Friday, April 3, 2009

Bi-metal meltdown! Part 1

So, I made this wedding ring, my first piece combining gold and silver together. It was surprisingly challenging. I assumed that I could just solder the gold to the silver and it was a simple as that. Not. I set up the ring stock with the silver band on the bottom and narrower gold band on the top. I used gold solder, thinking that would make my joints look better and make the gold stand out more against the silver. Well, the first thing that happened was that when I heated the perfectly aligned, fluxed pieces, the gold piece slid sideways and became attached, off center to the silver piece. Nice. So I heated again and pulled the gold off the silver and took another stab at it. I just couldn't get it to be centered and the solder was not flowing. I began to get nervous. I had to call my mentor for help. I didn't want this to be FUBAR.

So, I contacted my personal metal smithing Yoda. He was more than happy to help. I went down to his studio with my catawampus piece. He took a look and went to his soldering bench. He lit up his big acetylene torch and heated the piece until it looked like it was going to melt into a pool on the soldering pad. He pulled off the gold and I cleaned up the pieces so that we could take another try at it. I wanted to know what the "right way" to do it was.

After I finished filing and sanding off all of the leftover gold and solder, he laid the two pieces together, just as I had done originally, and then he held them together with self-locking tweezers. Ah, that was it! Of course, you have to clamp them together to keep them straight! Well, not so much. He had a heck of a time getting the solder to flow, just as I did. I thought it was my lame little torch, or my lack of information, no, just my luck. Again he heated it until it looked like it was just going to melt away, in my head I was praying that I wouldn't have to go buy more gold to make this ring again. Finally, it was soldered on fairly well, and I took it and cleaned it up. When I was cleaning it I noticed, that it was not straight, (Even when Yoda did it the "right way" with a tweezers). The gold was just going to be crooked I thought. What can I do to fix it? Yoda said to me, 'that's what files are for'.

So I filed and filed until it looked straight enough to me and then it was time to move on to the next step of cutting it the proper length, shaping it into a ring and soldering it closed. I asked Yoda, what his technique was for assuring the measurement was correct. He did as I do, and got the Bible according to Oppi Untracht. We looked up the proper length and he cut it. I was hoping for a little tip, there was none. In the construction industry they say "Measure twice. Cut once." I think those are good words to go by, (and easy to remember). Yoda was a pro, so I had no doubt that he could measure and cut without my assistance. Not that day. I guess that I could have said that thing about measuring twice, but I didn't. It was about 2 full sizes too short. Aaaaagh, now what!

Yoda didn't sweat it; he just went about soldering it closed. "Then we can size it up with the ring sizer" he said. The silent prayers began again. It took about 10 tries to get it up to the size that it was supposed to be. Every couple of times that you stretch it in the stretcher it needs to be annealed so that it doesn't break. When you hammer on metal it stiffens, when you anneal it, (heat it until its red), you rearrange the molecules in the metal so it becomes malleable again. So, stretch a little, anneal, stretch a little more, anneal, etcetera until you reach the size you need it to be.As Yoda stretched the ring the barely noticeable join in the gold of the ring became a noticeable gap. The gold didn't expand at the same rate as the silver. So the silver would stretch more than the gold therefore, gappage. I have a somewhat critical eye, so I am not a good judge of my own work when there is a flaw. I tend to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But, I couldn't do that with this ring. I had a client waiting for it and I needed to get it done. I was not going to disappoint him or his wife, who convinced him to have me make his replacement wedding ring. This was the ring I had and I was going to have to make it work. I was going to save the baby and the mother and then take a bath.

I thanked Yoda for his assistance, paid for his time and took my pathetic looking project (FUBAR),home to my studio to see what I could accomplish on my own. I always learn from Yoda. Sometimes it's not the lesson I intended, but that's life, eh? What I knew when I left there that day was; I knew what I needed to know in order to do what I had to do. I just hadn't the confidence of a man doing it for 30 years. It's not always possible to avoid mistakes; it is about being able to fix them.

With time, files, my flex shaft and some emery boards I turned that ugly expensive piece of metal (FUBAR),into a pretty ring, with a slightly noticeable gap. I presented it to my client and he was very happy with it. It was a little snug, but he had lost the last one because it fell off. So he decided he would give it a try and let me know if he needed it to be sized up again. (Again with the silent prayers.)

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