Working with iron and steel 101

Hello everyone:

I’m hoping that you could help me with basic on how to
work with iron and steel using also gold and sterling silver. I have
recently felt the interest to use iron or still in my pieces
soldering gold bezels or silver to them, but I just don’t have any
clue. What kind of solder should I use? Would gold and silver solder
work? Flux? Pickle? Could I use 18K gold or 22K and fine silver?
Polishing? I have a propane-oxigene torch that is good for casting
platinum? Can I use it? Would I need special tools to lets say,
drilling? I guess so. I live in Mexico so I would probably start by
asking a black smith to fabricate a cuff braceletor a pendant already
shaped and from there add gold and silver details and set the stones
in my studio, do you think that is possible? Any way, I would really
appreciate any tips or any suggested info or recommended literature
on this technique, even better if I can find it on internet since
must of the jewelry books are very hard to find in Mexico. So I’ll
start experimenting. Thank you very much for your help and keep
making beautiful art!

Maria Bracho

You can easily solder precious metals to iron or steel using any of
the normal gold or silver solders, or engineering grade silver-solder
or brazing brass. You can also solder most common types of stainless
steel. The fluxes formulated especially for precious metals are not
very effective - but the standard engineering hard solder fluxes such
as EasyFlo work just fine. For some stainless steel you might find
that Tenacity works better, but is very much harder to remove
afterwards. Fresh pickle is OK for cleaning, but used stuff,
especially if it’s turned slightly blue, is very likely to deposit a
layer of copper over the precious metal.

Regards, Gary Wooding

Hi Maria;

You can use silver or gold solders on steel and iron. But you will
have the best results if you sand or grind away the grey scale from
the surface of the steel and use a paste type flux. You can also
grind borax very fine and make a paste with water and use that as
flux. Don’t put the article in acid after the gold or silver is
attached, as the copper in the silver or gold alloy will get plated
onto everything, making everything pink. This will always happen when
steel is put in acid that has been used to clean copper bearing
allows. You can use dilute muriatic acid to clean the steel (before
you’ve attached other metals to it). Use mild steel (commony used to
make auto bodies, appliances housings, etc.) If you use tool steel,
as is used to make tools, knives, springs, etc., you will be using a
very tough and hard metal which is difficult to work with. Pure iron
is very nice to work with, but not easy to find. Most steel has at
least some carbon in it, which is there to harden it, so it will be
best to anneal it by heating to a red color and letting it cool
slowly in the air. This will leave a grey coating called "scale"
which will need to be abraided away by sanding, grinding, sand
blasting, or soaking for a while in acid. It’s not likely you’ll be
able to harden mild steel very much by heating and quenching in water
or oil, but you can get a nice dark color on the steel by cleaning it
and then heating it to achieve colors from faint yellow to dark blue
to black. But these colors will be replaced by rust if you don’t seal
the surface with something like wax or laquer. You can also
deliberately let it rust, or speed up the rusting by leaving it in a
closed container with a little bit of acid, or spray with ferric
chloride and water then leaving it for a few days. Ask your
blacksmith fried for scraps of mild steel, and especially if he
knows of any old wagon wheel rims. Those are often “wrought iron”.
It’s an old form of nearly pure iron that, when it weathers, shows a
grain like old driftwood. That is due to it’s fibrous structure. That
aspect can be exploited by eposing the material to acid for
prolonged time periods, which brings out that wood grain effect,
creating a very interesting artifact.

Hope you enjoy working with iron and steel. Long before I was a
jeweler, I was a blacksmith, and made some of my first jewelry
articles of iron and steel.

David L. Huffman

To pickle the steel with silver and/or gold I use a 50/50-ish
solution of warm citric acid pickle and hydrogen peroxide. Just keep
a close eye as it works pretty quickly and can etch the metals if
left in the solution too long. This was suggested to me by quite a
few orchidians a few years back and it works really well.

If you haven’t, check out The Penland Book of Jewelry: Master
Classes in Jewelry Techniques by Lark books

and the work of Rob Jackson

Have fun with it!
Newburyport, MA

For anyone who is looking for a source of pure iron, you might try
the Wagner Companies.

On page 240 of their catalog (PDF File) at
the bottom there is a listing for various bar stock.

Minimum order is somewhere around $100 or so… at least it was 2-3
years ago when I ordered. It is also available from suppliers in the

The material is interesting to work with in that it allows for a lot
of forming before having to anneal again. A word of caution in that
is a messy material to work with once the filings get magnetized. You
may want to consider a separate work area or at least a means to
limit the debris from mingling with your other sweeps. A noble metal
it is not.

Good luck.
J Collier
Small Scale Metalsmith

For anyone who is looking for a source of pure iron, you might try
the Wagner Companies. 

I understand they no longer import it. I have a fried who is a
blacksmith who recently contacted them to order some and was told
they no longer handle it. :frowning:

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

I am not sure who it was (maybe James) on this thread that already
said The Wagner company no longer carries the PURE IRON material, I
am woking in this material as we speak and write, tried to get more
in the past 6 months and no one out there has any more. unless
somebody private or if you go to europe.

Hratch Babikian