Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wire and Fire - Part 1

Fusing Fine Silver - Safety and Setup


It's important to have a safe, prepared area to do the fine silver fusing.

During a recent spring cleaning in Studio B (basement) the area set aside for using the torch was cleaned and re-organized.

The firebrick and heat protective mat is from Delphi Glass, which is a good source for metal and glass fusing and warm glass supplies.

There are sites offering the idea that a regular brick or concrete block is good enough to use with the torch, but two things make that a bad choice. One, sometimes a brick that's heated too much will explode - not a good idea to have fiery hot brick shards flying in your work area. The other is that the firebrick acts as a heat sink, collecting heat in the area near the links and enhancing the fusing, and a regular brick won't do this. While it's possible to ball the ends of silver wire holding the wire in the air, it's very, very hard to get a link up to temperature while holding it in air.

The lighting should be task lighting that can be easily adjusted up or down - while fusing links the glowing color of the heated metal is a clue about the stage of fusing, bright lighting makes it harder to see the subtle color changes.

It's an urge to jump right into the creative fun of fusing, BUT safety is always first - have a post on the blog about fusing safety, but here's a quick re-cap with specifics about fusing fine silver.


Having recently had a finger get a small burn from the new soldering iron, the first thing coming to mind is a caution about high temperatures. The firebrick will get very hot, as well as the nozzle of the torch and the links themselves. Keep it in the front of the awareness - DO NOT TOUCH them and be cautious of their location at all times. Burns are painful and take a while to heal, it's worth a few minutes of care to avoid a burn from accidently picking up a hot link with your fingers, or bumping the nozzle of the torch and getting a blister or burn.

Wear a heavy leather or vinyl apron and closed toe shoes when fusing. Early in the process while learning there may be times when a molten ball of silver drops off unexpectedly or a link is overheated and balls up. If it falls in your lap or on your foot, it may still be hot enough to cause a burn.

Keep a small container of water with ice in it near the fusing station. If you get a little burn, apply ice immediately to reduce the burn and the likelihood of a blister forming. Keep this water clean and hope you never need to use it, it's insurance just in case.

Always point the lighted torch away from yourself. One way to insure this is to put the open ends of the links you are fusing at the 12 o'clock position on the firebrick, so you are pointing the flame away from yourself. Store torch fuel and other flammables far away from the fusing station area.

The torch burns oxygen, keep a window slightly open to allow in fresh air, allow for good ventilation.

Pull long hair back, wear a short sleeved or sleeveless shirt, and cotton rather than a synthetic fabric. Safety glasses are always a good idea to protect your eyes. Make sure the surface is stable, not wobbly, and fire resistant. And have the fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it.

Also recommend keeping pets and children out of the area during actual torching times, to avoid distractions and accidental knockovers.

Because fine silver doesn't form firescale during fusing, there's no need for hot pickle (a mild acid that removes the firescale) or solder and flux. If you fuse sterling silver, you will need those chemicals and acids also, and there are safety precautions to keep in mind when using those that won't be necessary with fusing fine (.999) silver.

Fusing fine silver is fun, magical and the results are wonderful once it is learned. Just a little safety and focus on protection is worth enjoying the experience to the maximum.

Next topic ... just what is all that equipment and how is it used - Interested?


Jennifer Stumpf said...

totally interested. keep going, lynn! i just placed a partial order from the company you recommended. can't wait to get the rest of the gear and get busy.

LLYYNN said...

Delphi is a great resource for things besides stained glass and fusing glass, they also carry PMC supplies and metal working goodies, with fast shipping and good prices (and sales too!) and a variety of options to choose from.

Thanks, JS, for some reason I need to feel this is a topic someone has an interest (besides me, of course) before boring anyone speechless!

Heather Powers said...

sweet! thanks for sharing lynn. I have the bug now too and must try this. I look forward to your next post.

LLYYNN said...

It's a lot of fun, watching the silver get all shiny and then - whoosh - it fuses in a liquid silver meltdown.

treasurefield said...

Wow! How generous of you to take the trouble of sharing this! I think even I can follow it. LOL! Can't wait to try. Thank you so much!!!