Collecting scrap pieces of metal is inevitable in jewelry fabrication. As a silversmith for the past 13 years, I have collected quite an array of sterling silver scrap. This, of course, could be sold or cast into something useful. However, I am more attracted to starting from scratch. The reward comes from my own design and construction.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That quotation suits this project perfectly. I have made scrap metal into a design that speaks for itself. I will explain this technique in making a bracelet, although the concept can be applied to any sterling silver project.
This project requires 18- or 20-gauge sterling silver sheet, cut to a cuff bracelet in length and width. To determine an appropriate length, calculate the wrist measurement, then subtract 1″ to allow for a cuff opening. The width is up to you. The bracelet shown is 6″ long and 1 1/4″ wide.
After cutting the sheet to the specifications you need, sand using either 400- or 600-grit sandpaper.
Anneal and pickle the sheet 4 to 6 times to achieve a surface of fine silver.
Caution: Pickling compound contains hazardous sodium bisulfate. Avoid contact with eyes, skin, or clothing. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling and always cool metals in water before adding them to the pickling compound.
Lay the piece on a soldering block or pad. Apply paste solder to each piece of scrap sterling silver as you arrange them on the sheet. The paste solder helps hold the scraps in place. Any pieces that do not lie completely flat against the sheet will not adhere well and should be hammered flat. Arrange them any way you like, and be careful not to apply too much solder.
When all the pieces are placed and ready, light the torch and begin soldering. Remember to heat the whole piece evenly, as sterling silver conducts heat very well. The bracelet shown required 2 acetylene torches to produce enough heat to solder. Smaller bracelets will not require the extra torch. Apply heat until the paste solder runs completely and all pieces are adhered. Some torch texturing will occur, adding character to the design. The edges can also be rolled and textured with the torch.
Pickle, clean, and rinse. Using tripoli on a bristle brush, polish the front. Use tripoli on a yellow-treated muslin wheel to polish the back. Wash thoroughly, being sure to remove all of the tripoli compound.
Caution: Tripoli compound contains hazardous silica. Avoid inhalation and excessive heat or open flames. Wear safety glasses and a dust mask when polishing.
Finish the polish with rouge on a soft muslin wheel.
Caution: Some types of rouge contain hazardous aluminum oxide. Wear safety glasses and a dust mask, and avoid excessive heat and open flames.
Hallmark your piece with a stamp and use a cuff bracelet with a rawhide mallet to hammer the bracelet into shape.
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