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Fine Silver tubing


#1
The question was where to find FINE silver tubing, not sterling,
which is readily available.  It is not too difficult or time
consuming to draw your own tubing.  Unless there is a supplier of
FINE  tubing, this may be the way to go.  J.Z. Dule

I needed fine silver tubing and square fine silver wire for
enamelling projects, and couldn’t find a commercial source that I
could afford. I like to fabricate rather intricate fine silver
skeletons for my enamelling work, and to tube-set faceted and cab
stones within the enamelled surface. I shopped around, and the
only firm that readily would do special order fabrication was
Hauser & Miller, but the cost was too high for me. So I now make
my own using a wonderful draw bench sold by Frei & Borel. (It
was cheaper to buy the bench than to special order commercial
tubing.) The draw bench consists of a boat winch anchored to a
48" long steel beam, with a holder at the opposite end to clamp
the drawplate. You could pull Alaska closer to Hawaii with one
hand using this thing! The winch is wrapped with the same kind of
nylon strap that they make seatbelts out of, and it is attached
to a clamp that grips harder the more you pull on it. I like the
belt because, unlike other wire benches I have used, it doesn’t
flip upward when the pressure is released suddenly.

It takes a bit of practice, but you’ll be turning out good
tubing in no time, with the right wall thicknesses and internal
diameter to suit your exact needs. I was always frustrated with
the commercially-available tubing was too thin-walled for good
stone setting. I got my tubing drawplate from Frei & Borel, too.
It does the job in terms of useful sizes, but I do wish they had
finished the inside surfaces of the holes a bit better.

Some additional points:

  1. Always use eye/face protection when drawing. Be especially
    careful to watch/control the position of the clamp [or draw
    tongs, or vise grips, or whatever you’re using] when you are at
    the very end of the length of wire/tubing, just as it is about to
    leave the drawplate. There can be a lot of kinetic energy stored
    in there, and when it pulls free of the plate, the wire and the
    clamp can really jump.

  2. Start with a strip with clean, flat, PARALLEL edges. As soon
    as they curl in and meet, stop and solder the seam before drawing
    down any further. Solder the seams of your fine silver tubing
    with IT solder [very hard, for use in enamelling]. Solder the
    seams of sterling tubing with hard solder, as it draws down very
    well without cracking. If you’re drawing gold, use the hardest
    solder you can.

  3. Anneal often. When in doubt, anneal.

  4. Use a good lube. The silicon-type works well, as does
    beeswax, or olive oil in a pinch.

  5. Start with a long strip of metal. Draw down to the first
    size where the tubing is round and the seam has vanished. Slice
    off a few inches, measure the inner diameter, wall thickness, and
    outer diameter; mark this info on a masking tape flag, along with
    the metal type, and stick that around one end of the tube. Draw
    down a few more increments, then cut off another length and label
    that. I do this for six or seven sizes, so I have a complete
    inventory of graduated sizes from a single length of tubing.
    This saves me an enormous amount of fabrication time, and means
    that I can find just the right size for a particular stone. You
    can do the same thing with square wire or any other form you are
    drawing.

Hope this helps!

Anne Hollerbach


#2

I got my tubing drawplate from Frei & Borel, too.
It does the job in terms of useful sizes, but I do wish they had
finished the inside surfaces of the holes a bit better.

Chuck a round wood toothpick into your flex shaft and apply a
dab of lapidary diamond compound, say, 8000 grit or so, and
polish up the inside of the holes in your drawplate easily
enough. the 8000 is fine enough that it will not remove
significant amounts of metal, but it will polish the hole. if
the holes are very rough, you might need to start with a 1200
grit first, but most plates are already surprisingly good,
despite what the wire/tube may look like.

Or, spend more money, and buy carbide drawplates. Frie and
Borel, Gesswien, and several other firms sell them. More
expensive, yes, but well worth the money. The round ones, at
least, come highly polished, and can produce wire or tube that is
mirror finished right from the plate. Plus, they take less
effort to draw, and the sizes are accurately marked right on the
plate. For those of you working in platinum, carbide drawplates
are worth their weight in gold… er. platinum… for the effort
they save in polishing the wire or tube.

Peter Rowe


#3

ann, great post. you mentioned frei and borel for a tubing draw
plate. could not find them on the web. how can i contact them or
if anyone else knows a dealer thanks inadvance. scott in hotlanta


#4

Scott,

Frei & Borel
P.O. Box 796, 126 Second Street
Oakland, CA 94604
1-800-772-3456

Linda Crawford
Linda Crawford Designs
Willits, CA, USA


#5

Peter,

Long time ago, I saved a message because, it included a draw
plate made from Corian. Have you any opinion in that??

Thank you
Teresa


#6

ann, great post. you mentioned frei and borel for a tubing draw
plate. could not find them on the web. how can i contact them or
if anyone else knows a dealer thanks inadvance. scott in hotlanta

Frei and Borel have a very wide selection of tools. Their URL
is:
http://www.paleoart.com/frei/freindex.htm#index

or call 1-800-772-3456 

Richard D. Hamilton
USA
Fabricated 14k, 18k, and platinum Jewelry
wax carving, modelmaking, jewelry photography
http://www.rick-hamilton.com


#7

Thanks for the terrific suggestion Peter! I will do it right
away. I think it will solve the problem nicely.

Absolutely. I second this completely. All my other drawplates
are carbide, and produce gleaming results. Unfortunately, the
large diameters of the holes needed to make good-sized tubing are
very hard to find [or, when found, to afford] in carbide plates.
The tubing drawplate I have is made by a little outfit in CA
somewhere, and they don’t do carbide.

Yet Another Reason to Make Your Own Tubing: You get the best
possible fit and range of sizes for making your own nifty hinges.
You can get nicely concentric tubes with good, beefy walls that
will hold up to years of hinge activity. Commercial tubing
selections just don’t provide what you need for really strong
[or “strong”, given that they are made of precious metals] hinges
and mechanisms.

Anne Hollerbach
@alhollerbach


#8
  Long time ago, I saved a message because, it included a draw
plate made from Corian. Have you any opinion in that?? 

Corian would probably make a nice tubing draw plate. I’ve not
tried it though. Seems like I always had some scraps of softer
plastic around when I needed to make a tubing plate. The one I’m
using now is delrin. The edges of the strip, as the plate forms
them around to a tube, tend to scrape and cut the delrin some,
shaving off bits, but this plate still works fine, having been
used sporadiaclly for over five years now. Remember that unlike
a wire plate, which is actually forcine the wire down in size, a
tube plate is only bending a strip around to a tube shape. Once
the edges are close to meeting you have to switch to a normal
steel or carbide plate to continue drawing the tube, as once the
edges are meeting during the draw, actual compression of the
metal is taking place, and the plastic plate would not have the
strength to do that for very long. At least, my delrin ones
wouldn’t. Gee. maybe I should try corian?

The main advantage to these plates is that you make them
yourself much more cheaply than a “real” plate. Among other
things, you don’t really need tapered holes, only closely
graduated ones. I make these plates by simply going down through
my drill index from one drill to the next, drilling adjacent
holes with the next drill in the index, ending up just with a
bunch of graduated sized holes. Then a tapered reamer is used to
flare both ends of the holes a bit, more to break the sharp edges
than anything else. In making tube, you still have to start the
process by hammering or otherwise forming a longitudinal curve in
the strip, so it will curl around evenly as you draw it through
the holes. but with a plastic plate going to large hole sizes,
you don’t have to curve it around anywhere near as much, saving a
lot of work. My largest real drawplate starts at 6mm, which is
the largest decent really round tube I thus can make this way.
It needs a blank strip about 19 mm wide, way larger than any
steel plate I can afford. My delrin plate, though, starts with
half inch holes, and handles that strip just fine once it’s been
slightly curved a bit, and continues forming it around to where
one draw through that carbide plate snugs everything up ready to
solder the seam on the tube. I actually CAN make larger tubes,
if I don’t need to close the seam, or in soft metals like silver,
where the delrin will close the silver enough even without any
actual compression of the metal to “set” the shape during
drawing. With karat gold, larger tubes this way are a lost
cause, as there’s too much spring in the metal, and the tube
never quite stays closed enough to solder the seam, working with
the delrin plate.

If you make one in corian, let us know how it works.

Peter Rowe


#9
  Long time ago, I saved a message because, it included a draw
plate made from Corian. Have you any opinion in that??<

Teresa, the Corian drawplate that I’m aware of, is used to draw
chains, not wire. Most handmade Etruscan, fox tail, loop-in-loop
(or whatever else you want to call them) vary a litle in diameter
after assembly. Drawing them through a drawplate makes their
diameters uniform. Corian is used because it’s readily available,
long lasting and economical.

Dave


#10

Peter, Thank you for a wonderful, and very clear explanation.

I want to use the draw plate for wire and chain also. do you
believe that will work? That does need a bit of a taper.

I have been real timid about using tools. Guess I just need to
get my feet wet, and do it.

I will go to Home Depot today, and buy some Corian.

For smoothing out the insides, do you believe some of the cloth
backed fine sandpaper tubed and drawn will do?

Thank you so very much.
Teresa


#11

Anne - I have been reading this thread with some interest and
have two questions about tubing you make yourself: 1) how do
you compensate for the tubing spreading open as the metal expands
while you are trying to solder the seam ? and 2) how do you keep
the tubing from opening up again during another soldering
operation - especially if it’s a soldering operation that’s going
to go into an enamelled piece and you are therefore using IT for
that as well?

Thanks - Laura, from Towson


#12

Peter and Terrie,

Your description of the delrin draw plate made me run out to the
local plastics house and buy a piece so i can work on the hole
drilling right away.

The places had both black and white scrap. I bought a piece of
black about 5x3x3/4, which came out to just about a pound ($4.50
a pound for scrap). I buy Plexiglass and sometimes Lexan scrap
there for $.75 a pound.

My draw plates are too small for a one carat size CZ tube
setting at 6.5 mm. I usually do the tubing totally by hand and
then force calibrated transfer punches into the tubing to get it
straightened out. I did drill some large holes (.250ish) in my
India made draw plate and then took up weight lifting so I could
draw the material. 6.5 mm needs a hole about .318 inch.

A technique explained by Anthony James Lugo, (Head of the Art
Department, Palomar Community Collage, San Marcos, California).
If the chenier was run through the draw plate seam-up, a butter
knife was inserted in the seam to prevent the tubing from
twisting. Usually takes a third hand but does work.

Making long (12 inch) tubing of heavy wall thickness (18 g) is
a challenge not to be missed.

I draw my chains through an homemade iron wood draw plate. I
also use a maple wood draw plate. Good maple is very durable.

Bill in hot Vista


#13

Laura, Pardon my butting into your conversation with Anne. But on
question no.2, are you saying you solder with IT solder after the
piece is enameled?

If you’re considering faceted stones in your piece using tube
settings, check Felicia Liban’s book: “Cloisonne’ Enameling and
Jewelry Making” Dover 0-468-25971-4, softback without color
pictures for a paultry $8.95. And they have other great books on
jewelry. Dover Publications, Inc. 31 East 2nd Street, Mineola, N.Y., 11501


#14
  how do you compensate for the tubing spreading open as the
metal expands while you are trying to solder the seam ? 

This can be a real problem. As well, some metals (white golds,
for example) can spring open during drawing, so you never get a
drawn seam that’s quite close enough. the answer is to draw a
tube to slightly larger than your desired size, and then solder
the seam. While heating to above annealing temp, the seam can be
gently coaxed closed again with tweezers, soldering the seam in
small sections. Then, after soldering and some clean up of the
seam, the final drawing gets everything round again and
eliminates the evidence of the soldering operation. With softer
metals, though, like higher carat golds or fine silver, it’s
usually not a problem in the first place. Anneal the tube one
draw before you intend to solder it, so it’s being soldered after
being drawn only one step through the plate. If your gentle, it
will usually just stay closed. You can also prepare such tubes
(with seams that start out looking good but which you fear will
spread open) prior to soldering with binding wire to hold it
shut, but this is a bit of a pain, since you must do it so the
wire bridges the seam without touching it, or the solder will
adhere the binding wire to the tube when it runs down the seam.
Avoiding that is certainly possible, but takes more time than
simply adjusting while soldering if needed, with a pair of
tweezer to squeeze things shut again. Sound’s less neat and
slick and professional and all, but it gets the job done with the
least effort and bother.

   how do you keep the tubing from opening up again during
another soldering operation - especially if it's a soldering
operation that's going to go into an enamelled piece and you
are therefore using IT for that as well? 

You’ve drawn the tube at least once after soldering, and
annealed it as well. If you did both carefully, and then pay
attention to where the seam is placed in assembly, the tube won’t
open. You soldered the seam with hard or IT solder, so by the
time that solder might flow again, the tube is well past
annealing temps, and has no spring in it to open it up again.
Also, if you used only a minimum amount of solder in the first
place, it will remelt again at a slightly higher temp than it
originally flowed at, so if you’re careful, you can put entire
pieces together with just IT solder, without things flowing
unduly. Part of the key here is clean tight seams without excess
solder. And by being careful where the seam is, if any solder
does flow again, see to it that it’s at the place where the tube
is being joined to other parts, so a little solder flow makes no
difference. And finally, don’t forget yellow ocher or similar
stuff when needed. A coating of the stuff, while messy, does
slightly insulate what’s underneath, in addition to preventing
solder from flowing farther than it already did. So you can
often keep the solder on previous joins from getting quite hot
enough to flow at all.

Hope this helps.

Peter Rowe


#15
   A technique explained by Anthony James Lugo, (Head of the
Art Department, Palomar Community Collage, San Marcos,
California). If the chenier was run through the draw plate
seam-up, a butter knife was inserted in the seam to prevent the
tubing from twisting.  Usually takes a third hand but does
work. 

Yes, but often not worth the bother. And with metal that has
any spring, the seam nicely aligns with the butter knife only
while at that locations, while between the knive and the draw
tong, it’s free to twist as needed should any uneven stresses
induce it to waste the time you spent setting up the knife in the
first place. Among other things, your original blank must be
exactly parallell and even in thickness. Sometimes that’s easier
said than done, to the degree required to keep a piece of tube
from wanting to twist just a tad. Also, drawing forces must be
exactly in line with the plate. Any off-square force, and the
thing curves a trace. Even with a good draw bench, that’s hard
to do sometimes. If your seam is good and tight, who cares where
it is? Won’t show.

   Making long (12 inch) tubing of heavy wall thickness (18 g)
 is a challenge not to be missed. 

Tell me about it. Today I spent half the day wrestling with a
bracelet in 14K white gold we had to make up. It has to have
diamonds burnished in all round, so the wall needed to be around
.8 mm once finished. The gold I had to work with is a normal
casting alloy, not a rolling/drawing one, and it was NOT
cooperating at all. Part of the problem was that I was pouring
the longest ingot I could in our little plate mold. At a 14 mm
width, about an ounce and a half, the ingot would look good, but
from shrinkage, would be ever so slightly thinner in the middle,
so the initial passes through the rolls seem to have stretched
the center of the ingot a little instead of rolling it right
away. So when curling the blank around prior to starting to
draw, and then while drawing initially in the plastic plate, it
tended to crack in the center. Even once I got it finally
patched, drawn, soldered and all, it wanted to crack just in
annealing, even after only one draw (white gold is “hot short”,
meaning that it has little strength while hot, so before
annealing temps get reached, some stresses can crack the metal as
you’re heating it. A real pain in the rear.) then, when finally
drawn round, I needed to convert it to an oval. Figureing
exactly which round size would draw down in the largest hole of
our oval plate, which isn’t any too large, I goofed, and started
one round hole too large, so the force needed to pull through the
oval hole was too much. We’ve got this antique old little draw
bench with weird little draw tongs. The serated teeth in those
tongs are soldered in bits of file, I think. Always worked well
until today, where I pulled so hard both those inserted jaws
broke out. And then, only while trying to solder them back in
with easy silver solder, did I find that the idiot who originally
put em in (before I got there, maybe long before) had done it
with tin/lead solder of some sort. Whatta mess. had to regrind
everthing clean, and resolder the tongs before I could back the
tube out, draw it down one more round hole, reanneal, fix the
cracks formed in annealing, and draw it to an oval. And I won’t
even start in on the next part, bending the oval heavy tube I
ended up with into a bracelet, without benefit of any decent
bending equipment aside from a vise, bracelet mandrel, assorted
pliers and hammers, etc. Sheesh, that stuff was so stiff I could
hardly bend it at all (its a 5.5 mm wide, 3 mm thick, almost 1 mm
wall thickness, drawn white gold tube, after all. A rather
structurally rigid piece of metal.), even with some pretty heavy
forces… I got it bent, but not really smoothly yet, and there
was some twisting as well, that I’ve not quite figured out how
to correct. This stuff just laughs at a pair of vise grip
pliers. Tomorrow will tell. I’ll go to work well equipped with
valium. (just kidding.) For what it’s worth, this is the third
such bracelet I’ve done, so I know it will work. Somehow. And
they’re great looking when finished. But geez whatta bother to
make.

I pass all that along just to help out any of you who think this
gets any easier, more predictable, or slicker, as you get more
advanced in your skills… (grin)

And yeah, I know. There are better alloys, and other bending
tools, and better ingot casting methods, and all the rest. Talk
to my boss. The minimalist equipment I had to work with was all
I had to work with. Welcome to the industry.

Peter Rowe


#16
   Laura, Pardon my butting into your conversation with Anne.
But on question no.2, are you saying you solder with IT solder
after the piece is enameled? 

Hi - Don’t I wish I could !! No, I meant only that I frequently
use enamels on fabricated pieces (like boxes or other
hollowforms) and where solder is used prior to enamelling, it is
supposed to be IT. My first and only experience with tubing that
had a solder seam was a seam that popped in the middle of the
soldering operation, broke the tubing and flew off the piece I
was working on - I’ve been hesitant to use it ever since !

Thank you for the reference on tube settings for enamelled
pieces; it’s something I’ve been meaning to try and haven’t
gotten to yet - one of my first tasks was to try and find a good
text to look at.

Laura Wiesler,    Towson, MD.