Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Hot Water / Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Today I need to spend time making jewelry. I've a show coming up next month and i really want a good inventory, which is down now since i just sold 7 pieces. The show is urban, so i think a lot of funky stuff is in order. Talk about transferable skills...When my copper plumbing was stolen in January '06, i ended up doing much of the work to replace it myself. My husband got the cold water running but couldn't come back to finish for a week which was OK for him, but I was the one doing without hot water. I did get the hang of showering and washing my hair in the tub standing over the soup pot, but its not really something i wanted to keep doing any longer than necessary.

Watching what he was doing and asking a lot of questions, i managed to get the concept. It took a while, and a lot of oops's and trial and error, but i did manage to have hot running water that night. The pipes may not be straight as an arrow but water still flows through them. I also accidently connected the hot water pipe to the cold water for the washing machine, but that was easily fixed. (all pipes hanging from the ceiling kinda look alike, ya know?)The biggest pain is not knowing until its all done whether it still leaks. Once you turn the water back on and it leaks, you have to drain all the water out again before you can take the pipes apart because the water acts as a coolant and won't let the solder become hot enough to melt.
Water tends to flow downhill, so if you can open a faucet in the basement somewhere and let the water drain out-after turning off the main valve, of course--it makes it easier.

The two main things i learned are 1) flux every bit of where the copper pipes meet--the flux is what cleans the copper to receive the solder and the solder is what actually seals it...and 2) heat the part of the copper pipe with the torch where you want the solder to run to...for instance, when putting a pipe into an elbow, flux both pieces thoroughly-inside the elbow and outside the pipe, insert the pipe, and heat the elbow with the torch while applying the solder to the edge of the elbow where it overlaps the pipe. As it heats, the solder will be sucked into the elbow joint, thus creating a good seal with no leaks. When finished, quickly heat and then brush the melted solder with steel wool to make a nice, neat join.And that's how you do plumbing.

So, what's that have to do with jewelry???

Once you have the concept of soldering down, then soldered jewelry loses its mystery.

Just as in plumbing, the first thing is to create a clean surface to be soldered; in this case, I'm using glass so i clean the glass with alcohol. Solder won't stick to glass, so i wrap the edge evenly with a thin copper tape that goes all around the edges of the glass, just like for stained glass. Rub down firmly with an orange stick or other burnisher. This is where the flux comes in again, but brush it on sparingly. I don't use a torch for the jewelry, but instead a soldering iron. Coat the copper foil with a thin layer of solder. Flux again, and add a heavier layer of solder. Keep doing this until it has the look you want. I like a nice rounded edge but you may not. Solder a jump ring to the top and there you have your first pendant!

There is a lot more to it once you gain the skills, such as using a 1/8" tip on your iron, using a regulator to keep the iron temperature steady, adding charms and other findings, and then the soldering itself--to make really nice soldered edges takes a lot of practice. There are also decorative soldered edges that can be done to look beaded, lacy, or funky. Once you try jewelry, you can turn your talents to suncatchers, glass boxes, kaleidoscopes, and even stained glass windows. But i caution you, unless you live alone, be sure you have a separate working area for cutting glass...and, always wear shoes.

To see more of my jewelry and other art, visit my Etsy shop at

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