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Soldering fine silver


#1

What kind of solder can I use to join fine silver pieces and still
hallmark as .999?

I chose fine silver as my first material for jewelry making because
I am not yet ready to confront firescale issues.

Is there a solder on the market with sufficient purity that it would
not ruin a fine silver rating for my resulting piece?

The other thing I considered doing is just mixing fine silver dust
or PMC with flux and then joining the work a kiln.

Any other ideas?
Thanks,
Andrew Jonathan Fine


#2

Hi Andrew,

Depending on the item. you could just fuse (weld) the item. It takes
good torch control, but it can be done. If you feel uncomfortable
trying it, try fusing some scrap .999 1st to get used to it.

Dave


#3
The other thing I considered doing is just mixing fine silver dust
or PMC with flux and then joining the work a kiln. 

Andrew, while flux is required in soldering in order to remove and
prevent oxide formation that would inhibit solder flow, it doesn’t
lower the melting point of the metal. Heating silver dust in a kiln
is no different from heating a block of silver, other than the speed
with which it heats if it’s not in contact with something that would
chill it (like that block of silver). In other words, this is not a
recipe for a join. The dust would not somehow form a solder or
otherwise make a join.

The trick to joining fine silver without ruining the fine silver
status is simply to use very little solder, and use a solder that’s
high enough in melting point (hard, or better, IT solder) so it’s
mostly silver. That way, although you’ve added traces of copper in
the solder, you added so little that it’s still within the standard
requirements to call it fine. No magic here. Just skill.

And for the record, not only is fine silver usually considered too
soft for most jewelry use for a reason, (because it IS), but your
feared fire stain issues really aren’t that hard to deal with.
Really, they’re not. Generations of silversmiths have learned to deal
with them. You can too. Avoiding it by using fine silver means you
then might be producing less servicable jewelry. Oh, and did I
mention that your solder seams, because they WILL contain some
copper, can still get fire stain? Can’t win… Best to simply learn
from the start how to deal with it and then it won’t trouble you
again. Avoid it at the beginning, and you’ll start to consider it
like some mountain you don’t want to climb. That’s about like using
only cold connections like rivets and screws, because you don’t want
to learn to solder. Really limiting. Learn to deal with fire stain
and get comfortable with standard sterling silver. Then, if you’ve
got a piece which will be better in fine silver, you can choose to
use it for the right reasons, not merely to avoid using standard
sterling silver.

For standard sterling silver, learn to mix and use prips flux, or
one of the commercially available fluxes intended to protect the
silver, and you’ve done it. Or check Seitz and Feingold for the
classic procedure of “burning in” a plain borax coating that also
does the job. Or do as some old time silversmithing firms did (like
George Jensen, one of the famous ones) and intentionally apply a fire
stain surface to the finished work with a flux free heating of the
finished and clean object. Then a light polish to restore the surface
without cutting through the fire stain, and you’ve again got a
presentable consistent surface.

Or simply use the most recent solution, one of the several fire
stain free silver alloys like Argentium.

Peter Rowe


#4

I’ve always assumed that fine silver is fused, not soldered - which
is one of the nice things about working with it! So I’d be
interested in any soldering-type answers to this…

Sally (UK)


#5

Andrew,

By definition you are never going to find a 999 solder. Using fine
dust is called fusing. If fire scale scares you fusing will probably
have you hiding under your bench. Fire scale is a fact of life,
although there are easy ways of coping by choice of flux, alloy, or
just file/polish the stuff off.

Fine silver for jewellery is generally a bad idea, exceptions do
exist… enamelling and PMC clay are a couple. Drop a fine ring on a
wood floor and it will be damaged, a concrete floor :frowning:

If you insist on working with fine just use regular solder, stamp
925, and the metal police won’t bother you.

jeffD
Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing
http://www.gmavt.net/~jdemand


#6

Andrew, I think fine silver is a nice metal for jewellery. I use it
a lot. I know its limitations but I consider the softness of fine
silver, far from making it unsuitable for jewellery, one of its more
charming attributes. Another is it doesn’t tarnish so much as stg.

PLUS it goes well with your surname!

A pretty good solder for fine silver would be an alloy with a small
amout of copper. Enough copper to lower the melting point and to give
it a liquidus/solidus melting range. I’d try 95% sil (950 sil) for a
start. If you are not yet up to experimenting with alloys, try using
sterling as a solder for fine silver, and make sure you use a modern
flux, not that borax cone stuff!

Didn’t Benvenuto Cellini make his solders? He would make various
solder alloys with increasing amounts of copper, starting with a
small ratio and eventually with more copper in each solder alloy he’d
have made 8 or more different solders.

For example, I see in his book ‘Treatises… on Goldsmithing and
Sculpture’ (p93) he makes “quinto” from 1/5oz copper / 1oz silver.

The parent silver alloy he uses in this example he calls
"eleven-and-a-half silver" (remainder copper) as this alloy was
stronger than fine silver yet also worked well for his purposes.

Brian
Auckland
New Zealand


#7

Andrew,

What shapes do you want to join together? Many times .999 silver is
fused. If this is feasible it is a very clean method. It will take
some practice since flame control is critical. As far as solder. I
know of no plumb …999 solder.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Henderson, NV


#8

Thank you for a great post Peter! I struggled years ago, not having
even basic skills. By happenstance, I was able to find someone local
to get me started in the right direction by giving me instructions,
books, materials, and just seeing that I was able to do something
that I obviously loved and wanted to learn kept me going.

Although I didn’t get around to soldering, I then went to our local
University and talked to a super Professor who helped me learn the
basic important steps necessary to form and formulate designs and
jewelry. Those skills, while it seems like it took so long then, are
still incredibly important to practice and improve upon.

Learning the bones of the craft, the chemicals, the metal melting
temps, how much forming is enough or too much, what tools are used
for what, which solder for which job and all of the work that goes
into preparation of metals for whatever you are going to do with
them.

I was quite proud of myself last week, when after taking a set of
jewelry that I was particularly attached to, when I realised that I
had lost one of the earrings. I had everything on a board, but was
in so much of a hurry, forgot to pin things down. Who knows where it
flew to! I had to make another one and only had a few hours. It
involved many of the basic skills I had been taught and had worked
on. This involved starting from scratch, using forming, hand
marking, annealing, cutting, riveting, drilling, finishing,
measuring, of three different metals and each part had to start from
the beginning. I was able to recreate the lost earring within 2
hours, and while for many this probably isn’t the sort of thing that
will alter the fate of nations, my point is that:

Armed with confidence and the basic skills that I had worked on over
the years, came very easily and I now understood why we learned
these skills of sawing, piercing, annealing, soldering, finishing,
cleaning, the step by step progression of all the little bits that
results in a piece you are proud of.

You have to sometimes open up and move forward with procedures. I
taught myself cold connections - thanks Ganoksin!!, well after I had
learned all the soldering techniques. It’s just one more thing in my
little bag of jewelry work that is finally starting to expand.

Dinah


#9

Dear Mike Deburgh

All I want to do is just some basic stuff like joining a 1mm
diameter earring wire to a 1cm round button, to make a stud earring.

Andrew Jonathan Fine


#10

Andrew,

From your description, with good setup and practice I think you
could probably be able to fuse the pieces. Expect some failure in the
beginning.

The metal will reach a stage bordering on liquidus, but still
melted. It takes very careful flame control to keep it at that stage
while the edges flow and join, then you must remove the heat
immediately.

I would suggest you start with a couple pieces of silver similarly
sized and fuse them. You’ll probably need more than a couple pieces.

With practice you should be able to fuse two pieces so that the join
is practically invisible. This won’t work with .925 silver. The
surface will end up rough and you’ll be lucky to get a good join
with the copper oxidation that occurs.

Good luck. I wish you the best.
Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Henderson, NV