think sterling is going to
make a stronger chain - the strength of the chain will really 100% on
the solder joints or fused rings and I suspect the fused rings will
be stronger. One other consideration is its important that the ring
be consistent hardness. A solder joint in sterling may bend a bit
differently then rest of the material after annealing and this makes
forming the loop in loop rings tricky.

Bare in mind this is really a one sided opinion since I have never
actually done loop in loop from sterling; however I AM spending most
the weekend fusing fine silver rings in 0.020" wire x 5/16" ID so I
thought I’d add my 2 cents anyway.

Jon Daniels
The Ring Lord Chainmail
http://theringlord.com


#11

I would definitely use sterling or argentium silver for such a heavy
chain - fine silver will just be too soft for this - but what a
lovely gift!


#12

Helen,

I make a lot of fused chains and always use fine silver. After all
the work that goes into the piece the chain is work hardened as well
as Fine Silver can be. I’ve never had any problem with softness and
have actually had it get too hard and break if I do not anneal enough
(with thicker links). Sterling would be way too hard to bend the
links, not sure about Argentium though.

Have fun making the chain
Wendy who is currently living in Shanghai, China.


#13

Helen,

I’ve made a few loop in loop chains following the same book you
cite. I’ve found fine silver to be faster in production of rings due
to the ease of fusing them. Sterling takes quite a bit more time due
to the steps required in soldering prep, soldering, and clean up. I
believe most of us that use fine silver for the chains use sterling
for those points that are subject to heavy wear.

If you choose fine silver perhaps you could use a heavier gauge for
those rings that will bear the weight of the pendant. Another choice
would be to fabricate something of sterling into which you could
solder chain ends and hang the pendant.

Good luck!
Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Alliance, OH


#14

Dear Mark Wells,

Thanks very much for your advice regarding my chain query. I have
decided to go with Argentium, as it fuses like fine silver, but is
more akin to standard sterling in strength.

Helen
UK


#15

Thanks to everyone who has answered my chain query. The consensus
(from both online and offline responses) seems to be either fine
silver or Argentium. I have decided to go with Argentium, as it
fuses beautifully, much like fine silver (although I never did manage
to get fine silver to fuse when I used it once before, and ended up
soldering it!), and it’s more akin to sterling in its strength.

Thanks again to folks for your help.

Helen
UK


#16
I would definitely use sterling or argentium silver for such a
heavy chain - fine silver will just be too soft for this - but what
a lovely gift! 

Thanks Michele. She’ll be thrilled I’m sure. My daughter has always
been a very old fashioned young lady, even from being a little tot,
so this will be the first item ticked off her wish list. Other items
include an old brass telescope, an old wooden chest (treasure type
chest) and an antique globe.

Helen
UK


#17

Thanks to all folk who offered advice and opinions in this thread.
By way of an update, I decided to use Argentium sterling, as it has
the advantages of both fine and sterling silver.

I used 0.7mm Argentium round wire and used a 9mm mandrel to make the
coils. I was supposed to use a 7mm mandrel, but the 9mm was the
nearest I had, and as I had decided to cut the links with my semi-
flush cutters rather than a saw (as I find sawing narrow gauge coils
very difficult as they distort so easily), the links had one flush
cut end and one with a V protrusion. So I had to then cut one end of
each link flush, meaning that they were slightly smaller than 9mm
anyway. It was still far quicker than sawing them all, and the
wastage was minute.

The links fused really beautifully. I used a small charcoal block,
and doing nine rings at a time, I flush-cut the second end of each
link, closed the ends by hand rather than with pliers (to avoid
marring them) and gave them some spring by pushing the ends past
each other on both sides before making them flush, so that they
pushed together as they fused rather than pulled apart. Then they
were fluxed with My-T-Flux (to avoid premature hardening) and fused.
It didn’t take long to do all 250 or so links.

Being quite a narrow gauge or wire, they were extremely easy to
shape. I stretched them with my needle nose pliers, then used them
to make each link into a “U” shape for weaving. The book said to bend
them slightly in the middle, and then make them into a “U” after the
link is added to the chain, but I found that tricky, so I made them
all into a “U” shape first, just leaving the ends of the “U” open
enough to pass through the last link in the chain. Then the gap was
easy to close with my pliers, jut pulling them shut. That was after
doing it as per the book and attempting to weave a double
loop-in-loop chain (see next paragraph).

I was planning to make a double loop-in-loop chain, but I found that
the wire was far too hard to do that. After I started weaving the
double chain, I noticed that I should have annealed all the links
after shaping them, but I hadn’t done so. So I resorted to making a
single loop-in-loop instead (which my daughter actually prefers). I
could have gone back and annealed the links, but decided as it was
my first loop-in-loop chain, I’d stick to the more simple single
version. As it happens, using the 9mm mandrel rather than the 7mm,
meant that I didn’t really have enough links to make the double
chain to the required length anyway, but I have quite a few left
over, after deciding to make the single chain. I’ll probably make her
a bracelet to match, or get some more wire and make some more chain.

I did notice when weaving the chain, that pushing the plier jaw
through the last link, to round out the ends, was giving me some
very painful blisters, and so I had to stop and carry on the next
day. I was wondering how I was going to get through it all with my
fingers intact, and then I remembered my roll of green finger tape!
An absolute life saver!!! I donned the tape and the rest of the chain
grew really quickly.

I fashioned ends by wrapping some more Argentium wire around one jaw
of my needle nose pliers, to give tight, tapered coiled ends. I
fluxed and heated them both up to red heat to fuse the tapered coils
into two solid pieces, then fused an Argentium hook into the end of
each. These hooks will attach to the loop on the top of the pocket
watch. I fashioned a doubled loop of Argentium wire to go through
the two chain end loops, which I then fused into the coiled ends I’d
made. The whole thing was then pickled (after annealing the chain
carefully) and the links trued up, using my needle nose pliers held
in my vice.

The chain will be tumbled later today, to give it its final
"polishing" (burnishing). I did notice that the pliers in the vice
trick (as prescribed by Jean Stark in her book), not only trued the
links, but also burnished the insides of them, which was an added
bonus, as the steel shot in the tumbler won’t reach the insides.

I’m really pleased with the chain, and it is surprisingly strong
(not yielding when being tugged, like shop bought ones often do),
even though it looks very lightweight and open. I’m hoping to post
pictures on my blog shortly. I’ll definitely be using Argentium
sterling for chains in the future - just hope my daughter isn’t one
of those whose skin turns it instantly black!

Helen
UK


#18

I cannot recommend the Koil Kutter highly enough if you are going to
be cutting very many jump rings! Inexpensive, well made, very, very
easy to use and FAST! I did not buy my mandrels from Dave Arens but
got them from John Fetvedt http://www.bijoux-de-terre.com/ I blogged
about both the Koil Kutter and John’s mandrels recently, if you want
to check my blog (link below if it doesn’t get cut out), and include
ordering info for the Koil Kutter there.

If you plan to do many chains Helen, I would strongly recommend it!
No idea what the shipping would be to England - that would be your
one issue I imagine…

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio
http://www.bethwicker.com


#19

Hi Beth,

I cannot recommend the Koil Kutter highly enough if you are going
to be cutting very many jump rings! 

Yes, it’s been on my shopping list for a while now. Hopefully I’ll
be able to purchase one soon. If I remember rightly, the Koil Kutter
comes with the cutting blade. How long does that last, and where
would you buy replacement blades from?

Thanks for reminding me about it Beth.

Helen
UK


#20
I cannot recommend the Koil Kutter highly enough 

That surprises me. Perhaps that brand is better. I bought a jump
ring making tool that works similarly. It has many design defects.
The cutting wheel cuts a wide kerf. No matter how well lubricated
with Bur Life and no matter the speed I use, the cutting wheel bogs
down and grabs the heck out of the wire, chewing the wire up and
making a real mess. Maybe the Koil Kutter has a way to adjust for
depth of cut, but the tool I bought does not, so for some diameter
mandrels the cutting wheel saws into the steel mandrel.

Maybe it is all in the skill of the user, or in that brand, but I
found that kind of tool to be horrid. I saw my jump rings one at a
time with an 8/0 blade and then fuse them closed (I use Argentium). I
do not do production work this way, obviously, but I am satisfied
with the results, which I most definitely never was with my jump ring
cutter. I do use the mandrels and the winder, but never the cutting
tools.

I have nothing against improving my productivity if the resulting
quality is the same or better. I would love to see a Koil Kutter at
work.

Neil A.