Many hobbies and passions have been discovered during lockdown and jewellery making is no exception. Whether it’s beads, clay or metalwork, people have been trying their hand at making their own jewellery and loving the results. For those who have found that they’ve enjoyed jewellery making, you might be looking to step up your game with silversmithing. Below is our guide on silver soldering – what it is and the types and techniques that give you the best outcome.
What is silver soldering?
Silver soldering is the process of permanently joining two or more pieces of metal together. So how does it work? A solder is a small piece of alloyed metal that’s melted and used to fuse to two other pieces of metal. The solder – also referred to as an alloy - melts at a lower temperate than the two pieces it’s fusing together. This is necessary to create a permanent bond and to make sure the metal surfaces hold their form and remain solid.
As you heat the metal, the atoms that form it start to separate. When this happens, it makes way for the solder to flow and enter these spaces and bond to the original material. The place where the metals are fused by solder is called the joint. Soldering is used predominantly in silversmithing and jewellery making. Soldering can also be used with copper, brass and gold materials.
Solder comes in many different forms. The basic five forms of solder are wire, sheet, paste, chips and powder. Sheets and wire are the most used forms of solder as they’re more accessible and preferred by jewellers due to their length and width options. Sheets and wires of silver and gold solder are all available in hard, medium and easy – which we’ll explain next.
Types of silver soldering
There are three main types of solder – hard, medium and easy. This doesn’t describe their ease of use but their melting temperatures. A hard solder melts at a high temperature, medium melts at a medium temperature and easy melts at a low temperature. There’s also an extra easy type of solder which melts at an even lower temperature. Let’s put this into numbers and explain what each solder is good for.
A hard solder melts at 740°C. This is typically used first to make a solder join as it has the highest melting temperature. It’s usually used first for any kind of jewellery project but is also good for jobs where you only need a one solder join. A hard solder also matches the colour of silver the most accurately.
A medium solder melts at 690°C. Medium is used second during a jewellery project, after a hard solder. It’s also used as a last join in projects that need two joins.
An easy solder melts at 670°C. Easy is typically used last during jewellery making after the medium solder. It’s used regularly in repairs – whether that’s fixing jewellery or fixing a mistake in the soldering process. The easy solder is also the best choice when working with any type of jewellery wire, specifically earring wires.
All three types of solders are used throughout the jewellery making process in the order of hard, medium, easy.
The soldering terminology might seem a bit confusing – there are a lot of words to get your head around! First, you need to pick your form of solder like a silver sheet or wire. Next, you need to determine what type of solder you need. During any project, you’ll most likely need a combination of hard, medium and easy solders. After this, you can decide your technique.
Depending on what you’re making, there are four basic techniques: Standard, Pick, Sweat and Stick.
Standard is where you lay your solder form over the join and heat it with a torch. This is the most common technique for soldering.
Pick is where you lay a piece of solder on a board and heat it until it rolls into a ball. You can then pick this up with your soldering pick and keeping it on the heat, you can move it to the join and hold it there until it flows where you need it to. This is a preferred method for fragile work involving chain links, pattern work and areas that are difficult to reach.
Sweat is where you place one piece of solder upside down on your board. You then lay another piece of solder down on it and heat this until it melts. Remove the top solder from the heat, flip the bottom one over onto it and heat it again until the solder flows. This is a good technique if you’re soldering two pieces of solder together and you want to have more control over the solder flow.
Stick is used with a wire form of solder. This technique involves heating the uncut end of the wire and letting the solder flow while moving the wire around to areas that need soldering.
Silver soldering is an effective technique that creates durable, flexible and flawless jewellery, perfect for those with a love for silver accessories. If you’re looking for a stunning piece of silver jewellery or hoping to try a new jewellery making technique, silver soldering is the next step for you.Image credits: kernowcraft.com and amazon.co.uk