This post was suppose to be on TUESDAY. Sorry....
*NOTE: Any tutorial I post is just MY TAKE ON HOW TO DO SOMETHING. I do not use words like “right” or “wrong” when describing how I work. This is just what I have figured out and there may be folks out there that do things differently. GOOD FOR YOU! Go with what works for you! Also, be an adult and follow basic safety rules. Wear protective eye gear when needed. Work with fire and fumes in a well-ventilated area. Don’t burn yourself…BE SMART!! Also, all supplies used in this tutorial are easily found online at Etsy, Amazon and RioGrande among others.*
My first tutorial of 2015 comes by request from MaryAnn Carroll, who said she wanted to know more about how I make my bezels. I figured I’d give that a go, since the style I most prefer came about due to a complete accident on my part.
I like to make bezels that feature a combo bezel/prong setting with dots of silver as accent. My style is rustic, and the combination of bezel wire with rustic prongs appeals to me. The combo came to me as a sort of ”salvage” effort when I was first learning how to solder bezel wire. I’ll try to explain…
For this pendant I chose a nice, long slice of jasper. I plan to bezel set it and run prongs along one side. Here we go….
I use Easy Solder paste solder for just about everything (cooltools.us). I prefer paste solder because it acts as a sort of glue, sticking things together nicely, and it has flux in the paste, so you get to skip that step! I love anything that saves time. I use a jumbo Max Flame butane torch (available everywhere. I got mine through Amazon). I have not graduated to anything fancier, and find that this torch suits my needs just fine. I have had this torch for a couple years now and love it. If you want to know the dirty truth, I have a jumbo and a regular size Max Flame. My jumbo’s igniter stopped working a while ago, so I immediately ordered another, not realizing I had ordered a smaller version of the jumbo. It works fine also, but the jumbo gets hotter and I need that quite often. So, I use the smaller Max Flame to light my jumbo. Yes, I have them both lined up at my soldering station and use one to light the other. Whatever works, right?!?!?! Okay, now on to the bezel setting….
|My dirty solder station.....|
I use 24 gauge sheet for my bezel backs. Silver, copper, brass, whatever. Bezel wire comes in graduated widths, I have an assortment, also in a mix of metals. When I first tried to solder bezel wire (which is very, very thin), I burned up a TON OF IT! So, practice with copper and brass before sterling—my advice to your wallet.
Cut a back piece from sheet that is larger than your cabochon, leaving room for the bezel wire, prongs and any accent metal you may want. I’m using sterling silver here for the back, but copper bezel wire for some contrast. Wrap the bezel wire around your cabochon to size the wire. Bezel wire is super flexible and thin, so you should be able to shape it around the stone easily. Allow a bit of overlap for filing and perfecting the ends so that they meet flush (using flat files), and conform snugly around the stone. I use my good metal shears to cut bezel wire, but you can use extra sharp scissors as well. Just be careful and try to cut as straight as you can. You want the ends to meet FLUSH. Manipulate the bezel wire to fit snug around the stone and still hold its shape on its own. This is a bit tricky, but you can do it. Make sure the stone can be seated easily within the shape, but still meet the edges of the stone. Once you like how the ends meet, ad a dab of Easy Solder paste to the seam, place on a solder block and heat with the torch. Heat evenly and move the flame around the bezel CONTINUOUSLY. Don’t let your flame remain in one spot for any length of time—too much heat in one spot will MELT THE BEZEL WIRE. Paste solder will flame up—that is okay, it’s just the binder burning off. Soon you will see the solder melt and flow up the seam. Quench immediately and check the seam to make sure the solder flowed correctly and the seam is sealed strong. (Note: Silver solder will leave a thin line in the seam of a copper bezel. I don’t mind this and usually make sure this is where I add a prong or accent metal.)
Now, reshape the bezel wire around your stone and make sure the sides of the bezel are straight and that the entire bezel will sit flat on the back plate with no spaces between the bezel and the back. The wire is soft and easily manipulated. Take your time and make sure the form is true and the stone fits well in the bezel.
CAREFULLY apply tiny dabs of Easy Solder paste to the bottom of the bezel wire (roughly 2 mm dab close together all along the bottom). Remember how soft the bezel wire is. You need a very light touch here or you will change the shape of the wire and your stone won’t sit well. Be patient, you may have to start over a couple times until you get the “feel” for this. Place the bezel wire on the back plate, press lightly but firmly flush to the back plate. The solder paste will hold the wire nicely in place. Set on a solder block and begin gently heating with your torch. HEAT THE ENTIRE PIECE, CONSTANTLY MOVING THE TORCH AROUND. If you concentrate the heat on one spot you will MELT THE BEZEL WIRE INTO GOO. So, constant movement! The solder paste will flame up again, that is the binder burning away. Keep the torch flame moving, and heat till the solder flows. Again, patience here!!! Once the back plate begins to glow a bit red, the solder should flow nicely. Quench in water, dry and look to see if any spots of solder missed or didn’t flow. If needed add more solder paste and re-heat in the torch. Quench and pickle if you want, or give it a basic clean with sanding sponges.
Next, use a bit of dental floss across the back of your stone and set it in the bezel (the dental floss allows you to lift the stone out in case it is in there tightly). Using a Sharpie, mark where you want the prongs to be. For this design I wanted six prongs. Remove the stone and drill holes where you marked. I usually use 14 or 16 gauge wire for the prongs—make your holes as close to the same size as you can. You want the prongs to fit snugly in the holes. Put the stone back in, then decide how long you want your prongs to be. If using copper or sterling wire, you can ball the end in your torch if you want that look. I made sterling prongs and balled the wires. Cut the prongs a tiny bit longer than you think you need. With your bezel setting on a soft solder block, push the prongs in place through the holes in the back plate and into the solder block. Tap with a hammer to even the heights if you want. When you are happy, remove the stone and add a dab of solder paste to the base of each prong where it is inserted into the back plate. At the same time, you can place any other accent balls or metals around the bezel. Yes, many folks make their own silver balls by torching scraps of silver on a charcoal block until they form balls. I use sterling silver casting grain because I am lazy and want to have this on hand all the time. (I do plan to make my own balls soon, because I like the organic look of pits and rough spots you get when you make your own. But for convenience, you can’t beat casting grain, and it comes in silver, gold, copper and brass!) Add a dab of solder paste where you want the accent, place the balls, and torch the entire thing till all pieces (balls and prongs) are soldered in place. Again, constant movement of the torch is key. If you over-heat your prongs may wilt….nobody wants wilted prongs.
When it’s all in place and soldered secure, quench, clip any excess prong material from the back, and sand the back smooth. Pickle, use shears to cut the bezel form to your liking, and finish by sanding the edges. Use needle files to get in and around balls and prongs, finish as you see fit! I added some wonky lengths of wire to the top for a bail and accent.
Pickle the setting and clean thoroughly. I use a brass brush on my flex shaft and polish till it’s bright. Then it went into a liver of sulfur bath. After that, I set the stone (standard bezel pusher and burnisher), gently bent the prongs over (tapped them in place with a rivet hammer) then polished and finished the setting. I textured the side with the prongs for added interest. Once I was satisfied with the look I polished with a polishing cloth.
Viola! Here is a crappy slideshow of the entire process. If you have questions, please contact me here!
When I started this post I said I discovered this setting design by accident. Well, I was learning to solder bezels and failing miserably. I burned a portion of bezel wire away on a ring and instead of trashing it I thought, “I’m going to put a prong there instead!” And it worked. Filed the bezel edges, drilled a hole, set the prong as above, and finished the design. I liked the look so much I continued experimenting. And yes, I still occasionally burn my bezels and now add prongs or metal balls to cover the “mistake”.
Most recently I made the ring you see here using gorgeous labradorite and ocean jasper. I wrecked the bezel wire around the labradorite. I tried to cover by placing the ocean jasper cab right next to the “mistake” and it sort of worked. BUT, by the time I set and finished the ring, I still didn’t like the look. So, I drilled a hole between the stones and cold connected a tiny enamel copper cup and sterling silver cast twig in place. I used a brass micro screw (that I topped with sterling silver in the torch). I hammered one end of the twig flat, drilled a hole, and used the micro screw to hold It all in place. It worked because the ring is a large statement piece and I had enough room on the back to accommodate the screw and nut, which I hammered flush to set.
|The beast of a ring before and after I set the enamel and sterling twig. |
You can see in the "before" pic how crappy the bezel is around the labradorite!
Moral of the story—there are no mistakes, only opportunities! Don’t throw away a design you think you have “ruined”. Take a minute or three, look at it again, and maybe you can salvage it through the placement of elements you hadn’t originally considered. Combine hot and cold connections. Add prongs, accent metals or another layer of “something”. Sometimes our disasters lead to the best design ideas yet!!