Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to Condition your Rawhide Mallet

"Hey, my rawhide mallet is making marks on my metal. I thought it was not supposed to do that?"

Yup, that's right, your trusty rawhide mallet isn't perfect. Especially when it's brand new. Even though leather is softer than your metal, an unconditioned rawhide mallet can imprint some texture on softer non-ferrous metals, like alloys of silver and gold.

Did you know you can condition your mallet? Now you do. It involves water, but luckily no shampoos. Basically your mallet is glued and sealed in the factory, leaving it hardened from the process of making it. The sealant and hardened leather imprint your metal. How can you tell if your mallet is still new? Well, a new mallet will clearly show the spiral of the leather wrapped up to make the head.

A conditioned mallet blurs the mallet face. The layers are no longer visible, and this softened and frayed leather is less likely to mar your surface. Check out this 25 year old mallet from near the start of my career.

One way to condition a mallet is to use it. A lot. Over time, the face will naturally smash and fray into a lovely soft surface. But this can take time to develop, like months or years. There's a faster way.

The faster way to condition your leather mallet is to soak it and smash it. Soak just the leather head in a bowl of water for 2 hours. This dissolves the sealant and starts to swell the leather.

After soaking, dry it off. It's smashing time! Hammering the mallet against a hard surface will accelerate the blurring of the edges and soften the leather. Good candidates include sidewalk, cement blocks and bricks. Pour yourself a drink, cue up your favorite raucous music, and get clobbering. Swing and wield the mallet as usual, hitting the cement for about 10 minutes per face. Hitting on the sharp edge of the cement or curb will work the leather faster.

It's done when the leather looks satisfactorily softened and compliant. Or the music stops. Or you run out of liquor. In any case, you're done. Job well done! If only work was so easy and cathartic. Be sure to remove any bits of rock or cement that may have embedded in the leather or they will definitely imprint your metal.

Enjoy your conditioned and obedient mallet. For more helpful tips, check out the other articles on our blog. We also post free videos about jewelry making at

Monday, December 19, 2016

7 Gift Ideas for Jewelers (or yourself!)

Do tools make it easier to make jewelry? Well, not by themselves, but sometimes yes! When used correctly and at hand, a good tool can make all the difference. Here's a list of tools that make a difference. Some might even say they're life changing - when it comes to making jewelry, that is. How they change the rest of your life is up to you.

( 1 ) Miter Vise 
Can't file a right angle to save your life? A miter vise, also known as a filing block is a great friend when it comes to sawing and filing right angles and 45° angles on wire, sheet and tubing. Just slide your metal in place between the jaws and saw and/or file to the flat face of the block. Done! This is a great aid for making good joins for soldering. Just use a cheap file with the miter vise. Filing against the hardened steel of the block can wear out their teeth. $62.95

Buy it at Silvera Jewelry School. Limited time offer - 20% Discount Code HOHOHOLIDAYS good through 1/10/2017

( 2 ) Magnetic Finisher 
This tool has changed how we polish. Now you can make a ring, earrings, etc., polish it to a 400-600 grit finish (in other words get rid of scale, scratches and defects), and then drop it in the magnetic polisher. In as little as 20 minutes the super fine steel shot in this machine will render a beautiful polish on your pieces. The fine shot also gets into all the nooks and crannies in your pieces, unlike larger shot. They're pricey, but think of the time it can save you? While it's polishing, you can do other work. $470

Buy it at or

( 3 ) Quick Change Handpiece 
Change bits without a chuck key! Just turn the switch to open and close the chuck, to easily load new bits. The slender handle is more comfortable and the clever design allows you to hold it near the bit for better control. Love my quick change handpiece! Works with any flex shaft brand that uses a key hole style shaft, including Foredom. $44.95

Buy it at Silvera Jewelry School. Limited time offer - 20% Discount Code HOHOHOLIDAYS good through 1/10/2017

( 4 ) Bench 
The jewelry bench is the missing tool. It's everything you need at hand, in a small foot print. Plus the bench puts your work at the right height for the best ergonomic work station. And you can leave your bench and come back and pick up where you left off anytime. Trick it out with a GRS removable bench pin and a GRS soldering station for even more jewelry-time enjoyment. $310 or more

Buy it at (or pick them up if your local at their warehouse in Oakland, CA)

( 5 ) Fine Files 
Fine files, like Swiss cut #4 files are fantastic for clean up on your pieces without leaving a coarse file texture, or to remove that coarse file texture from other files! I recommend at least a #4 Swiss cut half round hand file and a #4 Swiss Cut half round needle file (great for rounding the sharp edges of ring shanks). While you're at it, get a set of Frederich Dick needle files with handles. These are the best and really do make filing easier and more effective. I recommend either a medium #3 or fine #5 cut (these are German files, so German numbering system).  $6.95 +

Buy it at Silvera Jewelry School. Limited time offer - 20% Discount Code HOHOHOLIDAYS good through 1/10/2017

( 6 ) Pepe Disc Cutter 
Pepe has made a fantastic disc cutter that you'll love. Use it to pop out smooth edged discs. And you can get it with a centering tool for making washers. If you like circles, you'll love this disc cutter.  $189.00

Buy it at

 7 ) Guillotine 
No one is chopping off any heads, so relax. A guillotine is used to cut metal sheet. As opposed to a bench shear that cuts sheet and distorts it, a guillotine cuts evenly across the sheet for a flat even cut. Use it to quickly cut blanks wit straight edges and right angle ends. We  have a rolling mill too, but we use the guillotine 10 times more for cutting bracelet and ring blanks, and lots more.  $6.95 +

Buy it at

Bonus time! Do you have an flex shaft and wish you had better speed control with your pedal? You don't have to buy a whole new machine. Just upgrade your pedal. Lucas Dental makes a great foot pedal with fantastic speed control for just about any flex shaft. Turn your inexpensive flex shaft into a luxury machine with their Low Boy Foot Pedal for just $49. It makes it easier to use burs for settings like flush and tube, and lots more tasks.

Well, there are always more tools you can buy that are wonderful new additions to your collection. But I hope you enjoyed this list and that one or more of these make you or someone special very happy. Thanks!

- Joe Silvera

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Interview with Cielomar Cuevas of Cielomar Jewelry

I'd like to share with you an interview with Cielomar Cuevas, owner and designer of Cielomar Jewelry. It was our pleasure, Anat and I at Silvera Jewelry School, to be a small part of her beginning with the craft of jewelry. She's graciously allowed us to share her story of how she has started her gorgeous jewelry line and new business, to help inspire our students and budding jewelers.

(Silvera Jewelry School) How did you get your start making jewelry?

(Cielomar) I’ve always loved art and design and enjoy collecting unique jewelry during my travels. When I moved to California in 2010, I took an intro to jewelry class at CCA where I learned the basics about jewelry making. After taking the class several times, I decided to seek other learning opportunities in the Bay Area where I could learn a variety of jewelry making techniques in order to build expertise and hone my craft…and that’s when I found Silvera Jewelry School! I started by taking torch enamel classes with Anat and I fell in love with the school. Soon after, I set a goal for myself to take every single class that interested me and that I could possibly fit into my schedule in order to accelerate my learning and develop my style. I took a great amount of classes including Torch Enamel, Lost Wax Casting, Keum Boo, Stone Setting, Chain Making and even a fantastic workshop with Jayne Redman were I learned about making multiples with blanking dies and making jigs. In 2014 I established my home studio and launched an online shop, as a response to my love for making jewelry and the incredible support from friends and family for my jewelry designs.

(SJS)Your degree is in graphics and design. And you're currently a full time art director. How does your graphics background influence your jewelry design?

(C) My graphic design background drives the way I design and make jewelry in many ways. I’m inspired by bold geometric shapes and develop my designs in terms of the components that create the overall piece. I always start with a loose sketch and then take the design to the computer to create templates whenever precision cutting is required.  In addition to this, my full time job influences my jewelry designs greatly since I’m always searching for the latest fashion and cultural trends as well as researching unique materials and techniques to apply to my work. 

(SJS) You have a wonderful website. Any advice for jewelry artists starting out on the best way to make a professional looking website? 

(C) First and foremost, I think that a website is a never-ending work in progress and once you are ok with that idea the pressure of having a perfect website goes away. I’ve been working on my website for about a year now, always adding new features to improve the way customers experience my brand. I use Squarespace as my platform and I find it very user friendly and I love all of the integrations that it offers including: Mailchimp, Xero, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Lastly, but actually most important is to have consistent photography that is well lit and reflects your brand. Since the customer is not seeing the piece in person, you have to help them understand everything about your jewelry through your images including: color, texture, scale, value and even and how to style it. 

(SJS) This month you're donating part of your sales to benefit research for a cure for breast cancer. I can tell this is important for you. Can you talk about why?

(C) In recent months two close people in my life have been diagnosed with breast cancer and knowing that they have to go through this process has been very difficult. I decided to partner with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in order to do my part in finding a cure for breast cancer. During the month of October, I’m donating 10% of every sale completed through my website and I also have a fundraising page where people can donate with no purchase necessary. If you are interested in learning more about our fundraising you can also visit,

(SJS) You're balancing a full time job AND a jewelry business. Any advice for artists who are just starting and looking to juggle the same or similar commitments? 

(C) I’ve been able to balance a full time job and a jewelry business by being consistent with my schedule and allocating time for work, jewelry making and family. I make time every day to work on my jewelry business and I divide my tasks by day in order to make the most with the time that I have available. Tasks include designing, ordering materials, jewelry making, accounting, photography and website updates. I also make sure to go to bed by 11:00 PM in order to get enough rest and be productive the next day. Another important thing when starting a jewelry business is to surround yourself with other jewelry makers that are developing their own businesses and understand your needs. Find a local school, an online jewelry community or even an industry organization like SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) where you can talk to other makers, ask questions, stay up to date on the latest in the industry and connected with your community.

(SJS) How do you find inspiration for your designs? Is it a favorite artist or jeweler? How do you get those creative ideas flowing when you're a little stuck? 

(C) I’m always looking for inspiration everywhere I go and I love photographing things that inspire me including architecture, street art and sculptures. I’m especially inspired by Joan MirĂ³ and Alexander Calder because of their minimalistic style and unique shapes. Additionally, I always have a pencil and a post-it pad close by to keep track of the design ideas that pop into my head on a daily basis. I review them afterwards and select my favorites to develop depending on my line needs…although sometimes I make things because I love them and they excite me. Time on the bench should be fun as well!

(SJS) And what does the future hold for Cielomar, in say 5 years? 

(C) I’m currently focused on developing a jewelry line that is more production focused in order to fabricate inventory at a larger scale. I recently started collaborating with a local mold maker and caster, and they are helping me to develop components for my line that I can then use to create a variety of jewelry designs. I’m also looking to expand my brand presence to boutique stores that fit my brand aesthetic as well as museum stores across the US. I’m excited to continue refining my brand aesthetic and connecting with other unique women who love to make a statement everyday!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Setting up a Bench Pin and Sweeps Tray for Travel

Do you make jewelry but you don't have a jewelry bench? Or do you need to make jewelry on the go, at a show, and wish you had some of the basic comforts of a bench? Well, here's a couple of ideas I'd like to share.

There are lots of kitchen table jewelers out there (I guess I should know, since I wrote: Soldering Made Simple: Easy Techniques for Kitchen Table Jewelers in 2010 ). Your average table is too low for sawing and filing. The bench pin should be level with your sternum for that kind of work, or you risk back and neck pain. Having the bench pin closer to your eyes makes it easier to see what you're doing, too.

When we travel to teach often the tables are very basic and too low. On the last trip to teach at Alaska Bead Company in Anchorage, I worked at the wrong height, and I was in pain after just a few days. So I grabbed a spare box/drawer from a small Ikea cabinet. I clamped the box to the table top and then clamped the bench pin to the box. Even with an adjustable office chair, the box made all the difference and my back feels great. Very light for travel. By the way, this is a v-slot bench pin that comes with a clamp. But I find when I use a real c-clamp it doesn't move as much from side to side. I used the clamp that came with the pin to help clamp it to the table. Another trick would be to screw the bench pin to the box to make it more secure.

The other thing I miss when I'm traveling is my sweeps drawer. It kills me to drop precious metal dust and scrap onto myself and the floor - what a waste! And then there's all the bits and tools that fall off the table, too, that used to get caught by the drawer.

After a little brainstorming, I came up with a leather sweeps bag to attach to the table (ignore the chaos on the floor, please, but at least you know this was really used away from the studio!).

The parts were easy. I found some inexpensive leather (luckily the location where I was teaching was next door to Tandy Leather). You could even buy a cheap leather garment and recycle it into your new bench bag. Hmm, maybe a use for those tragically depressing leather pants in the closet? And if it's a coat, as Charles Lewton-Brain points out in his fantastic must-have book The Jewelers Bench Book, you can sew up the sleeves to make handy tool holders. I cut the leather down to the size I wanted, with a straight front, and cut out sections on each side to make tabs to hook around the dowels.

Now a trip to the hardware store. I bought a dowel and cut it to size for two pieces 18" long each. I could only find a round dowel. Square would be much easier to clamp. I wrapped the last 3" of each end of each dowel with velcro tape. I put the other half of the velcro tape on the back side of those leather tabs I cut out. Then I clamped it to the table with a couple of 4-6" c-clamps. I stuck the tabs onto the dowels. They stayed, and the connection was tight. Step one complete. Total cost: less than $25.

Clamping the dowels under the table gives the bag support and let's you adjust the tilt to hold the sweeps. This table has a metal frame underneath, so I cobbled together some quick spacers for the clamps to hold properly. When I snap the middle of the leather bag lightly downwards, it funnels all the dust into a neat pile for easy sweeping into a container.

This may seem a bit MacGyver for some, but I love it and it was a big smile-making difference in my work and comfort. Of course, you can make better or prettier versions for a home jewelry studio that uses a standard table. In fact, you can get a bench pin with a metal frame to raise its height. And some students use a bench vise to hold the bench pin (hey, and it swivels out of the way, and it has a built in anvil, and it's... a vise!).

Another idea I've seen used for a sweeps drawer is a under-the-table keyboard tray. Of course, you want anything for sweeps to be low enough that you still have room to comfortably saw and file, and high enough to sit just above your thighs when seated. I'm sure you could find a couple of pieces of wood to use as spacers to adjust the height.

Hopefully these tricks are helpful for our students at Silvera Jewelry School, when they want to set up to practice at home.

Hmm, note to self: now make that box fit my GRS mounting plate so I can use my GRS Bench Pin and GRS Soldering Station...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Setting up a Home Jewelry Studio

How to Set Up a Home Jewelry Studio

note: this is an excerpt from my book, Soldering Beyond the Basics. There is more about setting up your studio in the book. 

My students ask me all the time about setting up a studio. Most of us learn jewelry in a classroom, where the metalsmithing department is full of benches, tools, polishing and casting equipment.Translating that big space into your own studio is overwhelming, but the truth is that a jewelry studio can be as small as one table or a bench. 

Now, the words “home” and “studio” may not seem like a reasonable combination, especially when considering using jewelry tools, torches, flex shafts and such. It naturally brings up common questions, like is it safe? where should I put my studio? can I solder at home? The answers are yes, almost anywhere, and absolutely. I’ve worked in goldsmith shops and lots of studios. They were parts of retail shops, home studios or office spaces. The floors ranged from wood to carpeting - not your first choices in fire safety. Bench tops were made of wood, walls were normal dry wall. And yet, we never had a fire. Why? Because we practiced commonsense safety rules. 

Later, when I became an independent jeweler, I took what I learned about work place safety to my home, where my studios ranged from spare bedrooms, half of a room, a shed in the yard, even a little 6x6’ space outside of my bathroom! That tiny space contained my bench, a casting machine, polishing motor, kiln and everything else I used to solder, fabricate and cast jewelry. Your studio can start with just a bench or sturdy table, with just a little organization. And once it’s set up, you can make jewelry anytime you want. As long as you don’ wake up the neighbors!

Basic Safety Rule #1: The flame stays where it belongs.
The first safety rule to learn is to keep the flame where it belongs - in the soldering area! This includes igniting the torch, which for some reason, most beginners think should take place while pointing the torch in the air, at the table, into the bench or even at each other! The only surfaces that can safely take the intense heat of any torch are your solder board, charcoal, fire bricks, etc. Everything else burns: you, your table, the carpet, etc. 

Setting up for Safety

Obviously soldering is the number one concern for safety. Sawing, filing, even polishing with the clean bits I recommend are benign when compared to flames and red hot metal. With a few simple precautions, you can solder safely at home.

Protect your Table
Heat will eventually pass through a solder board and burn an unprotected table. Work on a flame proof table or protect the table you have with something fire-proof. Not everyone has a steel table. Most benches and tables are made of wood.Put something under your board, like a 1x1’ ceramic floor tile.  Keep the solder area clear of anything flammable, like paper or plastic.

The next level of protection would be to cover the table top with concrete tile backer board, available at hard ware stores. Score it with a utility knife and then snap it to size. Want more protection? Set up a torch station with some landscaping bricks.  [ B ]  This is a good choice for tank torches, especially if they have large tips with big hot flames. A station like this can handle soldering, annealing, even casting ingots. Put a sheet of steel down as a base to catch small parts. The brick wall around the sides help to keep the flame where it belongs - inside the work area. 

Protect your Room
Let’s face it - gravity works even in the studio, so eventually something hot will fall on the floor. If you care about your floor, protect it with a remnant carpet or mat. Just confirm that anything hot that falls on your safety mat is quenched and doesn’t smolder.If you set up to solder less than 3 feet from a wall, protect it with a sheet of concrete tile backer board. 

Where to set up your studio

The best place to set up your studio is in an open space that has some natural ventilation, like near a window. The worst place to set up would be in a confined space, like a walk-in closet. Even though this book emphasizes safer tools and chemicals, there are still some fumes that could affect your health if you solder full time for years. Solders contain zinc, and when they flow a little is released as gas. Some flux contains fluorides, which also create fumes. Non-fluoride fluxes are a healthier alternative. Keep your face back from the solder area. Hovering your face over the board is a one way ticket up your nose for heat and fumes. 

A simple way to increase ventilation is to work near a fan. The fan should blow away from your solder area, to draw the air. A low budget ventilation system can be made with ducting from the hardware store and a window fan. The ducting sends any fumes out the window. An kitchen exhaust hood works, too, but has to be installed. Lightweight respirators and dust masks rated for minor fumes from soldering are available from jewelry suppliers.  

Set up your studio near a water source, to refill quench bowls, pickle pots and for cleaning. The best choice would be a utility sink, something not shared with food or dishes. In my studio that was in a small building in our yard, I filled a container with a spout, like a drink cooler, and used a big bowl to make a quick sink. The pickle pot can be on the bench with a tray to catch spills, or near your sink. 

Good lighting can make a big difference in your studio. Natural light is best, but it’s easy to add a good lamp to your work area. Daylight matching bulbs are good for reading detail and color. One draw back to too much light is that it’s difficult to see the first stages of heat on metal, as it glows a light pink, especially on silver. Dim the light or use a shade. A soldering station with bricks can have another steel sheet across the top for a hood, providing shadow while you solder or anneal. 

Jewelry Benches vs. Kitchen Tables
One or two sturdy tables can make a perfectly usable work area for jewelry. One of my benches was made with a table top on top of two drawer units. Use solid wood tops to withstand hammering. Lighter tables can be braced against a wall. Bench pins, for sawing and filing, can be clamped to the table or screwed in place. The drawers were used to store tools. Labels made it easy to put them away - if a tool has a home, it has a place to go. 

Normal tables are low for jewelry work. Sawing, filing, even soldering is best when the table is raised to counter height, about the level of your clavicles. If the work is too low, then your neck and back will hunch, causing injury and pain over time. When seated, your eyes are close to the work, which promotes better posture. [ D ] Use an adjustable chair to raise and lower yourself for the job at hand. Down to be closer to the pin to see better while filing, sawing, or setting. Raised for soldering. The soldering area can be raised with a stack of fire bricks or charcoal blocks, and the pin can be put in a bench vise, adding another few inches of height, if the chair can’t be lowered enough. 

Filing and sawing make a lot of dust, and sterling dust is worth money. If you file over a tray, you may be stunned by the amount of dust that piles up! Filings and small bits of metal can be recycled for credit or cash at a metal refinery. A table doesn’t have a tray, like a bench for catching metal, but with a little imagination, one can be added. One solution is to wear your tray! Wear an apron that is hooked to the underside of the table. The apron makes a bag underneath the pin, catching filings. Snapping the bottom of it gathers all the bits in the middle for collection. Just don’t forget to take it off before you get up!  

A jewelers bench is ergonomic helps you organize your tools. It’s like customized tool box with a place to work! [ E ] Benches can cost under 200 dollars or over 2000, and are simple enough to make your own, if you or someone you know is handy. The height can be customized for you by sawing the legs, and most come equipped with a sweeps tray for filings, drawers for tools, and a bench pin. The top of the bench is a little high for some tasks, like hammering, but you can stand, put the anvil in your sweeps drawer, or use a lower table.

Make your bench work for you by making places to store your tools within easy reach. Bench aprons can be attached that telescope out with hanging storage for files, pliers, and hammers.  [ F ] The shelf inside the bench can hold lengths of inexpensive plastic pipe, to organize your files.  [ G ] And there are lots of bench accessories that save space, transforming themselves from a bench pin to a solder board, for example.  [ H ] An organized bench packs most of what you need into a small space. 

Check out pictures of real home studios submitted by our students on our Facebook page.

A great resource for lots of ideas about how to organize your bench and studio is Charles Lewton-Brain's book, The Jewelers Bench Book. One of my favorites! I highly recommend it. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Preview of my new soldering book: Soldering Beyond the Basics

I've been working on the final edits on my new book, Soldering Beyond the Basics: Techniques to Build Confidence and Control. It's due to hit bookstores in June, 2014. I thought I'd share a few pages.

It sounds completely vain to say this, but the proofs look awesome! Sure, I wrote the text and took the pictures, but my editor and the artists who designed the layout and illustrations transformed it into the stunning work of eye-candy. It's not often you get something that is gorgeous and full of great information. The beauty of the layout should keep students turning pages.

This new book takes off where my first book, Soldering Made Simple: Easy Techniques for Kitchen Table Jewelers left off. It is packed with more tips and tricks for soldering, working with mixed metals, soldering gold and gold-filled, and lots of stone setting: including multiple versions of bezel, prong, tube and flush settings. This book also includes helpful info about how to set up small torches, like oxy/propane torches, and how to set up a home studio. But most of the projects can be soldered with either oxy/propane torches or butane cooking torches. It's still chock full of home studio friendly techniques.

Here are a few preview pages from the new book. Hope you like them. If you do, you can pre-order it from me at We usually get copies before even the biggest online retailers and you can ask to have it autographed.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Which soldering surface is best?

Choose your soldering surface 
Your choice of work surface can to help you solder or stop it cold, and is a frequently confusing for students. Whether you're annealing or solder, it's good to know what to choose. 

In general, use colder surfaces to slow it down, and hotter surface to speed up heating. For example, for small jump rings, soldering on heat reflective charcoal can make soldering go faster, or make it easier to melt them! If you move them to the solder board, the heat will be dissipated a little, slowing it down enough to work more carefully. For larger work, like anything bigger than a jump ring, I'll usually work on a hotter surface, like charcoal, because it helps me heat the metal efficiently.

Hotter surfaces: charcoal, fire brick, honey comb, solderite boards, magnesia blocks, wire nest

Colder surfaces: ceramic solder board, transite, Silquar, steel mesh screens

Always place your soldering surface on heat buffers to protect your table or bench top from burning, like ceramic floor tiles, lightweight sheet metal, or concrete tile backer board.

Charcoal Block
Charcoal blocks create a reducing atmosphere and reflect heat back on the article being soldered, making the flame more effective. Hard charcoal blocks are longer lasting. Soft charcoal blocks can be used with pins to hold your work in place. When the block gets uneven,  you can grind it flat again on a hard surface like concrete or coarse sandpaper. Wear a dust mask and gloves! Excess flux can be removed by pouring boiling hot water over the brick into a bucket or utility sink to remove flux before sanding.

Pros: Reducing atmosphere, quick to heat. Soft charcoal can be pressed to hold work or used with pins to position your pieces. You can make divots in either kind of charcoal to hold and melt metal into balls. You can carve depressions to pour small ingots. You can fix

Cons: Soft charcoal will crack so tie the block tightly around the edges with steel binding wire before using. Both hard and soft charcoal will wear down over time. Soft charcoal can burn away faster and may need to be quenched to keep it from smoldering away. Black charcoal powder is messy.

Honeycomb block
Clean ceramic lightweight honeycomb blocks reflect heat quickly. Perforation holds pins (18ga.) like sewing T-pins to keep your work in place while heating. Excess flux can be removed with hot water.

Pros: Lightweight, asbestos free, inexpensive. Stays flat. One side is flat, the other often ridged to help keep pieces from rolling around.

Cons: Solder can fall through the holes. Honeycomb blocks can break into smaller pieces, which are still handy to use for soldering. 

Solderite, Kiln Brick
One of the benefits of these materials is that they can be drilled or cut as needed for your soldering projects. Solderite is made as a solder board, but was developed as a synthetic substitute for charcoal. It's reflects more heat back at your work than most solder boards. Solderite boards are available in hard or soft. 

Kiln bricks are readily available from ceramic suppliers - they're used to build kilns. Buy K23 bricks, which are soft enough to cut or press in pins, etc.

Pros: Economical, formable, easy to clean up. 

Cons: Solder can fall into the large pores of the kiln brick. Kiln brick is softer than charcoal and pins can come loose during soldering. Kiln bricks are always dusty with white powder that can get messy.

Solderite can be burned and pitted by the torch, which means the boards can wear out faster than other solder boards. Flux can harden on kiln brick, making it hard to sand back to a usable surface. Try pouring boiling hot water over the brick into a bucket or utility sink to remove flux before sanding. 

Ceramic, Silquar, Transite Solder Boards
I'm always surprised to see jewelers who don't use a solder board, using only charcoal or fire brick instead. Solder boards offer a reliable, easily cleaned surface for soldering, preparing your solder and more. These hardened materials can withstand the intense heat of the torch,  but they dissipate heat quickly. 

What does that mean for soldering? Let's say you have a bezel setting and you're soldering it directly on the board. The sheet metal base will be cooled by the solder board, and so the solder won't flow, or it will flow up and onto the lighter, easily heated bezel wire. One trick I use for soldering on bezels, other than using a tripod to raise it so that I can heat from underneath, is to preheat the charcoal. I'll heat the surface to cherry red and then place the fluxed and prepared setting to solder on top. The hot charcoal heats the work from underneath as I continue to heat from the top.  

Pros: Tough surfaces, easy to clean with boiling water in a utility sink or bucket. Highly recommended. 12x12 boards give you a great big surface to work on. 

Cons: On the pricey side for Silquar, but in general inexpensive. Some Silquar boards come with rubber feet, which can melt, so be sure to remove them. Solder boards get craggy and messed up over time, like all solder surfaces and need to be replaced. 

Pumice & annealing pan
Volcanic pumice reflects heat beautifully, and it's nice to be able to rotate your work as you solder or anneal. But this set up is a nightmare for small detailed pieces and anything else that can get lost in those pebbles! I use a annealing pan for large scale work. 

Pros: Good for annealing large workpieces, can custom position pieces in the pumice, and the rotating pans allow you to quickly move your work during heating.

Cons: Pumice must be held in a container of some sort. Your work and solder can get lost easily in the pumice. 

Magnesia Block
These lightweight blocks are a lot like kiln bricks, but easier to press pins and parts into for soldering. The surface is very powdery and things can get a bit messy quickly when using magnesia.

Pros: very soft material can be pinned into or press objects for soldering into surface. Very inexpensive. 

Cons: Difficult to clean. Can be ground down on a hard surface like concrete or coarse sandpaper, but baked on flux can be difficult to clean. Wear a dust mask! 

Soldering tripods with steel mesh
A tripod is great for raising your work so that you can solder from above and below. Obviously, small pieces will be awkward on the mesh and can fall through the openings. But this is my preferred surface for soldering on settings to a base, like bezels. 

Pros: Great for access to the top and bottom for heating. Easy to clean the mesh with hot water. The steel of the mesh holds the heat briefly, and can keep heating the metal when you take the flame away.

Cons: Soft mesh can warp and be difficult to flatten. If you solder on a warped surface, your sheet can anneal during soldering and warp to match the mesh. Upgrade to a heavy gauge steel screen for a longer lasting surface. The steel mesh is a heat sink and will require a larger, hotter flame to heat both the steel under your work and your metal.

Wire Nest
You can make a fast nest of binding wire to place under your work to boost your heat. I use 19 gauge dark annealed steel binding wire (available at most hardware stores because it's the stuff you use to tie your muffler back onto your car, etc.). Scrunch up a bunch of wire into a flattened pillow. Place it on top of a hotter surface, like charcoal even faster heating. When you aim your torch into the nest, the heat reflects up onto the back of your metal.

Pros: Cheap and fast solution. When it's too gross to use anymore, recycle it.

Cons: It can be a little hard to stabilize your pieces on the open wire nest and solder can fall in there during soldering.

Not appropriate for soldering directly on ever: 
household ceramic tiles, red landscaping bricks, stainless steel, wood, paper (okay, now I'm just getting silly :^).

Learn more about soldering and fabrication at Happy soldering!