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Blackened steel & silver solder

Use wire from the hardware store to translate a line drawing into a simple soldered form.

Learn how to use mild-steel wire to make a piece of jewelry that looks like a line drawing. You can use my sparrow pin (left) as a template to follow along with this tutorial, or have fun and draw anything you like. This image will be your reference for the pieces of wire you’ll need to measure and cut, so as you draw, keep in mind where the clipped ends of the wires will be. As you get more comfortable soldering steel, you can make more complicated drawings.

SUPPLIES

  • Mild-steel binding wire: 18-gauge (1.0 mm), amount determined by design
  • Pliers: chainnose and roundnose
  • Steel-dedicated heavy-duty wire cutters
  • Steel-dedicated flat needle file
  • Rawhide or plastic mallet
  • Black high-temperature brazing flux or white paste flux
  • White vinegar
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Lidded glass jar
  • Toothbrush

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Blackened Steel Silver Solder 1
Photo 1

Clean the steel wire. Use 220-grit sandpaper to sand 18-gauge (1.0 mm) mild-steel binding wire to a shine [PHOTO 1].

NOTE: Mild-steel wire is available at most hardware stores in a range of gauges, so if you create your own design, consider how you can utilize the wire thicknesses to create a variety of line weights and emphasis in your final piece. It is fairly soft, so make sure to choose a wire that’s structurally sound enough for your design. The wire comes with a black, oily coating on it that prevents rust (it’s sometimes wrapped in oiled paper), but that oil also prevents the flow of solder, so it’s important to remove it before you continue.

Blackened Steel Silver Solder 2
Photo 2
Blackened Steel Silver Solder 3
Photo 3

Cut and form the wire. Straighten the wire if desired. Use chainnose or roundnose pliers and your fingers to form the wire into the first curve of the design, using my sparrow pin as a template [PHOTO 2] or your drawing as a guide. Use steel-dedicated heavy-duty wire cutters to cut the wire to length [PHOTO 3].

Repeat to form and cut all of the wire pieces for your design.

Refine the wires. Use a steel-dedicated flat needle file to file the cut ends of the wires so there is as much metal touching at each join as possible. File and sand the ends of the wires that don’t meet at a join until they’re smooth.

Place each piece on a steel bench block. Use a rawhide or plastic mallet to hammer each piece lightly to flatten them.

Tip!
Use dedicated wire cutters, files, and sandpaper for working with steel. Steel contamination on non-ferrous metals may eventually migrate to your pickle pot, causing other metals to copper plate. Don’t use your high-quality pliers with steel, either.
Blackened Steel Silver Solder 4
Photo 4

Solder the wires. Use tweezers to lay out the prepared wires on a clean, flat solder-ing board with all the joins touching. Use a fine-tip paintbrush to dab a tiny drop of black, high-temperature brazing flux or white paste flux on each join [PHOTO 4]. (See Black Brazing Flux to learn more about the type of flux I recommend for this technique.)

NOTE: Steel can’t be pickled as easily as non-ferrous metals can, so use as little flux as necessary. Removing excess flux can be messy and difficult.

Adjust the flame of your torch until it has a tight blue cone. 

NOTE: This is easiest with an oxy-acetylene or oxy-propane mini torch with a #3 tip, but any torch should work. You want the smallest, most precise flame possible.

Blackened Steel Silver Solder 5
Photo 5

Hold the torch in your nondominant hand. Grasp a 2-in. (51 mm) piece of hard silver wire solder in a pair of cross-locking tweezers in your dominant hand. Adjust the solder so that 1⁄2 in. (13 mm) extends from the front of the tweezers. Anchor your elbows on the table for control.

Spot heat the first join by focusing the flame directly at the join, moving it between the pieces on either side of the join to make sure they heat at the same rate.

NOTE: Steel does not transfer heat as quickly as silver and copper do, so heating the entire piece to bring it to soldering temperature is neither necessary nor recommended.

Hold the end of the solder close enough to the join that it warms up as you heat the steel, but not so close that it melts and balls up.

When the two pieces of steel glow orange at the join, touch the solder to the join and allow a generous fillet to form by continuing to apply heat with the torch [PHOTO 5].

For complete project instructions, click here to download & print this PDF

Tip!
To guarantee a strong join when soldering (blackened) steel, flood the seam with solder using the stick-soldering method. This makes a sturdy fillet of solder and also provides a visually appealing bright pop of silver against the dark gray steel.
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