by Leah C. Eastman.
Today I am going to give a how-to on the process of making my butterfly necklace.
Methods and Materials
Preparing to Solder:
There are many different methods to silversmithing and I was taught to use hard solder (sheets of metal that you cut into tiny little slivers or squares) and a propane tank.
The hard solder must be solder made for sterling silver soldering and there are 3 main types, “hard”, “medium” and “easy”, which designate specific temperatures required to melt and flow the metal solder to connect two sterling silver joints.
I also learned that a firebrick is essential (often made out of a compressed ceramic fire retardant material) so as not to burn your surface or cause a fire.
Additionally, it retains and reflects the heat back onto the metal (sterling silver in my case) so as to properly heat up the entire piece of the project.
There are different soldering techniques, but for sterling silver, you really need to get the s.s. wire/sheet hot over the entire surface to cause the solder to properly melt and flow between the two joints.
You also need flux, which is a flowing agent that also helps prevent oxidation and that is usually brushed onto the place where the s.s. wire joints will meet.
Soldering the Piece:
You then place your solder between the two joints.
It can be tricky as to where to place it and I would take a class to really understand the technique.
It depends if you are creating a bezel (fine, thinner wire and a 3 dimensional piece) or some other involved project.
Also, the little pieces of solder metal tend to jump towards the heat (and away from the joint) so it requires a lot of finesse.
Using hard, medium, and easy solder:
You almost always use hard first when initially creating a project because that has the highest temperature melt/flow point, then you graduate to medium and easy, for other joints you would like to solder.
You do this in order to not remelt the previous joints which will make your piece come apart again and ruin it.
Smoothing and Cleaning:
After you are done soldering your piece together, you then need to pull out your Dremel tool (it has sanding wheels, points, etc.) and smooth down the joints and the extra solder that is unsightly.
It is also a handy tool to clean off stubborn oxidation (firescale) that leaves your piece blackened, if that is not the look you are going for.
Lastly, to clean the piece and shine it up (this is often a subjective opinion as to the finish you would like on your handmade jewelry piece), you need to put it into a pickling solution (which cleans away all the grease, surface oxidation or firescale and flux after you have completed each stage of your soldering).
I use a sodium bisulfate product that is combined with water and kept in a little crock pot at a consistent 140 degrees F.
Sanding and Polishing to Your Desired Finish:
You then need to sand the piece to a finish you desire, which could be oxidized (blackened) on all or parts of the surface, a brushed/matte finish or a high gloss shine.
You can use the Dremel tool for this, wet/dry sand paper, steel wool, etc.
I start out with a heavier grit sand wheel on my Dremel tool, and work my way to finer grit as I go.
I always use the steel wool as my final level of cleaning/sanding the surface.
In my silversmithing class, I had access to a large buffing and polishing wheel, which was great.
I have one in my barn that was my father-in-law’s but haven’t purchased the accessory wheels and compounds as of yet.
Instead, I have a buffing wheel that fits on my Dremel tool; and for the size of my projects, this does a fine job buffing out any remaining scratches.
I then use a polishing cloth to shine up my wire.
One of the things I have learned as I have begun making jewelry, and especially silversmithing, is that your supply list never ends and you never stop learning.
There are always newer, better tools and newer, better techniques on the horizon.
So, you have to pace yourself and just do what you can afford as you go.
Actual Process of Making the Butterfly Necklace
Sketching the Butterfly:
As you can see from the picture above, I made a butterfly frame out of sterling silver.
I did this by sketching the outline shape of a butterfly body, head and wings (yes, I sketched it! Really I had to in order to make this work).
I also really wanted to add antennas but was uncertain as to whether I should do this by soldering them because they would only have one soldering point, making them quite fragile, weak and likely to get snagged.
So, I decided I would worry about the antennas later ….
… go on to
Finishing the Butterfly
and the Necklace.
Your questions and comments are welcome!
Fantastic writeup for this project!
Leah, this is a gorgeous piece! It’s reminiscent of a stained glass window with the sun shining through it.
Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experience regarding silversmithing, soldering and the after-soldering process.
This is a great project – and (for anyone who hasn’t gotten to Part 2 yet) there are many wonderful creative insights ahead in the rest of this tutorial!
Thank you, Leah, for sharing it with us.
Beautiful. Great idea and colors. Thank you for this information on soldering. It has been on my Would Love to Do list for a long time but i have hesitated to start it for lack of knowledge. So I appreciate your tips you share here.
You are welcome, Suzanne!
I will tell you that I sat on my knowledge for months before taking the plunge to buy the needed equipment for myself. (Remember, I took a class so they supplied all the tools, etc.). If I have any regrets, that would be it. Learning how to solder has been one of the biggest creative gifts that I have been given. Go for it!!