Tuesday, May 13, 2008

full disclosure


I'm having a small problem that I thought I'd share here in the hopes that someone can help me find a solution.  When I make my fine silver on steel pieces, I use a process called fusing to adhere the silver to the steel.  (For all you non-metalsmiths, this means I heat the metal with a torch and melt it together.)  The nature of the process is that some of the drops are permanently affixed, and some, well, aren't.

I then go through a number of steps to knock off the loose drops before I sell them.  I bang the pieces around on the table before I put them in the pickle.  After the pickle, I tumble them.  Then, when I'm doing the final finishing by hand, I try and knock off any that still seem loose.

But even with all that, it seems like I'm having a number of pieces sent back lately because the drops are falling off, particularly rings.  What should I do?  I don't want to stop making the line, because its very popular (and I really like it as well) but I can't have pieces coming back all the time.  Should I tumble longer?  Should I tumble with a harder material?  (Right now I'm using plastic media because I want a matte finish - perhaps I should use steel shot.)  I considered throwing a few rocks in with the media, to give the pieces something heavier to bang around with.  (This will probably be my next attempt.)  But I would love any other suggestions.  Help!

14 comments:

Robin Marie said...

I've wondered ever since I first saw the pieces how sturdy the connection was. I think your first step is definitely to tumble with a harder material, and I can't imagine why that wouldn't work. It's an absolutely stunning line, I would hate to see you stop making it.

When a piece of silver comes off does it leave sharp edges behind? Perhaps a disclaimer in your listings would help shed some light on the process and the possibility of a piece or two coming loose.

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megan said...

Thanks Robin. Generally the connection is very good. I know from frequently wearing the work myself that its typical to only lose one or two pieces over the life of the piece. The rest are on there for good.

It doesn't leave a sharp edge at all - just a slightly darker spot on the metal (which can be cleaned off). I think a disclaimer in listings in such would be good - but I'm not sure what the solution is for wholesale orders.

Jennifer - Beadoodles said...

Well, one question I would ask is whether you've changed suppliers recently for your materials? There could be a possible subtle change in the metal structure, or a coating on the metal?

The other suggestion I have is to melt your bubbles down more. So it's fused on more surface area. (I can't find a good picture example of what I mean, but it's a concept that I learned in pottery and in lampworking - you have to have a certain percentage of surface area fuses for the added on piece to stay affixed) I wonder if it would work to do a double pass...fuse an area of fine silver flat, then fuse more fine silver on the second pass to make a bubble?

Out of curiosity, have you ever tried freezing a piece to see what would happen?

Jennifer - Beadoodles said...

I forgot to add that I hope you get it figured out - your pieces are very appealing! It's a great line!

megan said...

jennifer - i haven't changed suppliers lately. i think the increase in returns is that I am now selling at a higher volume than I previously was.

I love the double pass idea - I think it could totally work and I'm certainly going to try that next time!

I've never tried freezing - are you thinking the expansion/contraction of the metal would knock off any loose balls?

Jennifer - Beadoodles said...

I've never tried freezing - are you thinking the expansion/contraction of the metal would knock off any loose balls?

I'm not real up on the expansion and contraction rates of steel vs fine silver, but I'm curious to see how it would work. Though I don't think the cold would be a problem for pieces sent out this spring...

Liz Steiner said...

Let me know if you need rocks. I ought to have something that's tough enough to knock off any loose silver, without scratcing up the steel.

megan said...

Thanks liz - I have a bunch of river rocks (from Michael's) that I use to weight down my displays. They're fairly smooth, so I was going to try them first. Let me know if you think there's something that would work better.

Lora ~ said...

Hi Megan,

I too, just looove these pieces and hope you find the solution. I have a couple more things you might try. Putting a disclaimer on the care instructions and telling people to treat them as they would more delicate jewelry like opal etc. would definitely be a great idea.

Also, if you place your work in a plastic baggie and then in stainless steel shot you'll retain your finish. Since the stainless isn't in direct contact with the metal, it's good for work hardening (and I assume would knock off loose globules), but won't change your texture. Try it with a few pieces to see.

And I don't know about the freezing, but that's what I do when I get a piece of shot stuck in a bead hole. Put it in the freezer for five minutes. The steel will shrink and the silver won't. That *might* cause the bad connection to fail earlier. Maybe if you drop it on concrete right out of the freezer...?

I really hope you figure it out.

Lora ~ said...

Obviously I meant to say that the stainless shot is to be used in a tumbler. Doh!

Catherine Chandler said...

Hey Megan,

You're already getting a lot of great feedback, but I definitely agree with tumbling with something harder like stainless shot. Usually if I need something to be hardened or burnished (such as earwires) I'll tumble them with stainless shot and then with the plastic media to get the satin finish. good luck!

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Julie said...

Hi Megan, I've done some silver to stainless fusing, and here's what I've found....
The fuse isn't a true fuse, because they are such dissimilar metals. Microscopically it's kind of like velcro. The silver melts, but the steel doesn't. The silver actually is held on the steel by melting itself around any abraded areas.

Think the same way you would if you were epoxying two surfaces together - you scratch up the surfaces to give the glue areas to catch in. I figured out that I had to grind little depressions or weld on a little nub of steel to the same spot that I 'fuse' the silver. I'm thinking that the grinding would work for you - just a little cutting disc on your flex shaft should do the trick. Try to grind little lines at different angles.

I don't think that tumbling them longer or with harder material would do it - seems to me that it would actually weaken the bond.... I would just tumble it long enough to harden the steel.

ok...that's just what I think from my experience - hope it helps!
-julie

Conceptual Metalsmithing said...

There is always that go to fabrication process...soldering! Of course it would be more labor intensive and the time you spend on the labor may make the work economically unfeasible.

When you fuse the silver balls, do you use flux? When I solder gold or silver to steel I find that flux is essential because the steel oxidizes preventing a good connection. Even when I do use flux it doesn't always work. A great tip that I received was to grind a small amount of charcoal (charcoal block) into powder and mix it in with the flux. When heated this will create a small reduction atmosphere around the solder eliminating poor connections due to the oxidation of the steel. I have had great success soldering steel this way.

Short of soldering, you could try and use the charcoal + flux in your fusing process. Together with an abraded surface I think you have a good chance at eliminating your problem.

Best of Luck,
-Gabriel