Using aluminum in jewelry

Hi all,

I was contemplating doing some jewelry pieces, rings to start, with
aluminum. So… before I get started and all into a possible mess
what should I look out for?

  • Is it possible to solder to aluminum or can I only T.I.G. weld
    (please don’t make me)?

  • Is there any health risks associated with aluminum worn on the
    skin?

  • is there anyway to get nice finishes on it? would I need to coat
    it with something(I know it wouldn’t rust but will it do anything
    else strange)?

  • I know there are different grades of aluminum and they have
    different characterists, so does anyone know of a good grade to work
    with?

I’v seen it used for jewelry and wearable art and I’ve played with
it doing some sculptural work but I’m most concerned with reactions
to the body, more then anything else. If anyone can point me in the
right directions with experience or an article I missed but should
read it will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance,
Zoe Hardisty

My experiences with aluminum are more along the lines of structure -
machine shop and the like - There is a compelling link between
ingesting aluminum (pots and pans) and alzheimer’s disease. Just
something to keep in mind. I don’t recall the number, but most of
the aluminum you’ll find is pure (99.9) aluminum - that’s what most
of the aluminum things that are around you, especially extruded
things, are made of. Soda cans, for instance. I use onlinemetals.com
for all my industrial metals - decent selection, good prices. You can
get metals quite a bit cheaper on ebay, but it’s harder to get just
what you want. It can be soldered with aluminum flux, but it’s quite
difficult. Others may offer better solutions, but the only coatings
I know of that work involve anodizing, which is very involved.

Zoe, I’m most certainly not an expert, but I know some things about
aluminum that may help you.

You can solder aluminum, but not aluminum oxide - and raw aluminum
almost immediately oxidizes as soon as you stop exposing fresh metal.
The process of soldering involves cleaning as you apply solder. Using
a stainless brush to scrub the aluminum with melted aluminum solder
and heat is the surest way I know. This provides a “tinned” surface
that will join to another “tinned” surface. It’s not trivial.

Aluminum alloys vary widely in composition, and people vary widely
in their reaction to metals. I know of people that are “allergic” to
nickel, copper (and therefore brass), stainless steel (possibly
nickel alloy), “base metal”, pewter and zinc. I also know people that
wear each of these as jewelry without rashes or allergic
manifestations.

It would seem that pierced ear loops or finger rings would be more
likely to cause problems than a bracelet, because the exposure to the
metal is more intimate.

From Machinery’s Handbook, the typical wrought aluminum alloy
elements are Cu, Si, Mn, Mg, Cr, and other - in some cases, other is
a significant part of the alloy.

If you can produce good jewelry or statuary, and clearly label the
composition of your pieces, you will have to assume that the
customer has some judgement about their own relative allergic
reactions. I personally have a bit of trouble with grocery store
basket handles causing a rash by the time I fill it with groceries -
but I play with a lot of aluminum of varying alloys and haven’t
noticed a problem. On the other hand, I don’t cook with raw aluminum
pots, because the link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum is a bit
muddy - there are conflicting claims.

Now, was that close enough to a fence sitting position?

Good luck,
Rexarino

Hi Zoe,

I think TIG is the only way out, you might consider cold
connections.

There no health risks from Al worn on the skin.

Aside from the usual brushing, sand-blasting and polishing, the most
common, useful and durable finishing technique would be anodizing,
with or without colorful dyes.

There is an extremely detailed discussion of working with aluminum
in Oppi Untracht’s monumental work, “Jewelry Concepts & Technology”.
If you don’t own this, you should.

My brother, Brant Emery. owns a small business, E-Wax,
(brantemery@comcast.net) providing CAD and CAM services to the
jewelry and hobby trade, along with specialized wax products for CAM
users, including bits and tools and fixtures of his own invention.
He is a professional machinist by trade and spent quite a while
welding aluminum boat hulls, both above and underwater. Most
beautiful joints I’ve ever seen, a true master. If I had a question
about the various aluminum alloys, he is the one I would ask. I do
know that he recently milled some beautiful aluminum pieces of
jewelry fro a Utah customer, incredibly smooth, nearly-polished
surfaces right off one of his mills.

I don’t get a commission from him, just passing on the info and hope
it is of some help to you or others here.

Best regards,

Wayne Emery
The Gemcutter

I have never heard of skin reactions to aluminum. Regarding
connections – I know it can be welded, but it’s very difficult.
Soldering – not possible, the aluminum would melt.

Most jewelry work that I have seen uses cold connections, such as
rivets, when working with aluminum.

For annodized aluminum, try East West Dye Com. They have a website.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

John,

There is a compelling link between ingesting aluminum (pots and
pans) and alzheimer's disease. 

The aluminum Alzheimer’s link is tenuous. There is no causal
relationship that has been established even after 20 years of
research into aluminum and Alzheimer’s

From the Alzheimer’s Asociation
http://www.alz.org/aboutad/myths.asp

  Myth 3: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum
  pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer's disease. 

  Reality: Based on current research, getting rid of aluminum
  cans, pots, and pans will not protect you from Alzheimer's
  disease. The 

  exact role (if any) of aluminum in Alzheimer's disease is
  still being researched and debated. However, most researchers
  believe that not enough evidence exists to consider aluminum a
  risk factor for Alzheimer's or a cause of dementia. 

Here is a link the the UK Alzheimer’s Society

Aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease

Here is a quote from brief article in Scientific American about it

  "In the mind of many scientists, if aluminum plays a role it is
  most probably a secondary one. The reasoning for this position
  is based on the fact that aluminum is one of the most abundant
  and pervasive elements. It is found everywhere--it is in the
  water we drink, it is in the dust we breathe, it is in many of
  he substances we use every day such as coke in glass bottles,
  food preservatives, 

  many cosmetics and food dyes. Even if we stop using pots and
  pans, or underarm deodorants, it will be virtually impossible
  to avoid aluminum. Given this type of exposure of the general
  population, if aluminum is playing a major role then one would
  expect the numbers of people affected by Alzheimer's to be much
  higher than they are found in epidemiological studies.

the full article is at http://tinyurl.com/c6q3b

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

Could you include it in PMC and then fire it?

Bill from L.I.

Good morning (EST)

I hate to differ, but it is possible to torch join Aluminum. Just it
is usually referred to has Aluminum brazing. Depending on the alloy
rod that is used it is either true brazing or welding. Technically
Brazing is joining metal with a filler metal that has a lower melting
point than the metal to be joined but above a certain temperature
(Below that temperature it is referred to has soldering) While
Welding is melting the metal to be joined and adding filler metal to
the joint. In my experience with Aluminum Brazing rods and a
Oxy-acetylene torch the Aluminum often melts and mixes with the
brazing rod so technically I am welding Aluminum I believe. Most
Aluminum Brazing rods are made of a silicon-aluminum Alloy which has
a lower melting point than pure Aluminum.

A quick Google search for “Aluminum Brazing”

Yields much I personally have used rods made by a local
company called Soldel, however your welding gas distributor should
be able to provide you with an equivalent rod.

In checking the Google link I came across an excellent on-line (and
free) technical reference to the Brazing process at:

http://www.handyharmancanada.com/TheBrazingBook/bbook.htm

In looking at their rather excellent site I see they also have a
reference for precious metal brazing (Soldering) at:

http://www.handyharmancanada.com/hbpm/hbpm.htm

These are great references from what I can see.

Kay

Could you include it in PMC and then fire it? 

Nope, the aluminum would melt.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Elaine and folks,

I don’t think skin reactions to aluminum are common, but I have had
it happen. The first time I noticed it there was a patch of
dermatitis on the back of my hand that wouldn’t go away. Took me
awhile to make the mental connection, but one day while I was
putting my daughter in her car seat I noticed the aluminum catch was
rubbing on the exact spot where I had the rash. I’ve gotten similar
reactions since, so I’m a bit more careful of aluminum than I used
to be.

Cheers and Happy New Year!
Dawn B. in Taylor Texas

one day while I was putting my daughter in her car seat I noticed
the aluminum catch was rubbing on the exact spot where I had the
rash. 

Are you sure the catch is aluminum, not steel, possibly galvanized
(looks a lot like aluminum)? An aluminum part in a car seat would be
pretty surprising. It isn’t anywahere near as strong as steel.

Noel

I don't think skin reactions to aluminum are common, but I have
had it happen. The first time I noticed it there was a patch of
dermatitis on the back of my hand that wouldn't go away. Took me
awhile to make the mental connection, but one day while I was
putting my daughter in her car seat I noticed the aluminum catch
was rubbing on the exact spot where I had the rash. I've gotten
similar reactions since, so I'm a bit more careful of aluminum than
I used to be. 

The thing about aluminum is that it’s highly reactive with oxygen
(and a number of other things too.). But the resulting compounds are
then very stable. In the case of aluminum, that reactivity forms,
virtually instantly on contact with air, a rather durable and inert
film of aluminum oxide (essentially, sapphire, though not quite the
same structure). The result of that is that your skin is not
generally in contact with aluminum, but rather the usually inert
oxide layer. But here’s the catch. Much of the aluminum we use is
anodized. That process makes the oxide layer much thicker, but the
layer it produces is initially rather porous. That is what allows it
to be dyed. It is then sealed, often with a salt solution, that
changes the structure to a mostly non-porous one, sealing in the dye.
So contact with anodized aluminum is not just contact with aluminum
oxide. It’s also contact with traces of whatever salts may have been
used to seal it, as well as perhaps contact to some degree with
whatever dye was used. Even with aluminum that is not specifically
anodized and dyed, some surface trapping of contaminants may be
possible, again meaning that contact with the stuff is not just
contact with aluminum oxide. All of that makes possible the
instances of dermatitis in some people, and some examples of
aluminum. Not easy to predict which ones. If you do your own
anodizing, and seal with just boiling water, and use dyes you know
are not allergenic, then just maybe you can mostly predict it’s
safety. But it’s still not a total guarantee. It’s not commonly a
problem for most people, but perhaps that just makes it harder to
track down when it IS a problem…

Peter Rowe

Noel,

Are you sure the catch is aluminum, not steel, possibly galvanized
(looks a lot like aluminum)?

Absolutely, positively sure. The catch is definately aluminum,
surprising or not.

Dawn B. in Taylor, Texas