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Reticulation Redux

I do feel sort of strange bringing this up. My co-hort in the
Reticulation class, after reading some of the Orchid messages I
downloaded for her, called me this morning with a question. I
believe we received the answer from Metal Artist Extraordinaire Ms.

If one is not pleased with the result, can one start all over with
the heat/pickle routine 4-5 times before re-reticulating? I believe
the answer is yes, my friend wants reassurances we do read English.

To be fair, she wants to know if this is also so for the metal sold
specifically as reticulation silver?

My question is, were I to go to a coin shop and buy coin silver and
roll it out, how much difference is there in buying the expensive

Took me all day to find the cojones to write this message.
Terriesuper scared waiting for a neurologist appointment on Tuesday
due to an abnormal brain MRI. Yes she is human and does bleed.

    If one is not pleased with the result, can one start all over
with the heat/pickle routine 4-5 times before re-reticulating? 

If a surface hasn’t reticulated enough, yes, it can be reticulated
further by first bringing up the depleted surface again. However, you
can’t make the bumps go down, nor change it dramatically, say from a
spiral line of bumps to a straight line of bumps.

    To be fair, she wants to know if this is also so for the metal
sold specifically as reticulation silver? 


    My question is, were I to go to a coin shop and buy coin
silver and roll it out, how much difference is there in buying the
expensive kind? 

It depends on the numismatic value (investment/collectible value) of
the coin. If memory serves me correctly, coin silver can range from
80%-90% silver content, with various alloys that may not be suitable
for reticulation. However, it will still be less expensive to just
make your own 80/20 alloy, and no more time investment than rolling a
coin. You are trading your time in rolling the material vs. the
expense of ready-made material. Do it once for the experience of
saying you’ve done it, then go back to the ready-made material.

Katherine Palochak


Yes, you can indeed have another go at reticulating a piece if you
didn’t get all the areas the first time, or if you hope to get a
little more definition in the wrinkles.

Happily, you do NOT have to go through the heat/pickle stuff several
more times. With reticulation silver, the key physical feature is
not the fine silver layer at all: it is the oxide layer underneath
it, the unmelting cuprous and cupric oxides. It is these that form
the temperature resistant envelope within which the molten or
semi-molten metal moves; it is the firescale that resists that
movement. Yes, you will get a fine silver layer after the
heat/pickle cycle, but research done by myself, Andrew Nyce [a
metallurgist turned passionate jeweler] and Stewart Grice [Hoover &
Strong’s metallurgist] definitely showed that it is the oxide layer
that is more important. In fact, you can get lovely reticulation
without pickling at all.

In Tim McCreight’s wonderful Complete Metalsmith he suggests
conditioning reticulation silver by placing it in a kiln at 1200
degrees F. for 8 to 12 minutes. You take it out, let it cool, and
reticulate it. Metal treated this way reticulates beautifully and
easily. This works so well that Hoover and Strong are probably going
to produce and sell pre-conditioned, ready-to-reticulate 80/20

That said, there are a couple of other factors that will definitely
influence the quality of the reticulation you get. The first factor
is fuel gas. We have found that propane, either with air or oxygen,
seems to give us the best results with the fewest disappointments
[i.e. places where the oxide layer breaks and the molten center boils outward – looks like little black bumps on the piece].
Personal torch skill is also very important – a good, practiced
hand can get terrific results and amazing control when an
inexperienced person won’t do as well on the identically prepared
metal, with the same torch, and the same substrate. You really do
develop a “feel” for the intensity of the flame, the rate of
heating, and the way you move the flame once reticulation begins.
It’s great fun when you can actually sign your name across a piece
of silver in wrinkles. :slight_smile:

I use an acetylene torch because that’s what I have right now, and
with practice I do get extremely nice results; my friend Andrew Nyce
gets more dramatic results more readily using propane, and our
students and colleagues have found this to be largely the case. So
if you just have acetylene, don’t despair, you’ll do fine after a
few tries. But propane may well make it easier.

The gauge of the metal will influence the nature of the reticules
somewhat. I like working with 22; my friend Andrew does delicious
things with 18; much thicker than that, and the results become
muted. Thinner than 24g and you risk having the metal pull itself
apart during the formation of wrinkles.

The next factors involve bench set up. In particular, you have to be
able to work with NO drafts across the area. This may mean
temporarily altering the way your ventilation system works for the
few minutes that you are reticulating.

The substrate you are working on is another important detail. I have
found that magnesia wool or ceramic wool [available from sellers of
kiln supplies and refractory materials] work extremely well.
Solderite boards, honeycomb ceramic boards, charcoal, pumice,
carborundom, and magnesia blocks are all very inferior to the
refractory wools. Not only can the wool be cut to the right size,
and used repeatedly, it can also be packed, crammed, and shaped to
support reticulation silver that has been made into three
dimensional forms such as seamless tubing, boxes, and bracelets –
these are reticulated AFTER being shaped. [If you want to see an
example, look in the Rio Grande tool catalog in the forming tool
section where the Bonny Doon presses are, and you will see a box of
reticulation silver with a moldavite finial and black pearl feet.
The reticulation was done after forming, and it was that sequence
which created the dramatically curved and concentric reticules.]

There are other wonderful things you can do to manipulate the
reticules once you have gotten comfortable with the basic process.
Heat sinks, keum boo [both before and after reticulation], thermal
isolation, varied geometry of sheet and hollow forms, using gravity
to affect wrinkle shape [“snakeskin” reticules], and yes, you
certainly can do lots of forming, and fabrication, including
soldering, prior to reticulation.

There is a lot of misout there about just what you can
do either before or after, so I will mention this: in Finland [and
also perhaps Denmark], when my friend Wendy Yothers [now a
conservator of holloware for Tiffany & Co] did her training in the
guild schools, the students got 80/20 sheet to do their assignments.
If they did the work correctly, then they were given sterling to do
the thing over in its final form. So clearly they were working out
the prototype in a really bitchy [pardon me] alloy – it is stiff,
firescales almost instantly, is horrible to hammer, and the moment
you heat it incorrectly it betrays your error by – yes! –
wrinkling. In fact, when Heikki Seppa was first exploring
reticulation at Cranbrook years ago, he was playing with it as a
known phenomenon from his training at home in Finland – except
there it was a sign of failure and a thing to avoid. He thought it
was nifty and worth trying to control and develop for its own sake.

If you are interested in forming reticulation silver into hollow
shapes prior to reticulation, I highly recommend the use of a
hydraulic press and tooling. The press doesn’t take cheek from any
uppity alloy, and it sure does do the job faster than you can with a
hammer, and with fewer annealings. When you do anneal, be sure to
use a blob of paste solder on the piece to tell you when you have
reached 1200 F so you can quench – don’t ever overheat reticulation
alloy if you want to move it easily afterwards, because it can
become quite brittle [it’s that firescale layer acting up]. I
suspect that folks who have been frustrated in forming it may have
inadvertently overheated it while annealing, and since it’s stiffer
than sterling it needs annealing frequently, so this could add up to
a really unhappy experience for both the metal and the metalsmith.

I don’t have a good answer to your question about coin silver. I
believe that term has specific alloy connotations, but I have no
idea if these are consistent around the world and I don’t know where
you are – someone else will have to help you there. You can also
look in a reference like Utracht’s book, or Tim McCreight, or
Brepohl. Coins are so tiny, though, and you really need a bit of
space for the reticules to grow and breed – you may find it very
frustrating to work so small.

I realize that I have just dumped a whole load out into the
reticulation discussion and I do apologize. I will try to get things
put into a more organized form and send it to Our Fearless Leader to
tuck into the reference archives. I will rope Andrew and Stewart
into the project, too, just to be thorough. Maybe Stewart can give
us some of the micrographs of prepared alloy and reticulated
alloy…they are really nifty, just like a slice across a sandwich
only more informative.

Terrie, please do not ever be afraid to ask a question on Orchid.
You are almost never the only person with that question, so you are
doing a great service to them as well as yourself when you ask. And
save your cajones for the other difficulties you may have ahead of


Anne Hollerbach
(who is really just a person with lots of hammers in the basement)

I just learned some new stuff about reticulation from Anne Larsen
Hollerbach. Thank you Anne. I didn’t know about the oxide layer
being more important than the fine silver skin or about the ceramic
wool. Is there any danger from handling the wool? I mean in terms of
tiny bits breaking off and being dangerous to breathe? If it’s safe
to use in this way, it seems as if it would be handy as a support
for soldering.

Marilyn Smith

Anne, Oh yes please continue. We have just begun to learn. Olga and I
are sitting here reading Oppi’s book. Remarkable stuff.

Your post is above and beyond assistance. Thank you so very much for
taking the time to reply so thoroughly.

We both now have a far better idea and comprehension. Thank you so
very much.

I am in Oceanside, Ca. We are in class at UCSD Crafts Center. This
is an 8 week semester, we take two classes, Reticulation and Tube
Setting. The TA for this class said the learning environment is in a
"50’s setting." Hey everything works.

Olga’s question is how to solder after reticulation?

Anne, thanks again.

One bad MRI deserves another 7 AM Friday. If it isn’t the sword
hanging over my head, it is Chinese drip torture.

I’ve had good success reticulating coins, but it’s limiting in the
size range. Thickness of the metal is crucial, too thin and you blow
holes in it, regardless of the preparation. A thickness of 20-18 ga
is ideal. You’re best bet is quarters or half dollars, roll them
out to 18-20ga and bright dip 6-10 times. (Heat to just shy of dull
red, - black heat, if you start to see color stop, quench in cold
pickle- stay back! or let cool and place in hot pickle- repeat 6-10
times), This is also a good prep for enameling sterling silver. The
goal is to build up the fine silver shell, pickle depletes the
surface of copper. Once the metal is redy, reticulate away

Marilyn, Anne gave the most complete and literate explanation and
verbal demonstration of Reticulation possible, and Orchid brought it
to all of us.

Bravo Orchid, Hanuman, Ton, and Anne.