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Working with steel

hi- i was interested in working with steel but had a some very,very
basic questions (sorry). any input at all would help so much!

1)What do you solder steel with? Can you use silver solder?
easy,medium or hard? Do you still use flux?

2)Is there a good place to purchase thick steel wire or sheets?

3)Do you still pickle the material?

4)What type of patina do you use to blacken it? Does the patina last
permanently? I saw a post in the archives from Doug Zaruba that he
may have a recipe for this???

thanks to everyone!

Hi Kara, I’ve worked with steel, but only in sculptural pieces a bit
larger than jewelry size, so I’ll share that experience. I’m sure
others will chime in with more specific advice.

  1. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t solder steel (the way we
    jewelers think of soldering). Most typically, it’s welded, which is
    akin to the jeweler’s term of “fusing” (i.e., heating the two pieces
    of like metal until they are just below flow temperature. The outer
    surface of both pieces becomes liquified and is able to exchange
    molecules, which “glue” them together once they cool.) (Folks, I’m
    not a metallurgist, this is my understanding and my attempt to
    simplify the explanation – don’t jump all over me, ok?) Sometimes,
    you use a third piece of steel (like a steel coat hanger wire) to
    "fill in" the weld and add more material.

You can also braze steel, where you use a brazing rod (may be
copper, brass, or another alloy) in a similar manner as you would use
solder. The brazing metal has a lower melting point, so you heat up
the steel pieces first, then apply the brazing rod which liquifies
and “glues” the pieces together when it cools. This WILL be visible,
but it can look nice if done artistically. I’ve done some cool pieces
with blued steel and copper brazing, brought to a high polish, that
look awesome.

You do not need to use flux for either method, but you should
thoroughly clean your steel first. I use a little steel wool and
denatured alcohol to make sure there is no oil residue.

  1. How thick do you want? I usually end up at a building supply /
    hardware place near me, which carries wire in gauges from 18 and
    thicker, and sheet in gauges 18 and thicker. Our local Home Depot
    has thinner steel rods as well. They also have rebar and really
    thick steel plating, but I stay away from them. If you’re looking
    for smaller/lighter, then I’m not sure where to go.

  2. No need to pickle. You quench in water or allow to air cool,
    and scrub it down with steel wool and alcohol. But keep in mind that
    it oxidizes pretty rapidly (comparatively speaking), so you will have
    to do a final finish at some point at the end, once you’re done all
    your connections. At that point, you will sand/grind/blast it, get
    the metal looking exactly the way you want it, and then seal it. You
    can use wax (butcher’s wax, renaissance wax, etc.), or good old
    rustoleum or kleer koat in clear (several thin coats). Ideally, you
    should seal it the same day you do your final finish, as long as the
    metal is completely dry and clean.

  3. Patina on steel really depends on what color you’re going for.
    Here are a few ideas:

a. You can get some AMAZING colors (iridescent purples, pinks,
golds, and royal blues) just using the torch heat (experiment on some
scraps and you will be amazed). They will remain, if you seal them.

b. Otherwise, if you want a solid surface color, you can get a
variety of “bluing” or “blacking” chemicals from your local gun shop.

c. You can go with plain old household vinegar to get colors from
orange to deep red (matte finish only, though) – try different
vinegars to get different colors. They take anywhere from a few
hours to a day to work. Repeated applications will deepen the color.

d. There are some very cool metal dyes available for use on steel
(and other metals, as well). They are water-based dyes, and are
translucent when applied (not like the opacity of paint … the gleam
of the metal shows through when you use dyes). You can mix colros
and apply with a paintbrush, sponge, cloth, etc. Once they are dry,
seal the surface with wax or kleer koat and they are permanent. They
come in all colors from black to iridescents. A TINY amount goes a
long, long way, and they can be thinned with water.

I hope this helps. It can be a very fun medium to work with, and
have stunning results. Good luck!

Karen Goeller

Kara, Yes, you can use silver solder on steel, and you can use gold
solder too. Hard, medium, and soft. You can, of course, weld steel
if you want a really permanent steel to steel joint.

I often use the same white brazing flux that I use for gold when
joining steel to gold. The flux I use is for nonferrous metals, but
there is also a similar flux available specifically for iron and
steel. I have a flux that I like, called “Black Flux” that is made
by Englehard (available at Metalliferrous in NYC) that is great for
high and prolonged temperatures.

You can pickle a steel/silver or steel/gold combination in your
sodium bisulfate pickle, if it is fresh. If it is old, chances are
that it will have a lot of dissolved copper in it, and that will
plate onto your piece. Mild steel, the type you will probably be
working with, will etch if left in the pickle too long, so monitor
the progress of your work in the pickle.

As far as blackening or oxidizing the steel, many things will work.
Heat will blue or blacken the steel. There are also chemical
solutions, used either hot or cold, for bluing, browning, or
blackening steel. These are often used by gunsmiths, and I have
found these chemicals to be the most reliable. Gunsmiths are VERY
fussy about the quality of the patina. The cold bluing agents are
the easiest to work with on a small scale, and will give more of a
black color than a blue. You can keep applying the chemical until
you get the desired color. Hot patinas are usually applied by
dipping the piece.

Stainless steel will not oxidize. Use mild steel. You can use scraps
from a body shop, junk yard, found objects, or you can purchase new
material from a variety of suppliers. Small Parts, in Miami, is a
great resource for small amounts of metal (steel, aluminum, copper,
bronze, whatever) and they have all kinds of useful stuff, like
screws in very tiny sizes, taps and dies, gears, bearings, etc., 800

If you wish to make up your own patina formula, here is one that was
used specifically for steel and gold jewelry:

     Potassium hydroxide..................................15grams
     Sodium hydroxide.....................................640grams


Add chemicals to water in a clean, Stainless steel beaker, and heat
to a rolling boil. Simply add the piece to be oxidized into the
BEAKER. It is best to attach a wire to the piece before dropping it
into the beaker. Just pull it out periodically and check the
progress of the oxide. When it is as black as you wish, rinse and
wipe dry with a soft, cotton cloth.

Like any oxide, plating, or patina, this is the final finish, so
make sure it is polished and free of scratches (or textured, if you
wish) before you add the oxide finish. The oxide is quite durable,
but not unscratchable. It will only oxidize the steel, leaving the
precious metals untouched. If you do get a scratch on it, even years
later, simply re-dip in the boiling solution. You can keep the
unused solution in a tightly covered container for a long time…I
kept mine for 3 years.

(The usual warning about working with chemicals, having ventilation,
and all that common sense stuff…)

I’m sure the chemists in the group can explain how and why these
things work, and will have lots of suggestions for other patinas.
The formula above was used by Cartier on their jewelry, and I have
given it exactly as I received it. I used it to repair/restore some
of their older pieces, when the owner did not wish to send them to
Europe for restoration. It worked great. I use a hot bluing patina
on some of my sculptures, as it goes on evenly over a large surface
and seems harder that the cold bluing solution. I use the cold
bluing solution for tiny details, since I can paint it on with a 000

Steel is nice to work with. For inspiration, go to, and look at Nam Woo Cho’s work. I carry it in my
gallery, and I really love it.

Have fun!
Doug Zaruba

I have worked with steel ( not stainless steel) a bit and from my
experience you can use silver solder (bicycles were soldered with
silver solder), you have to use a lot of flux and if the solder stops
running it is difficult to force it, you will have to pickle it and
propably scrape the joint as well. you can pickle it in sulfiric
acid, hydrocloric acid, and (possibly with the more ecological acids
as well) but you have to use new acid without any copper oxide in it.
To achive a patina you can warm the steel and cool it down in oil.
Vegetable oil or even better linol oil. You can also purchase patina
solutions in gun shops.

Ortwin from Canterbury UK

I have soldered together two pieces of steel with silver solder. I
flux and heat one piece till solder flows, then hold the pieces
together till both are hot enough for the solder to flow. Emergency
repair for some steel tools I am not ready to abandon. I have
attached a brass sprue to a steel part with silver solder to make a
vulcanized rubber mold.

I’ve been having some computer problems so this question may already
be answered. I have soldered findings to mild steel using paste flux,
silver solder, and a Presto Lite torch. I pickled it in Sparex 1
which is a different pickle than what is used with non ferrous
metals. I colored the metal black by using thin coats of gun bluing
and than waxing with Renaissance Wax.

Marilyn Smith

    Yes, you can use silver solder on steel, and you can use gold
solder too. Hard, medium, and soft. 

What we jewellers call soldering is what the rest of the world
trades call brazing and so jewellery ‘solders’ are fine. I have
soldered stainless to shakudo with 9k gold solder. Looks great. I use
a high temp flux called ‘black flux’. You must use a flux as steel
oxidises more readily at hard soldering temperatures.

B r i a n A d a m
www adam
co nz

Does anyone know how to blacken steel for use in jewelry? Thank you!

Does anyone know how to blacken steel for use in jewelry? 

Not sure about using it in jewellery, but you can blacken steel by
heating it and submerging it in linseed oil. CIA

you can use a variety of substances to get the blacken effect,
beeswax, linseed oil, vegetable oil or good old motor oil.

Heat the steel up to just past the “Black” stage when it begins to
glow red and apply the substance of your choice, You can brush it on,
apply with an old rag or dunk it in a vat. You should get a nice
satin black.

Do experiment with different methods and materials to get the

This is a basic old style finishing for blacksmithing and a search
online will give you a variety of recipes etc.

I’m a metalshop teacher for a local high school and have used this
technique on steel hammer textured cuff bracelets and it works well.
We generally dunk our cuffs in a vat of old motor oil, but wiping on
with an old rag works well too.

Please remember you’re using flammable substances at extreme heat,
there will be fire and smoke!!! Do this in an area where you will be
safe and not burn anything down or fill up a room with smoke. Use
protective clothing (leather apron and gloves with safety glasses or
better yet a face shield).

I have tried beeswax and old motor oil and a recipe I made up of wax
and oil. Bees wax is best for wiping on, oil if you are dunking.

Also, make sure you have a cover for the oil container. It can (and
likely will) catch fire, so you need to be able to cut off the
oxygen. I mostly do blacksmithing and we oil quench tools a lot.

Linda Holmes-Rubin
ForCapital Associates of Atlanta

Niter Bluing: Place 500gms potassium nitrate (crystaline salt) +
4gms manganese dioxide (powder) inside a strong iron container of
suitable size. Heat the container to 310-320*C whereupon the salts
will be a molten liquid. A gas burner will do the heating very well.
Suspend the parts to be blued on iron wires, immerse them into the
molten bath and watch the colour change. Colours start gold/brown,
then blue/purple, on to black.

The black is a strong coating that resists corrosion. it will rust
in time and the rust can be gently scrubbed off using steel wool
lubricated with mineral oil without affecting the blueing.

When the iron container cools the molten salts will solidify into a
solid cake, ready to be molten again for the next bluing session.

Cold bluing gel and liquids supplied by gun shops are quick and
easy, just clean/degrease the metal, paint it on, rinse, and oil.
This blueing is thin and not very permanent.

Caustic bluing is a scary prospect. not recommended for home use.

Blued sreel is traditionally preserved by regular coatings of
mineral oil. Waxes and silicone polishes will give a longer lasting


Hi Linda,

Also, make sure you have a cover for the oil container. It can
(and likely will) catch fire, so you need to be able to cut off the
oxygen. I mostly do blacksmithing and we oil quench tools a lot. 

I only have flare-ups when I take the hot steel out of the oil
before it has cooled sufficiently.

The first flare-up I had was with a 3 foot long piece of spring
steel, the whole length was “hot”, plunged it into the oil, and
wanted to take a look.

Whoosh, imagine a 3 foot length of steel alight, plunged it back
into the oil to extinguish it. lost a few hairs on my arm that day

You live and learn.

Regards Charles A.

P. S. These days if I have a flare-up it’s intentional and usually
used for effect :smiley:

I have some scraps of steel, not heavy gauge, and I am wondering if
I can use my jeweler’s saw to cut it? I am going to rivet so not
have to worry about trying to solder and pickle. it. Is there
anything else I should know about steel? thx, brenda

No problem cutting steel with a jeweller’s saw; I’ve done it many
times to cut gauge-plate (a high carbon, hardenable steel) for making
blanking plates.

Don’t be scared of soldering it; it silver solders (brazes) easily
if you use EasyFlo (or equivalent) flux, but fluxes specifically for
precious metals (such as Auflux) don’t work. Some stainless steels,
but not all, need a very active flux, such as Tenacity.

Pickling is possible, but abrasion is preferred.

Regards, Gary Wooding

The key to working with steel, and the key to life, is proper
lubrication. I think lard is the best, used motor oil is also good,
WD-40 will work in a pinch.

I have some scraps of steel, not heavy gauge, and I am wondering
if I can use my jeweler's saw to cut it? I am going to rivet so not
have to worry about trying to solder and pickle. it. Is there
anything else I should know about steel? thx, brenda 

As luck would have is I used my Knew Concepts saw frame with a 2/0
saw blade to remove a section of my computer chassis on Saturday.

I had bought a water cooling system for my PC, and despite the label
stating that it would be an “easy” upgrade. it wasn’t.

I had to modify the back plate for the CPU pump, and to fit the
radiator inside the box I had to cut a section out of a steel cross
brace, just enough to fit.

So in short, “Yes” you can use a jewellers saw to cut steel :slight_smile:

Regards Charles A.

I have some scraps of steel, not heavy gauge, and I am wondering
if I can use my jeweler's saw to cut it? I am going to rivet so not
have to worry about trying to solder and pickle. it. Is there
anything else I should know about steel? thx, brenda 

Theres as much to know about ferrous metals as there is about non
ferrous and precious metals.

thats without delving into the alloys of any or all of them.

So as weve said before do your on line research or visit someone who
uses the metal in question and ask.

As for sawing? had you thought of trying it? it wont kill you!!.

another gem from the master, try every technique with every tool on
every metal at your hand.

youll be surprised what you can teach yourself.

sure - just use a good lubricant or beeswax on the blades
frequently. Any metal can be sawn with a jeweler’s saw and the right
size blade for gauge. rer


You can also etch steel. Electro-etching in brine is an option if
you own a rectifier or can improvise one. Been electro-etching steel
punches for stamping on annealed non-ferrous metals. Give it a try.

Kofi in Ghana