Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Copper toggles, almost done... (it's only taken a year!)

I have been working on this project for a year. No kidding - not a continuous year, but a year nonetheless, from the time I first got the notion to see if I could do this.

copper toggles, soldered and ready for enameling

 I have a passion for making my clasps look like an integral part of my work, rather than an add-on afterthought. Which is why I frequently stitch toggles for my beadwork:

hand-beaded toggle and bar by Sweet Freedom Designs

It's not always a matchy-match thing, although I have a big case of the matchy-matchies (regardless of what they say on Project Runway ... sorry, Tim. I try to live by Tim's rules, but I will always be matchy-matchy!)

But I DO like for my clasps and connectors to look like they belong to my designs, so I end up making a lot of my own clasps.

For situations where beadwork toggles just don't seem appropriate, and copper and silver don't always work, I was often left scratching my head. So I started thinking ... I have hundreds of colors of enamels ... why can't I make some enameled clasps that will work?

I've seen enameled toggles and S-hooks out there, but the toggles and bars I'd seen didn't have soldered attachment rings; they had sawed or punched holes for attachments.

I dabble with soldering, and knew that the heat of the torch or kiln would melt my soldered joins: can't solder first, because the enameling process will melt the joins; can't enamel first, because, lordy! What a mess the enamel will make when you try to solder! I kept mulling the idea around, for months, and finally called my friend Barbara Lewis, who is known to dabble with enamels (LOL), and Barbara suggested I try soldering the attachments with Eutectic solder, which was created for enameling. She made no promises, but thought it would be worth trying.

Within a week I had ordered the Eutectic Solder from Thompson, but it was out of stock, and it was about 3 months before I actually received the solder. In the interim, I spent a couple of days getting out all my metalworking supplies, setting it all up, and then cutting and prepping the copper pieces which I would eventually solder, once I finally received my Eutectic solder.

Once I received the solder, I put it in a safe place until I would have time for the actual soldering ... I was wrapped up in a beadweaving frenzy! So, several more months passed ... and then, I was finally ready last week to try the Eutectic solder.

First problem: Remember how I had put the solder in a safe place? Y'all know what that means ... I had to spend 2 days looking for it! I finally found it, the second day, in the very first place I had looked - it was the safest place, and the place where it belonged, but my memory had told me I had left it in the package from Thompson, so I had been looking for a manila envelope, when actually, I had opened it, painstakingly labelled its Ziploc back "EUTECTIC SOLDER FOR ENAMELING" in giant Sharpie letters, and placed it with my other solders. If it had been a snake, it would have bitten me, but I wasn't looking for snakes ... I was looking for manila envelopes!

Fortunately, when I had prepped the copper pieces, I had made all the join surfaces nice and flush, and didn't have to spend hours sanding and filing to get a good flush connection.

I put away all my beadweaving stuff, then set up the torch, fire brick, and all the other tools and toys I needed for soldering, pulled out the Eutectic solder, which was in wire form, and proceeded to try to cut off a couple of tiny pieces of solder. Good grief! The Eutectic solder is impervious to cutting with my usual wire cutters! It is hard as a rock! I got stronger cutters, and managed to get a few pieces cut, although they were larger than I needed. But I didn't have a cutter strong enough that could cut the pieces smaller, so I was stuck with big pieces of Eutectic solder.

The instructions I had gotten verbally from Thompson when I placed the order (I had asked whether the Eutectic solder contained flux -- at the time I placed the order, I didn't know what form it came in) were to apply flux liberally, so I fluxed the heck out of everything. I let the flux dry, made sure my little copper wire attachments were lined up where I wanted them, placed the solder, and tried to fire up the torch. This is when I discovered I was running low on acetylene, but I finally got the torch lit, and the soldering went pretty quickly and smoothly. One of the rings moved a tiny bit, but I can live with it.

silver Eutectic solder mess on my copper toggles and bars

The Eutectic solder is silver, but that doesn't bother me, because I plan to enamel these babies. There's obviously way too much solder, but I don't know how I could have cut the Eutectic solder any smaller; again, the excess doesn't really worry me, because it should get covered by the enamel. *Hopefully*.  I smoothed the solder seams, then tumbled these pieces because they had been annealed by the flame when I soldered, but mainly to give them a good smoothing, since I won't be able to get rid of any lingering rough edges after I enamel them.

So, this is my progress after a year. Now these pieces have been put in a safe place (note to self: They are with your enameling mandrels), waiting until I have the time, energy, and inclination to haul out all my enameling stuff and get it set up.

Things would be so much better if I had a studio with dedicated space for everything, so I never had to deal with putting away one medium so I could set up another space- and tool-intensive one!

I'll let you know if I ever get these suckers enameled! Fingers crossed! Hoping the solder will hold!

1 comment:

DeborahRead.com said...

Yup - big letters, special place on the soldering station and I still cant get to it
I'll be watching what your doing - wow that sounds so much like stalking .......LOL