Beads, Classes and new techniques

Soldering steel

One of the guys at work asked me if I could make an iron necklace for his wife as an anniversary present. He’d seen a few designs on Etsy with two interlinked rings and wondered if I could do something similar. Sure, I said, I think I can come up with something. Thankfully he is a graphic designer and understands that to get something right takes time, because it took me a while to figure out everything I needed to do to successfully create the piece! It was an excellent challenge for me though, forced me right out of my very small comfort zone!

First of all, what kind of steel did I need to use? My customer wanted “iron”, so it needed to be blackened steel. I finally found dark annealed steel at our local big box hardware store — here it’s known as tie wire, but is more usually galvanised, not dark annealed. Thankfully it was 1.57mm diameter, not too hefty but also thick enough to be useful.

I’ve got enough wire to make hundreds of rings!

As it was already annealed, it was easy enough to form coils of wire around two marker pens of different diameters and saw through the wire to make jump rings. The ends were filed smooth and wiggled together so that they touched. My plan was to use one bigger ring and one smaller ring to represent my tall customer and his petite wife.

The next challenge was soldering the steel — I wasn’t sure whether I could use the normal silver solder I use for soldering sterling silver. And what flux should I use, what pickle? I found a tutorial on the Facet jewellery making website that used hard silver solder wire, and suggested that white paste flux might work, so I gave it a go. That was my first failure. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the solder to join the ends of the steel. The rings would look joined but when I tested the join it’d pop right open.

A bit more research said I needed flux that took a higher temperature. Off to the hardware store again to buy some black flux, rather nasty looking stuff! This worked OK, but the hard solder meant that I had to heat the steel for quite a while to get it to melt. And the flux left a rather crusty finish on the steel and pickling it (in a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and vinegar) didn’t seem to move it. Plus the solder was a bit lumpy-looking and, well, it just didn’t look great.

Some of my test runs, at different stages of cleaning up the rings. Some of them looked pretty crusty!

Still, I was able to take it to my customer to make sure he was happy with the concept, so that was a win. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to get a good enough finish on the rings.

These have been sanded back to the natural grey of the steel.

So I went back to the internet to do a bit more research. And hallelujah, I found a fantastic Facebook video by Brenda Schweder that used solder paste with no extra flux required. So I made up a bunch more rings and got busy with the torch. Finally I had a method that worked, with minimal solder used and not too much heat needed. This last point was important, as the longer the steel was hot, the more the metal surface seemed to suffer.

On to the next challenge: how to clean up the rings and then darken the steel again. After a quick pickle, I sanded the rings with 400/800/1000 grit emery paper. This of course took the steel back to its natural colour — see the picture above. Once again the internet came to the rescue! Searching for methods I saw a video in which a large steel piece was heated and then coated with beewax while hot. The beeswax was then buffed off. Adapting this, I quickly heated up the steel rings with my torch, picked them up and dropped them onto my block of beeswax, then pulled out the rings using some tweezers and buffed the wax away with a soft cloth. This darkened them nicely (and pretty much instantaneously), phew! I also played around with using some black gilders paste to cover up the silver solder seam but that didn’t work really well. Finally I used Renaissance wax to seal the rings so that hopefully they won’t rust. It also gives the metal a nice finish.

My test ring on the beeswax

The final step in the process was to add a sterling chain. The necklace is short so the rings sit right at the collarbone.

Et voila! The finished necklace really shows the contrast between the dark steel rings and the bright sterling silver chain. While you can still see the soldered join, it’s flush with the surface of the rings and doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb!

I think it turned out rather well, and I learned an awful lot about the steel-soldering process! Happily I’ve heard that the recipient loves it! I’m thinking that it might be fun to make a few more of the steel rings, and maybe use them for earrings, perhaps even solder earring posts onto them. I don’t think it will be my first choice of metal to use, but hey, now I know I can do it! A very big thanks to Brenda Schweder and her wonderful video!

4 thoughts on “Soldering steel”

  1. Such an informative post. Thank you! I do wonder if it’s safe to solder the galvanized steel, as I’ve heard that it can be pretty toxic when heated/burned. I’m sure you took proper precautions though. Did you happen upon anything that mentioned that possibility or it that just a rumor I heard that isn’t true?

      1. Ah, I see. I misread what you wrote and thought you said that it was galvanized under the annealed coating. My mistake. Thanks for replying!!

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