Saturday, June 28, 2008

Wire and Fire - Part 5 - Connections

Fusing Silver Links - Linkages

To pull up all 5 parts of Wire and Fire, the 'Fusing Tutorial' label will bring them together - here's a quick review

Step 1 - Safety Check - Always check your safety setup and make it a routine, safety first, it's tempting to jump right into fusing but it's so important, don't skip this step

Step 2 - Equipment Check - Assemble and use the correct equipment to prepare for the fusing session, check that everything is ready before you start lighting torches and heating metal to avoid delays while working, load the torch with fuel before each session to keep interruptions to a minimum

Step 3 - Create Individual Fused Links - Create the smallest size closed loops first, then prepare wire to create the larger links to join together for the chain

If you are making a five link chain, create the three closed loops first, and prepare the two that will join those together to make the chain. It's a good idea to make extra wrapped jump ring links, in case some don't turn out on the first try you have standby rings ready and can keep linking.

The three large links in the photo at right are fused but loose, and can be used like this, lots of designs for single fused loops look great for earrings and connectors on necklaces. Or they are ready to have two links added to create a longer five link chain.

Step 4 - If you have small loops fused and intend to apply texture using the chasing hammer and bench block, go ahead and do that before adding the larger loops, it's much easier to do before the two large links are passed through the smaller links

Step 5 - Add the linking loops to make the chain

Prepare the firebrick by digging a little trench or ditch in it that's long and wide enough for two loops to fit into and stand upright. The link you are fusing will lie down flat on the firebrick, but now you have the two additional links that need somewhere to go that's stable and out of the reach of the flame from the torch so they don't overheat and melt. The already fused links should be facing away from the torch, and the open side of the wrapped jump link as far to the other side of the loop as possible.

Use a swinging motion in the shape of a letter 'C' on the open side of the joining loop you are fusing. Keep the torch flame away from the other side, where the other links are. The link will fuse when the area receiving the heat starts to glow, shimmer and look like liquid. Watch the area of fusing very closely and be prepared to react when the fusing happens.

Pull the torch flame away immediately to avoid melting the loop - if it happens, quench all the loops in the water and use your standby loops to try again.

At this stage don't handle the links or the firebrick with your fingers. Even though only one link received the fusing heat, the others have received transferred heat and are hot enough to cause a blister. Use the hemostat or metal tweezers to drop the fused links into the water to quench them.

Now there are three links joined together. To add the other fused loop use the last open jump ring and repeat the process, carefully keeping the already-fused links well away from the torch flame.

The photo shows two three-link units. It is trickier the longer the chain and the greater the number of links are added. It just takes practice to learn how to watch the metal as it reacts to the heat. Be prepared to melt a few links before it is perfected. Practice, practice, practice.

The heat of fusing makes the fine silver (.999) wire very soft, or anneals it. The links will need to be hardened again to be able to be used without losing their shape. If you plan on shaping the round links into an oblong or oval shape, do that before they are hardened.

Stretching the round loops to make ovals or oblong links is a good test to see if the fusing is sturdy, if not completely fused they will pop open. If that happens trim the ends to make them flush again, and re-fuse. It's better if it happens at this stage rather than later when you are making a stunning necklace or bracelet and one of the links chooses that time to fail.

The links can have texture applied with the bench block and chasing hammer and be used as they are in a shiny bright silver look. Or they can have a patina applied to darken and enhance the look of the texture and give them that rich antique look. But either way, they need tumbling with stainless steel shot to polish them and further harden the links to make them tough and work ready.

I hope this series of posts about fusing silver has inspired you to give it a try - and that you enjoyed reading about it. Even if you don't want to take a torch in hand yourself, now you know what goes into creating those lovely pure silver chains.

Any questions, comments? Are you going to try it yourself?

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