Silversmithing

 

Silversmithing is the art of turning silver and gold sheetmetal into hollowware (dishes, bowls, porringers, cups, vases, ewers, urns, etc.), flatware (forks, spoons, knives, etc.), and other articles of Household silver.

A silversmith is a craftsperson who makes objects from silver and/or gold. The terms 'silversmith' and 'goldsmith' should be treated as synonyms: as the techniques, training, history, and guilds are or were largely the same.

Silversmiths saw or cut specific shapes from sterling and fine silver sheet metal and bar stock, and then use hammers to form the metal over anvils and stakes. Silver is hammered cold (at room temperature). As the metal is hammered, bent, and worked, it 'work-hardens'. Annealing is the heat-treatment used to make the metal soft again. If metal is work-hardened, and not annealed occasionally, the metal will crack and weaken the work.

Silversmiths can use casting techniques to create knobs, handles and feet for the hollowware they are making.

After forming and casting, the various pieces may be assembled by soldering and riveting

During most of their history, silversmiths used charcoal or coke fired forges, and lung-powered blow-pipes for soldering and annealing. Modern silversmiths commonly use gas burning torches as heat sources. A newer method is laser beam welding.

Silversmiths may also work in copper and brass, although this is usually confined to practice pieces due to the cost of the metals.

Related and overlapping trades

Although jewelers also work in silver and gold, and many of the techniques for working precious metals overlap, the trades of jeweler and Silversmith have distinct histories. Chain-making and gem-setting are common practices of jewelers that are not usually considered aspects of silversmiths.

The tradition of making (iron / plate) armor was interrupted sometime after the 17th century.[citation needed] Silversmithing and goldsmithing, by contrast, have an unbroken tradition going back many millennia. The techniques used to make armor today (whether for movies or for historical recreation groups) are an amalgam of silversmith forming techniques and blacksmith iron-handling techniques.

Shop Safety

  1. Have fire extinguisher and first aid kit on hand at all times. It is usually a good idea to have a sink with running water accessible. An aloe plant is a good companion to "workers with fire" also.
  2. Do not touch an item on your heating pad, fire brick, fire screen, etc. with your bare hands! (This is an excellent accident reduction idea.)
  3. Keep long hair tied back!
  4. Safety glasses (not goggles) are a fairly comfortable way to save your eyesight from damage.
  5. Good ventilation is a must.
  6. A well-lighted studio is imperative.
  7. Before you incorporate any mechanism to assist you in your working, familiarize yourself with the proper use(s) and care and safety precautions relative to the device. If none come with the machinery, find someone who knows the PROPER operation and ASK and learn from them! NEVER be afraid to ask questions!!! It's your life.
  8. Make sure your work space is adequate to your needs. Adapt furniture, tables, drawers, tool access, sawing level, fire area, etc., to YOUR comfort. (Some people need a warehouse, some people just a closet.)
  9. I do not condone the use of gloves. Too many chances to get 'all thumbs' syndrome and that's DANGEROUS!
  10. Keep a good attitude! If it doesn't want to work, let it rest. If you truly care about what you make, let it come of its own volition. Don't force it. You create an unsafe environment for yourself and others.
  11. . PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. SAFETY IS A HABIT. I could outline everything in detail, but you know yourself better than anyone. If you find these principles 'childish' or elementary, maybe you should consider a different craft or a different teacher. I have more than enough scars to show you how to learn through experience.

 

Tool List

  1. Bench pin & clamp
  2. Jeweler's saw frame and blades (2 dozen each 2-0, 4-0, 8-0)
  3. Hobby-sizes reciprocal drill with 2-#68, 4-#76 bits
  4. Bench block (anvil)
  5. Small ball-peen hammer
  6. Needle file set
  7. Hand-held propane cannister and pencil-tip torch
  8. Fire brick (or 2 thin 'half-bricks') or heating pad
  9. 1 pair of long tong copper tweezers
  10. Three grades of solder: easy braze, medium and hard, one-foot half-inch wide strip of each
  11. Soldering pick or dental tool (even a wire coat hanger!)
  12. Sodium bisulfate (pickling compound)
  13. Borax (20-mule team pure borax)

You will also want: 1 heatable container with cover for pickle (wide and deep); 1 water container (wide and deep); 1 small saucer for borax and a cheap watercolor brush, too; one pair of safety glasses, and 1 apron.

WEAR your 'OLD' clothes!

PLIERS: (Not included on original list because of the cost). When you do buy jeweler's Pliers, be sure to get a box joint, not a side lap. I find 'rosary pliers' the most practical for the money. They run about $28 a pair.

 

Soldering

  1. Clean surfaces physically (by sanding or brushing).
  2. Assemble pieces (on work surface).
  3. Apply flux.
  4. Use solder pick to place pallions on work.
  5. Heat to solder flow (for multiple heats the General Rule is to use hard first, medium second, and soft third. I don't always follow this rule.)
  6. With COPPER TONGS, put piece in 'PICKLE'. The purpose of the sodium bisulfate solution is to remove 'borax glass' or fire scale left on metal during the heating process. Leave in the pickle until the surface appears white and free of fire scale. Note: Pickle should be kept warm, but NOT HOT. Sodium bisulfate is CAUSTIC, just like battery acid. It is an electrolyte. Never put IRON into pickle. This will impart a copper tone to sterling silver. WEAR EYE PROTECTION, an APRON, and NEVER use your hands to put in or remove an item from pickle!!! USE THE TONGS! Wearing your favorite shirts and pants already ridden with holes is a good idea. Do not splash pickle around!
  7. Rinse item in a bowl of water or under running water.

Solder Melting Points

- Soft (easy) braze melts at 1325o F.
- Medium braze melts at 1390o F. 
- Hard braze melts at 1423o F.

Metal Melting Points

- .999 Silver melts at 1762o F.
- Sterling melts at 1640o F.
- Copper melts at 1989o F.

Annealing

Metal frequently becomes brittle and hard under constant working, bending, etc. It must be annealed, or softened.

Note: Sterling silver is an alloy that will handle a maximum of about 5 annealing processes, after which the metal loses tin and antimony and becomes easily burned and brittle and cracks. I love copper! You can anneal it to your heart's content!

Hammer-Work (Forging)

Note: This is totally compatible with the working of Copper.

Hammerheads & Stakes

Small Pall-peen hammer polished and rounded will serve well as a planishing and forming hammer.

An inexpensive planishing hammer can be made from a garage-sale/hardware store find.

Typical hammer faces

A. Forming
B. Flat
C. Planishing
D. Rim or Collet
E. Raising

Metal Working Stakes

A. Pistol Grip
B. Bowl or Cup
C. Candle or Horn (also known as 'spout stake'
D. Mushroom
E. Creasing stake (Very expensive), but creaser can also be made of wood (inexpensive).
F. Bowl hollowed out of a wood block (very handy)

Raising and Bouging

Stretching, thinning, and shaping are learned by experience.

Bouging starts at the rim and works in to the middle.

Stake planishing goes in reverse, from the middle outwards.

Hint: Use wrist action. Let it flow!

To spread metal evenly and flat, hammer in a spiral counterclockwise from the center to the edge, then reverse and go clockwise from edge to center. Turn the piece over and do the same on the other side.

For a bowl spread (raising), do the same process, but only on ONE SIDE, the side that will be the inside of the bowl. (It should be noted that the circle for a bowl should be cut to the desired circumference + 10 times the thickness of the sheet of metal that is being used.)

It is preferable to 'bouge' out the bowl with a forming hammer in a bowl mandrel and planish as above on a metal mushroom stake, depending on the desired finish.

Conserving Metal

Keep multiple designs close to the edge. Interior cut outs are started with a drilled hole, saw unstrung. Thread saw blade through hole (design side up!) and refasten blade. Place on sawing surface (bench pin) and saw to your heart's content.

Ring Mandrels

Hint: When engraving the inside of a ring, do the engraving first (while the ring shank is flat), then form the ring.

Time Savers

  • Buy solder in sheet form and cut your own.
  • Keep saw blades in air tight DRY containers (with size clearly marked). Buy by the gross if possible. Do the same for drill bits.
  • Keep pickle in a container with a close-fitting cover..
  • Solder work together, THEN cut out.
  • A rolling mill is an expensive tool. However, if you plan on doing a lot of jewelry or metal work, it is invaluable for forming and recycling melted :scrap into usable sheet and wire.
REMEMBER: if you buy for function instead of name, you're ahead of the game, and will have change left over.
  • Wire drawplates are expensive, but come in handy.
  • Improvise: Learn to adapt and make your own tools.

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