Working with copper

Hi Jeanne

I stopped worrying so much after I looked at Mexican copper
jewellery. You can see the silver line where they soldered it
together and often they did not even clean up the joint so only a
little sliver showed. Yet people snarf up the rings quickly, probably
because they are cheap, I was selling them for $5.00 each. I did
explain to my clients that there was not a copper solder for
jewellery making that was strong enough. They seemed to understand.
Even later when I made the rings myself and more than doubled the
selling price the rings still sold. The clients seemed to appreciate
the fact that they were talking to the maker and that I could not
make them as cheap as the Mexican craftspeople.

Karen Bahr - Karen’s Artworx
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Thanks Sheila, appreciate your input.

I just started working with copper and it has been an eye opening
experience. All the things I thought I new in silver are out the
window, and I am working from scratch here. Anything you would care
to pass along? 1-I noticed is going up 3 wire sizes to get the same
strength as silver. Still haven’t figure out how to put temper back
in after heating.



Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

I have not noticed a change in color between the copper and the pink
gold solder seam. It may well that I have not had the pieces long
enough to see a change. I also tend to put the solder seams out of
sight when possible. The jewelry pieces that I do in copper sell
quickly so I don’t get to see them age.

I have seen a general darkening in the color of the pink/rose gold
pieces that I have done. This is apparent in the one piece that has
hung around for 2+ years now.(and I thought it was a great design!)
Think about the old Rose Gold pieces popular a hundred years ago.

I am not sure I have answered the question.

Bill Churlik

The copper/phosphorous rod is used without flux on copper to
copper soldering but when joining brass or brass to copper use a
paste flux. 

I will say that about all I do with brass is structural - toolmaking
and the like, where cosmetics don’t matter so much. But I use a
brazing flux from a welder’s supply for brass - a lot of what I do is
in fact brazing. It’s MUCH more high-powered than jewelry fluxes. I
have two different kinds, and they’re both powdered, the thought
being to heat the rod and dunk it into the flux. Not saying go get it
if paste works for you, as it often will. If it’s not enough,

Typical paste flux is just the powdered version you refer to with
water added. The trick is it needs to be dissolved in hot water to
get it into solution. When you visit the flux makers web sites they
will offer the same formula as either paste or powder, most jewelers
just aren’t used to the powdered version.


James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


I have been watching with interest the discussion on working with
copper, as it is my primary material. Here is a web site for the
national copper association (or such)… tons of info:

I finally got my torch up! Yeah! (It’s a long story…) To start
with, I would like to start working with copper instead of silver,
mainly because of the price. Will I have to anneal copper like
silver (is that the correct term?) to get it soft enough to work
with? And will copper get harder the more it is worked like silver?
Forgive all these questions, since I am just beginning the jump from
beading to jewelry making and have taken classes in fabrication. But
these classes were all working with silver and even though they were
advertised as for beginners; I felt totally out of place in them
because everyone else in the class was the adult child of a jeweler
and had grown up using these tools and were quite comfortable
working on everything. Whereas, I as a real beginner, felt like a
kindergartner suddenly put into a fifth grade class.

Anyway, that’s just to explain some of my stupid questions I may be
asking all of you. I feel the same way, listening to you discuss
your questions and answers. So, please forgive my dumb questions,
but I really would like answers to these questions, since I have
never worked with copper before, having some idea of what to expect
would be great.

Thanking you in advance. Jaynemarie


Yes, heating to a dull red will get copper soft and yes, it will work
harden, requiring more annealing. As with all non ferris metals, you
can heat to anneal and cool in water if you do this with iron alloys,
cooling with water will harden the metal. Essentially any metal will
work harden. You might get some good at the
archives as there are jewelers and other workers in metals on the
site. DO NOT EVER apologies for asking a question, as the only dumb
question is the one that is in a persons thoughts and never asked…

Good luck and have FUN!!!
John Dach

Hello, IMHO copper is a good place to “cut your teeth,” availability
was my thing, I had it at hand. I know some frown upon it, but in
the beginning I would rather ruin a piece in copper and start over,
being out my time, than ruin a piece in silver. I realize in
comparison to gold and platinum that silver is cheap, but that’s not
what I see when I place my order form Rio from time to time for
Argentium. It was an affordable commodity that allowed me an
invaluable opportunity for growth and learning.

You definitely want to anneal first, when soft it will remind one of
stiff but pliable paper, depending on the thickness. It will develop
a hardness to a degree as it is worked. This term is all relative.
Take a several pieces, anneal to red, allow the color to fade and
quench in water. Be cautious of the piece “spraying” or splattering
when submersed, and bend and hammer away. Sense the changes taking
place as you work it… I think it is definitely noticeable. Seek
out a source for scrape if you have no supply at hand. Plumbing
jobbers may be willing to sell you scrap… same with electricians or
contractors. Offer a bit more than scrap price and you still have
your commodity at a much cheaper price than new. All perfectly
workable. The nice thing about plumbing pipe and electrical wire is
it is almost pure. If you can get a bigger diameter piece of pipe, it
is sweet to anneal, cut it open with a shears, or jewelers saw
(although the shears is “quick and dirty”) and you have a hefty chunk
to go to town with. With electrical wire, one can hammer to dimension
or thickness reasonably well, and it is a great way to develop basic
skills. One of my last copper pieces was a link bracelet, hammered
from wire and when finished, I was complimented on the solder joins
being “nearly” invisible.

Be aware that copper is a strange creature. It’ll take abuse, you
can hit it with tons of heat, and it will"smile" back at you as if to
say “that’s the best you got”? It doesn’t slump and flow like silver.
Be prepared to pickle,but I think I’ve created some rather
“admirable” objects with this material. It will allow you an
opportunity to develop hand skills at an affordable cost.

It seems a rare opportunity for me to chime in on a topic, but I
still have an affinity for my “first partner” and still incorporate
it from time to time in an item. In the situation that you describe
about feeling out of place, put it in perspective, watch, listen,
and ask, but more importantly, try… there is little more to lose
than one’s time for the most part. That is what I love about this
community, one can seek and generally find an answer or idea. Don’t
be afraid to fail… it is part of the process, one must worry when
mistakes are repeated, learn from your miss-cues.

Ok… enough from me. I will end by offering any help or advice that
I may offer off-line should you so desire. I am not an expert, but
consider myself to be experienced enough to offer feedback and
encouragement. If you have an interest, please check out my web-site
and you’ll see a gradual progression, I hope, of skill and ability in
the photos of my work. Keep the faith in yourself… don’t be afraid
to fail. peace.

Hi Jaynemarie,

They are not stupid questions at all.

Yes, copper work hardens just like silver - in fact, nearly all
metals work harden. And yes, copper is annealed just like silver.
Nearly all metals can be annealed, but the processes can be
different. Ferrous metals (metals containing iron) are annealed by
cooling VERY slowly, but some (most?) non-ferrous metals, like
copper, silver and most carat golds, are annealed by cooling rapidly;
often by quenching in water, oil or alcohol. Some golds and silver
alloys though, have special requirements.

Regards, Gary Wooding

Jaynemarie, You have gotten good advice about working with copper. I
just have 2 things to add. There is no such thing as a dumb
question. We all had to start somewhere, and had loads of questions.
You will find lots of willing help here. And my second point is, that
copper is wonderful to work with. You can do great things with it.
One of my friends works almost exclusively with copper and her things
are beautiful. Price has nothing to do with it. What is important is
what you do with it.

Alma Rands

Essentially any metal will work harden. 

With one odd exception. Pewter (tin) does not work harden. Instead,
it actually gets softer and more workable as you work it, especially
if your starting point was cast metal, or metal with an otherwise
coarser grain structure. This includes to a lesser degree, rolled
sheet metal that’s been in storage for a time.

The reason (so far as I know, but this could be wrong…) is that
normal room temperature is above the temperature at which Tin is
annealed, so it is constantly annealing itself. And in working, as
with other metals being worked and annealed, you are refining the
grain structure to produce a smaller grain size, which tends to be a
bit more workable, thus it not only does not work harden, but it
actually gets softer. And of course, it never needs a seperate
annealing operation. Left alone, such as when a piece is complete,
over time the grain size increases again slowly, just as happens
with other metals with extended annealing times and temps.