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 solder surface can to help you solder or stop it cold. 

In general, choose colder surfaces to slow it down , 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. 

Hotter surfaces: charcoal, fire brick, honey comb, solderite 

Colder surfaces: ceramic solder board, transite, Silquar

Always place soldering surface on heat buffers--tiles, sheet metal, or concrete backer board-- to prevent burns.

Soft charcoal/Hard charcoal
Charcoal blocks create a reducing atmosphere and reflect heat back on the article being soldered, making the flame more effective.

Pros: Very inexpensive, soft enough to secure pins in for holding workpieces, can mold surface for shaping metal balls,

Cons: Can crack- bind with wire before using. Will wear down over time. Black charcoal powder is messy. Needs to be ground down on a hard surface like concrete or coarse sandpaper. Wear a dust mask! 

Honeycomb block
Contains no asbestos, lightweight block reflects heat. Perforation holds pins (18ga.) to keep your work in place while heating. 

Pros: Lightweight, asbestos free, inexpensive

Cons: Solder can fall through the holes

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. 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. 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 any 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 bezels, other than using a tripod to raise it so that I can heat from underneath, is to preheat 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 surface, easy to clean with boiling water in a utility sink or bucket. Highly recommended. 

Cons: On the pricey side for Silquar, but in general inexpensive

Lump 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 - anything that can get lost in those pebbles!

Pros: Good for annealing large workpieces, can custom position pieces, rotating pans allow for quickly changing position of piece.

Cons: Pumice must be held in a container for some sort. Pieces 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 solding into surface. Very inexpensive.

Cons: Difficult to clean. Needs to be ground down on a hard surface like concrete or coarse sandpaper. Wear a dust mask! 

Not appropriate for soldering directly on: 
household clay tile, red brick, stainless steel, wood.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tips for Working with Gold-Filled and other filled metals

Filled metals, like gold-filled, are an inexpensive alternative to using gold in your jewelry designs. The outside layer of gold is much thicker than plating and can even survive soldering at high temperatures. But care has to be taken to avoid exposing the base metal core. These tips from my upcoming second book on soldering will help you successfully work with gold-filled metals. 

  • Keep filled metals protected during storage. Store wires and sheets separately in plastic bags to minimize scratches.
  • Rest it on soft leather to minimize work marks while filing, etc.
  • Joins must be aligned perfectly for soldering. There's too little gold to file or even for a black silicone wheel. Just a little filing can expose the base metal core, but you won't know until days later when it tarnishes.
  • Try to match the color of the joins by using 14k or 10k yellow gold solder. A yellow tinted sterling solder is also available, but it only comes in one temperature (medium).
  • Fill joins without overfilling. Use smaller pieces of solder to avoid big lumps.
  • Prevent firescale with cupronil or Firescoff flux.
  • Because of the bond between the two metals, the melting point is lower. Never use hard solder. Use medium, easy or extra-easy. A lower temperature flame, like butane, is less likely to burn it. If a small torch is used, use a medium flame and be gentle with the heat.
  • Try to fix any scratches or problems with burnishing, which will polish without abrasion. A tumbler with mixed stainless steel shot is a safe way to polish.
  • Only use the finest grits for polishing, like blue silicone wheels, and blue - light green radials.
Check out our workshop in fabricating with gold and gold-filled at And follow us on Facebook for more updates and tips. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Troubleshooting Tips for your Butane Torch

Sometimes, as your butane torch gets older and well used, it stops working. Usually, this means that the automatic ignitor has stopped working and the torch doesn't light. Before you throw that torch away, try these tips to fix it!

You can also catch some of these tips on our free video that I made with Beaducation: Butane Torch Safety. Troubleshooting starts at 15:56.


Please, before you work on or use your torch - wear safety glasses! It just makes sense. And never use a torch that is misbehaving so badly that it feels unsafe.

1 • Is the gas on?

Sure, it seems obvious, but sometimes the torch won't light because the gas lever is turned down. Turn the gas dial to maximum and try lighting again. Maybe it just wasn't getting enough butane to spark!

2 • Not enough oxygen? 

Another culprit is a lack of oxygen, which along with the butane can help the torch ignite. On some butane torches, there is a silver or black sleeve on the nozzle that rotates, opening and closing a vent that allows oxygen to mix with the fuel. If it's closed, the ignitor may not be able to spark the butane into a flame. Open it all the way and try again.

3 • No spark? 

The ignitor might be broken or clogged. How can you tell? Use a manual torch lighter, also called a sparker, to try lighting the torch. Start up the torch as usual, holding the trigger down to keep the butane flowing. Place the cup of the sparker a couple of inches in front of the nozzle and slide the flint back and forth to make a spark. If the butane lights, then the torch is fine, but the ignitor isn't working. Most torches require an external tool like a sparker to light them. Don't waste this torch just because the ignitor isn't working. Use the sparker instead. In fact, sometimes the problem is temporary, and I've seen the ignitors come back to life, days, weeks or even months later.

4 • Bad Butane? 

Not all butane is created equal. Cheap butane is oily and can clog your torch, preventing it from lighting. Check the opening of the nozzle for residue. If it's dirty, try cleaning it with a cotton swab or pipe cleaner, and maybe a little rubbing alcohol. Be sure to let the alcohol evaporate away completely before trying to light the torch! If that doesn't work, you may have to empty the torch and refill it. We've seen torches function better as their fuel is gradually replaced with better quality, premium butane. To speed things up, empty the torch by turning it on and locking it, so that the butane is venting out. This is best done outside in a safe place where the torch won't be disturbed for 20 - 30 minutes. If the torch ignites while you're trying to vent it, the flame can be blown out with a strong puff of air - from your mouth. Just keep your lips away from the heat! Once the torch is empty, refill it with the good stuff. Let it rest for 5 minutes, and then try it again.

5 • Missing something? 

This is a real life problem that has happened to me with large flame butane torches. The torch won't ignite - even with a sparker. When I checked the nozzle, the brass part inside was missing. This seems to work like a choke or something similar to make the butane focused enough to spark. Without it, your torch won't work. Often, when I look around, I'll find the little guy on the floor or on the bench. Replace it in the nozzle, pressing it in firmly with your tweezers. Usually works like a charm!

6 • Is the torch leaking? 

Have you ever noticed butane bubbling out of the nozzle or the fuel port on the bottom? This is a good sign that the torch is too full or that it's damaged. If the torch is too full, the pressure has to release somehow, so butane will bubble and spit out, usually from the fuel port. You can release the pressure by pressing on the little nipple inside the fuel port with a flat head screw driver or something similar. A jet of butane will come out. Check for butane spittle. Repeat until the dribbling stops. If it doesn't stop, your torch is probably damaged and shouldn't be used.

7 • Is your torch a spitter? 

Does the torch light but the flame goes crazy, losing it's focused blue shape and expanding into a yellow tipped blow torch? Well, first, turn it off. Something is obviously wrong. It may be temporary or the torch may be broken. A temporary problem would be an air bubble in the fuel line. This will either keep the torch from lighting or cause the flame to sputter and expand, usually ending by putting itself out. If it's an air bubble, one of two things will solve the problem: time or patience. Over time, the bubble will work its way out and the torch will work again. Maybe 20 minutes to a few hours. If you can't wait, try running the torch in a safe place where the big flame won't cause any problems. Re-ignite the flame as necessary until, after much patience, the flame settles back to normal.

If it never stops misbehaving, the problem may be a little more serious. Press the trigger down half way, enough to start the butane flowing, but not enough to ignite the sparker. Do you see a jet of liquid butane coming out of the nozzle? If so, release the trigger. Something is wrong and the torch is spitting liquid butane in a way that is messing up the flame. What to do? Try steps 4 and 6 to release pressure or change butane. If that doesn't work, the torch may be too damaged to use.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Answers to some Common Questions about Soldering

  • Sheet, wire and paste solder? When would I use one over the other?
More than anything, I think this is based on preference, especially with sheet or wire solder. I'm not a big fan of paste solders and how they work, nor of the fumes and toxins from the flux binders when they smoke and go airborne. Paste solders may still melt into a ball, once the flux burns off, but they can end up away from the join and make a mess. Otherwise, I prefer sheet solders for gold, since you can stamp the information on the sheet for karat, color and flow point. For sterling silver solder, I prefer wire, since I can cut it into ultra small chips or flatten it if I need sheet solder for tension or similar solder joins. Sheet and wire solder allow you to control the size and placement of solder in a way that can't be matched by paste, in my opinion, which is especially essential for cleanly soldering mixed metals. 
  • Why do I need a kiln brick? Can I just use a red brick I have in my backyard or a rock?
That's a good question and I can understand the confusion. A normal household variety brick is fire proof, but it's also a huge heat sink. Instead of helping, it will take heat away from the metal and it's pretty dirty, which can foul up the whole thing. Fire brick is used to make kilns, it's takes heat and amplifies it, making it easier to solder, and it's soft, which helps with positioning pieces for soldering. They may both have brick in their name, but they're completely different. Bonus: fire bricks are very light in comparison to building bricks. 
  • When do I use Easy, Medium and Hard solder? What is the difference?
Solders come in different melting points, called flow points, from high to low, or in jargon terms from hard to medium to easy. Using different temperature solders helps you fabricate more interesting jewelry, with lots of joins, without it falling apart or putting gaps in previous solder seams. Imagine trying to solder together a box with a stone setting. You can solder the walls together with hard solder, add a top and bottom with medium solder, and then attach jump rings and the stone setting with easy solder. The first, higher temperature hard solder joins won't open or fall apart as you add the rest of the pieces of the box with medium solder. When the setting is attached with easy solder, the medium and hard solder joins don't flow, preventing distortion or open seams. As you practice soldering and your skills improve, you'll spend more time using hard solder, until you're fabricating with only hard solder. One reason to prefer hard solder and use it as much as possible is the color. Hard solder has the least amount of additive to lower its flow point, so it matches sterling silver the best, making your joins almost invisible. 

  • When do I use Penny Brite and when do I use Pickle? What are the advantages of each?
Most jewelry studios use pickle to clean metal after soldering. It's easier and requires less scrubbing. Since natural, biodegradable pickles are now available for safe use at home, they're even safer and easier to use than more acidic pickles like Sparex. If after pickling there is still some residual firescale, you can use a brass brush or scotchbrite pad with soap and water, or Pennybrite to further clean the metal. But for my work flow, Pennybrite is just too labor intensive as a stand alone method for cleaning after soldering. Also, sometimes PennyBrite just won't get into the nooks and crannies of a more complicated design. Further, in cases of hard, baked on flux, the Pennybrite may not be able to remove the glass-like flux. You would have to soak the pieces in very hot water first, so you're basically pickling anyway.
  • Do the Jump Ring ends have to meet if I am soldering them together or will the solder fill the gap?
Solder doesn't like to fill gaps, and a "filled join" is weak and will break. For precious metal solders to work properly, the join must be completely closed. 

If the join is closed something very cool happens: the join will draw the fluid solder into the seam and into the metal, making a join so strong you could stretch a ring up to 2 sizes without it breaking! Why does it do this? When you heat the metal, it expands, creating a microscopic vacuum. That vacuum draws the solder into the seam when it flows, like a capillary action. No join - no vacuum. 

So, for example, if you're soldering a jump ring, and the join is not closed, the solder will just flow onto one end or the other, but not fill or close the ring. If you close the jump ring so that the ends of the join are touching and flush, then the solder will be drawn easily into the join. How can you tell if the jump ring is closed? Hold the join up to a low light source like a fluorescent light, and look through the join. If you see a line of light at the join, it's open. If you don't see any light, it's closed and ready to solder.
  • Can I use any kind of torch for soldering?
When you know how to solder, you can use just about any flame to solder, from plumbing blow torches to cooking torches, super hot oxygen/propane little torches to blow pipes and candles - no joke, in some countries, filigree is soldered with a candle flame and blow pipe to direct the heat. 

When I first learned how to solder in college, our only torch was a natural gas flame. It had a flame that was almost big enough for casting and we had to solder anything from tiny jump rings to bracelets with that flame. When you learn the art and craft of soldering, you learn how to adjust your torch for low and high heat, what distance you should be from the flame, where the hottest part of the flame is, etc. 

Now, of course, some torches are more ideal than others for soldering, but it depends on the material and the size of the job. If you have a big piece to solder and a small flame, you probably won't be able to heat the metal enough for the solder to flow. You need the right size flame for the job. For jump rings and simple wire pieces, a normal micro butane torch is fast and efficient. For bigger pieces like heavy gauge rings, larger settings, even bracelets, a large flame butane torch will cover more surface area and be able to heat the metal enough for the solder to flow. For gold, the same rules apply, so you can use butane torches with gold, but to really take advantage of the properties of gold, a oxy/propane little torch will let you solder faster and accurately. And let's face it, if you're soldering gold, you probably want the nicest toys to work with, right? 

For a free video on how to set up to solder safely at home, visit
  • How do I put the butane in the torch? 
Most butane torches will come with instructions for refueling and you should read those carefully - not just for refueling but also for how to light and safely use the torch. That said, a lot of butane torches refuel in the same way. First, your butane should be premium quality, the best you can afford. Cheap butane is greasy and can clog your torch. Make sure the nozzle on the butane canister fits the nozzle on your torch (on the bottom of the torch is a small recessed nipple that fits the nozzle for refueling). 

Interested in learning how to solder and getting some help? We have lots of classes in jewelry making, including casting, stone setting and working with gold at Silvera Jewelry School, in Berkeley, CA. Browse our calendar of classes today.