Adventures with an Aquaflame Part 1 … Introducing Little Miss #SmeltyMelty

New Tool Alert!! And warning – this post is techy and likely to be of no interest to anyone who doesn’t use heat on their metal; it’s going to contain information I’d have liked to have known before purchase.

I expect this to be the first in an intermittent series of posts about the new blowtorch I’ve bought. A significant investment, an Aquaflame uses hydrogen gas rather than propane / acetylene / butane and oxygen to produce the flame and heat needed for working with precious metals.

Until now, I’ve used small, hand held blow torches – similar to those sold in kitchenware shops – refillable using the small canisters of butane that people use to refill cigarette lighters, supplemented with a portable plumbers blowtorch when I’m brave enough (which is rare!)

These are limited in what they can achieve, even though I’ve been known to have one lit, standing on the soldering station, directed at a kiln of bricks to provide background heat, and then another in each hand. I’ve basically outgrown them and needed to upgrade if I wanted to move on to the types of metal working I’d like to add to my skill set.

A hydrogen torch (aka a microweld, aquaflame, hydrotorch) works using magic, witchcraft electrolysis – here’s what it says on their website:

Aquaflame produces gas from water and works on the principle of electrolysis. Electricity is passed through an electrolyte solution resulting in the production of hydrogen and oxygen. The gas is then passed through a MEK (Methyl Ethyl Ketone) solution that gives a flame with the optimum working temperature of 1850 ° C. (3365 ° F). This produces a highly efficient and low cost high energy heat source. The only by product other than energy is water. The flame is clean and safe with no toxic effects.

The other option would have been a micro torch (most likely a Little Smith) which, although cheaper, and possibly better for larger work, would have necessitated keeping acetylene and oxygen canisters (or an oxygen concentrator machine) in the studio.

My studio / workshop is a converted bedroom, upstairs in our 1930s semi-detached, 10 paces away from our bed. I decided I wanted to upgrade in 2019; got permission from the insurer that it would be acceptable, and then had regular nightmares about the canisters exploding.

Life is too short to invite extra stress into it, so I ruled out the Little Smith and looked into other options

Eventually, I decided on a hydrogen torch and then opted for Aquaflame over the other main UK brand MicroWeld solely based on the interaction I had with the companies when trying to make my decision. One was very keen to help answer all (and there were many!) of my petty and silly questions, the other ignored me.

I put myself on the waiting list for a reconditioned one, and on 25th May 2021, she arrived.

#SmeltyMelty in situ. I’ve now moved the actual torch to the left and put the machine on a tiny set of rollers to make topping
up easier

It’s incredible the difference the precision flame makes. I’ve gone from using a wide flame coming from a torch tip of a centimetre wide, to one that’s coming from a hypodermic needle tip of less than a millimetre. As a result, I’m having to relearn every technique, and have been beginning from the basic – balling silver for earwires and headpins and the balls I like to use for embellishments before stepping up to multiple settings and large bangles

It’s like owning a small, slightly temperamental dragon, and I’m in love.

As you’ll know, I name all my significant tools, so clearly she needed a name. My intention had been to name her for the mother dragon in Ivor The Engine – but it turns out that’s she’s got the same name as my first primary school teacher, so it felt far too cheeky given I tend to curse a lot whilst using a torch; instead, she’s #SmeltyMelty.

I’m sharing my progress with the wonderfully supportive jewellery Facebook group The Jeweller’s Bench Cafe run by my favourite tutor Joanne Tinley, but thought it would be sensible to also document it on my blog so it can double as my notes!

I’ve learned the following – Tips supplied range in size from 20 to 24, with 20 and 21 being properly feisty, 22 being significantly smaller than 21, and 23 and 24 super delicate. I could also use a #19 or #18 as there’s just me, but it didn’t come with them. I shared small videos of these with my jewellery gang, but I’ve now uploaded them to YouTube here

I have used #20 to successfully ( and deliberately) melt 6g of scrap, in about 35 seconds on my charcoal block but not so successfully to melt 8 grams in my not terribly clean crucible.

minimal melting with the #20 tip and a dirty crucible

7g is as much as I’ve been able to achieve with my traditional handheld butane torches, and that took either a plumbers torch (comes with a side of free nausea and terror) or a pair of handhelds, and about 20 minutes of said terror and nausea.

Initially I only tried smelting for 10mins with the aquaflame, because I decided the flame and the metal were too bright for safety.

I’ve used the #24 for soldering jump rings (from 0.8 to 1.2 and up to 11mm in diameter) and the ends of earwires that are about 2cm from an earring, with no change to the Liver of Sulphur patination, which suggests I’ll be able to do delicate work with stone set pieces.

I’m using #23 most often for ring bands up to 2mm, and #24 for studs.

The #22 is also working really well for annealing short shank lengths.

The main difference I’m noticing with the actual solder is that the piece will heat more rapidly than with my handhelds, which means that the solder will melt earlier in the process – but crucially, I’ll need to hold the heat for a couple of seconds longer to make sure it flows through the whole joint, as there’s less ambient heat to drive it through. I’ve had lots of pieces where I thought that I hadn’t successfully soldered, but it was because the flash of the molten solder simply isn’t as bright or as obvious as with my trusty dremel.

Whilst sweat soldering, it was much easier to ensure that no solder spilt over the sides of the settings, because I used the #24. The other things, are:

  • It’s not as huffy, so the pallions are less disobedient
  • There is less ambient heat in the workshop
  • The hottest part of the flame is much further along than I’d expected.
  • Firescale is definitely reduced
  • It’s not really any noisier than a regular handheld butane torch
  • The whole piece will heat more rapidly
  • solder melts earlier
  • The joint needs heat held on it slightly longer than I’m used to
  • The colour of the flame means the flash of the solder flow is less visible
  • It doesn’t need to be left running, so I have it on for only a minute before actually soldering
  • It doesn’t appear to use any meaningful amount of electricity (conveniently I’ve just had a smart meter installed)
  • I needed to top up the MEK for the first time after 3 weeks of use

WEEK 2

I am gradually repeating regular processes and trying out new with it. This is something I know I’d have struggled with using my handhelds- the cups would either have moved, dropped off, or melted, but I was able to successfully use all hard solder for all 4 cups using the #23 tip(4mm stones, 2mm band) as a side bar, these were really gorgeous shades of stones – faceted green amethyst, green tourmaline, London blue topaz and faceted blue topaz

I’d never have achieved this with my handhelds – four 4mm bezel cups, on a 2mm size L.5 ring, all the bases next to each other. I used the #23 for this

Nb. this was a customer request and the settings are deliberately slightly skew-whiff to fit with all the rest of her jewellery!!

WEEK 3

Ordered some #19 and #18 tips, and successfully smelted 8g of silver in les than half the time it’d have taken me to do it with a plumbers torch and the biggest of my small ones.

I then used tip #21 to anneal it before making square wire with #MorrisTheMill

And – Bangles!

I used tip #20 for 3 different bangles – annealing and soldering:

  • 1.1mm thick, 220mm x 6mm
  • 1.1mm thick 220mm x 9mm

and also to reticulate 220 x 9 x 1.1mm which I then soldered into a bangle

It was much faster and easier to control than my handhelds

beaten and reticulated bangles

Posted in cheeryuppy, DGDCheeryUppy, geek, Gems, Meet The Maker, processes, resources, silver, Stuff I love, Tech Tip, tutorial, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Scraphappy June 2021

I recently bought an Aquaflame. It’s like owning a small, slightly temperamental dragon at the moment, but one of the side benefits of buying her, is that I had to do some rearranging in the workshop.

So this month’s #Scraphappy doesn’t involve silver, it involves more traditional scraps 🙂 and fewer words than usual, coz it’s very simple 🙂

I have used a cocoa tin, the inner of an old slipper sock and the top of a Kilner jar that’s too corroded to use again for preserves.

Stone setting is a specialist skill, that requires specialist tools. You might remember an earlier post where I created some bezel pushers from different scrap; today I repurposed stuff from the bin to house my collection of pushers more safely.

And yesterday we repurposed some plastic milk bottles at the allotment to keep the nets (and #LovelySue) safe from the stabby bits of the posts and bamboo canes.

Oh. and here’s the finished ring you can see in the peg. It’s a remodel for one of my regular patrons. The four stones are 4mm flat backed cabochons and are: faceted green amethyst, green tourmaline, london blue topaz and a blue topaz.

Posted in geek, Gems, Hamlin Lane Allotments, processes, ScrapHappy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

ScrapHappy May 2021

One of my favourite way to reuse the waste from my silversmithing is to heat it into balls and pebbles. Casting is going to be next, but for instant gratification of a job well done, it’s hard to beat this.

In February 2020 I showed you how I make small stamped studs from recycled silver; this time I’m showing you the beaten studs and coordinating pebble pendants I’m just adding to my shop following a custom request earlier this month.

I love a custom request. They vary hugely, from straightforward adaptations of something I do already, to more complex requests. Often they lead me to actually create something that’s been on my mind for a while – I’ve always been someone that works best with a deadline 😉

These pebble studs and pendants are exactly that. Something I’ve made for fairs, but not got around to putting into the shop.

You remember I have a lot of offcuts? And more than one scrap pot in varying grades – the heavily contaminated scrap (filings, soldered and completed pieces that I’ve melted in error) slightly contaminated scrap (might have a little solder on it), and fresh sterling offcuts from sheet and wire.

The first two contain proper scrap that I’m keeping back to send off to a refiners, with the aim to get it recycled by them and for me to receive a small payment but the final pot of offcuts is metal I can smelt* down myself and reform into other items, safe in the knowledge that it remains 925 sterling – casting, drawing into wire or forging into sheet.

In this case I’ve made small pebbles from a tiny amount of the content of the third pot. (currently running at 280grams – far too much to allow to accumulate!

The custom request was for a pair of polished, 6mm sterling studs, as fat as possible. And then, a coordinating pendant with a flower stamped in it. Because I like to give people options, and I also knew I wanted to add these to my shops, I worked out through trial and error the correct weight of silver that needed melting to make a ball of 6mm. (It’s just under 1gram) I also made three pairs, in slightly different sizes and with differing finishes. If my customer wanted them to glitter, then the lightly beaten ones are going to do that best, and in the most interesting way.

Although the request is for them to be fat, they will sit better on the lobe if there’s a flattish back, so rather than create a rounded pit in my charcoal block, I melted the scrap on the flattish surface, then pickled the balls, and filed off the top surface to remove any excess copper or fire scale. I did that twice, which I find an effective way to ensure that I get the shape I want.

It always helps to add some borax to the process (something about it helping the metal flow and to draw out impurities**) and the reason for heating on charcoal is twofold; the carbon reduces oxidisation and fire-stain, and the charcoal holds the heat well, which speeds the process up and also makes for a ‘cleaner melt’. You can see some of the shapes I’ve carved into this block for other items I’ve melted*, including a channel for making small areas of wire.

The pebbles get a brief pickle, just to remove the worst of the oxidisation, then I file off and unevenness I don’t like, file and sand the surfaces and fling back for another pickle whilst I crack on with something else.

Once all the silver is pristine and white, I’ll drill a dent into the back of the blob, to help the earpost solder joint have as much surface area as possible, and then pickle again.

These have had 3 different finishes applied – super shiny, satin and lightly beaten. In all cases the process begins the same way – grip the earring with my parallel pliers, and give the dome a super polish with files, emery, polishing papers and the silicone burrs in my pendant motor

Then I either take the shine back down with a burr or drop the stud into my riveting block and hammer it for the dimples.

Finally a turn in the tumbler and they are done.

The principle is the same for the pendants – only these have about 3.5grams of silver and take rather more work, including more effort to be applied to the back, as on a pendant they’ll twist and the back will be visible. These I beat on the steel block, using doubled over masking tape to help them adhere thereby reducing (but not stopping!) the rapidity of them firing elsewhere round the room. I’ve learned it’s best not to try and hold stuff like this with my fingers whilst hammering!

I plan to make lots of variants of these in the next few week between my current commissions because I have an exciting, state of the art Aquaflame torch due to be delivered; this will be the perfect practice project

*deliberate melting is smelting, and rarely creates the cursing that usually emanates from my workshop when I melt something 🙂

**I’m an alchemist now ***

***apologies for gratuitous Doctor Who reference

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page.

You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. It’s a really welcoming group of creatives. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of them know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at). This month, we are once again welcoming new members to the group: say hello to Edith and Preeti!

Kate Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyMe,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Noreen,
Bear, Carol, Preeti and Edith

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

Posted in processes, resources, SciFi, ScrapHappy, silver, Stuff I love, Tech Tip, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Hallmarked silver – a cautionary tale

As you know, I often have commissions, and I’m always open to working with someone’s existing jewellery. It makes for interesting and often challenging work, which I love.

Last year I had a more unusual request, which wasn’t to rework existing, loved jewellery, nor to source a gemstone, but instead, to set a gorgeous stone sent from overseas by one friend to another as a symbol of their friendship.

The brief was to incorporate it into a bracelet that the recipient would design. The recipient also found a chain on Etsy, that she fell in love with, and wished to use that, rather than one I would make or source myself.

Not much difference then, from the regular ‘this was my granny’s can you make it wearable’ request I often get.

Except….The chain that the recipient chose was sold as sterling – my client (following my paranoid instructions) actually double checked by messaging the seller that would be the case, but it turned out to be base metal.

Why is this relevant? Well. firstly the chain was mis-sold. Secondly a base metal chain immediately reduced the options available to me to incorporate the stone setting, meaning I couldn’t risk applying any heat to it, so the fixing had to be cold connections (basically I’d have to rivet or use open jumprings / split rings to attach the gemstone); the seller was deliberately misleading in her descriptions and listing photos then, finally and crucially, when my client contacted her to check the was fully UK hallmarked, the seller lied, confirming it was fully hallmarked

Here’s what you should watch out for:

What’s the description? This seller was careful / sneaky in her listings to describe it as ‘silver’ . Not sterling silver (good, it wasn’t), nor silver plated / coloured metal (which is what it is and how it should have been described) She had attached a tag stamped 925 to the chain

A stamp saying 925 is NOT a guarantee that something is sterling. A genuine hallmark will have a number of elements to it. Here’s an example of the one I’ve had applied to the back of the component – DGD (my makers mark) the lion (traditional mark for sterling silver), 925 (alloy rate) leopard head ( London Assay Office), W ( date year 2021) and finally the common control mark (CCM). Not every hallmark will look like this – the makers mark and assay office will vary as will the year letter and the CCM is really only being added as an optional extra post Brexit. It’s costly and time consuming to send stuff for assay, but, if a piece is over the weight threshold (7.78g if silver, 1g if gold) IT’S THE LAW

This chain was really cheap; at about £30, it retailed for less than I can buy a similar one direct from my bullion dealer, but it was marked as 50% off in the sale – watch out for something that seems too good to be true

And finally, when I flicked through her shop, there was nothing in there saying hallmarked, none of the gold chains, nor any of the silver. Neither was there a copy of the Dealer’s Notice that all UK precious metal sellers have, by law to display. Now, this latter point is something many small jewellers fail to do – partly because it’s hard to get it to display correctly on Etsy, but it’s something you should look out for. There’s no requirement for it to be on every listing, but it should be displayed somewhere in a physical or virtual store.

The consequences of this are that I couldn’t set the stone in the manner my client wanted – we had to compromise her design. The bracelet isn’t going to wear as well as a sterling one would – the plate will rub off over time, and who knows what alloy the metal within is. If it’s being sold incorrectly then it probably has elements that are prohibited in the UK , such as nickel and cadmium. And of course, my client now has to complain to the seller and I’ll need to report her to her local trading standards office.

I was going to have to divide the chain to attach my element, which meant sawing through two of the links. I did so, and also took one of the jump rings outside, put on my fume mask that I use when polishing and heated the jumpring, just to demonstrate how it would behave.

I’m sharing this with you because those of us who do follow the law, are doing so for a number of reasons, and it costs a little more to do so. Please consider this when you are buying jewellery

Pictures showing the client’s chain, with a design element whilst we were trying to design round the limitations, the excess chain and the sawn through links

Now you can see a close up of the cut links and the heated jumpring to demonstrate the difference application of heat has to this base link, compared to the sterling jumpring in the above WiP photo

Finally, this particular batch of jewellery back from the Assay Office. I post in batches, otherwise the cost, including the postage there and back is up to £30+ a piece. You can see the laser hallmarks on the back of the flat pieces – all of which had stones set; 3 were commissions, the others were underweight pieces that I included to bring the unit pricing down and can be found in my online shops

Posted in geek, Law, Hallmark, processes, silver, Tech Tip, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

Scraphappy April 2021

‘Draw the spaces’ is a mantra I often hear when listening to podcasts, and after sawing out some Bat’leth necklaces I was left with a gorgeous negative space that demanded specific use, rather than merely being consigned to the scrap pot.

Given April 5th is #FirstContactDay it seems appropriate that I used this piece of scrap for this month’s piece 🙂

There’s a pleasing asymmetry to the shape, which I felt works best horizontally rather than vertically, and as I love a brooch, and am gradually creating a range of more modern interpretations of one of the oldest forms of adornment AND wanted to echo the exploration and space travel that is Star Trek it seemed perfect.

Looking through my collection of rescued, vintage stones (mostly from orphan earrings and broken jewellery given to me over many years) I found a particularly interesting teardrop rainbow moonstone that has both a milky area and gorgeous blue flash – the perfect embodiment of warp speed, worm holes and space travel !

So – how did I make it?

File all the edges

Sand and polish front and back and the edges

Make a bezel for the moonstone*, sand the base flat and reduce the top so that there will be an optimal amount of silver over the stone

Decide if less is more or if more is more (ie shall I add lots of recycled balls to this, or not?)

Solder the bezel to the back plate using ‘hard’ solder – pickle and clean

Saw the tube for the hinge that holds the brooch pin, file and sand the edges, file a flat area in preparation for soldering to the back of the brooch

Find an offcut of 1mm sterling wire for the brooch hook, and select a small jumpring** to help brace it

Solder the fixings to the brooch using ‘medium’ solder

Pickle, clean, polish

Apply liver of sulphur to patinate the inside of the setting, seal with Renaissance Wax (rainbow moonstone always looks more impressive with a dark background)

Set the stone

Form the pin using stainless dental wire**

Shape the hook – at this point there was a slight disaster – I had forgotten to triple check the security of the solder joint and the wire detached. So, I removed the stainless pin, smothered the stone in Technoflux and resoldered the joint, using ‘easy’ solder – this is always a bit of a gamble, but moonstone is mostly a heat-safe stone, as long as it’s not heated and cooled too dramatically – I approached it cautiously with the torch, held my breath and sent a plea to the soldering gods, applying heat as minimally as possible finally allowing it to cool naturally before pickling and repolishing

Surprisingly the colour (patination) I’d applied to the inside of the setting survived this process

After further polishing I was then able to reform the hook and the pin

I’m really pleased with this, it feels really appropriately modern yet classic, and is in my shop. I think I’ll take care over the placing of my templates to create more interesting negative spaces and more pieces

*This actually was a left over bezel I had made previously that was too large for the stone I was using (this is irritatingly common!) I keep them all with my freeform cabochons, in case I find a stone that they fit

**These are the only elements that aren’t from my scrap pots

ScrapHappy is run by the wonderful Kate in Oz and her friend Gun in Sweden and is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. I’ve found it a fabulous way to refocus my #ReuseIsBetterThanRecycle efforts.

You can make a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture

Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join in on the 15th of each month?

Either email Kate at the address on her Contact Me page, or leave a comment on her blog. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post scrappy stuff every month, but their blogs are still worth a visit).

Kate Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn (me!),
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, NancyDawn 2, Noreen,
Bear, Carol, Preeti and Edith

Posted in geek, Gems, Other Blogs, SciFi, ScrapHappy, silver, Tech Tip, tutorial, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 32 Comments