We use a Rofin laser-welder at work, althoughy there are many
different systems out there. The system is about the size of a large
bench, with a chamber at one in which the hands and workpiece are
inserted. The system has a microscope built in, which is extremely
useful in the workshop - we use the microscope as much as the laser.
Ours uses normal mains power, and while that is adequate for most
tasks, there are definate limits to the way the laser works.
Industrial versions probably exist that have more power, but I have
no experience of those. The machine generates short pulses of
energy, not the sci-fi laser beam that many imagine, and these leave
a circular impression on the target (or on your finger, if you miss.
Ouch!). The size of this circle, the intensity, the duration and the
regularity of the pulse can all be varied, depending on the
situation and the metal you are working with.
We mainly use the laser for tack-welding components together, and
for attaching tiny pallions of solder to each joint. This makes it
possible to completely assemble a cluster setting, and solder it in
one go. This feat will literally revolutionise your soldering. What
it probably won’t do is replace soldering altogether. In most cases,
it’s an aid to soldering, and while I would use it to fully weld
something non-structural, like a jump ring, anything that will have
localised pressure or tension is stronger if solder is used. Eg,
attaching a post to an earring would best be done with solder.
In some cases (particularly platinum, but never silver), the laser
can be used to completely weld a forged ring, or any other thick
section of metal. Unlike soldering, the best thing to do here is to
cut a V-groove, and fill it from the bottom up, using very fine wire
of the same alloy. Some bullion dealers sell thin round wires for
this very purpose, but we make our own. Working with anything other
than round wire is time-consuming and counter-productive if you are
filling a groove. What you mustn’t dois make a normal joint and weld
around it - this will leave the middle unbonded, and therefore
weaken the joint (a bit like a dry joint in soldering).
Other useful functions are:
Filling pits and removing burrs in castings, which otherwise would
have to be cut and filled with solder.
Re-tipping claw settings - you can attach new claws with the stone
in place, and solder them (depending on the stone). Once your skill
level increases, it’s even possible to extend the claws by depositing
metal on the claw repeatedly.
Repairing anything within line-of-sight. Want to fix the inside of
a gallery setting with the stone in place? If you can see it under
the microscope, you can shoot it with the laser.
Silver doesn’t like laser pulses - just like with soldering, the
rest of the silver sucks energy away from the site of impact, making
it much harder to do. With a bit of experimentation, you can do it
almost as well as gold and platinum, but never as well. You also
have to use a much higher energy setting
“Focus” sets the size of the pulse (ie. it effects the sze of the
ci= rcle). This is really useful for smoothing rough shapes, or for
filling grooves (see above), but it also scatters more of the
energy, which you can feel hitting your skin. Laser radiation isn’t
out-and-out dangerous, but you want to minimise exposure. Also, if
the pulse isn’t fully absorbed, it will “bounce” off
Precious stones do not like lasers. Ignore anything that the
salesmen tell you on this - if you fire into a diamond, it will be
Overall, these are incredible machines, and buying one will
completely change your working life. Whether you can buy one
outright, or get it on HP, it will be worth every penny. You will
need some basic training, but after that, you’ll figure the rest
out. Be wary of who you get training from - your best best is to
find a working jeweller with one, and pay them for half a day of
one-on-one tuition. From my dad’s experiences, any organisation that
does too much teaching won’t be able to give you practical workshop
skills with the laser.
Hope this is useful, and I’d love to know if anyone else has useful
functions that I don’t know about. I’m sure there’s still a lot to
learn about these fantastic machines.Jamie