Fine silver is also known as pure silver because the content is 99.9% silver. Sterling silver, in comparison, is 92.5% silver and 7.5% mixed alloys. Usually the 7.25% added to silver to strengthen sterling enough for manipulation and duration is copper. Copper oxidizes, which is why sterling silver tarnishes much more quickly than fine silver and why sterling turns black when you heat it (soldering, fusing, etc.).
Fine silver, not having any copper to strengthen it, is very soft. That makes it easy to work with as well as difficult to work with… depends on the project.
Argentium is like sterling silver except that the added 7.5% alloy includes a substance called germanium. Since Argentium contains the same amount of silver as sterling, it can be referred to as sterling silver. But since the different additive alloy isn’t all copper, Argentium doesn’t get firescale (in other words it doesn’t turn black when heated) and it tarnishes much more slowly than traditional sterling silver.
My set-up this week included:
- Fine Silver Wire
- Argentium Wire
- Blazer Micro Torch
- Charcoal Block
- Heat Proof Ceramic Base
- Third Arm
- Crockpot of pickle (vinegar and salt)
- Larger, unfocused torch
The things I learned are:
1) You can fuse 14 gauge fine silver with a micro-torch
2) You have to heat the whole piece up if you want a certain join to fuse
3) The join has to be almost imperceptible (flush cut and file)
4) If the 14 gauge fine silver piece you’re torching is very big, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to keep the whole piece hot enough for the join to fuse (using a micro torch, that is)
5) If you torch on a charcoal brick, things seem to go faster (after all, the brick is heating up and helping keep your piece hot)
6) Sometimes torching on a charcoal brick leaves your join mottled on the side that is against the charcoal
7) Torching with a third-arm then can work out better, but it’s harder to keep your piece as hot as it was on the charcoal and it takes a lot longer to heat it up
8) It is possible to fuse with a large, non-focused torch, but you will get different results because the whole piece turns molten rather than just a section you’re concentrating on.
9) It’s possible to fuse pieces onto other pieces, including fine silver onto sterling silver
10) So far, I haven’t found a way to fuse granulation (round balls of silver) onto wire without the ball fusing to the wire in an amorphous blob
11) Argentium fuses in a more laid-back manner than the often frenetic quality of fine silver, making it a bit easier to get a clean, non-lumpy join
12) Tumbling fused silver is a much easier way to debur and polish it than doing all that stuff by hand
13) Playing is fun
I did end up fusing some fire silver to a couple of flat sterling washers. Those I threw into a pickle mix (vinegar and salt) and heated for awhile.
Then everyone goes into the tumbler.
These photos are prior to any added patinas (I’m thinking the bead caps will particularly benefit from some LOS).
First up is my “learning bracelet”. I took some 14 gauge fine silver, wrapped it a bunch of times around my 13mm dapping punch, cut the spiral into jumprings, recut the non-flush side, filed both sides, then fused and fused and fused.
Then I wanted to see how big a circle I could fuse, so I made this one which I will be listing in my “Everyday Jewelry” collection later today or tomorrow. It’s 24mm in diameter strung onto a leather cord.
I practiced more rings (some fused on charcoal brick, some with the third arm). I wanted to try light gauge so these are 20 gauge fine silver (left and right) and 20 gauge Argentium (top). The bottom rings are just more 14 gauge fine silver.
I wanted to try adding granulation (balls) to a ring and this is the only one that didn’t blob out on me. The shadows at the bottom make it look worse than it is, but I’m keeping it for myself so didn’t bother to get a better photo.
Then I made some designs with 14 gauge fine silver that I can use in my wire-wrapping projects.
I experimented with fusing silver onto silver, rather than silver against silver. Here is some bezel wire with small triangles fused onto it (will look better once I add a patina).
And here are some bead caps I made using sterling silver disks and fusing fine silver on top of the disks. These also will look better with LOS.
Since those were sterling, I had to pickle them after I fused them, but wow… got a shock when I reached for the lid to my little crockpot with the pickle in it.
Yes, I have kind of a thing (massive fear) of stinging insects.
The last photo is another necklace I will be listing in a bit. It’s fused fine silver heart (25x22mm).
The rest of the pieces will be used for patina experiments. Stay tuned…