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Making the switch to gold


#1

All-- I am hoping to get some help from goldsmiths out there-- I have
always worked in silver, mostly fabrication. I have been adding bits
of gold, and now, I’m trying to make my first all-gold piece. It is a
fairly ambitious design (my work tends to be a bit complex). I’m
having a great deal of difficulty getting the hang of soldering the
gold. I know gold doesn’t transmit heat the way silver does, and there
isn’t that much difference in melting point between the gold and the
solder (I have three, maybe four grades). At this point, I’m still
working with hard and medium. I seem to be melting the piece, rather
than the solder.

I’d be grateful for help–none of my books seem to go into the
particular differences between the two metals, in terms of technique,
and I hate to spend the gold to learn completely by trial and error
(my usual way). Thanks! --Noel


#2

Funny, I seem to have the opposite problem. Gold takes a smaller
torch flame, and I would use an optivisor, or something of the sort.
When you get close to what seems to be the flow point, take the torch
and wave it on and off the object at approximately one second
intervals. That helps slow the heating so you don’t melt it down.
Watch closely. Happy soldering.


#3

The thing that’s made the most difference to me in soldering gold is
paste solder. Recently I made a small gold pendant that required
soldering nine parts on a piece an inch across. After my attempt to
use sheet gold solder, I had to scrap the whole thing, sell the gold,
and start over. This time I used paste solder and the whole thing went
together smoothly. It goes where you want it and stays where you put
it. Wonderful stuff!

Janet Kofoed


#4

Noel, To help you with your situation the best thing to say is you
will soon appreciate the change,it may take some getting used to the
difference of gold from sterling.As far as soldering the biggest
difference as you noticed is how the heat is conducted.You do not
need to heat the whole piece as you would in sterling ,just the area
around the joint, more heat on the heavier areas. I too used to do
sterling fabrication ,which was great fun,now I rarely work in
sterling .With practice you will find greater results with gold
fabrication.

One more tip would be to use your borac acid dip as normal and use
borax based flux,just not too much,you can go to the green stuff
later on smaller joints.Use a soft flame with a touch of yellow.size
is not as important but you can do most work with a small soft
flame.I have added a section of brass tubing to my torch tip which is
about 1.5mm o.d. I use this tip for most work. Hard solder is great
for the first joint the moving to meduim for the majority of
fabrication,the easy for the last and more delicate areas. If the
joint area is dirty the solder will bead up and not flow.I do not
know if you are working in 14k or 18k, I prefer 18k for
fabrication.It does not cost much more but it does seems quicker to
work with.Nicer color too.

One big thing is getting over how much gold cost,“get over it” ,you
will soon find people are willing to pay more for the same work in
gold .Price platinum and gold seems cheap.But then again platinum is
even better than gold for fabrication. good luck! Michael


#5

Noel, What torch are you using?I used to use a prestolite torch for
silver work.It is acetylene ahd mixes with air through the hand
piece.You can use that type of torch but it is tricky.Unless your
piece is large.Like bowls or belt buckle size.Is the piece you are
trying to solder flat,a ring,bracelet?How is it being held while you
solder?You might try taking three small pieces of scrap gold and
putting a snippet of easy medium and hard on each piece and heat each
one up until the solder flows to help you get a feel for the different
solders or try soldering some tiny gold scrap pieces together.Once you
start getting the feel for gold you may not go back it is much easier
to solder than silver.Regards J Morley Coyote Ridge Studio


#6

Attn. Noel; (my $.18 worth): Three big differences working gold: 1).You
have More selections of solder. (starting out with hard, work your way
to easy) each manufacturer use different alloy formulas- some clean,
some dirty. (you’l need to find the one that works best with you) 2). I
prefer to use a Propane/oxygen set up. Working gold, you use SMALL
flame tip. You only need to heat the point of contact. 3). What I love
about gold solder, is that it follows the heat of your torch.

On point of contact,melt a clip of solder, place part to be added
with torch flame–bingo, its complete. Make sure you flux with boric
acid and alcohol… If you don’t already have this book: ‘the jeweler’s
bench reference’-by H. O’Connor get it, keep it handy. Do enjoy–
Dave(18k)


#7

All-- I am hoping to get some help from goldsmiths out there–

I have always worked in silver, mostly fabrication. I have been adding
bits of gold, and now, I’m trying to make my first all-gold piece. It
is a fairly ambitious design (my work tends to be a bit complex).

I’m having a great deal of difficulty getting the hang of soldering
the gold. I know gold doesn’t transmit heat the way silver does, and
there isn’t that much difference in melting point between the gold and
the solder (I have three, maybe four grades). At this point, I’m still
working with hard and medium. I seem to be melting the piece, rather
than the solder. I’d be grateful for help–none of my books seem to
go into the particular differences between the two metals, in terms of
technique, and I hate to spend the gold to learn completely by trial
and error (my usual way). Thanks! --Noel


#8

Noel, I wish you could come out to Metalwerx and take Gold 101!
Paulette Werger taught this class and really de-mystified the process
for me. Mostly gold solders don’t flow the way silver solders do.
They work more like a spot weld. When I first tried to anneal some
14K I kept bringing it up to the dull red color and wondered why it
was still so hard to bend. It needed a lot more heat than I realized.
I work only in 18K and 22K now. The higher karats are much easier to
work with. Also, I have an oxy-acet Mecco Mini torch for the gold
work. I wish I could use propane, but the fire department won’t allow
it because the school is on the second floor.

I’m sure you will get lots of responses on this. What I have learned
the most is that the heat concentration that would put silver into a
little puddle does not seem to affect gold. It can get very hot with
out melting and just when I think I am about to make a very large
casting grain, whoops! There goes the solder just in time.

Karen Christians
M E T A L W E R X
10 Walnut St.
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone:781/937-3532
Fax: 781/937-3955
http://www.metalwerx.com/
Accredited Jewelry Instruction


#9

suggestions for gold soldering.

  1. make sure the parts have a high polish before soldering. Unlike
    silver which needs a satin finish (about a 600 grit is what I use)
    gold needs a high polish to flow correctly. I usually polish to zam
    for soldering.

  2. use powered boric acid and alcohol for a flux. Swirl the piece in
    the solution remove it and flame it so the alcohol burns off. This
    leaves a nice thin film of powered boric acid as a flux.

3.warm the pieces and apply Battern’s self pickling flux to the
solder joint.

  1. add your solder bead and heat the piece until solder flow. Do not
    try and heat the entire piece as you would a silver piece. The piece
    will melt before the solder will flow as the thinner area will heat
    more rapidly. Rather heat the solder seam and use the flame to pull
    the solder as it melts. I also use a hotter more intense flame than
    for silver. You want to heat the area for the solder flow as gold does
    not transmit heat as well as solder. If the solder should not flow in
    an area do not over heat the metal trying to make it flow. Stop and
    let it cool , pickle and then go back, reflux and flow the solder
    again. Sometimes contamination or burned flux will stop the solder
    flow but a trip to the pickle pot usually cures the problem. Good luck
    and practice a few before you move on to the all important piece.
    Frank Goss

#10

Noel: I have been working in gold for almost my entire career, and I
find it frustrating to work in silver! The stuff never seems to get
hot enough to flow at the solder joint, fire scale is a constant
problem, and you don’t get the wide range of alloys, colors, and
working properties with silver that you can get with gold.

I think it would be very difficult to describe in written form how to
work with gold as opposed to working with silver, or platinum, or
copper, etc. So much easier to sit beside a goldsmith and watch them
work.

I was asked to teach a workshop at Touchstone next summer on this
topic and, at first, I didn’t think anyone would really be
interested. But after talking with several other metalsmiths about
it, I realized that very few people got the opportunity to really
learn how to work with gold while they were learning to make jewelry.
This was especially true at the university level, where time was
short and gold was expensive. In a trade shop, the opposite was
true…working with gold was what you needed to learn in order to
make a living.

I wish I could help you with this project, but I hope you can find
someone in your area that can mentor you. I will be teaching this
workshop next summer, and I think that you need some assistance
sooner than that. If there are others interested in this type of
workshop, please let me know, or contact one of the schools in your
area. Too often, instructors are looking to teach workshops on
certain techniques like granulation or explosive forming, and I think
this topic, Making the switch to Gold, may have been overlooked.

Doug Zaruba


#11

I premelt my solder til it balls, then carry it to the piece on my
solder pic. I then use an in & out movement with my torch, focussing
just where I want the piece soldered. If you overheat the solder it
makes a lovely little pit on your piece. IMHO…I think after about
a year of working with gold, most people lose most of their “fear of
gold.” Just my experience, good luck to you. Helene


#12

Noel, You’ve already gotten some excellent comments and here are some
smaller benefits: - You’ll be able to hold small pieces in steel
tweezers (handy to dip in boric, light, then almost immediately
solder). - You will be able to use soldering blocks that don’t quickly
burn out (ceramic vs charcoal). - You will be able to fill pits by
coating tiney gold ball with solder and soldering into/onto pit (then
filling down).

My forte is gold AND silver togather. They are both great to
fabricate seperately and togather, respecting each others heat
management and finishing. Good luck, Regis


#13

Noel, Though the point has not been missed by some of the reply posts,
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having the right flame
size and intensity with gold work. Using the same torch with gold as
with silver is not a problem if the torch is versatile, i.e., has
different size tips and the ability for the flame to be adjusted in
size and intensity. However, if you are using a single size
flame-type torch you are asking for a high failure rate. I thought
Dave’s post [colling1@hotmail.com (Dave Colling) ] to be a good
description of the process. Keep up the practice and don’t beat
yourself up. Remember that gold can be reclaimed and refined so
practice pieces are really a lot more economical than you might think
at first.

Larry Seiger


#14

Hi Noel. I made the switch from silver to gold a few years back and
I was fortunate enough to be in a class at the time with a very good,
patient teacher. You are right, there does not seem to be good
literature that goes in depth about the differences in working with
gold as opposed to silver. My suggestion would be to get into a class
with someone who can sit with you one on one to start out and really
show you how to approach the soldering. After that it is a matter of
just doing it and getting the feel for the metal. Trial and error
will become experience the first, second or third time you melt down
the gold. But you really can’t learn without taking a leap. Other
people have given you good technical suggestions so I won’t bother
repeating it. Truth be known, I don’t work with much hard solder in
gold, mostly for bezels, but then the majority of additional
soldering can be done with various levels of medium solders which are
widely available in gold and then of course final solderings of
findings, etc with easy. My suggestion would be to start out with
small, uncomplicated pieces just to get the feel and so that you are
not too intimidated by the possibility of losing it. Also, I think it
is much easier to work with just gold than it is to work with a
combination of gold and silver, so if you have mastered the
combination you should be OK. The major problem for me since I have
switched to gold is selling it - people are just not spending money
right now and that is discouraging when you have so much in raw
material and time.

GRACE in Cleveland.


#15

Thanks to all of you who have come to my aid. It is true that I never
have had the chance to work with a teacher with gold, but maybe I can
find such a situation.

There seems to be agreement that acetelyn is not the best choice, but
it’s all I’ve got. I have a Smith torch, and have been using the
second-smallest tip. I guess I’ll try the tiy one. Would I have an
easier time with an oxy-acet. Little Torch? I have access to one. With
silver, I just dip in boric acid/alcohol and solder. Is the extra flux
(Batterns) a big help? I’m trying to solder small, thin parts
together–basically, a section of a bezel, like a curved fence, about
3mm high, onto one edge of a long, narrow base, essentially narrow
oval. If I can get past that, there will be a higher one on the other
edge. I keep melting the base and/or bezel–most recently, I melted a
tiny hole at the base of the bezel strip! I had even tried to flood
the base piece with solder first (this may have interfered with fit).
Is there consensus about paste solder? I have some in silver, but am
not that crazy about it, but I only just started trying it. I have
trouble putting it exactly where I want it, and am not sure how much
is enough, but more use should solve that. If I can find a competent
person to do even one hands-on demo, I’m sure I’ll be off to the
races. I didn’t used to like gold, but I seem to have changed my mind.
Thanh you all!! --Noel


#16

Noel asked

        I have always worked in silver, mostly fabrication. I have
been adding bits of gold, and now, I'm trying to make my first
all-gold piece. It is a fairly ambitious design (my work tends to be
a bit complex). 

I have been in your shoes and this what I can offer.

  1. Not sure if you are making the move to gold being, 14K or what,
    but Daniel Spirer made the point the price point for 18k is not that
    great in exchange for the return. Something to think about. Also you
    get no fire scale from 18k but will with 14k.

  2. When you solder gold you can not heat the whole piece as in
    silver. For Silver you need a large bushy flame for gold you need a
    needle like flame. As others have already mentioned dip the piece in
    boric acid in alcohol and burn off the alcohol. Place your solder
    chip or what ever and point the flame at that point where you want the
    solder to flow, heating the metal. Use the last 1/4 inch of the flame
    it is the hottest.

  3. If you move the flame as in silver to heat the piece you will
    melt some portion of the gold and that is what you need to avoid. Go
    in fast and out just as fast.

  4. As to solder grades, hard, med and easy, and extra easy.
    Always use hard for all joints in general fabrication. I only go to
    med when I know that I have many more solder joints near each other
    and lastly go to easy. I have found the extra easy a dream to work
    with when I need to replace a bezel on a ring when there is not enough
    metal to hold the stone.

Hope that this helps, but I can tell you practice and practice more.
I made the change over 2 years ago and still fry a piece now and
then, cause I’m always changing back and forth from silver to 14K or
18k. Best of luck! Barbara McLaughlin @Barbara_McLaughlin
www.taylorriverjewelrydesign.com


#17
  Make sure the parts have a high polish before soldering. Unlike
silver which needs a satin finish (about a 600 grit is what I use)
gold needs a high polish to flow correctly. 

Sorry, but I have to disagree strongly. Gold does not have to be
high-polished before soldering; a 600 grit finish on gold will solder
just fine. Like any metal, gold needs to be well-cleaned before
soldering and my last step before fluxing is to clean by sanding with
600 grit paper!

What I have learned the most is that the heat concentration that
would put silver into a little puddle does not seem to affect gold. 

I also have to disagree with this statement. Because gold is such a
poor conductor of heat, if you direct your torch tip at one spot on a
sheet of gold, you’ll melt a hole in the sheet long before you would
using silver. With silver, the heat is distributed out to the edges of
the sheet where with gold the heat stays right where you direct it.
Now, if you’re working with a small item of sterling versus the same
item in high karat gold that has a much higher melting point, and
given the same amount and intensity of heat, the silver might puddle
sooner but only because of the great difference in melting points.
That is why it’s so much easier to work with 18k or 22k than 14k which
will puddle in a second. I stopped melting bezel wire when I switched
from 14k to 22k; sterling silver bezel wire was never a problem.

Noel, I think the most important thing to remember when soldering
gold, in order to avoid melting parts of your piece, is to watch where
and how you’re applying heat. Regardless of what kind of torch, gas
or flux you use, keep the flame in motion as much as possible.
Colleen’s advice (“When you get close to what seems to be the flow
point, take the torch and wave it on and off the object at
approximately one second intervals.”) is excellent. The “waving” or
"fanning" can make all the difference in keeping your gold in a solid
state. Also, as soon as the solder flows, get the torch out of
there. Don’t linger.

Here’s another tip, especially for those, like me, who don’t seem to
have that instinctual feel for when the metal is getting too hot. Use
lots of heat sinks. I have several small steel bolts, screws and
washers on my bench that I position so they’re touching the far side
of the small part I’m trying to solder to a larger part. This keeps
the temperature of the small part down. Tweezers held in your hand
(or a third hand) and touched to the smaller part (such as a pin
finding) will help as well. So will binding wire.

Beth


#18

Noel, I’ve been following the (often conflicting) advice that people
have been giving on working with gold. It’s all wrong— and it’s all
absolutely right. The point is that the proof is in the pudding:
everybody’s experience w/ a given material will vary and, even thought
there must be absolutes out there, I’ve too often seen procedures
successfully implemented that have been deemed impossible to believe
in absolutes.

I don’t think that there is any substitute for working w/ a material
and putting it through its paces in your own studio w/ your own tools
w/ your own music playing and at your own speed. I often advise
students to spend the $200.00 that they would pay for yet another
workshop and put it towards an ounce of gold, or maybe a half of 14k
and one of 18k, or some rose or some white-- whatever-- and just play.
Of course, do some research first (which you already have) but let
your own exposure to the metal be your teacher.

Think of it as a grant. Set aside a certain amount of money w/ which
to buy metal, solders, etc. Consider this money as TOTALLY GONE.
This will allow you to approach the gold, which has some serious
mental baggage, with a minimum of fear. Now, just allow yourself to
play: melt some, fry some, burn some, drop some into water, throw some
out the window-- just give yourself the freedom to approach this
material w/out fear and paralyzing reverence. The reality is that,
aside from tossing it out the window, you will never lose all, or even
most, of your “grant” money. Whatever you screw up can be refined for
a partial, if not majorative, return of your investment. Now you
can’t say that about wood: if you mess up a nice piece of,say, walnut,
you can’t sweep up the sawdust and little walnut bits and send 'em
back to the supplier for a new, smaller piece.

I know of one jeweler who, on first meeting his apprentice, handed
him an ounce of gold and said simply “Play”. The apprentice was told
not to worry about the cost whatsoever. This was maybe the smartest
lesson I’ve ever seen an instructor give. This approach fits my
personal learning style, and I believe that it works for others’ as
well. In the times that I have taught goldsmithing the biggest
stumbling block is the fear. If you can lose that, your ahead of the
curve.

Good luck, Andy Cooperman


#19

Noel, For the scenario you describe, try this sequence: Secure the
strip to the base with stainless steel binding wire (after applying
and burning off your fire coat solution). Since your strip is so
narrow and you don’t want to ding or distort it, this will take a
little patience and a light hand. Then flux (with the fire coat, it
may not be necessary but it’s extra insurance; it needn’t be Batterns,
however; I use Cupronil, but experiment till you find a flux you
like). Next, dry the flux and place your solder chips (I prefer solid
solder to paste � I find it easier to see it flow and there’s no
bubbling flux to get in the way � but, again, you have to find what’s
best for you).

Hold the piece by the edge of its base in a third hand so that the
piece is horizontal and suspended in the air. (If you’re confident
enough, you can hold it with a tweezer in your left hand � reverse if
you’re left-handed.) Then solder from below. If you tried this with
silver, the sheet would slump, but gold will hold it’s shape unless
you grossly overheat the whole thing. Do use your smallest torch tip
and don’t try to flow all the solder at the same time like you would
with silver. Warm up the whole piece first, then focus on one end
till the solder flows there and then move to the other end, tack it
also, and then flow the solder in between. By “focus,” I do not mean
that you should hold the flame static or you will melt another hole.
You still need to keep the torch moving but just in a small area.

For soldering from below, some people prefer a screen on a tripod. I
don’t for a couple of reasons. First, the screen acts as a heat sink
where you don’t want one. Secondly, your vision is obstructed. And,
finally, it’s not necessary for gold which doesn’t need to be fully
supported the way silver does.

By the way, I use hard solder to butt solder bezels, medium for
soldering bezels to sheet, and easy for everything else except
findings. For those I use extra easy and the only time I ever had a
problem (an earring post came off) it was due to a sloppy solder job.

As for torches, you’re probably better off with the Little Torch (I
use a Meco natural gas/oxy, myself). Regardless, when working with
small scale gold pieces, a small flame is almost always preferable.
Good luck.

Beth


#20

All! I want to repeat my thanks to all you who are trying to help me
with this transition, including those who are doing so merely by
wishing me luck!

I used a number of the suggestions I received, and, today, made good
progress on the piece I’m working on. I started (almost) over, with
18K and 22k, among other changes, and soldered successfully, though
some solders took multiple attempts. I didn’t melt anything!!! I did
drain the solder out of a bezel joint when I soldered it to its base,
but I can fix that.

I can see that gold has some advantages–for example, not having to
heat the whole piece should mean I can switch to easy much sooner,
since the next join won’t make the previous one open up.

I feel like a kid with a whole new box of crayons!

Again, Thanks!!
Noel