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How to make perfect balled headpins

thank you for helping me with my question on tumbling headpins. now
i have another question. as i run up a balls for the sterling
headpins, some balls are symmetrical and fairly smooth (well, the
good ones are grainy, but much smoother than others). many of the
rejects have cavities or dimples. at first i thought that i was
dropping them into the pickle too soon and they were thermal
shocking. i did them over and noticed that the cavities develop as
soon as i move the pin out of the direct path of the flame. thinking
that maybe they were still thermal shocking, i took them out of the
flame slowly, the way i would glass. i couldn’t tell if that solved
the problem. the re-do batch may have fewer cavities, but many still
have imperfections.

can you give me tips on making a symmetrical, smooth ball? i should
tell you that i am trying to get the ball as large as the 21 ga.
sterling wire will support, so i am leaving it in the flame until i
think i am about to lose the ball to gravity. this brings up another
question: on some of the pins the wire right next to the ball is
reduced in diameter. it looks as though some of the silver at the
neck went to make the ball. on others, they look ok.

what help can you give me on this?

thank you in advance,
jean adkins

can you give me tips on making a symmetrical, smooth ball?

Jean, get yourself a charcoal block, from a jewelers supply house.
If they happen to carry the european style compressed blocks, which
are a bit more costly, these will last longer. Now, using a twist
drill (which you can turn just in your fingers, for this, if you
like, sized to the size of wire you’re using, drill holes through
the charcoal block, or at least, into it deep enough to hold the full
length of the headpin you’re making. With a ball bur, or small
round object of your choice, carve a small hemispherical cavity into
the block at the end of the drill hole(s). Drop a wire into the
hole, leaving the amount of wire needed to form the ball you wish,
sticking up. This length will need to be determined experimentally.
Now, and this is the solution to your pitty ugly balls, apply some
hard soldering flux, such as batterns, or the various types of silver
brazing flux that are available. It doesn’t take a lot to do the
job. Just a little will do it. Now, when you melt the wire end down,
it will melt down into that cavity to form a ball, with the block
insulating the bottom of the ball and junction with the wire enough
to keep it from sucking up more metal from the end of the wire. The
cavity will also keep the ball centered on the wire, spherical at
the bottom, or close to it, and will allow you to make, if you wish,
larger balls. The flux, when it melts, coats the melting and molten
silver preventing absorbtion of oxygen, and it’s subsequent
evolution again from the solidifying metal, which is one significant
cause of that rough pitty effect. It also avoids much of the
oxidation of the copper, which also gives you a rough ball. The flux
residue when you’re done, will need to be taken back off with pickle,
or even just boiling water. When you’ve done a bunch of these, the
charcoal block will get pretty rough itself, and you may need to take
a file or some coarse sandpaper and resurface the top of the block,
after which you’ll need to recarve the little hemispherical

You can melt as fast as you like. Silver won’t be suffering from
heat shock. It’s not glass. It’s just about the finest conductor of
heat there is, so heating and cooling is uniform even if quenched in
water, which is also something you can do. The silver should be
cool enough to no longer be glowing, but given what you’re doing,
you’d be hard pressed to quench too quickly in any case. If you
quench in pickle, beware of spatters. Better to quench in water,
then pickle in a seperate operation. if you need to.

Hope that helps.

Peter Rowe

Jean, To get the balls smooth and uniform I would suggest usig a cup

Jerry in Kodiak

Jean, It might be easier to make the balls first, then solder them to
the headpins the same way you would set an earring post, probably
using easy or extra easy solder so as not to damage the 21 gauge

I had to make some Sterling “pearls” for a repair, and needed them
to be fully round. I set up a solderite board at about a 45 degree
angle into a pan of water, placed some scrap sterling pieces on the
board and hit them with the torch. As they became round they rolled
down the board into the water which instantly quenched them into a
nice round shape. With a little trial and error I found the right
amount of scrap (herringbone chain pieces) to use to get a uniform
size. Most came out perfect - you can make a bunch at once. The
extras I sized and sorted for future use.

This should eliminate the thinning of the wire as well, although it
may be a bit tedious for a production run.

Jim Marotti Lancaster, TN


it is the copper content in the sterling that doesn’t allow the
balls to melt perfectly round. when you try to melt copper into
balls, this will be readily apparent. my only suggestion in melting
the sterling wire is to make sure you hold your wire into the flame
with the end above the flame. you may need to melt the balls in a
certain way so that gravity helps determine where the melted part
rests on the wire.

yes, the thinner part you are talking about is when the silver
content in the wire gets sucked into the ball, leaving the weak wire
at the top of the ball. don’t use these mess-ups, as the wire is too
weak! i promise you that fine silver is the way to go for
nice-looking balls. it will hold up for a very very long time too!
esp if you are using 21 gauge. if you are completely uncomfortable
with using fine silver, then you must live with the imperfect
sterling balls.

or one other thought…you could make small balls of fine silver by
themselves by making jump rings of fine silver, cut them apart for
uniformity’s sake (for this you don’t even have to saw the jump
rings, you can use small embroidery scissors), and then melt them on
the charcoal block. (by making the jump rings you ensure that you
use the same amount of metal in each ball. i learned this from lori
talcott) then cut snippets of solder, and melt one snippet on each
ball. then flux the end of your straight sterling wire, hold the
wire in your cross-locking tweezers, and solder the balls onto the
ends. you might be able to do this fairly quickly if you set it up
in a production manner. the charcoal block is key here. (i recommend
the compressed charcoal block as it has a much longer life.) you can
make small indentions in the charcoal block with a round bur so your
balls don’t roll all over the place.

good luck! joanna gollberg

you didn’t say if you were fluxing the end of the wire before
melting. This is a must as the flux lets the silver flow more easily
and forms a more perfect sphere… try a heavier flux if you are
already using one… Handi flux and the like tend to burn at the a
lower temperature than melt temp.for silver. try borax or brown flux
for soldering stainless steel… Frank Goss

i have another question.  as i run up a balls for the sterling
headpins, some balls are symmetrical and fairly smooth (well, the
good ones are grainy, but much smoother than others). 

Jean: I use to have this problem and I solved it by the following: I
hold the wire in a cross lock tweezers. I then take the torch and
run it quickly along the wire to warm it and then start at the bottom
tip of the wire and start the formation of the bead. I don’t put my
torch flame right on the bead, I work a small distance away from the
wire taking care not to use an oxidizing flame. When the bead is the
size I want it I slowly take the heat away from the bead. That is my
solution can’t wait to see what others have to say.

Linda Crawford Linda Crawford Designs Willits, CA

can you give me tips on making a symmetrical, smooth ball?  i
should tell you that i am trying to get the ball as large as the 21

The reason the ball dimples is because it’s cooling too rapidly. Or
rather, the outside cools quickly when the metal is still a bit
expanded from the heat, and then with the rapid cooling the insides
contract and make the already-hardened surface crinkle up. I think.

Anyhow, I think to combat that odd wrinkling effect on the melted
end you should try bathing the ball in the inside cone of the flame
for a second before pulling the flame away. The slightly cooler
temperature of that part of the flame allows the cooling to go a
little less abruptly, so that keeps the surface smoother. I don’t
know how fine a control would be needed to get the effect you’re
looking for on that kind of wire, though.

–Marcy Osedo