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Cynthia Eid’s Tips For Soldering Argentium® Silver
Just as one needs to make a mental adjustment about soldering tactics when switching between traditional sterling and gold or platinum, it is necessary to use a different approach when soldering Argentium Sterling. The most important thing to remember with Argentium Silver is to forget about trying to heat the whole piece of metal at once, or trying to have all the solder flow at once. Argentium Silver does not conduct heat as quickly as traditional sterling alloys and copper alloys---the heat tends to stay where the torch has been. If you have experience with soldering gold, you will find that they conduct the heat similarly, and that similar approaches to heating the metal and solder works for both gold and Argentium Silver.
Application of Heat After fluxing the seam, give the whole piece an overall heating to dry the flux, then start at one area and heat along the seam. I usually use a back and forth movement with the torch over a ½” to 1” area. When the solder flows in that area, I move the torch flame to the adjacent area and heat until that flows, then move to the next area, etc. The first area takes the most time, and then each subsequent area takes less time. With a 1” diameter piece, I find that the solder flows as fast as I can turn the soldering turntable. A larger piece heats more slowly.
Argentium Silver is Fragile when Red-Hot
If two pieces do not fit together well, they can be bound with binding wire, or pinned in place before soldering. Do not try to press two parts together during soldering, as they will tend to break or crack.
Solder Melt and Flow I have heard reports from some people of having difficulty with Argentium Silver solders not melting completely. I think this usually happens because the flame is too small and the person is heating tentatively, resulting in the lowest temperature components of the solder flowing before the entire piece of solder flows. If this happens, do not keep heating in hopes of having the entire piece of solder flow. Clean up the excess solder and heat with a larger flame and more boldness next time. (Note: I have personally rarely experienced Argentium Silver solders to flow incompletely.)
Quenching (and NOT quenching) It is important to wait a few moments after finishing soldering before touching or moving the piece. It is okay to quench at “black heat”, but quenching at red heat may result in cracking or breakage. In practice, it can be difficult to assess when black heat has been achieved. In my experience, it is okay if the water hisses and sizzles when the silver is quenched, but the piece was too hot if the water seems to boil or explode. As with all metals, I air-cool flat pieces completely because quenching warps flat metal. It is beneficial to cool flat pieces on a flat surface (I often slide my flat pieces onto a steel plate to cool).
Pickle Pickle and rinse to remove any oxides, just as you would any other metal after silver soldering.
Solders The temperature of the Hard Argentium Solder is so high, and the color of the Argentium solders is so white, that I recommend that the Argentium Hard solder be thought of as IT solder, and rarely used. When I would normally have used Hard solder, I use Argentium Medium solder. For Medium solder, I use Argentium Easy solder. Argentium Super Easy solder is good for very delicate items. Note that since AS does not transfer heat the way that traditional SS does, it is usally not as necessary to use a sequence of different solders, since the previous joint is not likely to re-flow. I tend to use AS medium for most joints.
Fluxes Flux the seam only. Fluxing of the entire surface is not only unnecessary, it is also undesirable to flux all the surfaces, since that prevents formation of germanium oxide. Gel flux and yellow liquid fluxes, such as Rio Grande’s My-T-Flux and Batterns, work best for me. In England, I find that Auflux worked well. Paste fluxes can cause firescale on both AS and SS, so they are not recommended. Gel flux behaves similarly to paste flux, so people who are accustomed to paste flux tend to find gel flux most comfortable to use. Though gel flux can seem rather expensive, a small bottle lasts a long time, since only seams need to be fluxed.
Soldering Boards It is recommended that a separate soldering board be used for Argentium Sterling, to avoid contamination. I like to use soldering boards that are highly heat reflective, such as Solderite. Firebricks and honeycomb blocks are also quite heat reflective.
Another Idea for Becoming Accustomed to Soldering Argentium Silver
It is not necessary to use AS solders with AS. It is possible to use traditional silver solder with AS to learn how to apply heat to this alloy that conducts heat differently. (Use Medium, and Easy solders. Hard melts at too high a temperature for beginners.) Then, when one has become more accustomed to how to apply the heat, one could start using AS solders, which don’t tarnish as much as traditional silver solders, and have a whiter color. With this method of learning to adapt, only one thing at a time is being changed, making it easier to identify differences between the alloys and appropriate working methods.
FUSING ARGENTIUM SILVER - By Cynthia Eid
Argentium Sterling is wonderfully easy to fuse. My understanding of why AS is easier to fuse than Fine Silver is that because FS is a pure metal, it has a very short temperature range at which it melts and fuses. Alloys have wider ranges of melting temperatures, and AS has a very wide range of temperatures at which it melts and fuses. The large temperature range makes AS fairly "forgiving" for fusing, compared to most other silver alloys. Here is a summary of how to fuse AS. Though this should help get you started on fusing Argentium Silver, I strongly recommend Ronda Coryell's DVDs on this topic.
Summary Of How To Fuse Argentium Silver:
ULTIMATE SPICULUM HAMMER
Betty Helen Longhi and Cynthia Eid have teamed up with Bill Fretz to design and produce the Ultimate Spiculum Hammer. The Ultimate Spiculum Hammer has the elegant lines and exquisitely comfortable handle that are trademarks of Fretz hammers. The hammers are identified with the Longhi and Eid logos on the handle, and the traditional Fretz logo on the hammer-head. Around 1980, Betty designed and made a hammer that was based on one that she had watched Heikki Seppa use to make spiculums. Lee Marshall of Bonny Doon Engineering produced a commercial version for Allcraft for many years. Since Lee’s retirement, Betty has been searching for a new maker, so Cynthia approached Bill Fretz about making the spiculum hammer. The new proportions and weight of the Ultimate Spiculum Hammer afford exquisite control and exceptional accuracy for both the beginner and experienced metalsmith. Thrilled with this hammer, Longhi, Eid, and Fretz have designed additional hammers to make a set of shell forming hammers, which is currently in development. The Ultimate Spiculum Hammer is now available from Allcraft Tools, in New York, 1-800-645-7124.