I made these items in 2013 to celebrate a trip to Iceland with my 3 best friends (the pendants and ring are outlines of Iceland). I don’t know how they’ve held up. I was particularly worried about the ring. I guess I do own 2 of the pieces, the pendant without the initial and the E pendant. The one without the initial is fine and I lost the other one somewhere.
Firstly, I’ll talk about the wire. I used silver plated wire, which was probably a mistake. While I was soldering, the silver all came off. I’m not sure if it was due to the heat or due to a chemical reaction. When you solder, you put the piece in a “pickle”, which is a chemical to clean the piece. In certain situations, the pickle can remove or add a metal, but I can’t remember what the specifics are. I know that you’re supposed to use copper tongs or copper wire fashioned into a hook to dip the piece. At any rate, the wire I used was copper filled and silver plated and the silver all got removed. So I’d recommend silver filled wire (if you want that, that is). If you want copper, go for just copper wire. Copper solder is harder to find though. You could do it how I did, but it’s not the best method and was mostly mistakes.
I don’t know what gauge I used but it was probably about 20-22 and half-hard. Wire comes in hard, half hard, and dead soft. It affects how easy the wire is to form and how well it stays in the formed shape. It also comes in different shapes and I used round. It gets harder as you bend and hammer it. It also gets harder through the heating and cooling process. I really should have read more in preparation for this post because I can’t remember any specifics!
The way I made the shapes was kind of weird. I printed out an outline at the size I wanted. Then, following the outline, I bent the wire around a tool I have for making jump rings (shown below). Basically the tool is like a pole. It was just handy for this application. After each bend I taped down the wire so it wouldn’t move.
I then got some small jump rings to solder to the tops and got to soldering. For this step you need a few materials.
– Fire brick for a work surface, which comes in soft or hard – I recommend hard if you can find it. Here is fire brick from Delphi Glass that I think is considered soft. I believe I got my hard brick from a local glass shop that is now closed (RIP J. Ring).
– Torch – I love this Dremel torch that has various attachments for other types of soldering or heating (you can use it as a heat gun, for instance). This is a butane pen-type torch. There are also the type that stand up. I’ve always used a pen-type and like it fine. This one is awesome in particular because it ignites itself. In the past I’ve had one where you need to have 3 hands that don’t mind getting burned in order to light the flame while pulling back on the tip. Not fun. I’ve gotten burned so many times.
– Butane for the torch
– Safety glasses
– Heated pickle in a container – I have a small crock pot that is dedicated to pickle. Obviously, you can’t then use it for food, ever. Heating the pickle makes it work faster. If it was cold, you’d have to leave the piece in for a few hours. You can get a pickle solution somewhere like Amazon or just use literal pickle solution from the grocery store. I think the kind that you buy specifically for jewelry works better.
– Copper tongs or a copper hook to prevent electroplating
– Container of water
– Optional tool to hold the item – Sometimes, like with the items above, it’s possible to just set the piece on the block with the solder on it and sometimes you need a “third hand” that has clips to hold the item. I found this neat tool recently that I plan to get sometime.
– Flux made for jewelry, which is a liquid-paste-y material that causes the solder to flow. Without it, nothing will work.
– Flux brush (basically a paintbrush but they make them specifically for flux – not sure why but maybe because they need to be disposable…I think you can just use a paintbrush or other application method like a cotton swab).
– Silver solder – it’s expensive but you don’t use a lot. I recommend getting “easy” which means it melts at a lower temperature. I got some gold solder last year and it came in 1 inch increments. It’s not a cheap supply, unfortunately.
– Wire cutter to cut solder because it comes in wire form
How to solder: put some flux on the piece surrounding and on the area that is to be soldered. Then you put the solder piece on the joint. Then you light the torch and heat the area using small circles or back and forth motions. Be careful because often I have a problem where the torch’s slight force pushes the solder off. After a couple of minutes, the solder should all of a sudden flow. Take the heat off then and put the piece in the water and then in the pickle.
You can file down the bump if one appears. Theoretically you should get better at it after a while and have less of a bump. I haven’t reached that point yet, as you can tell. 😂
Even after doing this a fair number of times, I’ve had about a 50% success rate of successful joins. Usually, if it doesn’t work, what happens is the solder just balls up off to the side. I think that means the flux boiled off. You have a limited number of times you can try before the metal gets scorched and unusable, especially if the piece is small or thin. That’s why it’s a good practice not to directly point the torch at the metal without moving it. I was soldering a piece of fairy light wire together one time and totally incinerated a good part of it before I got it right. I’ve scrapped many an item. When I’ve tried stained glass, I’ve never been able to do it successfully, so I think jewelry is an easier type of soldering, but that’s another story.
Like I mentioned before, the silver got stripped off this wire, so I got this silver plating solution which worked pretty well. It came out kind of “antique” silver instead of bright, which as I’m recalling was because the pieces were small and difficult to buff (I read my Amazon review to get that info since I did not remember at all). I was happy with the results, and my pendant hasn’t worn, although I don’t wear it very often.