Apprentice Blog : Weeks 3 and 4

November 15, 2011

Written by Ella Sadler-Andrews

Since my last update I’ve moved pretty far with my learning.  In my third session, we focused on soldering.  Soldering is the skill of using various solders as an aid in ‘sticking’ one piece of metal to another.  There are varying percentages of silver in solder.  Hard solder has the highest amount of silver in it, making its melting point very close to that of sterling silver. Whereas easy solder has the least amount of silver in it, making it melt well before silver.  The purpose of these different solders is say, for example, if you were soldering a ring together and then you needed to solder something onto that ring, and would therefore avoid the initial solder from melting and thus the ring becoming undone, you would use a hard solder. You would then use an easier solder to solder what you needed onto the ring, which would require less heat, and therefore not melting the hard solder holding the ring together.  If you only require one thing to be soldered, you use, as a general rule, hard solder.

(My soldered ‘e’ and pre soldered curls onto copper.)

My first design piece that I described last blog requires of me to solder the silver curls onto a copper background.  To practice for this, I soldered a silver ‘e’ onto the copper heart I sawed out last time. Choosing the right size piece of solder and then attempting to cut it out of the solder strip is a skill in itself.  If you use a bigger piece than necessary, then the excess solder splodges everywhere it isn’t needed and makes a right mess!

Once I managed to cut a small enough piece, I had to borax (that funny flux substance again) the copper, silver wire ‘e’ and the solder itself. Next comes the painstaking job of heating the metal enough so that the two surfaces, and the solder hit the right temperature at the right time, leaving the solder to melt and ‘stick’ the two together. For the solder to do its job, it must be touching the silver wire and the base; they must both be the same temperature so that it follows the path of the wire. I first moved the blow torch around the edge of the copper heart, making sure not to heat it too fast or to place too much heat on the silver wire. As the wire is much thinner, it would heat quicker and therefore potentially melt. When the copper (finally) started to turn the deep shade of red I was looking for, I then put some heat over the whole piece, including the wire.  Both surfaces were now heating up to the right temperature, it was now a game of waiting for the solder to turn to liquid…Fortunately my patience wasn’t tested for too long and the solder ran rather quickly and efficiently. To make sure the solder runs fluently and doesn’t clump, you have to keep the heat over it after the initial melt. After it had been in the acid and water, I inspected my first soldering attempt…and to be fair, I was pretty damn pleased. There was only one obvious patch of excess solder.  Plus, all the ‘e’ was stuck down!  Believe it or not, that took up a fair chunk of my session that day. All I had time left for was cutting the silver wire strips for the curls of my pendant and in turn, curling it using pliers.

Last week was a lesson of patience (or lack of in my case).  It also saw the more creative side of me shine through.  I’m no Picasso, but I like to think I have inherited some of my mother’s artistic spirit. As mentioned before, my first piece was going to be a pendant.  However, that has now changed. Can’t really think what inspired my change of design, but I definitely think it is improvement.  It will now become a decorative centrepiece for a ribbon bracelet.  There was initially one slit for the ribbon necklace, now there are two (also masterfully sawed out by yours truly!).  The curls have also changed position and now sit horizontal across the piece.

After that slight alteration, involving lots of painful emerying and that thing patience again, it was time to solder my three curls onto the copper.  Four miniscule pieces of hard solder were cut off, everything was boraxed and blow torch lit.  I started as usual, heating around the outside of the copper rectangle.  Gradually after the borax boiled, the copper  started to turn deep red…and then three out of four pieces of solder melted!  However, one stubborn crettin decided not to melt!  I waited some serious minutes with that blow torch hovering.  I gave up after a while, and re-cut some solder and went about re-boraxing.  I think that the fourth piece wasn’t actually touching the silver wire and wasn’t getting enough heat, therefore not melting.  With everything heated up again, the final solder piece went and successfully stuck the wire down.  Unfortunately the wire itself had a slight curve, meaning it pointed up slightly and couldn’t all be attached to the copper.  However, it will suffice!  Janet suggested I leave it in the acid for ten minutes, but with my patience levels, that succumbed for about three.  I was so desperate to get it finished and show it off!

Next I was shown how to use the polishers (with obvious safety precautions such as goggles, aprons etc). Tripoli is the black, harsher polish used first.  Even after ten minutes of shining up my masterpiece, I was satisfied with the shine.  Janet however, was not and told me off for being so rash!  She said I had a long, long way to go and that it wasn’t shiny at all (I then moved onto the rouge, softer polish in the hope that it would miraculously ‘fix’ my bracelet.  No look was to be had and it was still below Janet’s standards.  That is as far as I got last week…So guess what I’m going to be doing next week?!  Yea…can’t wait!

After I finish the above, I will be creating the work of art I am currently designing!  It’s a ring…and made of silver and is going to be blumming hard to create!  That is all I will disclose at this time =)

Ciao for now.


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