Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wire and Fire - Part 2

Equipment Check

These links were made with 16 gauge fine silver (.999) wire. With wire, the larger the number of the gauge, the smaller the diameter of the wire. So a thicker wire would be 14 gauge or even 10 gauge.
Using a butane torch, some of the thickest wire may be too large to fuse because the torch doesn't reach a high enough temperature to cause the silver to reach fusing stage.

The heat resistant mat is the type used by lampworkers to protect the work surface, it's inexpensive and a good idea to have one, with the firebrick on top of it for fusing.

Firebrick is the type used in kilns and can stand very high temperatures. It's very soft material and the brick is porous and very light in weight, not like a fired clay brick. It will absorb the heat from the torch and help keep the links at temperature, acting as a heat sink around the area receiving the torch's flame.

The two sets of long handled silver tools at the far right are hemostats (or some call them forceps) that are usually made of titanium or stainless steel. Keep some just for fusing that are very clean and not contaminated with sterling silver, patina, flux or other residue, to protect the fine silver. Got these at Evie's Tool Emporium on Etsy, medical suppliers might have them also. Use them when handling the links after fusing to avoid burns on your fingers, when dropping them into the water to quench them. They are also good for holding pieces of wire while the ends are heated to form balls of silver for headpins. Because they have a locking mechanism, you are less likely to drop the hot piece of wire.

The long metal pieces with yellow handles beside the torch are soldering picks. They can be used to move things around without harming the silver or being affected by the heat of the torch.

The butane torch and lighter are sitting on a ceramic tile. These are handy to protect the work surface, and to designate where to sit the torch down after it is used, to avoid touching the hot nozzle accidently. It's placed within reach but well out of the way, and the tile makes it easier to be sure it is in the same location each time.

The torch is a butane torch from the hardware store, not a self-lighting microtorch. It has a safety on it to avoid accidently turning it on. The handle stays cool even while the torch is lit. Have found it a good idea to fuel up the torch (do this outdoors) before each fusing session to make sure there's plenty of fuel, as the reservoir doesn't hold a lot of butane. A creme brulee torch might work, if it reaches a high enough temperature, but if the torch is too small it can't hold enough butane for very long fusing times.

Other things that are useful are mandrels or round object to wrap the wire around to make loops of different sizes. Metal knitting needles are useful as they are sized in millimeter diameters. A size 10 US knitting needle makes a large loop. Wooden dowels of various sizes also make good mandrels.

Flush cutters and a metal file are important to cut the loops and make the edges flat before fusing. Buy the best quality you can, they last a long time and get a lot of use, the higher quality tools will give much better results.

A steel bench block and planishing hammer are useful for work hardening the links after fusing and adding texture, these can be found at Connie Fox's site, and she has a starter kit (right now it's on sale) with all these in one stop. You can get a bench block pad to deaden the hammer blows to the anvil or bench block, in the photo you see the alternate solution of stacked thick mousepads.

Get everything, set it up and get ready - next topic - preparing the links and first fusing ...

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