Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Technique of the Month - Balling Sterling Wire

I'm sure you know how to make a ball on the end of a piece of wire. You may have noticed that when 'drawing' a bead/ball on fine silver wire, it melts into an almost perfect sphere, but when you try it with sterling, you end up with a pitted, unattractive mess. That's because the copper content in the sterling is melting, but the fine silver isn't - so an uneven surface referred to as 'reticulation' is forming. Some jewelry makers do this very intentionally on sheet metal in order to form a wonderfully organic texture. But those of us trying to make a head pin just get frustrated. Well, here's a trick to avoid the wrinkles.

See the purplish inner cone, then the lighter blue one with a pointed tip?
That's the hottest part of the flame. There's a paler, bushy bit
to the left of the cone - but the photo isn't showing it.

1. Straighten the wire as well as you can before you start. A curved wire may produce an off center ball.
2. The hottest part of a flame is the tip of the inner blue cone - not the bushy end. This is where you want to position the wire.
3. Use tweezers to hold the end of the wire in the flame until the ball begins to form (pliers are too heavy and too much of a heat sink).  When the wire is in the right spot, you should see a very bright orange heat trail appear. (Prepare for the trick)
4. Once you have the ball the size you want, s-l-o-w-l-y raise it to just above the inner cone, then s-l-o-w-l-y into the bushy part of the flame and then s-l-o-w-l-y out of the flame altogether. This should take only a few seconds.
5. Quench, sand off the oxidation (no need for pickle unless you're making a quantity at once), and use.

The trick is to let the sterling wire cool as slowly as possible. When you make the ball and quickly remove the wire from the flame, the rapid temperature change offers opportunity for reticulation.

NOTE: If you leave the wire in the flame too long, hoping for a larger ball/bead, you run the risk of the wire melting away and the ball dropping into your lap. OUCH!

TIP: If you get a slight burn on your fingers, apply some pure vanilla extract (I keep a bottle in my tool box and in my studio). It won't hurt in a half hour, and it won't blister tomorrow. Anything more serious than that - put it under cold running water (never use ice or butter) and go to the ER immediately.

Posted by Lora Hart 
Artistic Advisor


Alison Lee said...

Great tips Ms. Lora. :)

Anonymous said...

Sterling does ball up?. I have tried and it just turns black. Any suggestions? Thank you so much for the post