Mimi and her girls

Mimi and her girls
Mimi and her girls

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rings and Things- Part 2 - Fabrication

Wow- I can't believe I promised a second installment and it took this long to get around to it. Planning to go on vacation for 2 weeks out of the country, granddaughter's third birthday party and the full time job really take up way more time than I ever think they will.

Chrysoprase Ring

Now- let's talk about making the ring. We got through making the bezel for the stone and soldered it together and cleaned it up a little. Now we have to put in on a backplate so the stone has something to sit on. We are talking basic here, no fancy drilled tube settings, step bezels with the back open or prong settings which are totally separate blogs!
First, check to see if the bezel still fits around the stone. The bezel wil not be a perfect round shape (or whatever shape the stone is) after you've moved the two cut ends all around to get them to stay together to solder. If round, I usually use a small mandrel- like a jump ring mandrel, to round out the bezel a little and then fit it over the stone. If it's too small (and too small is always better than too big) I tap it a little with a hammer to stretch the bezel a little. Remember, every time you touch hammer to metal it moves, tap lightly, check size often. If it gets too big you have to start over from scratch!

Choose a piece of sheet silver that will be sturdy enough to solder on your bezel, but not over heavy and thick unless you have a huge stone. I tend to like 24 gauge. Place the bezel on the sheet and mark off around the bezel leaving enought space in case the bezel moves during the soldering process. Another thought at this step is do you want to eventually cut away all the excess silver after soldering the bezel, or do you want some extra to possibly decorate with a pattern wire or maybe even a stamped design. For this ring- I am going to go with solder it on, and cut away the excess. Use good metal shears to cut out your sheet, then flatten with a rawhide mallet. You can't solder anything unless it is touching perfectly flush. Set the bezel on top of the sheet and use a good file to take off any rough edges or uneven spots so it sits perfectly flat. Next step is to get out the solder pad or mesh on top of a tripod, the torch, flux, and now medium solder. Unless your very good at soldering, work with the solder that melts before the one you used to solder the bezel. Flux everything really well and let it dry a little or use the torch to dry any water in the flux. I usually air dry, and cut my solder into small pieces while it's drying. Using fine tweezers, place the solder chips inside the bezel as close to the inside edge as possible, try to space them evenly remembering as you heat the backplate, solder flows toward the heat and you don't want any gaps or holes when you're done- resoldering to fill a hole is a real pain. Light the torch and gently heat the backplate until the flux turns a bit dry- you may have to use a solder pick to carefully keep your little solder chips from moving away from where you put them. At this stage you are now ready to solder if all the chips are still in place- if not try to get them close to the edge again. At this point, I will usually get out my "third hand" gadget and lay the tweezers on top of the bexel to try to keep it in place when the solder melts. Sometimes, just the flow of solder cause the very ligh weight bezel to flow right along with the solder and off the backplate- no that's a real problem! Also the tweezers act like a heat sink and tend to absorb any heat that might get on the thin bezel wire and cause it to melt! Now, the torch can be turned up a bit, continue heating the backplate and not the bezel, remember, it is fine silver and will melt if it gets too hot. Solder melts because the metal is hot, you don't need to touch it with the torch. Keep the torch moving all around the bezel without touching it. When the flux gets clear and glassy looking the solder is about to flow. As soon as you see the solder start to melt, move the torch around the bezel and you will see it fill in under the bezel and make a nice seam. As soon as it does that- remove the heat. Let this newly fabricated piece cool a little, if you quench it in water too soon you can cause metal to fracture. Not a fracture you'll always see, but may find later as you continue the ring making process. Quench in water, then use your copper tongs and put this in an acid pickle bath to remove any flux and firescale in case a spot got too hot. Remove from pickle with copper tongs, rinse with water and use a brass brush to clean up every bit of residue you see. Any leftover residue can cause the ring to tarnish later.

Next step is to get this top piece ready to be soldered onto a ring band (that will be Part 3). Take your trusty metal shears and cut off the excess silver as close to the solder seam as possible without cutting into it. Now you need really good files. I use Swiss files and an American flat file. I start with the American flat file and get off as much of the excess silver as possible, then switch to a #0 Swiss file going around and around until it looks very smooth. I finish up with a #2 Swiss file to finish- when I look down at the bezel I should not see any rough edges or little excess piece of silver sticking out. By now you should have a very nice piece to put your stone in when it's been soldered to the band.

But first, check again to make sure the stone fits inside the bezel on the backplate. If you have extra solder inside that you missed in cleanup, it may be too tight. If you see any excess solder, sand or file it out. In a tiny space you may have to get creative as to what you use to wrap sandpaper around to get into those little tiny bezels. Asumming it is clean, I use a piece of dental floss over the bezel and put my stone in on top of the floss. You have to be able to get the stone out again since almost no stone can tolerate the heat it will take to solder the bezel to the band. Another consideration after you have determined the fit is still good- do you open up the back of the bezel or leave it solid? If you open it up then when you clean the ring any liquid that gets inside between the stone and bezel can get out the back. If the ring needs repaired, you can get the stone out and work on the ring without damage to the stone. If it's a clear stone, even though 90% of light enters through the top of the stone, opening the back sometimes allows even more light through to show the beauty of the stone. Leaving it solid makes it a bit sturdier if it's a smaller stone, but does allow for accumulation of any dust and dirt or liquids that may cause tarnish- how many of us take rings off every time we wash our hands? I vote to open the back.

Draw a circle or design inside the bezel with a sharpie allowing a small amount of the backplate as a shelf for the stone to sit on. Using a metal center punch, find a spot just inside the sharipe line and tap a small starter dent in the silver bckplate. Take a small drill bit and attach it to you dremel or flexshaft and drill a tiny hole where that dent is. Now thread a small #4 saw blade throught that hole. One end of the blade should already be attached to the saw frame before you thread it through the hole, then attach the blade to the other end of the saw frame and tighten it down. Then adjust the top for length until you hear a nice ping sound in the blade. Go ahead and saw out the circle you drew being careful to stay inside your line. Always better to saw out too little than too much, you can always use small needle files to get more out later. When you have finished sawing, undo one end of the blade to get the saw blade out of the little piece you have. Get out the needle files and smooth out the circle and rough edges until everything is smooth and even and shiny. Now is also a good time to file away any seam left on the bezel from soldering it together. The seam should never show around the stone, but I don't like to file that too soon since before it is on the backplate I could make the metal too thin or stretch it out and then the bezel could melt, or just not fit. When filing the bezel, be very careful not to push and pull the upright part, the bezel should stay vertical at all times otherwise it could wrinkle when trying to close it over the stone.

Next blog, we make the band, solder the bezel to the band and set the stone. Bet you never knew there was this much to do just so you could wear that great looking ring you found shopping for hand crafted jewelry.

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